My First Experience with Google Chromebook

Chromebook Pixel

If you have read my previous post "My Setup: Hardware and Software I Use", you probably know that Apple products are my favorite choice when it comes to choosing the best hardware. During recent years, I have been using an iPhone as my primary phone, a MacBook Air as my laptop and an iPad / iPad mini as my tablet.

Few months ago, I decided to give a second shot to Android and got a new Nexus 7. Although generally I wasn't a big fan of android, have been using a Galaxy Nexus previously, I was always interested in Nexus devices. So, after using Nexus 7 for a while, I could tell that this tablet surely have some advantages over iPad, but even though much improved compared to last year's model, hardware of Nexus 7 is still miles behind iPad. Once again I proved to myself that Cupertino company make the best hardware. I almost gave up the hope that there will be a product that can challenge Apple's dominance in that department.

A couple of weeks ago unexpected happened. I have got on my hands the product with a tremendous hardware. I have used many products in my life, and Apple products were always the most stylish and solid. It is still the case today, but there is one piece of hardware that comes as close as it gets in hardware department. Chromebook Pixel.

In this post I am not going to talk about Pixel's hardware though, because, in my opinion, software is even more important factor when choosing a computer.

People say: “Chromebooks are not for everybody” and I agree with them, but at the same time, Chromebooks are more than enough for many people who don't use computers to do the heavy video editing and other complicated tasks. I have always been a fan of ‘living in the cloud’ and heavily used Google’s web services anyway, so I wanted to see for myself, if I am the type of person who can use a Chromebook as a main computer. I will tell you what I found out in conclusion.

To use a Chrome OS device, you will need a Google account.

To use a Chrome OS device, you will need a Google account.

First of all, I have to say that I don't use my laptop to play games, so limited gaming is not an issue for me, but I can tell with a confidence that Chromebooks are surely not for gamers.

The following is how I was using Chrome OS during last month to do basic tasks I would do on any computer.

Browsing the web

Well, Chrome OS is basically just a browser, and a very good one. Browsing the web on Chromebook Pixel is the best browsing experience I have ever experienced on any laptop.

I typed this article in Google Docs

I typed this article in Google Docs

Working with documents

Even since I started to use computers, I rarely needed to use a complex word processor like Microsoft Office. Google Docs were always good enough for my needs. These days Google’s office suit is getting even better with constant updates and I do not feel a need to use Microsoft Office to work with documents. I also like Apple’s new iWork for iCloud apps and I think that iCloud version of Keynote is the best web based app for making a good looking presentation.

Listening to music

More and more people are using online music streaming services like Spotify, which is by the way works great with Chrome OS. From many available services, I chose Google Music due to its possibility to store up to 20,000 songs I already own for free. I use iPhone as my primary phone, so I am very happy that after a long period of waiting, Google has finally released a Google Play Music app for iOS, so now I can comfortably listen to my music library on iPhone as well.

Google Music web app

Google Music web app

Watching videos

As far as I know, online video streaming services like Netflix work fine with Chrome OS, but unfortunately Netflix is not available in my country, so I am using iTunes or Google Play Movies for purchasing the video content. I also have a  small collection of my favorite Movies and TV shows I bought on DVDs and copied to my external hard drive.

Most of the video formats are supported on Chrome OS, so I can watch videos out of the box. Some formats are not supported, but I noticed that I can view most of them by uploading to Google Drive and streaming directly from the web. 

Streaming content from Google Drive

Streaming content from Google Drive

Unfortunately, sometimes even this method is not working and the only way to solve the problem is converting files to supported format. As you can imagine, converting video files on Chrome OS is not as easy as on Windows or Mac devices. There are some online services that allow you to convert videos in Google drive, but there are always some limitations.

Importing and Managing photos

I use iPhone as my primary photo and video taking device. I thought about buying a ‘real’ camera, but at the end of the day,  I am more than happy with iPhone as my primary camera. Nexus 7 and iPad mini I use also have cameras, but I don’t remember when was the last time I used my tablet to take a picture.

There are a lot of apps you can use to sync your photos from iOS and Android devices, including Google’s Google Plus app. I use a nice app ‘Web Albums’ (by Pixite) to get all the photos I am taking with my iPhone auto-uploaded in full resolution to Google Plus Photos, which is the service I chose for storing my photo library. I am a long time Picasa user, so I wasn’t very happy when Google decided to merge it with Google Plus, but after using Google Plus Photos app for Chrome, I actually like it.

Google Plus Photos

Google Plus Photos

Editing photos

There are a lot of web apps that allow you to edit photos in a browser. I prefer using Pixlr apps. Of course, you cannot have a Photoshop level photo editing in a browser, but, in my case, I rarely used it anyway. For basic editing and adding some cool filters web apps are more than enough.

Pixlr Touch Up

Pixlr Touch Up

Skype, FaceTime, Hangouts etc.

Currently, you cannot use Skype or FaceTime on Chrome OS. I remember I heard from somebody last year, that Outlook.com users could use Skype in a web browser, but it doesn't look like working in my country. Instead, to make a call on Skype or FaceTime I use my iPhone or tablet. If Chromebook is the only device you have with you and you need to make a call, you can do it by using Google’s Hangouts app. I rarely use it, because people I am usually contacting with are using only Skype or FaceTime.

Email

I didn't really use native mail app on my MacBook or Windows machine anyway, so not much have changed for me. Sites like Gmail, iCloud, Facebook, Twitter etc. work great in Chrome, the same way they do on any laptop. To access offline Gmail, I use Google’s Offline Gmail app, which is very limited and I would love Google to improve it, but since I have internet connection 99% of the time, accessing email offline never was a problem for me.

Video editing

Honestly, I haven’t tried to edit a video on my Chromebook yet. I have installed WeVideo app, that even claims to work offline, but I am not expecting too much from it. I don't do heavy video editing, so I hope that WeVideo or YouTube video editor will do the job for me. I will post a separate post after I try using it more.

WeVideo.png

Downloading torrents

Sometimes I have to use BitTorrent to download some things (legally, of course). To put it simply, if you are the person who is using BitTorrent protocol to download a lot of stuff from the internet, Chromebooks are not a good choice of computer for you. You can download torrents using JSTorrent, a BitTorrent client for Chrome that runs purely on JavaScript, but it is unstable and not even near as good as Windows or Mac BitTorrent clients. There are also some online services like Streamza, that let you download torrents remotely and download them as a regular downloads later. 

Working offline

I am going to do a separate post covering just the offline capabilities of Chrome OS, but to put it simple - Chrome OS is not the best OS to use offline, by far.

You can still do a lot of things offline, like watching videos, managing files, editing photos, reading Gmail, checking your Google Calendar, creating and editing the documents and spreadsheets, as well as listening to music you have saved on your local drive. Like I said, you can still do a lot, but there are limitations everywhere. For example, you won’t be able to fully enjoy your music library in Google Play Music, manage your photo library in Google Plus Photos, watch the movies you purchased on Google Play Movies.

Conclusion

Chrome OS is much more offline-user friendly than few years ago, but it still have a lot of areas it should be improved in. It looks like Google’s Chrome Team is working hard on improving the Chrome OS by adding more and more features every month or even weeks, and since Chrome OS quietly updates itself, your Chrome OS device is getting better and better all the time.

The King of the Cloud?

The King of the Cloud?

I think that Chromebooks are very close to what future computers will be like, but if I had to choose the one computer to use right now, I will still go for a MacBook. Technology is just not there yet. I believe that in few years Chrome OS will overtake Windows as the most used desktop OS. Apple also understands importance of the ‘cloud’, what can be seen in Apple's efforts to integrate iCloud deeper and deeper into Mac OS and iOS. Both Google and Apple are going towards the same direction - a perfect balance between seamless syncing between devices and powerful offline capabilities. Microsoft is trying to reach the same goal as well.

Time will tell which company is going to be ‘The King of The Cloud’, which I strongly believe is going to be the decisive factor in dominating the whole consumer computers industry.