It’s the holidays, and that means you might be considering a new laptop. You’ve probably heard about Chrome OS. Basically it’s Google’s web focused operating system, and it runs on cheap laptops. I owned the original chromebook but it was pretty underpowered so I didn’t feel it would be fair to review it The one I bought a year ago was $250 US dollars, (http://www.amazon.om/gp/product/B00FNPD1OY ) and you can’t actually buy that version any longer. Basically it has 4 gigs of RAM, a 16 gig hard drive and a 1.4 ghz cpu. So I’ve been using this laptop every day for mostly simple tasks such as reading email, browsing the internet, watching videos, and occasionally working via SSH. So as a light use machine it’s pretty great. It gets the job done, and is generally fast enough for most tasks. I know that a lot of people will consider this as a major selling point, and say that for 250 dollars you can’t really complain, but let’s talk about some things that only someone using the machine for a while would notice, and what the major drawbacks are.
Let’s start with the CPU, it’s okay, but it’s not great so sometimes things are a bit slow. Having a small hard drive is also tough, 16 gigs of space basically means I don’t use the Chromebook for anything serious and even if I wanted to I couldn’t because support is pretty bad for the device. It’s made to browse the internet and use internet apps, and that’s basically it. Usually this is okay, but sometimes you’re out of luck. A great example of this was in early 2014. I had to spend the night in an airport, and figured ‘no big deal, I will do some work, I have my chromebook on me.’ but this wasn’t the case. The chromebook was unable to connect to the wi-fi available in the airport, why this is I don’t know, but I tried to troubleshoot it for over an hour without any luck. After that I tried tethering off my phone, and it still didn’t work even though my other devices could connect to both access points. Without internet the chromebook was crippled. Even apps that claimed they could run offline really could only do so when you had them open prior to disconnecting. I was screwed. I couldn’t work on a presentation, and it was generally useless. This is a major problem. Especially since you can’t SSH to the chromebook itself (unless you have it in developer mode), so no writing code while the device is offline to commit later. This was the first time the chromebook had let me down after owning it for 5 months. It was horrifying to realize I was basically out of luck with the laptop I had, at that point it was a 250 dollar brick with a screen. I was seriously regretting not having put a Linux distro on a thumb drive or SD card.
Moving back to using the chromebook itself, I use f.lux, twilight, and several other apps that adjust the lighting on my monitor/screens so that I can easily sleep at night. Unfortunately the chrome devs don’t care about this (https://code.google.com/p/chromium/issues/detail?id=217173 ) and it’s been an issue since October 2012! It’s infuriating that this is something they care so little about. This lack of functionality means I can’t use my chromebook prior to going to bed at all or I will have a hard time falling asleep. This is currently my biggest issue with the device since it’s basically just a laptop I use at home, but it shows that the development team either isn’t serious, or doesn’t care enough to open this functionality up so people can write their own app (and believe me they would, Integers of K wrote: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/glux/hinolicfmhnjadpggledmhnffommefaf?hl=en as a workaround where it tries to modify the code on every page) but it’s frustrating and pathetic that this sort of issue has been open for so long.
So you’re probably reading through this and thinking ‘that is it? Those are you complaints? This seems great for 250 bucks.’ and honestly it is. If I could get an equivalent laptop running Linux I would.. Oh wait I can. Ignore the chromebook and Chrome OS unless Google actually gets serious about it, and instead just buy a cheap laptop (maybe even a chromebook) and put Linux on it. The devices themselves are great, but I'm not completely sold on the OS yet. It just doesn't meet my needs as a user that would like to do more than just browse the internet and read email.