Friday, May 10, 2013

Is A Chromebook Good For College?

After owning a Chromebook for a while and letting others test it out I have been receiving some repeating questions. They usually sound like, "Which one is the best?" or "Which one should I get?" I will attempt to answer them here.

My Chromebook And Me

Lets start with my Chromebook and what I use it for. I have the Samsung Series 3. It uses the same type of processors used in phones which means there are no vents or fans to worry about. Its extremely light at under 2.5 pounds. It boots in seconds and wakes by the time you open the lid. The battery is advertised to last 6.5 hours which I find rather accurate. What I wasn't expecting was how quickly the battery charges. From nearly empty the battery takes around only an hour to charge.

I have been a heavy google user so switching to Chrome OS was simple. Everything syncs right when you log in. All my browser extensions, apps, and files are there. The keys are nice but the only gripe I have with them is they are not backlit. The track pad reminds me of the MacBook Pro. I can navigate around between tabs with a three finger swipe. I can also navigate back and forth and scroll up and down with two fingers. The track pad is much nicer and easier to use than my ASUS laptop. Editing docs on Drive is the same as any other computer using Chrome. I surf the web just as I would with any other computer. When I need to I can connect to my other computers using Remote Desktop.

I do not use my Chromebook for work. I work with Photoshop, Maya, Zbrush, Unity, and other heavy programs that can't be run on a Chromebook. I could theoretically use remote desktop, and I do, but the lag eventually drives me nuts after a while. The most I usually do is set up a scene to render and go surf the web while the other computer does it's thing. There are some web apps to solve some of these issues. For image the best apps I have found Pixlr Editor and deviantArt Muro. I find Pixlr best for photo manipulation and Muro for drawing. At the moment, however, these apps are not on par with Photoshop or Illustrator. I do suspect these apps will become better in time though. Perhaps one day replacing Photoshop altogether now that Adobe is switching to the controversial subscription only plan. There are no 3D modeling apps either.

The Chromebook For You

For reference, most people asking me questions are college students. According to them the most common things they do on their computer are:
  • Video streaming (YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, etc)
  • Internet browsing (obviously)
  • Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint)
  • Email and Instant Messaging (Gmail, Hotmail, Facebook, etc)
If this is all you plan on doing then, yes, any Chromebook will fit nicely. If you do any serious gaming, graphic design, or 3D modeling I wouldn't recommend a Chromebook. You might be able to to some programming using cloud based IDEs like Codeenvy IDE or Cloud 9.

Which one will fit the best? Of course, it depends on what you plan on doing. The main things you should consider are price, power, battery, weight, screen size, and HDD vs SSD. You can find a list of every Chromebook as well as more details here. With most people, the decision boils down the Acer C7, the Samsung 550, and the Samsung Series 3. Each of these Chromebooks come with 100 GB of Drive storage for 2 years and 12 Gogo Inflight passes. 

The Acer C7 is the cheapest Chromebook at $199. It uses an Intel processor so there are fans on the side. Its battery lasts the shortest at only four hours. However, the battery is replaceable so you can buy extras. It weighs 3 pounds. It has an 11.6" screen. It uses a HDD so it's boot time will be slower at around 20 seconds. The C7 is for the person looking for the cheapest option.

The Samsung 550 is the most expensive at $449. It also uses an Intel processor but also has 4 GB of ram, making it the most powerful of the three. This does mean you'll also have fans on the side. The battery lasts six hours. It weighs the heaviest at 3.3 pounds. Of the three, tt has the largest screen at 12.1". It has a SSD so boot times will be around eight seconds. I'd recommend the 550 if you are willing to spend the extra money for it. There are better, more expensive Chromebooks like the $1,300 Pixel but the 550 gives the best bang for the buck while remaining in a college student's price range.

The Samsung Series 3 is $249. It uses an ARM processor so there are no fans or vents to worry about. It has the longest lasting battery six and a half hours. It weighs the lightest at 2.4 pounds. It has a 11.6" screen. It uses a SSD making boot times around 10 seconds. This is probably the most convenient Chromebook. Its extremely lightweight and there are no fans.

The Future of Chrome, Chrome OS, and Chromebooks 

I do admit this post is a little untimely. Next week is the Google I/O where changes and upgrades are likely to be announced. Hopefully for the better. As I mentioned before, these apps still have room for improvement and are likely to do so over the years. I will be very excited to ever hear a 3D modeling app for Chrome. There are many ways to display 3D models in browsers already and Firefox can run Unreal Engine 3 without any plugins! Hardcore gaming from your browser may soon become a thing.