Would a Chromebook be right for us?
January 3, 2014 10:26 AM   Subscribe

Between my wife and I, I'm the "computer guy," while she basically uses her computer to write, engage in social media, and update a couple of blogs with all that this entails (light photo editing, etc.). We have to replace her aging Dell laptop. Would a Chromebook be a good option?

Our main concerns mainly relate to how the Chromebook is 100% cloud-based:

• how much bandwidth a Chromebook requires (we have a 150GB cap from our ISP, which we run up very close to every month);
• whether it's a good fit for a casual, computer-semi-friendly user who would have to work (it seems) in a 100% Google Docs environment;
• whether it would be necessary to pay for Google Docs subscriptions etc., forever (I notice that most of them come with a "free for 2 years" scheme, which makes me a bit worried).

There are some limitations, but they seem overcomeable -- we can both use my PC for iTunes and Apple device synching and Skype, for instance. All our music can be put on an external HD for listening. The Chromebook *feels* like a good idea, but I can't figure out if it's more meant as a second device for computer folks like me, or a good laptop-substitute for light users like her.
posted by Shepherd to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
While I don't have a Chromebook, I use the Chrome browser for pretty much everything these days, from productivity (GDrive) to email, to listening to music. In terms of internet usage, as a family of four we use 170 GB a month. There are three of us using laptops, plus 2 smartphones, plus a tablet.

We don't torrent, but we do watch a lot of YouTube, notably kids shows, movies, and news. I also tend to listen to music on YouTube. On top of that, I use home internet for work, uploading a lot of photos, videos, and large PDF documents. I use Pixlr and basic online image editors to touch up family photos.

So I would totally buy a Chromebook. My only concern is build quality of the device, and I guess access my media library. And I guess Skype (I need it for work), but Hangouts is a better solution.

I would think that a Chromebook would present a learning curve for someone who doesn't use computers that much, but on the other hand, Windows has all sorts of issues for casual users (notably Windows Updates never seem to get installed).
posted by KokuRyu at 11:06 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a Samsung Chromebook. It has a nice sturdy feel to it. I am comfortable in a google docs environment so it has been fine for document and spreadsheets. I tend to use my iPads/iPhones for photo editing and port the results over to the chromebook. You don't have to pay for google docs if you keep the amount you store under a certain (pretty generous) limit. It is clearly NOT a laptop replace, but good for social media/internet browsing. I have not been very impressed with the Chromestore apps (not all of them work on Chromebooks...).

I don't see how a chromebook would affect your bandwidth, I am not aware of it using more bandwidth than any other internet device. I'm not madly in love with it but what you get for the price is pretty amazing. One thing I really don't like is the lack of a backlit keyboard but that is because I often use my devices in the dark. At the moment my chromebook has a weird pink window thing happening that I haven't really looked into, that is also probably colouring my "meh" impression.
posted by saucysault at 11:08 AM on January 3, 2014

I dont think the OS or the hardware is ready for primary computing use. Unless you really need the portability, you can find cheap Windows notebooks for not much more money.

I had the Samsung 11 and it was slow. I generally I think that Chromebooks are too underpowered.
posted by wongcorgi at 11:30 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mine is the Samsung 11 (I'm 90% certain...) and slow is not a complaint I would have at all. After using instant-on iPads for so many years I love how fast the chromebook starts up and loads pages/google docs. Using my son's Dell/Alienware laptop is much slower.
posted by saucysault at 11:53 AM on January 3, 2014

Between my wife and I, I'm the "computer guy," while she basically uses her computer to write, engage in social media, and update a couple of blogs with all that this entails (light photo editing, etc.).

I just gave my dad, who uses a laptop but is not very computer-literate and doesn't need anything complicated or fancy, a Chromebook for Christmas. He loves it! It is faster and more pleasant to use than my MacBook Pro. I am confident it could meet all the needs you describe, as long as you can find an app in Google Play that allows her to edit photos for her blogs. I gave my dad one of the newer HP models. It was about $300 bucks and extremely thin/lightweight. Like I said, it works perfectly for his needs and he seems to really like using it.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 11:56 AM on January 3, 2014

I have given Chromebooks to a couple people as their primary computer and they have been pretty happy with them. Many people these days don't really use any "native" apps and do all their work in a browser, which is the scenario Chromebooks are designed for.

I don't see why you would have to pay for Google Docs unless you want to run your own domain. Regular consumer-level Docs is free, period.

My primary laptop is a Chromebook Pixel (which is admittedly on the pricey, fancy end of the Chromebook line) and I'm a developer. Of course, I have a workstation or two that I can remote into, but if I'm travelling or at home in my personal time it handles the vast majority of my tasks just fine. Especially if you have T-Mobile or something where tethering through your phone is easy.

Cavetas: I use Google Drive extensively, so all of my files are available on the Chromebook. I use Google Music, so all of my music is easily accessible. Etc. Chromebooks are especially awesome if you dive head-first into the Google ecosystem (in the same way that the MacOS/iOS/iTunes universe comes together nicely if you commit to that), but I don't think it's a necessary condition.

The main question is: if she had a Mac with nothing but a web browser, could she do everything she wants? If so, a Chromebook is basically equivalent (and either much cheaper, or comparable with pluses and minuses like a Pixel, but I'm pretty sure you're looking at the cheaper end Chromebooks which I have also used --- they're decent, not super high powered but a good deal for the price IMO which is why I have gifted 3 or 4 of them by now).

(FYI, it does have basic device support so you could have an external HDD, you can transfer images from a camera to its local storage and/or Google Drive, etc)
posted by wildcrdj at 1:33 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and the best part: I have given one or two to people who I would describe as extremely computer illiterate, and I have NOT HAD TO PROVIDE TECH SUPPORT. That is an amazing change from Windows or Mac to me (as the person most of my friends/family would go to for tech support). The auto-updating and limited feature set work really well for anyone who wants a web browser but doesn't want to deal with a "computer".
posted by wildcrdj at 1:34 PM on January 3, 2014

I like mine quite a bit. I have an ancient desktop that I still boot up every now and then, but mostly, my Chromebook is my primary computer.

You get 15 gigs free storage, which should be find for most Google doc files and such (they do give you an extra 100 gigs for a year). So far, this hasn't been an issue for me at all. (I don't think you ever need to pay for Google docs unless you go over the file-size limit.)

I've mostly found it works pretty well for every-day use. Yeah, you may still want to have a back-up computer/drive/etc., and there's a bit of a learning curve, but there are very few things I have been unable to do on my Chromebook that I've needed to do. I think it's probably pretty well-suited for her and your situation overall.

(I bought mine to replace a dead netbook and really, no regrets -- it's light and perfect and so much better.)
posted by darksong at 6:01 PM on January 3, 2014

I have a Chromebook that I got for free. It's only purpose is things you can do in a browser. It seems very competent and useful as long as you don't need to pop out into a terminal window. If you can handle Chrome, and can do everything you need in the browser then I think it's a great option.
posted by bendy at 8:17 PM on January 3, 2014

Effect on bandwidth - Chromebook uses Google apps for word processing & spreadsheet. Probably not a big effect. I just got a Microsoft tablet ('black friday' sale) and it's okay for the web (max. 10 tabs - not enough), alarm clock, and some basic word processing & spreadsheet. It's nifty for watching videos (why I got it). Get a keyboard & mouse for it. For watching movies/ listening to music, my tablet benefits from an extra speaker.
posted by theora55 at 9:52 PM on January 3, 2014

I got an Acer 720C 4GB a few months ago and totally love it and use it about 95% of the time over my Windows laptop. Battery life is pretty incredible (6 or seven hours typically) and mostly, it just works. I doubt that Google docs would effect your bandwidth all that much but i don't have any data for that.

The two things that always need to use Windows for are scanning and games. I setup our printer as a cloud printer using a Raspberry Pi but haven't setup the scanner that way yet.
posted by octothorpe at 11:52 AM on January 4, 2014

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