Christian HOHMANN

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Testing my Chromebook

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Christian HOHMANN

As I appreciate to find user's reviews on the Web before purchasing, I try to pay back to the community with this "review", "field test" or testimony about my Chromebook. Feel free to >contact me<.

Article to be continued. Last update: June 28th, 2015

Two years with my Chromebook

Previous (thought if would be final): "The end of honeymoon"


Contents



Latest comment of mine

Read the end of the story >here<

About me as a tester

I would define myself as an average IT user, not an expert neither a geek. I am used to MS Windows and Office, mainly using Firefox as web browser. I scarcely used Chrome before purchasing my Chromebook.

My comments are necessarily biased by this background.


My Chromebook

My testimony is based on my Samsung Chromebook model 303C12, purchased in France, July 2013 for 299€. I chose this model because it appeared as the best buy at the moment of decision.

It seemed to fulfil my initial requirements:

  • lightweight device with a real keyboard for text typing
  • battery lasting more than 4 hours minimum
  • screen 10” or slightly more
  • able to connect to the web as well as work offline (when no Internet connection available)
  • providing ability to author, tweet and blog

I wanted something like that to take with me during holidays, when traveling long distances on planes, trains or buses and in hotels, allowing me working anywhere and anytime.

Chromebook came up as a choice because my laptops are too bulky / heavy and batteries quickly dead (3 hours or less). Laptops are too precious two, regarding their intrinsic cost and because of the data they hold. Chromebooks are comparatively affordable and save all data onto the Google Drive, somewhere in the Cloud where they are supposed to be secured.

Chromebook came also up as a choice because I never really got used to the ergonomics of tablets. They are great for “simple” things, but I don’t believe in my ability to master them for extensive writing. I did not consider optional keyboard for my 10’ tablet.

After one full month of ownership, my experience had been boosted by the ten first days when I left my home with the Chromebook only. This period led to an intensive use of the Chromebook.

After returning home, I used more my private and pro laptops, the latter constantly powered on and online. In this situation, the convenience of getting quickly started with the Chromebook is not a highlight. When it comes to couch surfing or taking a device outside on my balcony, the lightweight and matte screened Chromebook is my choice.

Saying that, I am confirming to myself the usage assumptions I made when purchasing the Book, choosing it as an alternate friendly solution to bulky laptops. For the time being, no regrets.


First contact

The Chromebook initial configuration is a matter of few minutes, and it’s ready to operate. The first contact was fine, having a fine slim and lightweight “computer” with a nice aluminum look.

The case is plastic, for the sake of weight and cost I guess, yet looks good. It’s not scratch resistant and even you pay attention while handling and carrying, don’t expect to keep it scratch free.

The size is the european familiar A4 (21x29,7cm or US 8,3 × 11,7 in), a surface equal to our regular paper sheet.

I immediately felt “home” with both the Chromebook and Google Drive, so no lengthy learning before going into the field with my light authoring equipment.

The quick start guide is not necessary (the Chromebook leads you throught the first steps to configure your setings), yet sufficient.


Changing some habits

The Chromebook keyboard is simpler than laptops’ keyboards, which means adapting your navigation habits to some restrictions. For instance, my Chromebook keyboard does not have either “home” nor “end” nor “insert” key. I had to change my habits jumping the cursor to front or end of line, change my ctrl+insert for ctrl+c and shift+insert for ctrl+v.

Like on smartphones or tablets, no delete key, I had to accustom the backspace, which is dangerously near the power on/off key, yet with low risk to loose anything, as every change is almost immediately saved to Drive and the Chromebook is smart enough to ignore a short stroke on the power key.

I also had to learn working (mainly when typing) without a mouse, even though attaching a mouse is possible. A mouse requires additional workspace (not always available in planes or on buses) and requires frequent hand movement between keyboard and the mouse. When space is scarce, battery power something to save and personal efficiency a quest, letting down the mouse becomes obvious.

So, no mouse controlled cursor and clicking nor right clicking, but for the latter a double finger tap to master. Once the gesture learnt, the usual process is as good as with a mouse right click.

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Keyboard prints into the screen!

After a week of usage, I saw accidentally the letters of the keyboard printed onto the screen, in mirror view (I watched the screen sidewise, when looking in front no marks were visible). This was obviously the letter marking of each key leaving its trace onto the screen while the latter is closed. I first was afraid the keyboard would scratch the precious screen, but a glass cleaning tissue removed the traces. I assume the marks on the screen are only the grease film left by the fingers on the keys which get printed onto the closed screen. From this moment on I chose to "constantly" (guess how many times I forgot..) protect the screen with a tissue set on the keyboard before folding the screen.

Since writing my above strong wish to constantly cover the keyboard and after few times I really did, the lid was shut without any keyboard protection and except some dust nothing remains on the screen.

I could not see it happen again when screen unprotected. I assume it was when my Chromebook was somewhat pressed into my photo backpack. The casing is somewhat flexible, could have caused the keyboard to touch the screen(?).


Bus journey

ChromebookAn eight hour bus journey was a good opportunity to test the Chromebook as alternate laptop computer. Despite limited space and a foldable tablet way too small to carry the Chromebook, the use of it on my lap was easy and my typing remained efficient. The chiclet keyboard makes it is easy and even on shaky roads the typing was okay. The matte screen is a real plus limiting glare and reflections. Even sitting on the window and sunny side, the screen readability was great.

Only using offline text typing didn’t cause the Chromebook to heat much, so no discomfort on the lap.

Samsung’s Chromebook is supposed not to heat, doesn’t need cooling fan. This may be true regarding processor heating, but the Chromebook does heat and you sure feel it on your lap when it does.

Keyboard is not backlit, which is sometimes troublesome when entering a tunnel and not having all fingers in the appropriate position over the keyboard, for those typing with all ten fingers. Yet this missing feature helps extending battery life and is no issue.

The Chromebook turn into slumber after some time of inactivity and wakes up almost instantly as soon as a finger strikes the touchpad.

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On a train without my Chromebook

The Chromebook being a private-use-device, my first train business trip with my regular professional laptop was a reminder of how bulky, cumbersome and heavy this laptop is. Bessides, onbaording with a half loaded battery didn't allow me to work trough the two hours the trip lasted, even driving down anything to save energy. This time, I was in an elder generation of French High-Speed train without power plugs for all passengers. This frustration made me regret the six hours of power of my Chromebook. Another frustration is the Windows recovery time when reopening the lid, while my Chromebooky is instantly ready.


Working offline

ChromebookChromebooks are tied to Internet connections as they use distant resources (Google Drive e.g.) but can be used offline. Once an Internet connection is available, the local modifications are synced with the document saved on the Google Drive. A locally offline created document is simply copied to the Drive. Conversely, any modified document on Drive while the Chromebook was offline is synced with the local file, in case of multiple users sharing or modification with an other device.

Syncing offline => online

Syncing works great. I had one file out of 10 which could not sync in a reasonable time (no syncing in 10 minutes for a small text file, while surfing the Net meanwhile proved the connection was up and with fairly good throughput). I simply selected all the file content, pasted it in a new document, named it version 2 and the file cloned onto Drive, securing it.



Working online

Until now I mainly used my Chromebook for surfing the web and writing documents. Using Document is pretty similar then using MS Word, except for some shortcuts.

Document’s on line spell-checking is pretty fast and seems acceptably accurate compared to MS Word’s. Even so Document is able to recognize the language, setting the language in document’s properties seems to improve the responsiveness, but this is more an assumption than a proven fact.

Read more about how >Google Document compares to MS Word<



Internet connection via smartphone (Tethered Internet Via iPhone)

I tested connecting my Chromebook to Internet using my iPhone 5 (IOS 6.1) as a modem in bluetooth mode. Said in expert jargon: Tethered Internet Via iPhone. To ensure the linkage between Chromy and smartphone, enable the bluetooth function and allow (tick) “proxys for shared networks” in your Chromebook’s settings.

Once the Chromebook paired with the smartphone, choose the latter as wi-fi network in the list, enter the password displayed on the smartphone when required and that’s it.

According to throughput and/or carrier limitation, surfing the Web is more or less fast and smooth, the Chromy should not be the limiting factor.


Sharing documents

It is fascinating how easy it is to access documents in (Google) Drive form various devices; laptop, smartphone, Chromebook, tablet and have the modifications instantly updated.

This is great, I continued to write on a document with my smartphone on my way to the office, while riding a bus and later in the subway, ultimately finishing in the office on my laptop.

Printing with a Chromebook

Printing can be seen as a way of sharing and printing may be necessary sometime.

Refrain from pluging a printer to your Chromebook USB Port, printing won’t work. The Chromebook uses Google Cloud hosted apps, not the usual printer pilots to be installed.

Printing appears in the middle of the contextual menu (double fingers tap) and requires a web-declared printer to be linked to your Google account. The procedure about how to turn your local printer into a “Cloud printer” is explained, it goes easy and once the printer is known, printing is as easy as usual.

It’s a bit frightening at once, to open a local printer in such a way and fearing all the printings of the neighborhood will dry up your expensive toner or ink cartridges. After considering this unlikely risk, it’s a kind of magical mystery how the Chromebook can manage to send the printing files into the cloud and back onto the printer in the opposite corner of the house. Yet it works.

When the computer with witch the local printer was listed on Google's Cloud is off, the printer appears offline. It is seamingly possible to print nevertheless, and I assumed the file was spooled somewhere, waiting for the printer to go online again. Well, I used both my computer and printer, but no delayed and spooled document was printed from the cloud.

I understood later: to check and manage the tasks, printed or waiting, connect to https://www.google.com/cloudprint#jobs

Spooled files will be displayed, can be printed or deleted.


Battery life

The Chromebook being new, I assume the battery life between two refills is best. Once fully loaded, the power monitor claims about 6 hours of battery life. Indeed, while typing this very line, the battery icon shows slightly less than half (for what I see on a 6mm icon...) and the monitor estimates 3:05 hours.

I never worked 6 hours straight and did not keep track of the length of each session, yet the battery life seems to be as lasting as claimed, anyway much longer than with any of my laptops!

I’m used to switch off the wifi and bluetooth when not available or not needed in order to save power. 

A full loading from almost empty battery takes about 2 hours. Not a problem when you can afford waiting near a power plug, a thing to know if you’ll have to manage your power and refill possibilities.

Power saving tips

Samsung’s Chromebook 303C battery life is fairly long (about 6 hours) yet some tips may help To save battery power.

Turn Chromebook totally off

I noticed a significant loss of battery charge when I used my Chromebook only every few days and just turning it into stand-by mode by closing the lid in between.

After a trial turning the book totally off (long push on power button) the battery didn’t show noticeable drop of charge after four days. Otherwise, just closing the lid would have lost about half of charge in four days.

Next trial turning power off let the Chromebook fully charged over two weeks and I spoiled the battery life within another week because I just closed the lid.

Apply mobile phones power saving tips

As for mobile phone, when you try to extend the battery life, you’d better turn off wifi and bluetooth if not needed, stop using videos and music players, dimm the screen brightness.

In my current version of Chrome OS I can’t find more power management parameters to set. Conversely it’s impossible to prevent the book to go to sleep.

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Handling photos and vidéos

As for August 1st, 2013 Samsung’s Chromebook and Google provided resident apps will not be my photo and video companion. Trying to quickly preview photos and videos from the SD card was a challenge.

Photos

When inserting a SD card from a digital camera, the file explorer opens automatically. Clicking on any picture or video recognized file opens a viewer. The options are one picture in full screen and thumbnails under it or a mosaic with some pictures about four times bigger than the thumbnails. Displaying the thumbnails in default is generally long, seems to do slightly better with the mosaic display.

For my test, the photo jpeg files sizes were ranging from 2Mb to 7,5Mb with one camera, 2,5 to 10Mb with my DSLR.

When selecting one picture to view in full screen, it first appears in low resolution, fast and recognizable enough to decide it’s worth waiting the full loading or not. The display in full fit-to-screen size is long, up to very long, depending on original file size.

There is no zoom option, at least I didn’t find it.

A picture auto-correction function is provided, which appears to improve the contrast mainly. It does well but we’re far from postproduction capabilities provided by any of the specialized softwares, including the entry level ones. 

Videos

The first time I tried to watch the mp4 formated videos from the SD card right from the camcorder, the default playback app had some difficulties playing my HD videos shot in PAL 1080p/50fps.

Brushing the video cursor caused the display to freeze long enough to assume the whole system was frozen, and in the series of attempts, once the Chromebook went auto-reset.

The first trials were discouraging enough to terminate quickly.

Second trial was short footages shot in NTSC 1080/60fps => file error

Sensing it could be related to footage resolution & frame rate I made following trials (output file format = mp4 on SD card):

System

Resolution

Frame rate (FPS)

Playback

NTSC

1080

60

partial (some frames missing and/or image briefly frozen)



48

OK



30

OK



24

OK


1440

48

partial



30

partial



24

partial


960

100

partial



48

OK


720

120

Partial



60

Ok


WVGA

240

few frames

PAL

1080

50

Ok

My guess is 1080 resolution requires the least processor resources for scaling and therefore plays back the best.

As I am not an expert in this matter, feel free to contact me to correct me, I’ll update accordingly.

Viewing videos in streaming

When connected to a wifi hotspot with decent bandwidth, playing videos from the Net in streaming is okay. It may take some adjustments though, reducing the playback quality for the sake of constant flow. Honestly speaking, I experience the same phenomenon with high-end laptops and it’s difficult to tell where the root cause lies; hardware limitation? Original file format? Bandwidth?

Watching video avi format file from an USB stick worked fine, smooth and without problem.

I credit the Chromebook to perform as good as any PC in same conditions.

Conclusion about photos and videos

With pictures and clips the hardware shows its limits, plus maybe some flaws in the original embedded apps. As for what I tested August 1st, 2013 Samsung’s Chromebook and Google provided resident apps will not be my regular photo and video companion.

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Connecting to TV via HDMI

According to manual, Chromebook screen can be mirrored to external monitor. Alas, when I connect my Samsung Chromebook to my Samsung smart TV, an error message window displays: “no compatible resolution found, extended desktop is displayed instead”. Isn’t it ironic? Two Samsung devices not compatible between them! Well, the extended desktop displays like any PC and additional monitor. To switch the pointer and control to the extended monitor, move it out right of the Chromebook, conversely move pointer out left

Internal Webcam

Without any specific app installed, users can make sure the internal webcam is functional by starting the build-in default camera app. A tiny Led goes on, enough to compensate for low ambient light and useless otherwise, and your own picture appears on the screen. A picture which depicts you in 0.3MPixel, so don’t panic if you find your portrait frightening. Besides its low resolution, You may have selected one of the many filters that alter or enhance? what the camera picks up.

The camera can shoot one shot or paparazzi mode, which does little justice to this corporation with just 3 pictures taken in sequence.

Well, once the different filters tested and few shots done, the question was where are the pictures stored?

It took a hint from Internet to undestand that pictures remain in the gallery until a save or delete action occured. The picture right was saved to the drive so I could pick it up for embedding here. About 50kbyte.

Well I was aware of the specs and didn’t buy the Chromebook for taking pictures. I leave this to those holding a 10 inch tablet with extended arms to snapshoot the Eiffel Tower.

I thought the built in webcam was for Skype, but there is no Skype available. Hangout is. Other apps may do the same the Chrome support says.

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Trying to load my first App

Two months after I purchased my Chromebook I thought I could extend its usage to drive my DSLR or small GoPro Camera, so I went to the Chrome Web Store and entered my search. This is the point where I remembered this device is running with Chrome OS and not Android nor Apple OS. Chromebooks being still regarded as something strange and success rather relative, their webstore is accordingly stuffed. Lightly.

My Chromebook OS smartly recognizing me as French asked the Store to display the app descriptions in French, which it did with the obvious help of a translation bot. By the result I could bet it was a Chinese programmed Indian designed from Greek to Vietnamese and ultimately French translated English, displaying words I can read individually but without much sense altogether.

As I was on / in (?) the store, I looked around without finding anything of immediate interest, except my own books in the bookstore, which is very logically called Google play.

Not very attractive I thought and left the spot.

Second trial

For my second attempt to install an App, I chose an easy one, appearing first place on Chrome Web Store: Angry Birds. Installation was as easy and fast the tutorial video on https://support.google.com/chrome_webstore/ depicted. Yet I realized the “installation” was not much more than putting a shortcut on my Chromebook application collection. After playing one or two rounds online, I tested successfully the uninstall of the still Angry Birds. This step being again as easy and fast as the tutorial had shown.

Well, a real installation means resident App and its possible use offline. So I installed Angry Birds again, with the play offline option. Once installed, and to be sure it’s really offline, I switched the wi-fi off and started the game. It works, provided you loaded the first game level before going offline.


Disclaimer

The author has no link (other than being customer and user) to Samsung corporation nor Google, neither to any brands mentioned. The opinions in this article are author’s own. This return of experience is provided for free, with sole purpose of helping others to make their own opinion. It is no advertising nor recommendation for any of the mentioned brands or products.


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Mise à jour le Dimanche, 28 Juin 2015 18:32