Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Google Magic

I've been meaning to write this for a while and I think now is the time since I set up my Chromecast last night.  A tiny bit of history before I start - about 2 weeks ago, I was in the market for a usable laptop.  I had a Lenovo brick with Ubuntu, a trashed Toshiba with JoliOS and a Netbook (piece of garbage tech).  I was at the point where I was deciding between a cheap PC or Chromebook.  I was pretty certain I knew I was going to hate the Chromebook, but I found a Samsung on Craigslist for cheap, so I figured I would try it and sell it on Ebay when I inevitably hated the machine.  If you're bored, the TL:DR version is that I didn't hate the Chromebook.

To start out, I was surprised I liked the feel of the Samsung laptop.  It's an 11.6" screen, so I felt like I knew what it was going to feel like to work on because I own a Netbook (biggest regret of my life) and I've had a Transformer Android tablet.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  The keyboard is much nicer to type on than either of those machines (good enough to type this blog on).  It's quick, responsive, and spaced well.  I don't feel crammed typing at all.  The extra 1.5" of screen space make the screen much more bearable as well.  I don't feel like I need to keep the machine inches from my face in order to see everything.  For a machine that costs $250 new, the build and portability are great.

Moving on to the OS - the part I cared the most about and the part that I thought I was going to hate the most.  ChromeOS is brilliant, for the most part.  I have been using Google Docs/Drive since it's been in beta, so that transition wasn't at all an issue for me.  I think the office suite Google offers for free and online is the best free online service available.  Document, spreadsheet and powerpoi... I mean presentations are handled very well on my desktop computer.  I didn't expect them to do so well on this (what I consider) under-powered laptop.  Again, I figured it would match the performance of my JoliOS laptop.  Again, I was wrong.  The web-based ChromeOS is lightning fast.  This obviously depends a bit on internet speed, but I have never felt like I have had to wait around while the laptop loaded an app.  And this is the same for every app the Chromebook has to offer.  Even Youtube and Netflix can play at very high resolutions without a hiccup.  And finally, one thing I worried about was the memory not being able to support enough browser tabs.  That has yet to be an issue, and if it ever becomes an issue, there are workarounds for that as well.  Needless to say, I'm impressed.

A little piece of amazing that is ChromeOS is that unlike other computers which get bogged down with age, this computer will only improve.  Since everything is web-based, everytime I get an update, instead of the added features bogging my laptop down, it maintains the same speeds.  It's a brilliant system.

There are a few things I hope happens with ChromeOS.  One is that I hope they skin the browser a little more.  I don't mind everything being in a tabbed browsing window, but I think it could look a lot better.  And if each would open in a separate window instead of just a new tab, that would be more useful too.  I feel like I have to decide one thing to do at a time because of how the different windows and tabs are managed.  I'm not used to being allowed only one frame at a time anymore.  The other thing I wish ChromeOS had was the ability to sync notifications.  I use Google Voice services and every time I get a notification on my phone, my tablet, my desktop and my Chromebook get a notification as well which needs to be dismissed.  Though, this is probably an issue with Voice more than the Chromebook.

There are a couple of things I need to commend Samsung for as well.  The first being this laptop's speakers.  I've listened to a lot of portable speaker solutions.  Some are great and some are... well, you can't hear anything that comes out of them (thinking specifically about MacBooks released around 2007-2009).  This little laptop puts out a lot of volume from speakers that could easily be missed if you weren't looking for them.  The other thing that is amazing about this notebook is the battery life.  I spent the day after I bought it trying to drain the battery to see how long it could go.  I had it streaming Netflix for most of a work day and it still had about 40% battery left.  I was blown away.  I charge it during the night and still haven't been able to use it enough to even get nervous that I was going to kill the battery.  It's pretty amazing.

Another piece of Google magic arrived at my doorstep yesterday: my Chromecast.  I was one of the lucky many who ordered their Chromecast before they were sold out on the first day.  I'm glad I did.  I had a pretty packed day yesterday, but I was able to install the little guy while I was changing out of my work clothes.  That should already be a testament to how simple this device really is.  I plugged it into the HDMI port using the extender Google provided (great and necessary accessory).  I went to plug the micro-USB cable in and it wouldn't reach my outlet.  I was frustrated, but decided to try the USB ports which were closer to the TV.  Luckily, the first port I tried (on the back of my Xbox 360) worked and I was up and running.  I had the Chromecast app preinstalled on my phone because I knew I was going to get it.  The setup included me turning on the TV, selecting the correct input, opening the app on my phone, confirming the code and entering the password to my wireless network, and it worked.  Period.  That's all I had to do.  My roommate (the actual magician) came home with his iPhone and I told him to watch a Youtube video on the TV.  He connected to our wifi network and opened up a Youtube video.  I didn't even have to explain to him what to do.  His phone and youtube app adapted and literally told him how to do it.  Amazing.  His quote of the night was, "That just happened?!  That is real magic."  He tried with Netflix and the same amazement as it worked just as well as it had for Youtube.

Needless to repeat, but I will anyway - I am very surprised at how happy I am now that I've included more Chrome devices into my daily life.  Google has worked some coding magic to get everything to start working together, as it all should.  I can't wait to see where each device will go in the future and what else Google will bring to the table.


  1. I am awaiting the arrival of mine... should be here today or tomorrow!