Chromebooks – a thought on why I recommend them

People often say to me “Yeah but you’re into Google” when I recommend Google products or Chromebooks. My answer is always the same, I’m not, I’m into what works.

When I first got into iPhones and iPads people told me I was into Apple. Again, I wasn’t, at the time I felt they were the best devices in their market. I think that’s changed now.

In terms of Chromebooks and Google Drive, in particular, I often find that people’s arguments against them are about what they can’t do in comparison to Microsoft products.

  • Firstly I think that a lot of the features that Microsoft products have that are missing from Google Drive are unnecessary for most people’s basic needs, and also Google is constantly updating and adding to their products so that bracket of what’s missing is becoming smaller and smaller. Actually these days I would say that Microsoft is just as equally missing things that Google Drive can do.
  • Secondly, I think that if you’d never owned any computer and started with a Chrome device and did all of your work in Google Drive, you’d never know what you were missing. You’d find yourself able to do everything you needed to do in Google Drive anyway.

Those aside, here are some of the main reasons I would recommend most users to use a Chromebook and Google Drive. (I know that there is some software that only works on Windows, and hence some people as a result have no choice. That’s a result of it being embedded for so long, not an indicator that it’s better. Equally there’s software that only works on Mac. I do think we are in an age now where you shouldn’t be tied to a platform to use a particular type of software and it is something I look for in software when I’m choosing an app to use. )

  • Boot and reboot times on a Chromebook as so fast. In my experience, it has been a maximum of ten seconds
  • They look after themselves. Every windows computer I ever owned needed some kind of care or attention, often having to rebuild the OS from scratch. Chrome OS takes care of itself in that regard and I never need to do any maintenance on it.
  • Updates take an instant and in every case where I’ve updated my Chromebook it has brought about improvements and increased speed
  • Constant backups. Almost everything I use on the Chromebook, including Google Drive, is being backed up. I never need to worry about saving in most cases because (especially in Google Drive) as soon as I start working, the app starts saving. For new users and users who find file management difficult, this is amazing. I’ve noticed that a lot of users create a file, work in it until it’s finished, and then save it. A bad practice I know and this has lead to a lot of lost work for people. This is never an issue with Google Drive.
  • Search is so fast.
  • Battery life. My first Chromebook, the ACER CB3 431 lasted about 10 hours, basically all day without plugging it in. My new Chromebook, the ASUS Flip C302 doesn’t last as long, about 7 hours (because it’s more powerful) but it’s still a great comfort to not have to depend on needing a plug socket close by when I’m working. I hear that the C434 (replacement for the C302) lasts 10 hours.
  • Once in my time since I owned a Chromebook, I needed to rebuild my Chromebook. This was because of a virus and Google, being proactive, wanted to update the firmware to protect my device from the virus. A rebuild was the only way. I gave Google permission to proceed and then went downstairs to make a cup of tea. By the time I came back, it had completely wiped my device, reinstalled the OS, reinstalled all of my apps and restored my files. I’ve performed that operation many times on my windows device and it took at minimum a day to get everything back up and running the way I had it.

Based on all of that I always ask, why wouldn’t you use it?

Google Sheets vs Microsoft Excel

This post isn’t a treatise on which is better, nor is it necessarily my own opinion on which is better. Being honest I am leaning more towards Google Sheets right now because I’m using a Chromebook as my main device. I do like to immerse myself completely in the ecosystem of a device and see how much of my tasks I can complete within that ecosystem. When I first got an iPad for example, I tried to do everything using only the iPad. I wanted to see if it was possible, and also how awkward it would be to do it. I know any such change requires changes and workarounds and there’s a limit to how acceptable any individual will find those.

I was doing a piece of work recently for a company that required a number of spreadsheet templates to be created. They were using Excel for the work but had found the work to beyond their capabilities. I wanted to test out my Chromebook and also test out doing the project using Google Sheets and then passing them over Excel spreadsheets from Google Sheets to test for compatibility.

At first I did that and Google Sheets met all of my needs just fine, plus the converted templates worked fine. I found though as I went on that it just made more sense for everyone to use Google Sheets. This particular company likes to use the software they are used to and wouldn’t be into change but I suggested to them the possibility of using Google Sheets in this case and asked if they’d be willing to try it. I also showed them examples of how it would work. They were happy to give it a go and are now using Google Sheets for all such templates.

Here are some of the pros, cons, and issues that arose in my testing:

  • Google Sheets made sharing and updating the templates very easy. I was able to create the templates and email the links to everyone that needed them. (Eventually, I put all of the links on a Workflowy page I set up especially for this and shared with them). The great thing about the sharing method was that I could update or edit the sheets at any time and they would be automatically updated for the users without me having to send them updates, or replace existing spreadsheets with updated ones.
  • If users were having a problem on a sheet (e.g. Something wrong with a formula or some previously unknown condition in an If function) they could let me know and I could look at the current sheet, see where the problem was and correct it in an instant. The user generally didn’t need to restart their work because I could correct the work that was in progress
  • Some of their input was coming from foreign suppliers so, for example, they had a German company sending them transaction sheets. I could use the Google Translate function within Google sheets to translate the sheet and produce the required output
  • Some of their transactions came from multiple sources. I know Excel can do this but I found it very helpful to use the QUERY and IMPORT functions in Google Sheets to import data from other sheets. The great thing about referencing the sheets via HTML links rather than pointing to spreadsheets in a folder was that I didn’t have to worry about them being moved to another folder. The link to the sheet was always going to be the same.
  • I didn’t have to worry about versions of software because everyone was always going to be using the same version of Google Sheets whereas with Excel I couldn’t always guarantee that all users would be on the same version of the software
  • An issue arose, and I don’t know if this is an Excel or a Sheets issue. Sometimes my client would receive a CSV from a supplier. They needed to open the CSV, select all the data and then copy it to my Sheets template to perform the required manipulations on it. When they double-clicked to open the CSV it opened in Excel. That’s not a problem. The problem was that sometimes in Excel if the date column (for example) was too narrow, then the dates would be replaced by hashes (####). When my client selected all the data and copied it to Sheets then the hashes were copied rather than the date content. This, of course, messed up the output and I had to ask them to ensure that the date columns were wide enough before copying. I don’t like that when I’m trying to automate a system as much as possible.

Those are just some of the things I can think of in working between Sheets and Excel. Over all Sheets worked very well and the nature of the sheet being online and shareable made it very convenient to work with. The fact that I never needed to worry about whether a user had Excel or not was very convenient also. It’s a question that often arises when people ask me about Chromebooks, that of compatibility. I tested compatibility a lot in this particular job and aside from those few small things I can say that over all there was no issue and it worked very well.

My Second Chromebook (ASUS Chromebook Flip C302)

Image result for asus chromebook flip c302I bought my first Chromebook (The Acer Chromebook CB3-431) in November 2016. I bought it at the time as a kind of present for myself, and kind of because my windows laptop was giving me so much trouble. Also, I had been interested in Chromebooks since I first heard Google was thinking of developing Chrome into an operating system.

I bought my second Chromebook not because I was dissatisfied with my first in any way (it actually kept improving) but because I bought it as a budget Chromebook at the time just as a trial and had always thought I’d like to go a bit more premium if I found it useful. I found it very useful and enjoyable to use, so last Christmas when I saw that the Asus Chromebook Flip C202CA was on offer I ordered one from Amazon.

The main pros:

  • It has a touch screen. This wasn’t ever a major selling point for me, more of a curiosity. I already have an iPad and didn’t see the need for a touchscreen laptop type device. Having said that I do find it useful. I often find myself reaching to touch something on the screen or flipping the screen up with my finger to scroll instead of using the touchpad or mouse. Now that I have it I wouldn’t like to go back to a device without a touchscreen
  • More powerful processor. The Acer had a quadcore Celeron while the Asus I bought has a Core m3. I didn’t think that would make a lot of difference (or rather I wondered if it would) because of most of the processing being done server side but I have found that it does. It seems to handle more tabs easier and also tab switching is smoother. The big example where I noticed a difference is in loading Gmail. On the Acer, there were that few second delays where a progress bar completed as it loaded Gmail. On the Asus, it loads in an instant and I never see the progress bar
  • The overall feel of the device. Laptop devices are such a personal device in comparison to a desktop because you hold them in your hand or on your lap so much. You carry them a lot. I tend to be minimalistic and probably utilitarian towards these things and generally not concerned with the aesthetic. That said though the Asus is a lovely device to use, carry, and look at. It feels solid and well made and definitely looks like something that costs way more than it did. Mine cost me €450 from Amazon.co.uk. I showed it to a friend and asked how much he thought it cost and he said way over a thousand. Around the €1500 mark was his guess
  • The backlit keyboard. Another feature I wouldn’t like to be without.
  • The flip screen. I don’t use it a lot but I like it when I have it.

The Cons

  • It doesn’t have and I don’t think it will ever nave Project crostini. That is the ability to install Linux apps on the Chromebook. I had just gotten it on my Acer and had started playing with it and using it a little for work. I’d used things like Gimp, Firefox, and Notepad ++ and found them to work reasonably well. I imagine they’d work better on the Asus but I can’t see that happening now.
  • The lack of ports. This is a pro and a con. Aesthetic wise, and minimalistic wise I love how there are so few ports on this device. It makes it clean and lovely to look at. Usewise though. I do miss having an HDMI port or a USB A port. The ASUS has only USB-C ports which are used for everything. I’ve had to get some adapters which is fine but it just means extra things hanging out of my Chromebook which I don’t like. It doesn’t come up a lot with me but it is a pain when it does.

A client and a friend of mine both had bought the Acer after seeing mine and they both bought the Asus after I got it and they both love it. My friend was evangelical about his Acer among his friend when he got it and they made fun of him when he got the new one, asking what was wrong with the old one. He said he found difficult to answer. The old one was perfect, it was just that the new one was better.

For me, that summed it up. every windows machine I bought, I bought it because the only one had gotten unbearably slow and troublesome. With my Chromebook though it was working better than it was when I bought it, making me wonder what else was out there. I’m already looking forward to my next one.

A year with a Chromebook (The Acer Chromebook CB3-431)

It’s just over a year since I bought a Chromebook. Acer’s CB3-431 (4GB RAM, 32GB storage model) to be precise.

I bought it because my windows laptop had gotten very slow and was troublesome. I didn’t want to buy a cheap windows laptop and couldn’t afford an expensive one and had been wanting to try out a Chromebook so I took the plunge.

 

After a year, definitely wouldn’t go back to windows. Unlike my windows machines down through the years, my Chromebook is now faster and more capable than when I first bought it. It’s very easy to use and set up.

 

Some points:

  • When I got it (November 2016):
    • It was fine, definitely faster than my windows laptop but slow in some respects (Google Inbox was very slow at the time).
    • Splashtop, which is my main tech support app, was only available as a chrome extension and while ok, wasn’t very good.
    • I used Chrome RDP to access my old laptop for certain things (mainly to provide remote support via Splashtop or Microsoft RDP)
  • Now (Jan 2018):
    • It’s much faster, thanks to improvements in the OS and in online apps. Google inbox is very fast and much more user-friendly now.
    • Android apps have become available so I can use the Android Splashtop app which works well on the Chromebook. The only current issue is it only allows me one connection at a time. I think this might change in future when Android apps get multitasking support. Also, I now can use the Microsoft RDP Android app.
    • Update speeds, reboot and boot speeds are amazing. The release of the latest firmware update (for security purposes) required a powerwash of my system which is basically a complete wipe of my Chromebook. I’ve had to do this in the past on windows laptops at was generally a day’s work between backing up everything, wiping and reinstalling windows, and installing all extra apps and drivers and then configuring the system the way I had it. The same procedure on my chromebook took (no exaggeration) 3 minutes, and everything was done for me automatically.

I’ve since recommended it to a few people who purchased the same one as mine and everyone who bought it was very happy with it and had a lot of praise. Two of these people work in education, one is a student, and one owns his own business (and uses it as his main business device, he also bought Chromebooks for his two children for their own business use).