Thoughts on the Samsung Chromebook – No Laptop Replacement but Still Really Useful for Cloud Workers

I received a free Samsung Chromebook after attending Google I/O this year and I’ve been trying to use it as my primary weekend computer for the past few weeks. I have a handful of observations about my experience. I’ll sum my thoughts up in a simple sentence:

The Samsung Chromebook is not a reasonable substitute to a traditional laptop for the majority of people out there. But it is still a great computer if you already love the cloud and have near-constant Internet access.

If you want a more detailed writeup of this transition from someone who has thought about this issue in greater depth than I have, I encourage you to read Louis Gray’s post. Despite this computer having some shortcomings for the average user, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how usable it is for everyday uses if you have already moved most of your life to the cloud:

There are two real reasons why I don’t think the Chromebook is a true laptop replacement for the average user today:

1. The Samsung Chromebook requires an Internet connection to have value. While I generally work on my MacBook Air with a reliable Internet connection, I am able to interact with a number of my favorite applications without an Internet connection. The key use cases are working on Word, Powerpoint, or Excel documents when I’m not connected to the Internet, editing or creating notes in Evernote, or working on offline email.

The hardest thing to which to adapt is the fact that I basically cannot use the Chromebook without an Internet connection. It’s basically a browser on top of an OS that boots really quickly. We do not yet live in a world of ubiquitous, always-on (and always available) connectivity. As such, I still need my primary computer to be one that works when I don’t have an Internet connection. The base “free” package of 100MB that comes with this Samsung Chromebook is not large enough for me to use this as my only computer in the absence of Wi-Fi.

2.There are good web-native equivalents to the desktop programs that many users use, but not everyone is ready to make that switch.

The biggest surprise I had in using the Samsung Chromebook was how less dependent I have become on desktop applications than I had realized. I thought about all of the core applications that I use and I realized that there are good web-accessible alternatives that have already become core parts of my life:

-Music: Spotify or Rdio for cloud music vs iTunes client music experience
-Video – Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon for video streaming vs iTunes client experience
-Productivity – Google Docs vs Microsoft Office
-Email – Gmail vs Mac Mail, or Outlook or Sparrow
-Instant Messaging – Meebo or Google Talk vs Skype or other desktop IM client

When I first got the device, I thought the lack of desktop applications would be the biggest thing I missed. To be honest, I never really missed the lack of native desktop applications except for in a few specific situations. For example, the process of trying to mark up an agreement on the Chromebook is hard – Google Docs doesn’t support track changes in the same way that desktop versions of Microsoft Word does. And I have a few other gripes about dealing with spreadsheets. But that’s really it. In the grand scheme of things, that’s a pretty narrow set of complaints.

Ironically, the thing I’m finding most vexing about the device is that it’s hard to work with both Google Apps and a standard Gmail account in the same browser instance. That’s a real need for me and it was kind of frustrating to have to switch back and forth.

You can follow me on Twitter @chudson or leave a comment below.

  • It feels like a Chromebook will get stuck in the middle between a “full” laptop and a tablet, with a fairly limited set of users who can’t be satisfied by either of those (or both).  ie I use my iPad as my primary weekend device and its great, and there are a number of things I can do on there with specific apps that haven’t moved to the web well.

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  • Chromebooks are targeted to specific types of users that want an easy to use, Internet-friendly browsing device.  They are not meant to replace the traditional PC or laptop.

    In addition, there are third party apps out there that can bridge the gap for Chromebook users that require occasional access to those tools found only in a Windows environment.  For example, if a Chromebook user needs quick, easy, temporary access to a Windows desktop or Windows app, they can use Ericom AccessNow, a pure HTML5 RDP client that enables Chromebook users to connect to any RDP host, including Terminal Server (RDS Session Host), physical desktops or VDI virtual desktops – and run their applications and desktops in a browser.

    Ericom‘s AccessNow does not require Java, Flash, Silverlight, ActiveX, or any other underlying technology to be installed on end-user devices – an HTML5 browser is all that is required.

    For more info, and to download a demo, visit:
    http://www.ericom.com/html5_RDP_Chromebook.asp?URL_ID=708

    Note: I work for Ericom