My year old HP netbook, while adequate in the processing department for web browsing and e-mail, always irritated me in screen size (too small) and resolution (too few pixels). Dialog boxes would extend beyond the screen - even for routine tasks like printing. The battery life was nothing special. It was surprisingly thick. It had even lost one of its stick-on rubber feet, which caused it to wobble in an irritating fashion on flat surfaces. That, and I was suffering from device envy looking at everyone elses’ sleek tablets.

While mulling over tablets and laptops, I oscillated between the Nexus 10 and some form of Transformer (such as the Asus line). I considered my usage patterns. I type a lot - blogs, e-mails, google+ posts and I am a developer (although I did not expect to do much development on my mobile platform). If I bought a true tablet, I would most likely get a keyboard for it. That bumped the real cost up to about $600. I would probably lug the thing around with the keyboard, making it less portable. I was intrigued by the Samsung Chromebook with its Arm processor, and its slimline appearance. I looked around, and found that I could by a refurbished unit at $229 at US Walmart. Walmart also has really cheap extended warrantees, so I ordered one. Total cost 229 + 29 = USD

  1. I figured at that price, I could get one now, and buy a tablet later if I felt I still needed one.

I have had my chromebook for a couple of months now. I use it all the time. It is slim and light. It actually lasts as long as they say it does (6.5 hours on a charge). The keyboard is comfortable and well spaced. The screen is very good - 11.6” turns out to be an excellent size for readability while keeping the overall unit small and neat. The 1366 x 768 is just enough to avoid the dialog overlap problem. I don’t have the “stupid key placement” problems that many laptops suffer from - no extra keys on the left making one miss the standard control/alt/shift keys for example, or weird swapping of control key placement. I don’t miss the lack of caps-lock at all. I quickly learned to delete using alt-backspace. I have configured it for “australian scrolling” and the trackpad’s multitouch is a joy to use. I don’t miss a mouse for the first time for me on a laptop. I also like that it is always cool to the touch, and absolutely silent. It suspends and resumes in a couple of seconds. My only concern is its toughness. I have schlepped it around in my backpack many times, and along the way it has gained a small crack on the casing, which has no effect on its function. Its speakers are surprisingly good, and its microphone and camera work fine for google hangouts. I have used the SD card slot to transfer/play music from my phone.

As hardware for a laptop replacement it has met or exceeded all my expectations, with only the one reservation - but for 260, for two years of guaranteed computing, what can I expect?

Now for the OS. I knew from the outset that I would be installing some kind of full Linux functionality - I need at least Libre Office for working with the more complex spreadsheets that people send me even on the road. I switched to “developer mode”, ignored the dire warning, and installed crouton with its xfce desktop flavour. That went smoothly, and I was a hot-key away from a familiar Linux desktop. In that, I installed Libre Office, and that went smoothly. I then gave it the acid test. In ChromeOS I used gmail to download a complex spreadsheet. I then hot-keyed over to xfce, navigated the filesystem to my downloaded spreadsheet and double-clicked on it. Voila - Libre Office opened my spreadsheet and I was in business. I could make changes, save it, flip to ChromeOS and send my changes back. Also - the Chromebook did not skip or stutter while doing this. I could also stay in xfce and launch Chrome (or Firefox) and do my business there. The one drawback is that in xfce, I did not experience the same buttery smooth (hardware accelerated) scrolling that I got on the ChromeOS side - so I tend to stay in ChromeOS except for specific app requirements (which are uncommon for me).

As for ChromeOS itself - there are a surprising number of apps available in the play store (oodles of games), and I have barely scratched the surface. I have found I do not need to purchase any apps to meet my usual needs. Overall, I would rate it at 9 out of

  1. The .5 is deducted for its lack of scratch resistance and lack of toughness.