Chromebook: Meh

So I decided to spend more time using the Chromebook to make sure I was giving the it a fair shake.  For the last week I’ve used the Chromebook as my primary home computer. The only time I used another computer was one or two nights when I played some World of Warcraft on my 27″ iMac.  Even then, I left my MacBook Pro in my backpack and slid the Chromebook into its place of honor as my “read while I’m tanking” computer.

Well, I’m done.  And I’m more convinced now than I was before that the Chromebook is exactly what I expect a $429 laptop to be – cheap and unimpressive.

I took my Chromebook with me to a friend’s house the other night for our biweekly D&D session.  My nerd friends were appropriately interested in the new gadget, but one of them pointed out when I was giving my opinion of the device that I referred to it as “light” five times in as many sentences.  There’s a reason for that – the Chromebook’s weight and thinness are basically the only thing about it that I can praise.  It is thin – especially for a non-Mac.  It is light.  So if your only two criteria for your next secondary or tertiary computer are weight and size, knock yourself out and get a Chromebook.

For everyone else, here are my major issues with the Chromebook after using it every evening for the last week and all day on the weekend.

Atrociously Bad/Cheap Quality

The trackpad is junk.  It feels gritty and ill-fitted to the case.  It is inaccurate to an irritating extreme, often performing a right-click when I press a single finger on it, when a right-click is supposed to be triggered by a two-finger click.  It routinely ignores clicks all-together.  Were this a larger laptop that might not be as big of an issue – you could just use a mouse with it.  But this thing is meant to be used in your lap, and a terrible trackpad is unforgiveable.

The screen, or perhaps just the backlight, are so bad I wonder if this unit is defective.  I kid you not, the screen has dimmed and brightened several notches up and down as I have written this post – twice in the time it took me to type this sentence.  I’m sitting in a room with constant lighting, but it almost seems like the Chromebook is adjusting screen brightness to adjust to changing light levels.

The screen hinge is a joke.  I handed the Chromebook open to my buddy at work last week and it nearly closed itself just from the tiny bit of momentum he built up bringing it closer to his chest.  I sincerely doubt this hinge would last a year of normal use.

The overall build quality is cheap as well.  Any thoughts I had of using Chromebooks to replace the Dell Latitudes we use in our loaner laptop program have vanished.  Our users manage to keep Dell busy with CompleteCare coverage and the Latitudes are built like tanks.  I doubt a Chromebook would last a month of checkout laptop usage.

The Browser as Computer

The whole “browser as computer” concept gets old really fast.  I don’t need a tiny computer to browse the web – I have an iPad for that and it does at least as good a job.  I tried to describe the kind of real person I know who would prefer a computer like the Chromebook and I failed.  Nobody I know would want to, or even could, use the Chromebook as a primary computer.  Outside of my geek friends circle, most real people I know don’t have multiple computers.  So who is this thing for?  Some hypothetical person who wants a lightweight laptop for use on the couch or in the bed who insists on having a keyboard, I guess.

I have no tolerance for cheap products

That may be the core of why the Chromebook doesn’t work for me.  I think back to the days when I bought my first laptop – a refurbished IBM Thinkpad, on which I installed OS/2 Warp, then finally gave in and switched to Windows 95.  I know I’ve owned laptops and other devices over the years that were no better designed or built than this Samsung Chromebook, and I was satisfied with them at the time.  Heck, I recommended them to friends and family.

My tastes have shifted, though, become more refined, or perhaps just more critical.  Maybe it’s pure Mac user snobbery or maybe it’s just a desire for something I spend my money on to feel like it is more than just a cheap gadget.  Whatever it is, continued use of the Chromebook has done nothing but convince me that it simply isn’t my cup of tea.

So there you have it.  Still no word on the Citrix Receiver for the Chromebook.  I’ll definitely give it a whirl when it hits the Chrome Web Store, and see if using it to access virtualized Windows apps changes my opinion of this device.

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