Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What exactly are Chromebooks? Should you buy one?

Many of us have probably heard Chromebook thrown around often in tech news. It is often mentioned as a cheap laptop for the ordinary person. But do you actually know what they are and what its purpose is?

Chromebooks are, in a nutshell, a very cheap computer running ChromeOS. However, leaving it at that is a huge oversight because that is like saying laptops are boxes with screens, which simply just not cover the wide variety of things laptops are capable of. The following will be divided into three sections: ChromeOS, the Chromebook Market, the purpose and the conclusion.

ChromeOS is, very bluntly put, google chrome. That is what ChromeOS is. On any other computer, you boot into, say windows. From there you do whatever you need to do. However, google believes that people don't need anything other than access to internet because we spend most of our time on a browser. Therefore, the google team has created a web browser that is an OS; ChromeOS. For those that care, the chromeOS puts google chrome on Linux, but restricts it to browser apps. When you boot up a chromebook, you are greeted to a glorified edition of google chrome. However, this is not all of google's ChromeOS. Google Chrome on any other OS has additional plugins, extensions and apps that can be added to the browser. However, the app system, in my honest opinion, is too inconvenient to use because it requires google chrome to be running, and if it isn't, it will take up quite some time to load up and delays the user by a significant amount of time. One example that personally affects me: I use google hangouts.  However, hangouts has no authorized desktop client, although there is an awesome extension for chrome that runs hangouts. However, it requires google chrome to be running. This dissuades people like me who are too bothered to run extremely limited apps in a browser, while also have that browser running full time. However, what if those apps populated bottom of the screen, like the taskbar on windows? It would be a lot more convenient to use and wouldn't take up time to load or buffer because google chrome is already running. What this allows is for chrome-based apps such as Angry Birds to run on the computer from the taskbar, and load up instantly. Still confused? The picture below will help.

A - This is the google chrome we all love or hate. ChromeOS will use google chrome as the browser of choice and everything will run within it. In ChromeOS, the browser supports multiple windows and tabs, which is standard
B - This is the taskbar-esque element of ChromeOS. It allows for quick access to pinned apps from the chrome web store, such as google docs. Also, notice how the wikipedia app is selected. Clicking on it will immediately launch wikipedia, therefore speeding up the process.
C - The background is customizable, which is standard.
D - User information and other important info, just like Windows

Most of the things you do on a chromebook requires an internet connection. Obviously. However, there are a few apps that work offline, however, I would not recommend doing so. Apps such as gmail offline and sketchbook are great apps that work offline on ChromeOS. It even has a slightly different keyboard to support the OS's web browser oriented approach to computing.

To conclude, ChromeOS is a glorified version of Google Chrome (Browser) that has specific features added to it to make a true OS. However, ChromeOS is not the reason why you would want one.

The Chromebook Market
When chromebooks first came, they weren't as widely adopted as Google would have liked them to be. In other words, chromebook sales were crushingly low. They were reminiscent of the netbook, which was ultimately nothing more than a fad. Netbooks were a great idea. They were a response to consumer usage and would have done well, except they were ahead of the time. The technology to produce good computers at the prices the netbooks were aiming for simply did not exist, and as a result, weren't all that popular. However, chromebooks are actually capable of the netbook dream, and as a result, manufacturers are starting to adopt it. Manufacturers such as Toshiba, Acer, Lenovo and Samsung are pumping out super cheap web centric laptops. Check out great websites such as CNET, TechCrunch or Engadget for hands on demonstrations and reviews on the chromebook you want to buy. Also, an important element of the chromebook market is the chrome web store. The chrome web store has extensions, plug ins and addons for the browser that can enhance the user experience or provide additional functionality. Take an example such as Google Hangouts. The Chrome OS edition looks like this: 
This allows for quick access to chats, active notification and convenience if you happen to use google hangouts on a regular places. There are many great apps such as the one above that make the experience on the web for a consumer such as yourself faster and easier. 

The Purpose
You're probably reading this on a PC, mac or even a phone and wondering, what could possibly be the point of all this. The cheap chromebooks have terrible build quality, display and specs. Who would possibly want that? But before making that judgement,  ask yourself this, how much did that device cost? Chances are, if you're on a good desktop, chances are you paid at least 700 dollars. And if you're on a mac, it cost at least 800 dollars, and that's for the cheapest mac possible. A high end phone costs 800 dollars off contract. A decent chromebook costs around 300 dollars and there are even cheaper ones for 200 dollars, if not on sale. 
This makes chromebook a great option for students, who are typically low on budget but need a computer to get work done. Chromebooks can come in there to help and at a relatively affordable price of 300 to 400 dollars for a decent one, it connects students to the internet while not bankrupting them. Google knows this because the biggest buyers of chromebooks are schools, which purchase the computers for their students to enhance the teaching process. This allows for almost any student and any school to allow their students have access a great tool for education at a decently low price. Google, as mentioned before, knows this and has therefore released google apps for classroom, the most recent one being Google classroom, a Learning Management system (Like Schoology, but not as advanced). It is also great for first time employees or startups because of its cost. Of course, all of this based on the premise that the work involved doesn't required advanced tools such as photoshop and involve offline work but frankly, in this interconnected era, access to internet is not that hard and we based alternatives and chrome apps for photo editing exist, which while not as advanced as photoshop, will suffice for cropping and resizing. It is also great for price sensitive regions because the cost of the chromebook is low yet the consumer gets access to the internet for whatever purpose. The ChromeOS's simplicity is great for the elderly seeking internet access, and is also wonderful for first laptop owners because they hadn't invested much yet got what the wanted.
But what is google's purpose in all this? The reason google is involved in this business is because it exposes users to google services and google hopes that this exposure will make the user adopt google apps and rely on the google ecosystem. Google hopes to make lifetime users out of students and as evil as that sounds, it isn't necessary, for the user can still continue to use other services.
Overall, the purpose of a chromebook is to offer internet access to people with a low budget, be that startups, students or just a regular person looking for a cheap laptop that can be used to do a fair bit of work but also be used to socialize and entertain (Youtube). 

At the end of the day, the question is, should you buy one? It depends. Are you somebody on a low budget who just needs quick access to the internet? Then yes. Go for it. However, if you are somebody who needs to be able to advanced tasks or is not really concerned with the cost, there are better options than chromebook. 


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