ChromeOS Freed Me!

ImageA couple years ago I bought my first android tablet, a Coby MID7122. It’s a 7″ unit, and my idea was to get something I could read ebooks on, but also be useful on the internet when out and about since at that time I didn’t have a smartphone. I had looked at Kindles and Nooks and other big-name e-readers, but as nice as they were for actually reading, I wanted to do a lot more that they just couldn’t accommodate. I may have thought differently if I’d known about rooting and such.

Shortly after I got the tablet, I found a neat little combination keyboard and case for it that I reasoned would allow me to do what I’m doing right now, blogging, a whole lot easier. I ended up with mixed feelings about that particular purchase.

I’ve discovered that no matter how those case/keyboards are marketed, no matter what brand or price point, they were all basically the same, and on closer inspection appeared to be identical, other than for colors or little cosmetic details like leather stitching. Meh. FYI, I saw prices on the same unit from less than ten dollars to over fifty.

Once I had the piece and actually used it, I knew that it would NOT be the answer I was looking for. Basically I wanted to transform my tablet into a netbook, but using that clunky, ill-designed Chinese keyboard was more akin to texting with a phone number pad. It could be done, but it was mistake-prone and very, very slow.

Not too long after that the keyboard actually stopped working. First it had begun to randomly stop, and I’d unplug it from the tablet, plug it back in, and it would go back to working. Then one day nothing would fix it. So at that point I just had a rather thick tablet case. Not long after that, my wife changed phone contracts.

I’d been using a pay-as-you-go phone, with Terra and the kids on a family plan with other family members. When one of those contracts was due to expire, Terra decided it was time we had our own contract so we could control things more, so she and the kids went to the AT&T store and signed up.

She got a slider keypad phone, my daughter Kara got an LG P870 Escape android phone, and Cody got an iPhone. The full spectrum! I was happy with my PAYG phone, an LG900, which was Blackberry-ish in appearance, though it was by no means a blogging device. I wasn’t interested in a smartphone at that time, but one night I idly asked the kids to let me mess around with theirs for a while, and suddenly the usefulness of 24-hour internet access in my pocket really hit me.

I had some preconceived notions about the iPhone from talking to people and reading reviews and I really didn’t think it would be for me because of the very closed environment Apple forces on users. Same reason I don’t live in Beijing. On the contrary, Kara’s Escape seemed to bring everything I wanted to the table: customizable the way I wanted it to be, a much bigger screen than the Apple for these tired old eyes, and a side benefit of having an sd slot and removable battery. So two weeks into their contract, I got myself added on and got an LG for myself.

The phone came with a 4GB microsd which I soon replaced with a 32GB, the maximum usable size. A while later I upgraded the stock battery to one which was the same physical dimensions (no large camel hump on the back of the phone!) but which had 50% more power reserves. Rooting the phone made me absolutely free.

The phone has been great, and by using it I’ve learned IMMENSELY about Android and “the way things are done” within that ecosystem. It’s been a LOT of fun. I enjoy trying apps of all kinds. I’ve loaded and tried out so many that I couldn’t begin to list them all. But the problem still remained…it’s not a good blogging solution. At least for me.

A side note here to clarify future statements: Over the last several years I’ve been a browser junkie. At one point I had ten or twelve different browsers on my desktop and just as many on my phone. Why? Because someone is always coming out with THE NEXT BIG THING, and I loved being able to instantly compare new features as they rolled out. Over time my desktop preferences slowly wound down to the point where I only have IE, Firefox and Chrome now. On my phone I have Chrome, Boat and Dolphin. I’d have Dolphin on my desktop too if it were available…it’s awesome.

Because of my interest in browsers, I noticed when Google came out with ChromeOS a couple years ago. I didn’t really get into it much, but I did like the concept of a machine stripped down of its software to only the browser to perform all day-by-day functions in the fastest way possible. Recently I saw a picture of a Samsung Chromebook and I was intrigued. No vents. No noise. Very thin. So different from the 17″ Acer laptop I bought July 4th before last to do…you guessed it…mobile blogging, which I quickly found to be far too bulky and short-lived for daily outings.

What hesitance I had toward actually buying a Chromebook was come by honestly. A few years ago we’d given Cody an EEE-PC netbook for Christmas. It was a Windows machine, based on XP, and it was tortuously slow. It had a ten inch screen which probably contributed to my needing reading glasses. It was terrible. And that’s all I could see as I looked at the pretty picture.

But…I kept reading reviews. I discovered that there are many Chromebooks from many different companies, so I examined each one. And I saw the Acer C710. Now, when you look at price comparison charts you’ll see that the specs for the C710 are very similar to most all other Chromebooks. It uses an Intel Celeron chipset, has a 16GB SSD and an 11.6″ screen. What immediately jumped out at me was that its keyboard is a standard PC layout keyboard.

See, most vendors have adopted what’s become known as the “ChromeOS layout” keyboard, where certain keys like the DEL key and the CAPS LOCK key are gone, along with the function keys. With their units you have to use two-step keyboard shortcuts to perform the function that one key used to do. Wha? That’s a shortcut???

That was the clincher for me right there. Other things that drew me toward Acer was the easy upgradeability. One screw underneath and you can upgrade the RAM (officially to 4GB, but I’ve read on forums that at least one person is running 16GB) and the hard drive. Oh, and by the way, the Acer is the least expensive CB also. $199.

So I did it. Two weeks ago I drove forty miles to the nearest Walmart that stocks them and bought one. I HAVE LOVED IT! I finally found my perfect blogging machine. I bought that $199 wonder, and since it comes with just 2GB of ram, I will soon upgrade it to a much larger amount. More ram means more tabs open at the same time.

The only, and I mean ONLY, limitation that can’t be changed is that it’s wifi with no data connection. There are some units out there that have 3G and even 4G, but guess what? That means a cell plan. Since I have wifi at home and there’s a gazillion wifi points out in the wild, why would anyone need data? A netbook isn’t like your phone…you’re not going to whip it out on the subway or while walking in the park to check some obscure reference on the net. You’re generally going to be using it for a larger purpose when you use it, so you’ll probably have no issue with going to where the wifi is.

The great thing is that developers all over are recognizing the cloud method of computing, and are designing great apps that run in ChromeOS. Soon there will be literally nothing you can’t do on your Chromebook. At moments like this I always see Mel Gibson in Braveheart attire, raising an arm and yelling, “FREEEEEEEEEDOM!!!”

Because that’s what it is.