Farpoint Group gave Samsung’s new Series 3 Chromebook to a diverse group of five people to see how real users respond to what some view as a revolution in the making. Are average PC users happy with what the ChromeBook has to offer?
First, a personal bias: I’m a huge believer in Web/cloud computing, and I think this particular approach to both personal and enterprise IT will eventually dominate across the board. Google’s ChromeBook strategy, then, really appeals to me — low-cost, notebook-like client devices coupled with robust services in the cloud.
The question is, though, does this approach appeal to anyone else? To find out, Farpoint Group provided five individuals — all of whom are experienced computer users, but not IT professionals — with Samsung’s XE303C12-A01US ChromeBooks, and gave them a couple of months to try them out. We then conducted extensive interviews with each to find out if the Chromebook really has legs. Here’s what we learned:
Adam H is a graphic designer and online-marketing consultant. He mostly uses a Windows 7-based notebook for work, but absolutely loves the Chromebook, already being a big fan of the Chrome web browser. He notes that the Chromebook is “basic, simple, easy” but that “apps can be confusing at first”. He likes the customizability, noting the Windows-8-like (tiled) “Awesome New Tab Page” feature. Videos play smoothly, and without the need for drivers. Cons? Not many, just a passing comment that the device seems slow from time to time, that he prefers a mouse to the touchpad (plugging in a USB mouse works just fine, BTW), and that full function is dependent upon a live connection to the cloud. No matter — the Chromebook has replaced Adam’s iPad as his primary personal device. Awesome, indeed.
Donna D is a retired educator who has used Windows in the past but who switched to Ubuntu about three years ago. She primarily uses Web-based services, including Gmail, via Firefox. She really likes the size and keyboard of the Chromebook, and also that it is light in weight and easy to set up and use (she has no formal training in computers at all). She’s using it primarily for Gmail and browser-based activities like Facebook. She did note some compatibility issues with video on certain sites, but the ChromeBook is still significantly faster than the Ubuntu-based PC she still uses for some tasks. Summing up: There’s literally nothing she doesn’t like about the Chromebook and she would recommend it to everybody. And the cloud is really working for her: she loves being able to log into her account and access Gmail and her data from any PC. The Chromebook is now her primary computer.
Kaitlynn A is a social worker specializing in crisis management. She has primarily used Windows-based PCs and Macs in the past, but also has some background with Linux. She’s been using the Google ecosystem — Gmail, Docs, and Drive — for some time, and so was quickly comfortable with the Chromebook. She’s been taking it to work, using it to keep personal productivity activities separate from the confidential data on her work PC. Downloaded apps overall have proven useful, but she has noted some compatibility issues playing YouTube videos, and reported that the device seems slow if not shut down each night. And while Wi-Fi connectivity is available almost everywhere she needs to go, a local word processor would be useful for taking notes. She loves the “fabulous keyboard feel” (although figuring out how to set caps-lock took a little research), but stated that the touchpad feels “flimsy”. She also likes the Macbook-Air-like form factor, the good Wi-Fi range and performance, and the remarkable battery life, reporting 6.5+ hours. Overall? “highly recommend”, and “the coolest computer ever”, this at least a partial reference to the fact the Chromebook does not get noticeably warm while in use.
Stephanie V is Director of eLearning for a larger non-profit. She uses a Windows-based PC at work but mostly Macs at home — although she now uses the Chromebook at least an hour a day. What does she like? It’s easy to use, and she was productive literally five minutes out of the box. It has replaced a tablet (an iPad, and she likes the Chromebook much better than Microsoft’s Surface), has “awesome battery life”, and she regularly uses the HDMI port to connect to an external monitor. On the cons side, she did note some browser compatibility issues, even with other Chrome implementations. HDMI can’t be hot-plugged and requires a restart. It’s slower than many other PCs. It’s not good for gaming. She’d like a faster way to switch between Google accounts. But if one buys into the whole Google ecosystem, this is a product than can be “good for almost everybody” and “can’t be beat for the price”. The bottom line? A 7.5 out of 10 — not bad at all.
Wesley L is a manager at a credit union and primarily used a six-year-old Mac until he got the Chromebook. While he also uses Kindle Fire, he told us that the Chromebook is “fast, efficient, simple, and straightforward”. He likes the lightweight form factor, and even the cloud-centric focus. It does, he notes, “everything I need to do” with only a slight learning curve involved. He likes the availability of the USB and HDMI ports. While he’s using the ChromeBook primarily for browsing the Web, he’s also looking into using it for audio production. He’s had no real issues other than a touchpad button that occasionally sticks.
So, then — mostly satisfied and productive users all. Indeed, the only ding (and it’s really minor) that I personally can give the Chromebook so far is its current strategy regarding printing. The Chromebook uses Google’s Cloud Print facility, which, as you might guess, uses a cloud-centric approach to getting around the complexity of printer drivers. While a few Cloud Print-ready printers are on the market, if you don’t have one of these you’ll need to run the Chrome browser on a PC or Mac connected (locally or over a network) to the printer you wish to use, and set up a link (it’s easier than it sounds) between this machine and your Chromebook. Again, this works around all of potential trauma with printer drivers, but requires a machine to be left on all the time lest local Chromebook users express their irritation when the printer doesn’t work.
Overall, though, we have in Samsung’s latest Chromebook a machine that truly can, as our research here shows, make a large, diverse audience very happy. I heard very few minor complaints, and that’s it for the downside. And the Chromebook, to bring this conversation full circle, still, to my mind, really does point the way to a convenient and productive cloud-based future for personal computing overall.
About Craig Mathias
Craig is the principal of Farpoint Group and an internationally-recognized expert on wireless communications and mobile computing. He has published numerous technical and overview articles on a wide variety of topics. His professional background includes extensive work on military and government systems, hypermedia systems, a wide variety of computer systems (including supercomputers and high-performance computer graphics and imaging systems), and, of course, numerous wired and wireless network architectures and systems.