Google Chromebook Beta - circa 2011

When Apple issued its MacBook Pro recall, because of battery overheating concerns, I decided to switch to Google Chromebook while it is being repaired. I have a couple of Chromebooks that we lend to students at the library. Chromebooks are perfect for basic day to day activities. I was wondering if it can replace my regular laptop. So I gave it a try.  

I used a low-end Acer CB3-532 15-inch model. Other than the screen and mouse track, which are horrible, everything is working just fine. Since most Google Chromebooks now support Google Android Apps, you can practically access any extension you need. Another way to look at it, a Google Chromebook is like a 15-inch Android Smartphone with a keyboard and a mouse.   

Native Chromebook applications work the best. Other Android applications designed for mobile phones are glitchy or just look awkward in a larger screen.  

My first challenge was passwords management. It's overwhelming how many passwords I have accumulated over the years. This task was handled in the back-end by my default browser Mozilla Firefox. So, I decided to give Mozilla's password manager Lockwise a try. While it doesn't have a Google Chrome browser extension yet, I downloaded the Android version and it worked just fine.

Next was email. I often check Outlook Exchange on a browser. With a few clicks, I'm usually able to send and receive emails pretty quickly. But this is not like Gmail, Outlook web version is limited. So I decided again to download Outlook for Android App. The app works great for tablets and it worked fine for a Chromebook as well.   

Then I moved to Microsoft Office. I don't have Office 365 subscription with my Enterprise Account, so I had to rely on my personal account to access Word Online. For some reason, you can use Microsoft Word online for free but you need an active Office 365 subscription to use the mobile application. I'm familiar with Word Online, especially within Box environment. I use it all the time for collaboration or for quick word processing. However, the web version is not as feature rich as its desktop counterpart. A whole lot more is missing than I can ignore.  

The limitations of Chromebook are also noticeable when it comes to advanced photo and video editing. While decent applications like Photoshop Express or Google’s acquisition Snapseed are available for mobile devices, their features are limited to lightweight work, mostly for social media consumption such as applying filters or text overlay. Don't even think about editing a video in a Chromebook.   

What is clear, is that most of these legacy software that are built originally for desktop computers, unless they are redesigned for mobile devices from the ground up, they will never be able to provide the same experience. You end up with a lightweight solution that allows you to access files remotely on any device but barely do any work.  

If the whole idea of a Chromebook is to be able to run Android applications then why do we even need another device to do that? Samsung and Huawei have built-in desktop mode for some of their flagship phones. This feature allows users to connect their smartphones to a monitor and peripherals creating a desktop computer powered by the device.   

Another thing I should emphasize is that when you don't buy into a single ecosystem, you will be doing a lot of gymnastics to get your work done. Life is much easier if you have a G Suite subscription, use an Android phone, and don't mind handling your life over to Alphabet inc. or Apple, or Microsoft for that matter.