I have been on a bit of a Chromebook kick lately. I don’t make any apologies for it either. I have been using as my primary device the HP Chromebook 13 G1. Not the best name but it is what they call it. This is one of the best Chromebooks, I think, you can get right now. You don’t even need to spend the $999 on the new Pixelbook unless you want to, and that’s cool.
For the rest of us who like our Chromebooks in the sub-$1000 range, there are a few options for high-end machines that don’t break the bank. For the price of a middle of the road Windows laptop and well below the usual asking price for a new MacBook there is the HP Chromebook 13 G1. This is a quality built, aluminum chassis, 4k display, super thin, super light, task doing machine.
Let’s get the tech stats out of the way first, the G1 comes in either a 4gb RAM or 8gb RAM model. There is also the choice of two processors, either the m3 or the m5. My machine, that I use every day, is the m5 with 4gb RAM. Both come with 32gb of onboard storage and the backing of Google Drive. The other part that I think is great about the G1 is the MicroSD slot. So if you need to quickly and easily expand the storage, you can put in up to a 128gb MicroSD. I use the slot for importing the pictures from my Canon T3i. The laptop is powered by a USB-C cable and includes two USB-C ports on the left side. Also on that side is a USB 3.0 Type A (normal USB) and the headphone jack. The MicroSD slot is by itself on the right side.
The laptop is powered by a USB-C cable and includes two USB-C ports on the left side. Also on that side is a USB 3.0 Type A (normal USB) and the headphone jack. The MicroSD slot is by itself on the right side. On the deck is a top firing set of Bang and Olufsen speakers. They aren’t the loudest speakers ever fitted to a laptop, but they sound good at full volume, again, laptop speakers in a device this thin are not going to be all the spectacular.
The screen is great! I would put it up against my MacBook’s Retina any day. True, the MacBook gets a little bit brighter but for where and when I am using this Chromebook, it suits me just fine. There is also a webcam above the screen, should you need it. The camera does fine for video chat on your favorite messaging service.
The hinge is quality and the screen does not flop around while you are typing or moving the laptop around. This Chromebook doesn’t have a layflat screen nor is it a two-in-one or touchscreen. If that is something you are looking for, I recommend the Samsung Plus or Pro. The keyboard doesn’t flex under use and the keys are well spaced and have a nice muted “thunk” when you press them. I find the travel to be just about perfect without feeling like I am bottoming out the keys. I feel like the travel is more pronounced than the MacBook I use for work.
Using the Chromebook
I bought this Chromebook to take with me to a temporary duty assignment to Washington D.C. I had been using my work MacBook as my primary computer for awhile, but since I would not be able to connect to my work network while I was away I needed something else. I shopped for a used Mac and was not really happy with what I was finding. I have had a string of Chromebooks so when I found the HP I was pretty excited. Here was a Chromebook with a screen to rival the Mac, it’s in the 13-inch form factor which I think is about perfect, and a nice aluminum build. It really checked all the boxes for me. Also the fact that it is thinner than the MacBook Air was a nice plus.
I have talked at length on here about how the ChromeOS and Chromebooks fill in well for everything I need a computer for. I send email, I update this blog, I edit my pictures in Lightroom. Yes, Lightroom. And since my Chromebook has access to the Google Play Store, I am able to use the App version of Lightroom, which I find to be better than the online version.
The Chromebook never misses a beat, just keeps humming along with whatever I ask of it. The only two issues I have with the Chromebook are this: It gets hot! Streaming video or even a long video chat makes the bottom get hot, not uncomfortable or painful, but noticeable if you have it on your lap. The other thing I wish was a little better is the battery life. Normal use I get about 8 hours out of a charge, thankfully, it recharges quickly. I was used to the marathon battery life of the Acer Chromebook 14 that I had previously. Neither of things are a dealbreaker for me.
The HP Chromebook 13 G1 is by far the best Chromebook I have been able to use so far. Should I find a way to get a Pixelbook, I probably would. But until then I am happy with the HP. It looks good, it performs well and I can do everything I need to do. Pick one up today, you won’t be disappointed.
A lot of things to a lot of people
The Acer Chromebook R11 2-in1 was one of the first wave of Chromebooks to offer the Google Play App Store. I wondered if this addition was going to be value added or somewhat of a distraction from an otherwise great operating system. I held off doing this review for a little while, to see if I was missing the point. I didn’t see what adding Android apps to a laptop would really bring to the table.
You can find them on eBay or Amazon
First Things First
As a laptop the R11 is great, the screen is bright from a lot of angles and while not a full 1080p HD screen it is still a respectable 720p Standard HD panel. It renders colors bright and there is little to no lag in fast scenes. It is comfortable on the eyes to look at for long periods of time. The keyboard is soft, without being squishy. It is the closest to the MacBook keyboard on a Chromebook I have had the chance to use.
I have not been a huge fan of the 11-inch form factor in the past. But this one does make it work without the keyboard feeling cramped or leaving me wishing I had more room on the screen.
The processor is snappy and web pages came up quickly without any issues with running multiple tabs at the same time. Chrome is great about “pausing” tabs that are currently active. This helps keep resources where they are needed, on the tab you are working on. Battery life benefits from this also. I was able to consistently get 10 hours out of a charge, a little less when running the power hungry Android games my son wanted to play.
For surfing the web and checking email, etc. There is no reason that this laptop cannot last you all day on a charge.
On the back is a full aluminum panel with a texture to it. Not sure how to describe it overall, but it feels nice to the touch. This laptop does not feel like a sub-$300 machine. The hinges are sturdy and the overall build is tight and attractive.
The trackpad is large and does a good job of rejecting errant taps or your palm when you have lazy typing form like I do. I have had some laptops that the cursor jumps all over with the slightest misplaced thumb or palm
The white chassis is bright without being loud. It is a subtle white color that looks professional and breaks up the sea of gray aluminum laptops you see everywhere now. It stands out for sure, but not in a bad way.
This is also a 2-in-1 laptop, which means you can use it like a normal laptop, or a tablet by folding it back on itself. This also comes in handy when you can fold it into a backward “L” to give it better stability to watch videos or play games on the responsive touchscreen. I never really tried tent mode, but it works.
The speakers are down firing when in the laptop configuration, but side firing in all other orientations. They are loud and can fill a small room with sound. It reproduces sounds well, if a little lacking in bass. Which is pretty normal for a laptop.
The R11 has what you need to get through the day, a headphone jack, full-size HDMI port, 2 USB ports (1 3.0, 1 2.0) located on opposite sides of the machine. They are well spaced to not interfere with the ports next to them.
Also included is an SD card slot. This allows you to expand on the included 32GB eMMC flash storage. I tested it with a 32GB SD card and read/write times were great. I was able to stream video content from the card with no hesitation or lag.
Power is from the provided connection, the usual round plug. There is not an option for USB-C. While most newer laptops are moving towards the new USB standard this one still has a legacy power connection. Most of the Chromebooks coming out this year are going to opt for the USB-C Standard.
So what everyone is waiting for. Android on a computer. The promise of convergence, the holy grail of computing, at least for me. I want to be able to work on my laptop, move to my phone and back to the laptop when needed without breaking what I was working on. While in theory, this should be easy, and Chrome gets me close, as far as web browsing goes. There are still some holes in the execution.
Most people already think that the ChromeOS, since it comes from Google, that it is just a big version of Android already. This is not true. In reality, ChromeOS is a fork (different version) of Gentoo Linux. (For more about Linux, check out this article). Android is a Java-based operating system that was designed for SmartPhones. I don’t think the designers at Google ever imagined putting it on a computer. But here we are.
The one thing I see as the advantage of bringing Android to Chrome is the inclusion of games. You can now play a lot of the games that are available on Android on your Chromebook. I don’t game that much anymore, but my son was excited to get to play Lego Star Wars on the 11-inch laptop screen as opposed to playing on my 5-inch phone screen, or 7-inch tablet.
On the other hand, you can install Instagram, which, if you keep a lot of your picture on your computer, or you don’t have a smartphone, you can now interact with the app like you would on the phone. There is also the added benefit of being able to see your friends food pictures in 11inch 720p glory!
As Chromebooks go, the Acer R11 is one of the better ones. It is a good form factor, and comfortable to use. The fit and finish of the construction materials feel nice in the hand and the touch screen is responsive. While you probably won’t use it in tablet mode a lot, since it is heavy as a tablet, it is nice to have the option. The processor is snappy and the 4GB of RAM is more than enough to handle everyday tasks.
Should you buy this for the Android apps, in my experience, no. Is it a nice addition, yes. If you need a second laptop that will mostly be used for consuming streaming media or entertaining the kids, this is the one. If you need a serious performer to get some work done on, I would still go with my favorite, the Acer Chromebook 14.
Whatever your reasons, adding a great Chromebook to your lineup is always a great idea.
What are your thoughts on Android apps coming to the Chromebook, leave a comment below. Also, for more information and to find out when new articles are posted. Sign up for our email list.
I am not anti-Apple…
I just never saw the point in paying more for the hardware I already had. I thought of Apple MacBooks as really expensive laptops. Since they pretty much are for what you get. When I got the chance at work to switch to a MacBook I took the leap.
If you have been reading my blog for any length of time you should know that I am a huge fan of the Chromebook. I think they offer the best balance and performance and capabilities that most users need out of a laptop.
So why did I get the MacBook? Well, for one, I didn’t have to pay for it. The other side of that is that as much as I can use my Chromebook for work, I can’t use it to access our file shares. For that, I need one of the IT-approved devices to do that with.
The more I have used the Chromebook the more I want to interact with something that looks nice, and stays out of my way. This transition has not been without it’s “hardships” in learning a whole new pantheon of keyboard shortcuts and menus, but the learning curve is shallow. I have been using Windows machines almost exclusively since Windows 3.1. I am old school.
What’s been the hardest part?
Well, like I said, learning to navigate the menus and the keyboard shortcuts. I am a keyboard warrior, if I can’t shortcut it, I almost don’t even use it. Not that I don’t like the mouse, but the keyboard is a much faster for me to move around the application I might be using at the time.
The menu navigation is not too bad, I have used a lot of Linux distros and a lot of them model themselves after the Mac more than the Windows OS. So it was a small stumble, kind of like walking back into your house after being gone for a couple of months, it’s familiar, but not quite comfortable
What has been easy?
The easy part is actually, Chrome. I use the Chrome browser on all my devices, from my Chromebooks, obviously to my Android-based Google Pixel and my work laptop. This allows me to keep the extension and functionality seamless across all my devices. Whenever and wherever I sign into Chrome, boom, there are my favorites, my settings on how I like my internet experience, and my extensions. (If you aren’t making use of the hundreds of extensions in Chrome, you are missing out)
So that has made that part of the transition easier. No fooling about with setting up a new browser with saved passwords and site settings. Also using the Google Drive ecosystem means that wherever I am, my files are there with me.
Are you going to switch back to Windows?
At this point, I am not so sure. Computing has moved way beyond needing a specific OS. My Chromebook proves that daily, I know ChromeOS is an OS. But I don’t usually have a need for specific applications to be run, so I don’t need a full strength OS. So at that point, I am free to run the hardware and OS that I want. I really enjoy being OS agnostic. As long as I can run my Chrome browser I am good to go.
Would I buy a Mac on my own? Maybe not a new one. I might pick up a used MacBook Air sometime in the future since I like the form factor, but I get the same look and performance from my Acer Chromebook 14. At work, I think I will stick with this Mac for now. I don’t see the need to really go back to Windows for any reason. The first day with the Mac was a challenge, but now, 3 days in, it’s like I have always used it. Oh yeah, the Retina screen is awesome.
The argument of Mac vs. PC is almost as old as Chevy and Ford. What side do you fall on? Tell me in the comments. And as always, please sign up for the email list to get notified of new posts!
Why don’t people want “real” computers anymore
It’s not news that overall sales of new computers have been slumping for a couple of years now. Worldwide the sales of PCs and Mac computers have been on a downward slide due to low consumer demand and a shift to more mobile computing. Let’s take a look at some of the factors leading to the downturn, and why I think there might be a slight revival in the future.
The world is mobile
The last ten years has seen an explosion in the use of smartphones. No other item has so changed the landscape of how we interact with computing devices. We are now realizing the power of having what is basically a small computer, in your pocket. With the always connected nature of high-speed mobile data, more and more people have taken their primary computing needs from the desktop to the pocket.
For the most part, people who use computers are only accomplishing simple things like updating social media, sending emails and shopping online. Hardly anything that requires any real computing horsepower. People have found they don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on a computer setup that has way more capability than they need. So for them, a good smartphone handles their day to day needs.
What about those who need a real keyboard once in awhile? Well, there is a solution for that also. First, there are several Bluetooth enabled keyboards that allow for a wireless connection to your phone or tablet that allow you to have a more traditional computer experience. While no means perfect, it does work in a pinch.
There are even a few convertible laptops that you can separate the keyboard from the screen to use it as a normal tablet or a laptop format depending on your needs. I have used one of these before, it’s not a great laptop since the weight is higher than a normal laptop which makes it prone to tip over. And it is heavy for a tablet. They also tend to be a little underpowered for even light use.
I will make no excuses for it, I am a huge fan of the Chromebook. Turns out, i
t is the only laptop segment that is seeing an increase in sales. It is the almost perfect solution for someone who needs a laptop form factor without the cost and the overhead of running a full-scale OS like Windows or MacOS. Chromebooks have come a long way from being Internet only and poorly supported. These days any application you need to run on a laptop has a ChromeOS equal. Most people do not need a Windows or MacOS anymore. For doing email, social media, running a blog, or keeping up with friends and family a Chromebook will serve your needs. They even look good now.
Laptops have come a long way overall in the amount of battery life and processing power. Even if you need more than just the basic computing needs. For instance, you have a business and need to do heavy processing with complicated Excel functions, database management or specific applications like AutoCAD or video editing. There are laptops that can handle that type of need. With simple and easy to use docks you can connect the laptop to a full-size monitor, keyboard, and mouse. You can get the full desktop experience but can take your device on the road.
Laptop sales have been steady, but are following desktop sales down.
Who really wants a desktop machine anymore? Well, I know a few, but they do high-end 3D animation and video editing and design. They need the horsepower and RAM to handle anything you can throw at it. The day of the family desktop computer is coming to an end. With everyone in the family having access to their own discrete computing devices that are cheap, there is not the demand for the big under desk heater.
Hardcore PC Gamers will look to desktops for their needs, but for most people, the desktop form factor is on its way out.
With the rise of console game systems and high-speed online gaming, the pool of PC gamers is shrinking. While PC Games are better looking and a mouse is a better way to play those games, the price and ease of use of Game Consoles are really eating into the PC market.
Several years ago there was a big drive to set up multimedia servers in your house to stream all your movies and music to your TV. But with the rise of Netflix and Hulu and many many other streaming services, that demand has been moved to the cloud. “Cheap” high-speed internet has made this easier to manage and keep running smoothly.
Cloud computing has been shifting a lot of the computing power that’s needed to server farms located all over the country. This takes the load off the local machine and allows for the resources to be lowered, making parts cheaper. The best example is the Chromebook, again.
Stuff just lasts longer
People are holding on to their devices longer than they used it. New computers last longer and are more future proof than their earlier counterparts. Also, a lagging economy is forcing business and individuals from spending the money to upgrade every year or two.
The major corporate buys have gone a long way towards keeping higher end computer sales afloat. Without the constant turnover of machines being needed, the market as a whole tends to have a bit of a downward slide.
If you do have some old devices around that you need to handle or dispose of, I have a couple of tips.
There will be a bottom to the PC decline, but we are a long way from it. As smartphones get more powerful and laptops cheaper, the desktop will be done, except for very niche applications. I recommend most people would be served well with a good smartphone and a Chromebook. Most people don’t need the processing power that a high-end Windows or Mac Laptop have to offer.
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What do you think about the future of computing? Do you see a return of the desktop? The death of the laptop? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
There are a lot of great Chromebooks coming out
When the MadebyGoogle event happened back in October 2016, there was some disappointment that there was no mention of new Chromebooks coming out. Well, it looks like everyone was waiting for the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) to happen to announce all the new devices coming out.
While the headlines are being taken by the new Samsung Chromebook Pro with its touch screen and stylus input, it’s not the Chromebook I am excited about right now. The one I am interested in, is well, less than the Pro. It’s also in the 11-inch screen range, which isn’t my favorite. I am excited about the new Acer Rugged Chromebook 11 N7.
Why the rugged Acer?
Three words, I have kids. Really I have two under 6. They are hard on equipment. It helps the N7 was actually designed for use in the classroom. It is built to stand up to spills, drops, and shock. Why still would I want a computer designed for kids? I think there is value in a laptop that is really a go anywhere.
If you plan to take a laptop to have with you on an outdoor adventure, say for editing your camping photos on the go, or you just work outside, why wouldn’t you want a device that can stand up to the elements?
Even if you don’t work outside, the ruggedness of this laptop would also work in a machine shop or out on a less than clean production floor. I used to maintain a computer for a friend’s auto repair business, let me tell you, that computer didn’t last long between cleanings. It was in a dirty and dusty environment with less than ideal heating and cooling.
A ruggedized laptop would have worked better, and he could have brought the computer to the car to pull up the information he needed to complete the repairs. This machine also is available with a touchscreen option, which would make it easier to navigate if you need to wear gloves. Obviously, you would need a pair of touch-capable handwear.
The laptop is also covered with a grippy rubberized case to give it extra protection and the hinges are reinforced and the chassis is designed to stand up to twisting and pressures. This laptop could literally be thrown into your backpack and be expected to work on the other end.
It also features a fanless design, which is quiet and doesn’t allow water in, and a reported 12-hour battery life. This is an all day beating taker.
Some other stats:
The device features an 11.6-inch display, which is available in IPS touch and non-touch LCD options. Performance is provided by an Intel Celeron dual-core processor, 4GB of RAM, and 16 or 32GB of Storage (Probably eMMC). Stay connected with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, two USB 3.0 ports, one HDMI port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and an SD card reader.
This laptop is no slouch as Chromebooks go. It should be able to handle about anything your throw at it.
If you need a good, cheap, go anywhere and survive laptop, the Acer Rugged Chromebook 11 may be the one for you. It will be available in January 2017. The price depending on the options you pick, between touch or non-touch screen, should be around $229US. So it won’t break the bank and you can use it in places you wouldn’t dream of bringing a $1500 MacBook Pro.
What are your thoughts on a small rugged computer? Leave your comments below.
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Switching is easy!
So you got a new Chromebook as a gift or you are thinking of jumping from Windows (or Mac even, the steps are close to the same) and move onto a lighter and more responsive OS. Laptops that are cheaper and don’t require the overhead of a full flavor OS. Do you find yourself doing most of your computing inside of a web browser? Do you mostly surf the web, update social media, and checking email? Is your primary computing device becoming your phone and you find you need a real keyboard to type out something once in awhile? Or are you starting a blog and don’t want to dump $1500 on the latest MacBook Pro with a “touch bar”?
Then Chromebooks are right for you! You may think that switching to a new OS and a new way of using a computer would be hard, but I promise, it isn’t. Let’s get started.
1. Setup a Google Account
I covered this in the Switch from iPhone to Android article, but I will cover it again here. You need a Google account to make the Chromebook work. More than likely you have a Gmail account laying around. That is all you need. If you don’t have one, go set one up here, don’t worry, like before, I will wait till you get back…… Set up? Good, let’s continue.
Your new Google account gives you access to a treasure trove of free resources. The one we are most interested in right now is your Google Drive account. To start you get 15GB of storage. This should be enough to accomplish most of what we need to do. Don’t worry, I will cover some more options in a minute.
2. Prep for the transfer
On your Windows computer (again works the same for Mac) navigate to what is probably the most important folder on your hard drive – The USER folder. This is the spot where everything that is specific to your profile on your Windows machine lives.
For the Mac users out there, the location of your USER folder is slightly different. Since MacOS is really just UNIX/Linux it has a different structure. Your personal collection of files are in your home folder. For information on how to rename and copy and backup and all that check out this article at Cult of Mac. You can follow the basic steps I am laying out in this article, but I am focusing on Windows users. Hence the title. -Cheers!
Inside your User folder, you will see subfolders listing the user profiles you have on your machine. Now if you are the only one to ever use your computer, then you are in luck, since you should only have to backup one profile. You can ignore the folders that are called “Public” and “Default” the really shouldn’t have anything valuable in there, unless you know you put some file there you may want to keep.
Navigate to your user folder, it should be labeled with your name or a variation of your email address you used to sign into your computer. Inside that folder, you will find your Documents, Music, Pictures, Downloads, Videos, and other folders that house your stuff. The ones we are going to put our focus on are the big three, Documents, Music and Pictures.
You will need to check the size of these folders to see if they will fit inside of your 15GB that Google gives you. Where you might run into issues is the Pictures folder. If you have a lot of pictures, these tend to be bigger files. Same goes for the Music folder, if you have a large digital music library on your computer then it will be hard to upload to your Google Cloud.
So now you have a couple of options. You can pay to increase the amount of storage you have on Google Drive, which if you buy a new Chromebook you can get 100GB free from Google Drive for 2 years, you will have to pay to continue that level of storage at the end of the two years, but the price is really low.
Another option is storage external to your laptop. Keeping in mind that your Chromebook will probably on have 16GB to 32GB of onboard storage. Some newer Chromebooks that have just been announced will probably have 64GB to 128GB, but these will be more expensive and not as common.
If you store a large media library on your laptop and need to have all those files with you and available all the time, then a cheap external Hard Drive is probably your best bet. Throw it in your laptop bag with your Chromebook and be on your way.
3. Make the Transfer
You will now need to copy the files you want from your old laptop to your Google Drive or to your new storage medium. I would take this opportunity to clean up any duplicate files or stuff you don’t want anymore.
Transferring files from your Windows Hard Drive to your Google Drive couldn’t be easier. All you have to do is have Windows Explorer open and a browser window with Google Drive. You can simply drag and drop your files from the Explorer Window to the Google Drive page. Google Drive will automatically start uploading your files to the cloud. Depending on how many files you have and how fast your internet connection is, this could take some time.
If you have some MicroSD cards laying around you can also use these with most Chromebooks for extra storage, with a few exceptions
4. Log into your new Chromebook
One of the great things about a Chromebook is the ease of setup. Just type in your Gmail address and password. And you’re done. That’s it. Any Chromebook you go to use, all you have to do is put in your Gmail and password, and you will have the same collection of applications and extensions. It’s that easy, seriously.
Google Drive is the primary way to interact with your files on a Chromebook, you can navigate to the files and you should see all your former Windows files available on the Chromebook. Your music, documents, and pictures. And best yet, if you have an Android phone you can store your photos for free with no limit on Google Drive, it will even sort your pictures by year for you.
5. Apps and Extensions
Chromebooks do not install applications to the hard drive like Windows or Mac. You basically get a shortcut to the application that lives on a server on the internet. That’s how Chromebooks get away with having such small onboard storage requirements.
If you are used to certain applications on Windows, you will probably need to find ChromeOS extensions and apps that do the same thing. While not all Windows applications are duplicated on Chrome, many are. The first one you will need is Google Office Suite, which is Google docs (Word), Sheets (Excel), Slides (Powerpoint). They are capable of opening files that were created in MS Office. If that is not what you want to do, Office is also available online if you have an MSN account. (Hotmail, Msn, Outlook.com email) It may not be as feature rich as the native Office is, but should work for most people.
For other applications, you may want to use just search the Google Web Store or check Chrome-based websites like ChromeUnboxed
6. Tell someone else
Seriously, once you start using a Chromebook and seeing how easy it is to fire up and just get to work, you will want to let everyone know about it. Chromebooks used to have a bad rap about how simplistic and weak they were. Not anymore. The Chromebook is a serious machine for serious (and fun) work!
Do you have any tips or tricks for converting from Windows/Mac to Chromebooks? Tell us about it in the comments. Also be sure to sign up for our email list to get the latest posts from Average Guy Tech delivered to your inbox! Sign up is on the right side of the page or at the bottom of the page on mobile.