Chromebooks, Some Initial Thoughts

Sooooo, I might have taken $264.82 (which, as another attorney generously pointed out, is actually $304) and purchased a Samsung Chromebook. I blame the purchase on my taxes, or advertising. I’m not sure which.

Samsung Chromebook

I would have normally purchased this from Amazon at $249, but I felt impulsive, so I took my money to Best Buy.

I’ve played with the device for all of 5 hours, so I’ll share some initial thoughts. However, before I go into those, I might explain what a Chromebook is and isn’t, in case you don’t know.

Google introduced the Chromebook in May 2011. Google presented a cheap, web-based laptop, which dispenses of the regular accessories like bulky hard disks, to provide trimmed-down devices. There are several models of Chromebooks, with the two, currently most popular sellers being manufactured by Acer and Samsung.

In general, the Acer and Samsung Chromebooks feature a 1.1 or 1.7 gHz processor (respectively), 2 GB DDR3 RAM, and a 320 GB HDD or 16 GB SSD (respectively). There’s external video output, including HDMI, and ports for USB accessories. Recently, Google introduced a “beefed-up” Chromebook, the Chromebook Pixel (and here) – at $1299, I’d need to sell a lot of advertising on this site to afford it.

Chromebooks run on Chrome OS, which is difficult to explain technically, but simple in theory: think of it as a web browser and everything you do on the internet, you do on a Chromebook. If you’ve used Chrome Browser (and why aren’t you?), you kind of see how the system works. Chromebooks eliminate the need for physical software (which ends up being sort of a minus), in lieu of cloud-based computing. Overall, the Chromebook is the kind of laptop most people want/need. It allows them to surf the web, check emails, pull up recipes, upload pictures of the kids/grandkids, and video chat, among other things. For attorneys though, there’s actually a similar promising premise.

What the Chromebook is not

The Chromebook does not replace your desktop or laptop. If you’re looking for the next great laptop that can run the CD/DVD-based programs you have on your desktop, forget about the Chromebook. With 16 GB of SDD, not to mention zero Windows OS, you’re stuck out of luck. My practice management program is desktop/hard disk dependent, so I say so long to notions of cloud-based practice management. However, if you’re a user of Clio or a similar program, welcome to love.

Next, MS Word lovers better get used to Google Drive, you’ll depend on it. Heavily. No disk means no local version of MS Word, Excel, Outlook, you won’t love Drive. Of course, Microsoft has its Office 365, so you probably won’t miss the programs too much.

Setting up the device isn’t too difficult, though I hit a snag when I tried to sync the Chromebook with my Jambox. For some reason, the Bluetooth connection wouldn’t sync up. Music would play, but there wasn’t any sound, or the devices would sync, but the Chromebook wouldn’t/couldn’t send the music to the stereo.

Finally, if you hate the Google “Borg,” a Chromebook is not for you. You must (okay, almost must) link your Google account with the Chromebook so “the Borg” can know what you’re doing. If you have apprehensions about what Google knows, you’d better look elsewhere.

Some initial frustrations

As I already mentioned, the Chromebook and my Jambox didn’t sync well. I haven’t tested every Bluetooth, USB, or HDMI device, but I’m disappointed that at least one is a no-go.

Since the Chromebook links to your Google account, in order to use more than one account, you must subscribe another user. This means installing apps (extensions), which you might have already installed.

The other, bigger frustration though, at least for me, is that it’s impossible highly difficult to sync only particular information. For instance, I want my Chrome browser and cloud print settings for one Google account (my business), but I want the majority of information coming from my personal account. Without playing a serious game of “hack the device,” I can’t customize my user settings. This means I either add both users, or ditch “non-essential” information on one of them.

What the Chromebook is (or at least may be)

Cheap, as in cost, not quality. The aluminium case is well-designed and appears fairly rugged and durable. If you want a laptop that gives you access to information for a finite cost, Chromebook is the answer. At 2.5 pounds, the Chromebook won’t weigh down your travel bag. With the 11.6″ screen, you also won’t need to squint to see the information. Compared to my Acer ultrabook, the Chromebook is leaps and bounds ahead, at roughly the same price.

Powerful. I’m curious to see how much I like living and somewhat working “in a browser,” since a majority of my legal work is either via the Android tablet or my desktop. I’m sure there’s some aspects that I can’t, and won’t, compromise. However, at home and for this blog, I’m either remotely connecting to my office, or blogging via a browser – not too much of a change.

Productive. I’m eager to test frequently-used legal related aspects, such as mobile presentations, document drafting, remote connections, conferencing, and file coordination. I anticipate many snags, which might hamper how and when attorneys can use Chromebooks in their legal practices. I’m also excited to see and test several Chromebook apps that link Android to the Chrome OS.

So, for now, I’m cautiously optimistic that Chromebooks will be worth their price and able to stimulate legal practice productivity, not just tax deductions – though those are nice, too.

One Response to Chromebooks, Some Initial Thoughts

  1. Thanks for this review. I’ve been looking at these for a while – I really wish we could run Android Apps on these (like Quickoffice); that would totally sell me.

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Jeff Taylor

I’m just an ordinary guy living an extraordinary life. I’m also an attorney and I blog about Android for lawyers. You can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Google+.