Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Chromebook Pixel..... Wow....Just Wow!

There are going to a more than a few Chromebook Pixel reviews coming soon, and a few have already been published, and a lot are going to read in a similar way.   They will tell you what a wonderful piece of hardware this is, and then cut their review with the obligatory “its really expensive,” “Not for everyone,” blah blah blah,  I guess thats all true.  I got mine today and I expected some buyers remorse but in the first few hours of using the Pixel, I have had now misgivings about the decisions I made as impulsive as it was.

I all I want to do is dispense with with all hedging and celebrate the Pixel, say Wow! just Wow! The screen as you have heard is every bit as impressive we were led to believe.  I think I owe some of the Apple fanboys I deal with an apology.  I used to rail against the retina display as unnecessary and it may be a luxury but once you experience it, its hard to go back.  The screen is glorious, the closest thing I have to it is probably my Acer S7 Windows 8 machine and while its on par in touch functionality,  the display is much better on the Pixel.

The biggest surprise is the speakers, and this isn’t a case of lowered expectations being surpassed, as i have heard a lot of good things about the speakers on the Pixel.  The first song played on the Pixel, “All These Things That I’ve Done” by The Killers on Google Play Music, surprised me not in volume but also in clarity.  I had my reservations, “speakers under the keyboard?”, but again Wow!

The speed and response of pages opening rivals my Chromebox as it should as the specs are similar, The built in webcam is sharp and clean and for once on a laptop, I’m not tempted to plug in another webcam into the usb slot and use it instead of the built in unit.  I love the industrial minimalist design, and the keyboard is a joy to type on.

I am sure you can nitpick things about the Pixel, thats what other reviews are for,.... wait strike that, that is what reviews are for this is my endorsement and celebration of my purchase  Fans of Chrome OS, who can afford it (I don’t advocate going to the poor house for technology) and are on the fence about purchasing a Pixel, my input is do it.  Its a great machine and vehicle for Chrome OS.

Thanks for indulging my enthusiasm for the Chromebook Pixel

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Chromebooks vs the Get a Horse Crowd

This has been the month of the Chromebook Pixel, starting with the mysterious leaked video, most in the Chromebook community salivated together and thought of the possibilities ranging from new applications to price tags, (that we can all now file in the wishful thinking category). Outside the Chromebook community they were weighing the possibility of hoax to point of scrutinizing the online life of the person who leaked it. Then Google made the announcement, the Pixel was/is a reality, I was too excited, and placing my order at first to notice the announcement had give the old Chrome OS/Chromebook detractors a new stage to trot out their old arguments, and I guess that was to be expected.   These critics never really understood vision what Google was trying to do, I like to call these people the “Get a Horse Crowd,” mainly because I feel if they lived when the first cars were announced they would be the people yelling at the car owner to “get a horse.”

What was more disappointing than the old Chromebook detractors, is the emergence of a new type, this new type have Chromebooks and understand the vision of Chrome OS.  These detractors we understandably upset by the announce price, and I get it, $1300 is a lot of money and not everyone can or should afford one, just like not everyone buys a Mac Book Pro or a high end Windows PC.  These detractors didn't stop there however, it wasn't enough to be disappointed with the price, they elevated disappointment to righteous indignation, promoting the idea that Google has somehow had slipped price limitation into Chromebooks specs and they violated some sort of promise by announcing high end hardware.  Lets call this group of detractors the “Chromebook Users aren't allowed to have nice things” crowd.  The most unsettling part is the the “Chromebook Users aren't Allowed to Have Nice Things,” crowd has started using the “Get a Horse” crowd’s arguments, you know this when you hear “its just a web browser”, “I can’t run Photoshop,” as if the only reason they were running Chromebooks was price and maybe that for them was “the” factor.

Both groups (more so the “Get a Horse” crowd) have resorted to labeling and name calling, ( and I realize that this is just the way of internet blogs, comments and chats), that by entertaining the thought of buying a Pixel, i’m considered to be an idiot, Google and I apparently have gotten a hold of some really good controlled substances, and my personal favorite i’m Bourgeois (history lesson as to who the bourgeoisie actually were, is a topic for another time and blog).  I am by the way, Bourgeois that is minus the negative connotation. The Chromebook fits my use case and has become the main computer in my personal life, and my Windows machines have become my companion devices, and while i’m not the brightest person in the world i’m hardly an idiot.

With how I use my computer and I suspect for many people if they really understood how they used computers, and not how they think they used computers they would find that Chromebooks are for them as well. So i wanted to take some time to respond the most common obstacles to Chromebook adoption, and yes there are some use cases that they are not good for, but they are increasingly becoming exceptions to the rule. The most common objections wrapped in snarky comments, boil down to the fear of cloud computing (the offline argument), the “I can just use the Chrome browser on whatever machine I have insert your favorite variety here”, and you can’t run native apps, Photoshop being the leading example here as if it has 90% adoptions rate.

1) The Offline Argument, “Chromebooks are useless without internet connection,” useless to whom? How often do you use your (Windows/Linux/Mac) device offline?, How many people are banging away on their word processor writing the next great novel, that requires no internet research?  Take note the next time the network goes down in your place of business, my guess you will see a small percentage of people getting any real work done on their Windows/Macs/Linux/ machines, and a lot of people heading to the coffee machine or taking an early/late lunch.  Thanks to Google Slides and Documents, I have given presentations, started documents (I do need internet connectivity at some point finish most of the Docs I create, regardless of the machine I’m using), while offline, on airplanes I have crafted emails that were sent when I landed.   Now if you truly live where there is not a lot of internet connection available a Chromebook isn't for you, but then again I don’t think you would get much out a fat client without an internet connection either, World of Warcraft probably wouldn't be much fun offline. We pretty much live in an online world regardless of what device you using, how useful is a tablet and smartphone without a network really?

2) The Chrome browser is the same thing: This one you hear all the time as I’ll just install Chrome on my “X” device, sure you can do that but The idea of Chrome OS cutting out all the crap that Chrome sits on top of, is part of what attracts us to Chrome OS. People in the tech community take good care of our machines, and we make updating our machine look easy, but I still would rather not have to do it if given a choice.  You don't have to look past the friends and family members who use you for tech support to know maintaining a Windows/Linux/Mac isn't always easy for the rank and file user. I bought my largest source of tech support calls a Chromebook and I have had one call in a year and half, compared with 2-3 every month, Chromebooks win on maintenance and I don't care how much you think the heavier OSes have gotten to manage ( and they have)  Chrome OS makes them look difficult by comparison.  So in the end you can install the Chrome browser on Fat client and deal with the OS underneath if you choose to  while most rank and file users can’t or wouldn’t want to if they knew of an alternative. I won’t even touch the portable hard drive argument other than to ask how do access it if you leave it at home or if it fails?

3) Native Apps, “Chromebooks are limited because I can’t run Photoshop” I'm not sure why people expect a Chromebook to run Photoshop (most commonly cited example), to the best of knowledge there is Photoshop isn't available for any distribution of Linux, no Quicken either ( a better example if you want shoot holes in Chromebooks), am I to surmise that Linux is limited?  Where are all these Photoshop power users anyway, and do they really use all $700 worth of that program (its funny paying more than 300 dollars for device is crazy but paying $700 for software you will use a fraction of is just fine)?  Honestly most amateur photographers achieve color corrections,adjust density,and masking with Pixlr? I contend that most people who claim Photoshop as a given either don't use it or don't use it past what online tools can do. When it comes true Photoshop power users, sure a Chromebook isn't for you as a primary machine, but again i contend that is a minority of computing use cases.  Sure World of Warcrafters (don’t lose your internet connection) and heavy duty gamers keep right on using your fat clients. The use cases that prohibit Chromebooks aren't as numerous as portrayed by the tech press and commenters on line would have you believe

Now that I don't have to pay for Photoshop $700 Quicken $60, Office $90 (for the new subscription thing Microsoft has got going on) or buy or maintain an Antivirus solution, my Chromebook is looking a lot more affordable to me.  Applications aren't absolutes, they can be replaced, if I can find a web app that does what I need it to do over a native app, and then rid myself of the underlying fat OS in the process i’m going to do it, saving me time, money, and aggravation.  Sure you can find valid use cases for fat client OS, just like people still ride horses where it makes sense, like a mountain trail, but i’m not going to replace my car on the chance I might want to travel down a narrow mountain trail once in awhile.

I am happy Google is putting Chrome OS out on some nice hardware, treating like a true OS and not a thin client, and in my mind i’m not an idiot or bourgeois for wanting high quality device for Chrome OS. Google says they designed the Pixel so people will be immersed in the experience and I want to be immersed. Outside of games what better app is there to be immersed in rather than the web browser most user's connection to the world.

Monday, February 18, 2013

HP Chromebook Sold Out Two Weeks After Launch

During the week of January 28th, there were several reports of a leaked PDF calling attention to a possible Chromebook released by HP,  Lenovo had already announced that they would be releasing a Chromebook, and the tech press was scrambling to explain that traditional windows PC makers were now releasing something other than a Windows PCs.  The next week low and behold the rumor was reality and it was available for sale in in the US.  

Right of the bat it seemed like no one but me wanted one of these devices.  The articles from Chrome OS critics, Tech press, Bloggers and even Chrome OS fans, all called out reasons not to get the first Chromebook with a larger than 12 inch screen.  The reasons ranged from the “limited” nature of Chrome OS itself, the size, the battery life, the price.  Even among the Chromebook faithful, you would get the idea that Chromebooks shouldn't be bigger than 12 inches, 2 lbs, and more than 250 dollars ( good luck getting the Pixel for $250 if it does actually come out).

Well unless HP made 3-4 of these devices (at the time I wrote this there were only 4 reviews of this device and one was probably was not someone who owns one), I’m in good company, in just  two weeks after its release while looking for accessories (I’m a big fan of HP’s travel chargers with USB charging port built into the power brick), I noticed that the HP Pavillion Chromebook is now out of stock, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised it is not the first Chromebook that has found itself out of stock (+Ian Cummings, thanks for pointing that out).

All in all I’ll take it as a positive sign that HP sold what they thought they would sell, and I further applaud when a traditional PC maker takes a risk on Chromebooks.  Sure it isn’t a perfect device, but then again I don’t expect a perfect device for $330, $240, or $200, just one that fits my needs and two weeks later the Pavilion Chromebook 14  and Chrome OS does.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

HP's First Chromebook

I just received the HP pavilion 14-c010us Chromebook, I had ordered it the day I heard it was available, I had no reservations about ordering a device loaded with Chrome OS, this device makes the third one I own, and the fourth I had purchased (one was purchased for my Mom), I have a Samsung Series 5 (a second went to Mom) and Samsung Chromebox, so I’m more than comfortable with Chrome OS.  One might ask why are you getting another Chromebook, outside of a gadget addiction? I realized as I was ordering the Pavilion Chromebook that I probably wasn’t hanging with the “cool” kids even among the Chrome OS faithful, there more than a few articles and blog posts panning the specs and the price. Then there was the fact I already had a Chromebook and a Chromebox, my reasoning (my wife would argue rationalization) for getting another Chromebook, was my Series 5 has been put the ringer by my kids, still ticking but the screen is loose an keys are sticky from yogurt and other spills, and I Iiked the idea of larger screen, my Chromebox is hooked up to a 22 inch monitor.

There are countless articles out there that cover the pros and cons of ChromeOS and my goal isn’t to rehash the subject (I tried once, and what I came up was so long no one wanted to proof read it.), but I would be remiss if I didn’t cover the basics and I why I felt it was a good choice for me.  Chrome OS from Google started out as very light weight operating system that booted into a Chrome web browser and all applications are delivered through the web.  Recently Google added a desktop mode but all applications are still web based and its still browser focused.  Chrome OS requires no security software, Google takes care of all updates to the OS, Storage and compute happens mostly in the cloud.  Chromebooks are light weight, boot quickly 8-10 seconds, and have long battery life.  When I thought about how I used a computer 90% of the time I realized that Chrome OS was good fit for me.  I also saw it as a good fit for my mother, and since she had her chromebook my life became a lot easier as my tech support calls went from 1-2 a month to 1 in a year and a half.  Chromebooks aren’t for everyone but they are for me.

I know some are ready to point out that one of the reasons I like Chromebooks was long battery life, and that by HP’s estimate this gets 4.5 hours (my Samsung gets 6-8), and I will admit that was a trade off, I would love the battery life to be better, but the screen, the keyboard, and the HDMI port was my technical motivation, (outside of the technical I have had soft spot for HP, as that is where Digital Equipment Corporation ended up via acquisition, call me sentimental).  I like having the HDMI port for my HDMI to VGA adapter, because I hope to use this more for work and giving presentations is a big part of what I do, and the Samsung proprietary VGA always worried me, Given that I took the trade in battery life for a larger screen, and a standard HDMI port, and the 330 dollar price tag seemed worth it to me, after my Samsung series 5 was between 400-500 dollars and I have never regretted that, someone had to be an early adopter.

I received the unit today from hp.com upon taking it out of the box, it was plastic (no shock there) but it was of solid build given the $330 price tag, not rugged but not cheap either.  The battery was packed separately and clipped into the back of the unit, and it was shocking how thin and small it was, my hopes of getting better than 4.5 hour battery life were dashed.  The screen is a nice 14” wide screen with a built in webcam, the resolution is nothing to write home about but an adequate 1366x768 LED-backlit display. The built in webcam isn’t great but most built in webcams leave something to be desired.

When I ordered the Pavilion I didn’t give much thought to the keyboard, but that has been a happy surprise, for me it is so much easier to type on than my Series 5, I didn’t realize the difference the extra space made.  It isn’t your typical Chrome keyboard, the chrome keys are across the top, the search key is where the Windows key would be on a PC, and the caps lock button is present and functional.  The touchpad is as disappointing as the keyboard is pleasantly surprising, it borrows from the PC world complete with left and right mouse buttons, the gestures are little different that they require the use of the mouse buttons, and sometime I find that run out of touchpad territory before I get to where I’m going.

I had a good idea going in that the 1.1 GHz Celeron and 2 GB (upgradeable to 4GB, I will upgrade) will be enough to handle my daily Gmail, Google Plus, YouTube, Facebook, accessing my corporate virtual desktop with Citrix Receiver, so barring any surprises to contrary I figured I would be happy with the performance, but that changed once I people found out I had received my Pavilion Chromebook.  I started to get requests, how does this app and that app work, the requests made sense, and I was curious so I ran some things.  I ran Netflix, games like Cordy and Bastion (oddly I never thought of playing games on my Chrome OS devices), ran a Google Play movie, with multiple tabs open, all ran smoothly, some of the load times of the games were slow, but I haven’t tested against any other Chrome OS devices yet, so I don’t know if that is HP pavilion or Chrome OS.  Music sounds good for a laptop through the Altec Lansing speakers, and through my Marshall headphones, the speaker was definitely better than my Series 5, and about the same through the headphones.

I haven’t tested the battery life fully, but I may be getting better than the estimated 4.5 hour battery life. I have been unplugged for an hour and 40 minutes (brightness at about 50%), and the battery meter reads at 70% with 3h 47m left, we’ll see and fingers crossed.  In the end I’m prepared for 4.5 battery life anything more is a bonus.

Most of what I like about the Pavilion is in the look and feel category it performs the same or better than my Samsung Series 5 but my Chromebox also by Samsung is the highest performing, but hey it has an i5 processor and 4GB of ram it should be better performer.
In the end the question most will have will be, is it worth the $330? for me it was and time will tell if it will remain so, for me computing is use case driven and given what I do on a day to day basis, the affinity for the bigger screen, the HDMI port, the keyboard and Chrome OS itself, it was a good decision for me, so far.  Its day 1.