These are some very preliminary impressions of the Samsung Series 5 3G Chromebook. I hope they will be helpful to others who might be considering such a device. I received mine yesterday (June 15), after pre-ordering during the Google scavenger hunt promo. You can see the complete Amazon ChromeBook store over here: http://amzn.to/jAgrTG.
The Chromebooks seem to have taken a bit of early slagging from people like David Pogue. I generally like his columns and he’s in the business of having strong opinions about technology – it’s what drives his readership. However, I think his use-case is probably different than mine. These are inexpensive thin clients for the web with great keyboards and great displays. They are very low maintenance business-oriented devices. Unlike Mr. Pogue, most of the people around the law school don’t travel constantly – actually, they are generally moving back and forth from one wifi-saturated environment (the law school) to another (their homes). Much of what they do is email and web-driven research. Almost everything they do requires a connection to the internet. Our Westlaw and Lexis accounts are not much good to us if we can’t get online; likewise, Google, Outlook Web Access, and GMail all depend on an online connection. This is not to downplay some of the challenges of using a Chromebook as your primary computer. There are significant limitations that would probably not make it suitable for writing an entire manuscript. However, it is a terrific second device. I expect that it will only improve as Google rolls-out offline access to Google mail and Google docs.
The minor irritation that I found when I first unboxed the device is that it doesn’t support WP2/WPA Enterprise networks out of the box. That was frustrating. I got online using Emory’s Guest network. There is a chicken-and-egg problem here: when you first fire up the device, it prompts you for your Google credentials or asks you to create a new device. Unfortunately, logging in will fail, because it is unable to get online – our guest network requires you to go through several notice pages before you are released from our captive portal. The solution is to choose to login using the guest account. Once online, the OS begins silently upgrading itself. You are eventually presented with a green arrow symbol superimposed on the ChromeOS wrench icon in the upper right-hand corner.
Once the OS was updated and rebooted, I was able to authenticate to the EmoryUnplugged network without any issues. The keyboard is just fantastic, and I applaud Google for getting rid of the unnecessary function keys at the top of the keyboard. They have added the standard volume up/down and brightness up/down and a couple of really useful keys: one takes the browser full-screen and the other moves you between windows/screens. For example, you could create a new browser window with Ctrl-N and then use the window move key to move between the two screens. This is surprisingly useful, especially if you’re using Write Now in one window and a browser in the other one.
The caps lock key is also gone, replaced with, what else, a search button. This can be changed in preferences. I have to admit that I don’t miss the caps lock key, but I’m just not yet used to using the key formerly known as caps lock for search. It’s easy enough just to type search phrases in the “unibox” or address bar.
If you already a Chrome browser user (and my bet is that any early adopter of ChromeOS is) then all of your settings are migrated or synced to the new machine; this is both cool and a little disconcerting. I was actually tickled to see my URL shorteners, Ad Block, etc. all seamlessly appear on the new machine.
So, let’s get back to the online vs. offline thing. The suggestion, from Mr. Pogue and others, is that the device is completely useless when not online. I don’t really take issue with that; however, I did want to point out that games are playable offline and that you can use simple editors like Write Now (screenshots above) to write while offline. This is more than enough for note-taking during meetings and if you are creative, you will find ways to use text markup formats to create even formatted data for when you are back online.
Overall, I’m impressed – I expect the devices to grow in utility over time. I really see this as an enterprise device; not as a replacement for someone’s home netbook, tablet, or PC. Let me know what you think! Dumb idea? Brilliant? Somewhere in between?