Tuesday, May 21, 2013

21 May, 2013
Living on a Chromebook - Day 5

Hello again fellow Chromebook enthusiasts!  I trust you have enjoyed the previous entries.  I encourage you to leave feedback and ask any question you may have about this kind of computer.  I will happily endeavour to incorporate your input in future entries.

As I was pondering my next write-up, it occurred to me that the title of these entries may be a little confusing or misleading.  Specifically, that by using Day 1 or Day 5 that there is an impression of sequential daily entries.  This is not the case however, I am only providing entries when I have something to say, and I am using the day-count to let people know how long I have been working on the Chromebook.

Offline Blues

Okay, speaking of misleading, that title is a little bit also.  I am not suffering from Chromebook offline blues, I am just encountering some of the limitations function offline currently has. So in this entry I will talk a little more on the core Google applications and may speak on some of the additional applications I have been using, and then finish-up with a where I am overall in my quest to move solely to a Chromebook. Lets get started!


Disclaimer - please note that I am endeavouring to ensure all my information is correct and accurate, however I am a new user to ChromeOs. Some of the things I think do not, may in fact work.  I happily encourage anyone to point out any areas which are incorrect!

Google Drive:  I would say that, next to ChromeOS itself, Google Drive underpins the Chromebook and makes it what it is, or is not.  Drive is a fantastic resource that, when connected, gives you to access all your files in almost any media, allowing you to open, use, edit, and then save them (automatically) for the next time you need them.  Drive will interface with Gmail, Chrome Browser and many third party applications so you can send items directly to your cloud drive.  When you are offline however this is not the case.  So does this mean all your important information is lost to you when you are not connected?  Not so.  As mentioned in my Day 1 post once you set-up Drive to work offline (see here for how to do this) some of your files, regardless of what folder you have them in will be available when you can not be connected.  But it appears to be limited to documents, spreadsheet, presentations, and drawings, and it did not allow me to see my media files or .pdf files.  Which I feel I should have been able to, so I will have to do a little research on it to see if I am missing something. If I access my Google Drive files through the file manager, again offline, I can see all my files and folders at the top level of Drive.  But if I try to open the folders, it will not display the contents because it is unable to reach the internet.  When in offline mode with Drive you can not delete, rename, copy or move files (really Google, really?) but you can open existing files and edit them, or create an entirely new file - this holds true if you try to do it through the file manager as well.  At the moment I seem to only be able to create a new Document, Presentation, or Drawing, but not a Spreadsheet, Form, or Lucidchart. Nor will it let me access my photos (they are only stored on-line) excepts those already physically on the laptop, or open a Google Template (again, as these are located on-line only).  Any photos you have already on the laptop can be opened, viewed and edited - but more on that at a later date.

Google Docs:  As mentioned off and on throughout my blog entries, the document editor is very capable.  Not perfect, and not as full-functioning as editors such as MS Word, OpenOffice, or LibreOffice, but strong enough for most everyone’s needs, almost all the time.  In on or offline mode, all the formatting features are available, as are most insertion functions, but you can not insert images or drawings. I am not sure why this is, but I suspect it is because Docs is presently only set-up to insert images and drawings from Drive directly, and is not configured to do so from local storage.  Also, as mention previously, you do not have the benefit of spelling or grammar check when in offline mode, again because the program appears to be relying solely on on-line sources.  However, once you regain your connection whatever you have created offline it is automatically synced to the cloud, and will then be scanned for spelling and grammar issues.  In fact, when it is working, I find the on-line Google checker to be better than MS Office.  Particularly the grammar check.  Where MS Officer will allow a grammatical error to slide if a nearly correct word is used, Google will catch the error and suggest the correct word.

Google Spreadsheet: So far I find no appreciable difference between the Google version and MS Word or OpenOffice/LibreOffice.  That being said, I am a really simple spreadsheet user, and I have only checked that it will open my existing sheets correctly.  So far all have opened and appear to function as intended.  I will try to make a sheet using Google shortly, and in fact I had intended to before I started typing this.  However, I began this without my WiFi connection and you can not create a new spreadsheet when in offline mode, or at least I am not able to at the moment.  Once I re-establish my WiFi connection I will check if I need to purposely set sheets to work in an offline mode. Edit: It turns out that this is not a feature available offline...yet.  But it is forthcoming.  

Google Slides:  Here I am a fair bit more accomplished than I am with spreadsheets, thanks to the nature of my work and its love of PowerPoint.  For those of you familiar with MS PowerPoint or the similar programs from OpenOffice or LibreOffice you will feel right at home on Slides.  Bear in mind that if you are trying to make a presentation offline, the same basic limitations noted above for documents applies here as well.  But you have enough editing options available to get the basics of the presentation created offline, and then it can be refined and enhance once you are connected again.

Google Keep: This is the replacement to Google Tasks and Scratchpad, which will be phased out shortly.  It is a simple application that allows you to quickly capture basic ideas and save them to the cloud once connected. As with all apps Google, this of course syncs across all devices you may own.  You have the option of making an itemized list, or a check list that you can then check off as you make progress through a “To-Do List” for example.  The notes will be presented in a grid or list format, and are reminiscent of post-it notes.  You can colour code you notes to help differentiate notes and group like ideas, and you can insert photos into your notes as well.  Think of this a light version of todo.ly meets SpringPad/EverNote.

Google Calendar:  I believe most people will be very familiar with this application, or at least a similar application - Outlook, iCal, Jorte.  So I will not go into the details of the application.  I will say that you can use this application offline, and can therefore always have access to what is coming up next in your schedule.  Unfortunately it appears that notifications do not work unless you are connected. Additionally, when you are offline this application does not yet have the ability to add or edit appointments. I hope this is something they intend to add soon, and allow users to make changes which will then sync with the cloud when you are next on-line.  At the moment this is the largest dissatisfier I have since moving to the Chromebook.


I think that is enough to read and digest for one sitting, so I will end here.  Overall I am still very pleased with my Chromebook and continually find myself excited to use it, which I think is a testament to the value of the machine all on its own.  If you are looking for an inexpensive laptop, and do not need to make huge processing demands on it (ie Gaming), then this is well worth every penny.  This is particularly true if you have someone in your life who doesn't need all the “bells and whistles” and just needs to get on-line, and do basic word processing and the like.  Now, if I can only figure out how to get Terrafirma Craft running on it without having to install Ubuntu, I’d be set for all my portable computing needs!

My next post will most likely be on Friday when we reach the one-week mark. As always, I welcome your comments and input - you can directly shape how this blog continues, so do not be afraid to jump in!  Please +1 this blog, add me to your circles, and shares it around.

created - on an Acer C7 Chromebook, using Google Docs

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Living on a Chromebook - Day 3

19 May, 2013
Living on a Chromebook - Day 3

Welcome back.  I hope you enjoyed the first entry, if you haven’t read it you can find it here.  IN the last entry I covered the basics of what a Chromebook is, the specifics of the model I am using, and went in to my initial impressions.

This time I will update you on some the issues I was having, begin to expand upon the capabilities of the computer, and provide some comment on how the transition is going on to the Chromebook from a “traditional” laptop, my Android tablet and my desktop Windows PC.

The Last 48 hrs

I have to say, overall I am still quite happy with this laptop and I am not having any “buyer’s remorse.” I am becoming quickly familiar with the keyboard and really like the feel of the keys. The small issue I was having with the left shift is really no longer a problem, and I rarely miss this key now; I can’t quite say the same thing regarding the backspace key, but it is getting better.

I absolutely love the small form factor of the Acer C7 laptop.  The 11.5” screen, combined with the light weight of only 3 lbs, makes this a delight for me to use, and use anywhere I like.  I am comfortably lounging in a chair with it on my lap while I type this, and I am completely comfortable.  I have used it in bed to read, surf and write - again without any issues - and I can just grab this computer and move it around anywhere with ease.  I foreseen no issues chucking it in a bag and taking it on the road.

With everyday life occasionally getting in the way of dedicated 24/7 use of my new toy, I also appreciate how quickly this machine boots/reboots, but especially the 2 second wakeup from sleep.  That is as fast as my tablet, and allows me to immediately pick-up from where I last left off. When I may only have a minute or two to work/play, saving 30 seconds everytime I boot makes a difference....plus, who likes to wait!

I still remain concerned with the limited battery, but this product makes not attempt to hide that it comes with a relatively light battery, which as mentioned previously is only 4 hrs.  So far that estimate has held true whenever I have gone unplugged, which I do most of the time until it starts to get low, or I anticipate wanting to remain unplugged, in which case I top it up.  For now, the battery life is more than sufficient.  That being said, when I compare how I just finished using my TF201 tablet for my last business trip, I am not sure this machine would have lasted the trip, but I will test that definitively next time I travel.


HDMI video out - so it has a port, but does this apparently diminutive machine have the chops to drive a 55” LED TV?  I am happy to say it had no problems, even on battery, using any monitor or TV that can take a HDMI input.  I was able to use it as a mirrored image, as an extended desktop, or as the primary display. Each performed smoothly and without any difficulty.  Initially the image did not fit the TV perfectly, the edges of the desktop were a little wider than the image rendered on the TV.  This was easily corrected by selecting the TV from the settings pop-up and using the arrow keys to resize.  What I haven’t tried yet, is if the Chromebook will remember those adjustments the next time I plug it in.

Video Playback - So, you have you Chromebook hooked-up to you massive TV, now what?  Well you can play back most video formats, and of course stream video from wherever you normal watch video online.  I have successfully played mkv, avi video files and they all played flawlessly on the native video app.  Video_TS and .iso files will not play natively, but you may be able to find an app at the Chrome Web Store that will allow you to play them - I have not checked for one yet. Streaming video, and this is over a WiFi connection as well, was equally smooth and of the same quality as any other platform.

Audio Playback - Unfortunately I only have mp3 files to test, but I have been able to play all my music with the organic applications, either from files save on the HDD, from an external drive, or from the cloud perfectly and without any lag.  The sound quality is excellent when using headphones, but it is a little underwhelming when listening (to anything) on the Acer C7 Chromebook speakers.  The problem with the speakers is that they face down on the laptop, and as they are understandably small speakers, what little sound is generated gets lost especially if the computer is on you lap.  I did find somewhat better sound performance when I had the computer on a hard surface, such as a desk, where the sound can bounce off it.  But still an area of weakness for this particular model.  While I am mentioning the audio jack, it is a standard 3.5 mm jack that can take a headphone-only plug, or a combined headphone and mic plug. If you want to use a headset when using Handouts you need this type of combined plug; there is not a separate audio and mic jack as you will find on most laptops and desktops.


I said I was going to start mentioning how I am transitioning to only (less gaming) using the Chromebook, but is is getting late and I will save it for the next entry.  Suffice to say it is going smoothly and have only reached for my tablet to check if I was forgetting to use something (and then find a corresponding application on Chrome) or to upload files to Drive.  Until next time, and don’t forget to +1, share this around, and leave feedback.

created - on an Acer C7 Chromebook, using Google Docs

Friday, May 17, 2013

Living on a Chromebook - Day 1

17 May, 2013
Living on a Chromebook - Day 1

Welcome to my first blog entry on this topic, and in fact my first blog ever.  This blog will endeavour to chronicle my experiences on a Chromebook, its pros and cons, my transition to a quasi web-based working environment, and specific thoughts on the model of Chromebook I am using.  It is my intention to write, review and publish this entirely using the Chromebook and the associate online applications.  Please note that I am not a professional writer (obvious I am sure!) and I am not an IT professional either - simply an enthusiastic and somewhat informed technophile.  Please leave as much feedback as you like, but keep it civil and be constructive.  I would be particularly interested to hearing your experiences, as well as any questions you may have so that I can then address in a future entry.

So with that in mind, let’s begin!

What is a Chromebook?

Generically a Chromebook is any laptop or desktop (Chromebox) that runs on the google operating system - ChromeOS.  These devices are meant to primarily be used when connected to the internet in conjunction with Goggle’s myriad of web applications - from Gmail, to Google Calendar, to Gdrive, and on and on to the thousands google Chrome applications found at the Chrome Web Store.  That last bit is the key point - Google OS is all about Chrome, which most people associate with the very popular web browser.  ChromeOS is a very basic, lightweight system which gives enough information to the computer in order to give it access to the internet and host some basic functions. This, in combination with only the bare necessities of hardware, allow come Chromebooks to be released at a fair low price.

Always Connected?

Yes and no.  The experience you get if definitely broader reaching when connected, especially in light of all the new features Google has (and is planning) to introduce allowing many of their popular applications to interact and support each other.  But that is not to say you have to be connected all the time to get any use out of a Chromebook.  Many applications can be set to work offline and then sync with the cloud when you reconnect.  In fact, as I am typing this blog, I am doing so on my offline Chromebook using Docs via Good Drive, which I had set to offline mode last night. Last night, you inquire, but I thought you said this was “Day 1”?  Yes, I did get this yesterday, but it was very late and I only unboxed it and set-up my wireless and linked the computer to my Google account. So this really is the first day using the Chromebook for any amount of time, and if you want to be very picky it can still be argued that it is within 24 hrs of getting the computer in my eager hands!

While there are several applications you can use offline, there are some deficiencies when using them.  For example, because I am not connected as I am writing this, the document is not being checked for spelling.  However, I am assuming that once I connected to the internet again, and open this document to review it before I post it, that it will be checked at that time. (Edit - yes, indeed!)  Also, while I can view my calendar, I can not modify it and have it sync once connected - I hope this features is changed in the near future, or that I can find an app that will that will allow me to do so.

My Chromebook

Before I get to far along, I will speak to my specific Chromebook.  I am using an Acer C7 Chromebook (not the new version, which I do not believe has been released yet) thatI bought from Futureshop for only $229.99 CAD - normally $249.99.  Which, when I describe some of the features and possibilities, is an awesome price - at least notionally...time will tell!

The Specs

Display: 11.6” (1366x768) backlit LED, not a touchscreen

Processor: Intel Celeron B847
Dual Core, each at 1.1 GHz
2 MB L3 cache

RAM: 2 GB SODIMM DDR3, at 1066 MHz

Expandable: Yes.  But there is only one slot, so up to whatever single RAM chip you can purchase.  I have only seen 8 GB so far.

Storage: 320 GB HDD (not SDD), at 5400 rpm

Graphics: 128 MB Integrated, Intel HD Graphics

Networking: Integrated dual-band wireless (802.11 a/b/g/n)
10/100 ethernet port

Audio: 2x speakers
Integrated mic
Headphone/mic port

Other stuff:   1.3 mega pixel webcam
Multi-touch swipepad
3x USB 2.0 ports
VGA video out
HDMI video out
SD card reader

Power: 2500, 4-cell lithium-ion battery, 4 hrs advertised battery life

Dimensions: 28.5 cm x 20.2 cm x 2.1 cm

Weight: 1.38 kgs (3 lbs)

Initial Impressions

I am going to skip the whole unboxing thing, there are several great videos on YouTube which go in detail on the process for a range of Chromebooks and the C7 specifically, and I do recommend taking a look at those.  I will say that the entire packaging was effective and without any frills.  The laptop was well protected, the items and accessories well organized and easily accessible, and it took very little time to get everything opened and set-up.

In fact this is one of the positive features of a Chromebook - ease of setup.  You just open it up, turn it on, and log into your existing Google account.  Then every app you already use in the Chrome browser, and of course any documents, emails, etc are all immediately available for you to use - sweet!

The laptop itself looks attractive and does not feel cheap at all.  This is due to the clean lines, the grey colour (shiny black would have cheapened the look) and yes, even the little bit of weight this laptop has brought on by the fact it has an HDD.  All added to the quality feel of this device.


The keyboard is full (for a small laptop, no number pad here) but may be a little narrower than most people are used to.  I find that I rest my hands on the edge of the laptop, and that my left hand in particular has a tendency to rest on the corner of the laptop case.  This can become uncomfortable after typing on it for some time.  The keyboard has “chiclet” keys, which I find have just the right responsiveness, making them delightful to type on.  That being said, a few of the key positions are causing me issues.  Oddly enough it is not the arrow keys many people are complaining about.  Some people have found that the page up and down keys, which are immediately above the left and right arrow keys, get accidently struck when trying to use the arrows keys.  I have not have a single issue with this, even when navigating around this document.  What has been driving me a little, is the backspace key and the shift key.  I also initially had a small issue with the return key, but I have quickly become used to it location and hit it most of the time.

But the left shift key (which is the one I normally hit) is small and looks like it was split with the right half of it being used for the backslash key.  (Note, this does not appear in the photo linked above.  I think this may be a regional thing.)  So I find I am hitting backslash often when I mean to hit shift.  But it is getting better quickly, so I suspect it mostly my hands learning the layout, as it is for any new keyboard. This is the same issue I am having for the backspace key. It is just a little higher and to the right than I seem to expect, and I tend to strike the equal or square bracket keys instead.

But in favour of the keyboard is a feature unique to the C7 - integrated F-keys (F1 to F12).  Chromebooks typically do not have F-keys and in fact most do not have a dedicated caps lock key.  What they have in place of the F-keys are some Chrome specific functions (back page, forward page, refresh, full screen or maximize, and next window) and some options which are normally function options on traditional laptops (increase/decrease brightness, increase/decrease/mute sound, toggle WiFi\).  Acer has dual functioned the Chrome specific keys, returning the F-keys (which some program need, as do other operating systems - more on that later) and moved the search key down by the space bar, allowing for a dedicated caps lock key.  So all-in-all, a very nice looking and functional layout, and I expect that if I move my hands so my palms are resting fully on the smooth area provided, that most of my typing issues, and certainly the minor discomfort mention, will be resolved.


The touchpad is a single touchpad that has left and right mouse button integrated and is responsive to multi-touch.  This is taking a little for me to get used to, but this is because I have either used a dedicated 3-button mouse, or a touchpad with dedicated/separate buttons.  I think if you are a mac user, this will be a seamless transition.  For the rest of us, it won’t take long to get used to the way the Chromebook is set-up.  In fact I am quickly learning to love the ease and efficiency of this design.

The Chromebook comes with a quick-start card that shows how to use the touchpad, but also takes you through a simple on-screen interactive tutorial when you first start the system up, which make learning the features very quick and painless.  In brief - you can touch anywhere and slide your finger to move cursor, as well pushing down anywhere on the pad is considered a left click.  To right click you simple do the same, but with two fingers at the same time.  Scrolling is accomplished by sliding two fingers in the direction you want to scroll, and drag a drop is done by “left clicking” on a icon and then (while still “left clicking”) using another finger to swipe/drag it to the new location and then let go.  Simple, and functional.


On to the screen - 11.6 inches seems like more than enough real estate so far.  I have surfed my normal web pages, opened documents and spreadsheets, and played a few simple games without feeling cramped.  Now, I have been using a 10” tablet (TF201) for some time, and this may be why I am happy to use 11.6” - but honestly it seems to be a good fit for the resolution, and I think most people will find it more than sufficient. If you need to have multiple screens open at once, maybe then you will feel pinched, but you can always send the video to a larger monitor or TV screen if you need to.  


Smooth and quick! I have not seen anything lag, hesitate, or crash yet.  All web pages download quickly, and native applications are snappy to open and react. The benefit of such a lightweight OS is apparent, when you see the machine boot from cold in less than 20 seconds, and wake-up from sleep in 2 seconds.  I love this feature.  I have not done any benchmarking, but may do so in a later post, at the very least I will continue to note my impressions of how the computer runs under various configurations.  This will be especially interesting when I try to install another “full”, standalone (ie not reliant on the web) OS - Ubuntu.

Battery life

Perhaps one of the most criticised points of the C7 is the battery life.  It is advertised at a merger 4 hrs, which is really short when compared to most traditional laptops, and even against other Chromebooks.  But this is due in part to the fact that the C7 is running a HDD (plus the fan) and not a SDD - but I will live with that, because this is exactly why I bought the C7, other than the sweet price-point, because I have the option to store much more locally (like movies and music - remember Google TV and Music do not work fully in Canada) and eventually once I am feeling adventurous, I can install another OS.

So is it really a short as 4 hrs?  Well I have been using this off and on since last night.  I put it asleep at 100% charge and have not plugged it in today.  I have been surfing the web earlier when I was home, and have been writing this post (intermittently) throughout the morning at work.  I would say, I have use the laptop for at least 2.5 or so cumplative hours on the current charge.  As the moment I am 38% battery, which it tells me will allow me to work for another 1 hr and 38 mins.  So I think that the 4 hours is probably accurate.  That being said, it just occurs to me that I have left the WiFi active even though there is no signal around for me to use.  I expect that means it is actively “looking” for a connection and if I had turned that off immediately, it may have extend the battery life.  

For me I will mostly be using this computer sitting at home, or sitting at work.  Therefore I do not anticipate worrying about charging the battery, I have an outlet readily available and for those times when I will use it in location where I can’t plug it in, it will normally be far less than 4 hours.

All that said, it easily had enough power for me to casually explore the laptop, as well as write this article at around 2400 words.  So I am pleased.


Well that is a fair amount of information in one go, and there is much more I could get into, but I will leave it here for now.  Next (and not necessarily the next day) I will go into the some more features most likely leading off with the applications and integration into daily life and use.  I hope you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment, add/follow me, and share this post.