A few months back, I bought a Chromebook. I had one before, but was completely disappointed by the hardware, so I ended up getting rid of it fairly quickly. The software though was impressive and the idea of owning a Chromebook stuck with me. After trying tablets and low end Windows machines and feeling let down, I decided to spring a bit more for a top end Chromebook, the business-class Dell Chromebook 13 launched earlier this year. It has been true love ever since.
Why did I need another computer?
Portability was my biggest need. I have had a desktop for years – one that is custom-built and for gaming-first – and I hated going anywhere since any work I would be doing (writing, blogging, or otherwise) would have to stop. Plus, when I travel, it is normally to my father’s house and he does not have great entertainment options. My phone works for media consumption too, but a larger screen is always helpful.
Beyond portability, there were also in-home uses for it. I do a lot with a Chromecast in the bedroom, so it is nice to have an alternative to my phone for streaming videos and the like. I also live in a household where most everyone goes to bed around 10pm except for me. Having the Chromebook allows me to continue writing while not disturbing everyone else (our computer room is between both bedrooms).
I had hoped a tablet would suffice. I tried several Android-based ones and generally liked it, but did not love it. Maybe Android N will finally make Android tablets a worthwhile platform. That was not the case when I used it. I would have considered an iPad but I have no ties to Apple’s ecosystem all of the models were prohibitively expensive.
The other Chromebook I had tried was a low end model. It ran really well – Chrome OS is designed with budget laptops in mind – but it did not fit my standards of quality. The keyboard was terrible to type on, the build quality made for a creaky, cheap-feeling device, and the screen muted everything. While I was always looking for a secondary computer, I found out quickly that quality mattered to me more than saving a few dollars for a niche use device.
What was I looking for?
After the first Chromebook failed to wow me, I started looking at Windows machines instead. I didn’t mind the idea of paying a little bit more since I wanted quality. I even considered a few ~$1000 ultrabooks as potential options. I have wanted to do even more writing than I already do, so I thought spending extra on a high end computer would incentivize me to write more since that is why I would be purchasing it in the first place. That’s dangerous logic though, especially when moving into a category of computers that can do so much more than just process words, such as allowing me access to more video games or other distractions.
I assembled a list of must haves for my new computer:
Good keyboard. Anything I would buy would need to have a good keyboard since I would be writing on it so much. This requirement also pushed out all tablets, save for things like the Surface or a Transformer that could have keyboards attached. Sadly, after trying devices such as those, I learned the keyboard quality was nowhere near where I wanted it to be, plus paying extra for the keyboard frustrated me.
Good build quality. I was prepared to drop several hundred dollars on this new device. Whether I should expect build quality or not for my price range, I knew I was not going to settle for anything less. Nothing kills my hype for using a new device more than an ugly screen or the feeling that I will break it at any time with regular usage.
Good screen. Most computers do black font on white text well enough that this shouldn’t matter all that much, but I knew I would sometimes use the device for media consumption too. While some people may be able to skip out on screen quality for their needs, the fact that I am looking at the screen 99% of the time makes me feel like it needs to look great too.
Nearly futureproof. Here’s the really tricky one: I wanted a computer I wouldn’t need to upgrade in two years. It is one thing to spend big now, but I don’t want that to translate into me creating a new product need in my life and then giving in to typical consumerism in upgrading that need too frequently. I wanted to spend my money on a simple, straight-forward device and stick to it for as long as I can.
With these requirements in mind, I immediately eliminated almost every Windows machine in my price range. They all had something to sacrifice. If they were cheap enough to have all of these things, then they typically had an old-school hard drive and not a solid state drive. Without that, there was hardly any future-proofing since I am always going to think, “Well, a new laptop won’t take three minutes to boot up.”
It also eliminated virtually all Chromebooks as well. In fact, Chromebook shopping became very difficult with these requirements because the market is aimed at a much lower end consumer (students mostly) than what I wanted to be. Every Chromebook I looked at sacrificed one thing I wanted in favor of being really good at everything else. Each one came with a sacrifice.
With no Windows machines or Chromebooks to buy, what was I going to do?
Enter the Dell Chromebook 13
When the new Dell Chromebook 13 was announced, I immediately thought it was perfect. It was designed for business use, which is a bit unusual in the realm of Chromebooks. With that came an excellent build quality, a rugged but simple design, and a great keyboard. It was a bit more expensive than what I wanted to spend on a Chromebook, but it was too good to pass up. Finally, I did not have to sacrifice anything.
Over the last few months, I have honestly enjoyed using my Chromebook more than my desktop. There have been zero growing pains. Since I was already invested in the Google ecosystem and their productivity software, the transition was flawless. I now carry my Chromebook to work or anywhere I travel. I frequently pen articles such as this one from the comfort of my bedroom. With Chrome Remote Desktop, I can access my desktop from my Chromebook if necessary.
Everything about the Dell Chromebook 13, physically-speaking, has been great as well. I love the keyboard which has the right balance of give, but doesn’t have that typical laptop problem of buckling when I press keys toward the middle. The screen itself is perfect, though Chrome OS’s lack of UI scaling still annoys me (in other words, running at the best resolution often means text/icons are too small to read). The battery life is great and I sprung extra for a 4gb ram model so I should be able to use this Chromebook for many years to come.
If I had to do it all over again, I would not hesitate to buy another Dell Chromebook 13. I might have considered getting the touchscreen model more, especially now that Google Play and Android apps are coming to Chrome OS in full, but I doubt that I would use that feature enough to warrant the additional cost.
If you need a Chromebook, I cannot recommend this one enough.
What do I think of Chrome OS overall?
When the world first used Chrome OS, it was ridiculed. Everything in a browser? No software running off the machine itself? No apps or programs? It was an absurd thought, but in the years since, my need for all of those things has diminished. I do everything in my browser now and my browser is Chrome. Chrome OS is hardly a leap.
Since the early days, Chrome OS has evolved somewhat on its own as well. There’s better offline support now so even though I use Google Docs for my word processing, I am not out of luck if I lose my internet connection.
With the upcoming release of the Google Play Store, I am expecting even better use from Chrome OS. I have played around a bit with Vine and it works well, even if using a pointer instead of a touchscreen is a little trickier. I look forward to a world where Chrome OS and Android become one, but for now, both remain perfectly usable for me on a daily basis.
I bought a Chromebook for a variety of reasons, Chrome OS included. I love using a simpler machine as my everyday writer. It keeps me from getting too distracted. At the same time, my Chromebook is not the simplest thing possible because it does have the full weight of the Chrome browser and the Internet behind it. I am not cutting myself off from the world like George R. R. Martin does with his writing computer, but it strikes a better balance.
Overall, I love Chrome OS too. Beyond the lack of gaming, using my Chromebook mirrors how I use my desktop now. All of my apps and programs are web-based, Google-operated, and tie back into the cloud. I embrace it all.
I wouldn’t hesitate to stick with Chrome OS well into the future, especially now that I have a Chromebook I love. I only wish my desktop could run all the same games on Steam without the Windows 10 bloat it has going on currently. That will likely never happen, even with Valve’s own attempt at Steam OS.