For my birthday I treated myself to a Samsung Chromebook computer. I’m a geek, so I love new toys and I am fascinated by the whole Chrome OS venture anyway. More importantly, I got the Chromebook as a defensive maneuver against my kids. My five year old is constantly taking my MacBook Air to play Club Penguin and my 14yr old is known to take it to watch Netflix. Her laptop, which is a hand me down from me is hopelessly old and slow. Budgets running tight these days, I could not afford a new regular computer for anyone, so the Chromebook, at $249 became a viable option. It only runs a web browser, but that’s what the kids and even myself use most of the time. Having an extra cheap laptop around to share would be really helpful. This is the way Google sells the Chromebook concept as well, as a second computer; something simple the whole family can use.
I will back up and explain for the uninitiated. Google created the Chrome web browser and it has become quite popular on Mac and PC’s. Following the old concept that the network is the computer, Google created a laptop specification for a machine that runs only a web browser. They even called the operating system that runs it Chrome OS, even though it’s really a variant of Unix that only runs one application, the Chrome browser. The Chromebook sits somewhere between the horrible NetBook concept PC makers pushed a few years ago and a traditional laptop computer. There are no traditional applications on a Chromebook, only a web browser. Whatever you can do in a web browser, you can do on a Chromebook but nothing more. It’s not for everyone and not for every use case, but if you spend most of your time in a web browser, it might be very compelling.
The first thing you notice is the quality of the keyboard which is as good as any keyboard I have ever used. It might even be a tad better than the MacBook Air. The screen is fine but not excellent as is the overall speed of the machine. You end up saying this a lot but hey, what do you want for $249? For what it is, the Chromebook performs quite well. The real head scratcher, though, is the way they handle user accounts. If you want to share the Chromebook with other family members, you are required to create Google accounts for them. This becomes a problem when the family member you want to share with is only 5 years old. My daughter doesn’t have a Google account you can’t create an account for anyone under 13 years old. So, you are forced to either let them use a different account you have created for yourself or just lie about their age. Both of these are bad solutions and why Google did not come up with an elegant, easy solution for kids getting their own accounts on Chromebooks when they specifically show kids using the Chromebook in their tv commercials is beyond me. Five seconds of user testing would have surfaced this issue. I get that having a Google account is fundamental to the Chromebook experience but my five year old doesn’t need the full experience, she just wants to play Club Penguin. There needs to be a simple local login ability or at least a special kids Google account used primarily for Chromebook logins. Right now, if you’re a parent and you are trying to share your Chromebook with a child, it’s a very difficult and frustrating experience.
I have had the Chromebook less than 24 hours, so we’ll see how things progress but so far so good. I like the machine and would recommend it to anyone who lives and works primarily in the cloud.