So, my wonderful wife decided to get me something especially nice this Father’s Day. I had pointed out to her the Chromebooks that they have down at the local Future Shop, so she took me out Friday night and we went and got one. This one, to be exact:

From the Samsung website

At $250, it’s clear that compromises were made, but it works surprisingly well given it’s specs — 2Gig RAM, 16Gig SSD, 1.7 GHz “Samsung Exynos 5” processor (ARM Cortex-A15). The benchmarks show it as faster than a base Atom machine, but only 30..50% of an i3. Anyway, plenty fast enough.

To give you some idea what it’s capable of, as I type this, I’ve got a mouse and keyboard plugged into it, along with an external (HDMI) monitor. I have about 10 Chrome windows open (because, really that’s all you can do <g>) with one of them pointing at Rdio (and playing the latest Punch Brothers album over the HDMI speakers), one showing a remote desktop on my home server, one SSH’ed into my Raspberry Pi, a couple being used to write this blog post, and one connected to JazzHub where I’m keeping notes.

It also has a builtin microphone and camera and will happily participate in a Google Hangout video chat. It will cold boot in about 10 seconds and wakes from sleep in about a second.

As to the apps for it, in addition to the above, I managed to find solutions to almost all the things I normally need to do:

  • Files — DropBox, GoogleDrive, iCloud
  • Mail — iCloud Mail and GMail for home email; iNotes for work
  • Chat — Hangouts; no solution for Sametime yet
  • Twitter — Tweetdeck
  • RSS — Feedly
  • Reddit — Reditr
  • eBooks — Kindle Cloud Reader, Kobo Instant Reader, Google Play Books
  • Office — Google Docs, Sheets, Slides (and iWork once it comes out of beta)
  • image editing — Pixlr

I even managed to get access to my password safe, albeit without the full browser integration.

Of course, the reason I wanted one of these was to use it for testing the experience of working with Orion. I’m going to try to use it for my day to day development and testing for at least the next few weeks. So far, the experience has been good, but I’ll let you know if I discover anything particularly limiting.

So what don’t I like about it?

  • Regardless of the offline support some apps provide, this really is a one trick pony: It’s for being on the internet, and if you don’t have a connection, you might as well save your battery life.
  • The external hardware support works, but just: I wasn’t able to get the acceleration rate high enough on the mouse I use; the max resolution on the HDMI port was lower than the native resolution on the monitor I use; I hung the entire machine twice while getting the display hooked up; etc.
  • The keyboard layout is pretty wonky — massive ctrl and alt keys, with a tiny shift key and hard to hit return key, and somebody must *really* like the backslash character since there is a key to enter it on both sides of the keyboard (in exactly the right places to have you accidentally hit them while going for the shift and return keys).
  • It really does have an incredibly small SSD drive, plus limited ability to expand that using the built in SD card slot since the memory card sticks out so far you have to remove it when you aren’t using it. *sigh*. The former I might understand given the low price, but it makes the latter unforgivable.

Anyway, it’s not a replacement for the MacBook Pro, but it works pretty well. I could see taking just this device (and a USB HD to download pictures) if I was travelling. I believe the pricepoint is interesting too. It’s a nicer experience to work on than an iPad (even with a keyboard) at a significantly lower price. Now all they have to do is get the app ecosystem a bit bigger and it might start to make sense for the wider community.

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