I’ve been curious about Chrome OS and Chromebooks for a while now. A couple of months ago I replaced my daughter’s dead laptop with a cheap Chromebook and she loves it. The only thing she really misses is Minecraft.
Then, the other week, I got interested in the idea of running Android apps on Chrome OS. This is a recent development that only works on a few specific devices as of this writing, but will be pushed out to a lot more in the coming months. I decided to dive in and get a Asus Chromebook Flip, as it’s one of the devices that do support Android apps out of the box at this time. It’s also got decent specs at a decent price. $260-$280 with 4GB RAM and 16GB storage, plus and SD card slot for more storage. It’s also got the Lenovo-Yoga-type-flip-around thing going on, which means you can use it as a tablet or other configurations. I never use my Yoga like that, but with the smaller size of the Asus, it’s actually workable.
First of all, I’ll say I’ve had pretty bad luck with hardware on this adventure. My first flip would not accept an SD card. It just wouldn’t click in. Popped right out. I really wanted the extra storage, so I got a replacement. Second one, card reader was fine, but the touch screen was not. Phantom touches all over the place. Amazon admitted they were having issues with their current inventory and suggested I get a refund and order from another supplier. So I returned that and reordered another one direct from Google. Hoping third time is a charm. I looked at a bunch of other models and the Flip is really what I want, and beyond the stuff that was broken, I really liked the device.
I won’t try to sell you on why you should get a Chromebook, because none of these arguments worked on me. I don’t think they are for everyone. But you won’t really know whether or not you like it until you experience it. What I really liked about it was:
A. The size. Small, lightweight. Like a tablet, but with a real keyboard.
B. Great battery life. Really amazing battery life.
C. Instant on. Even if you need to reboot, it’s seconds.
D. Virtually maintenance free. Nothing to install. I can grab any Chromebook anywhere, sign into Chrome, sign into LastPass, and it’s totally my computer with all my apps there. Sign out, remove the account, and it’s like I was never there.
As far as the Android apps side of things, this turned out to be a bit of a letdown for me. Not because they didn’t work, but because once I had all my apps set up and went into the Play Store to look for apps, I couldn’t think of any that I really needed. All my web apps and Chrome apps had me pretty much covered. I tried a few anyway and for the most part they were fine. One of the more intensive games I tried crashed a couple of times. Other than that, no issues, just not as much of a need as I thought there would be. Time will tell.
So what do I use this for? Mostly for web, email, youtube. Actually watched some Netflix and Amazon Prime shows on it, no problem. For web entertainment stuff, great. General productivity stuff, also great. Google docs, etc. works nice. If I were going to do more serious typing, I’d use an external keyboard and maybe a monitor. The Flip’s keyboard is a bit small, but feels pretty decent otherwise.
Of course, a lot of people would ask about coding on the device. For me, I’m not quite sure yet. Obviously, you’re not going to run Android Studio or any large web dev ide, Visual Studio or XCode on it. But there are several Chrome based coding IDEs which are half decent.
There’s the Chrome Dev Editor which is surprisingly nice. It actually creates a localhost server to test your in-dev app, has git integration, templates, projects, publishing capabilities, etc. The github page for the project says it’s no longer in active development, but the lastest update in the Chrome store says March of this year. This editor is especially useful if you are developing Chrome Apps or Extensions. That’s really what it’s made for, although it can do regular web apps as well.
Caret is another very popular and capable editor. It’s modeled after Sublime Text, so there’s a lot there you’ll find familiar. Very extensible.
Of course, if you need to work on more complex projects, that include specialized build systems, etc. You’re going to need to jump into cloud dev. Cloud9, Koding, Nitrous.io are some worth checking out. These all set up your projects on a server somewhere and give you a graphical IDE to edit and run that code on the server.
There’s also the possibility of running a different OS on the Chromebook itself. There is a way to get a special Linux build on there, which makes it capable of doing a lot more. Can’t speak for that myself yet, as I haven’t tried it. Here are some links on Chromebook dev: