In December of last year, I sold off my Windows laptop and decided to embrace Chromebooks and Chrome OS. I was hesitant at first, but after only a few weeks I knew I didn’t want to go back. In fact, I was unsure just what I would discuss in this article, since the Chromebook I’ve been using — the Asus Chromebook C302 — just works as intended. The same could be said for all of the other Chromebooks I tried before the Asus. The differences between them came down to the hardware differences — a more powerful processor, a different screen aspect ratio. Each of them was just as easy to pick up and use as the others.
That’s not to say my experience hasn’t changed in the last six months. The biggest addition has been Android applications — still only in the beta build for my Asus Chromebook — which have gotten better and better with recent updates. But even when new features are added, the core experience still remains effortless. When I pick up my laptop and open the lid, the OS boots. Every. Single. Time. When I plugged the laptop into my dock at my previous apartment, it output video to the second display and began charging. Every. Single. Time. When I turned on my Bluetooth keyboard or mouse, they connected without issue. Every. Single. Time.
I’d especially like to contrast that last point with my experience with Windows. I’ve been trying the past two days to get a keyboard and mouse to pair over Bluetooth with my Windows desktop, and it has been a nightmare. After factory resetting my desktop, disabling the built-in Intel Bluetooth radio, and purchasing a USB Bluetooth dongle, the keyboard still misses or adds extra keystrokes. The mouse is a little better, but has its own issues with jittery navigation.
I’ve tried a few Android apps, and most times I go back to using the web equivalent. For some services such as Plex and Netflix, there aren’t any advantages — for me — of using the Android application over the website. The Android version of those services allow the user to download media for offline consumption, but that’s just not something I ever did. Flipping my screen around to read a novel or comic book was definitely a joy — though a bit inconvenient since I feel the keyboard while I try to read.
Other services such as Microsoft Office are still a bit clunky. I had Word, Powerpoint and Excel installed on my Chromebook because I thought they’d be worthwhile to try for my college program. However, there’s no way for Android applications to save files to the main Chrome OS file space. While Microsoft offers the option to save Office files to their OneDrive cloud storage, they do not offer an option to save files to Google Drive. I preferred saving files to my Google Drive since I ended up saving them there now that the degree is complete and I will lose my school Office 365 account. Doing so meant using an Android application called FolderSync Pro to manually sync my schoolwork folder between my Google Drive account and the Android application space of my Chromebook. It worked, but it was less than ideal. Now that I’m done with my degree program, I’ve uninstalled Word, Excel and Powerpoint from my Chromebook entirely.
Android apps as a whole got a lot better recently when Google updated the Application Program Interface (API) level for Chromebooks from Android 6.0.1 to Android 7.0. That may not sound a big leap, but Android 7.0 added the ability to resize application windows and the ability to move Android applications to a second monitor. Both of these go a long way to improving the experience of using Android applications. Another improvement coming in Android O will be better keyboard and trackpad navigation inside applications.
The most important thing to keep in mind about Android applications on Chrome OS is that they don’t need to be used at all. If a user just wants their Chromebook to be a simple device for watching Netflix and checking emails, it absolutely can be and they never need to know that the Google Play Store exists on their devices. At the same time — if someone did want some Android applications to make their Chromebook a better productivity machine — nothing about the core experience changes or becomes frustrating. It’s still consistently great.
Microsoft did recently introduce Windows 10 S to meet the security and simplicity that Chrome OS offers, but they miss the mark. Microsoft Edge still has some growing to do before it reaches feature parity with the Chrome browser — in addition to still being less secure than Chrome. The Windows Store pales in comparison to the Android application store in both consumption and productivity applications, and the operating system itself can still be exploited with standard Windows attacks. I still have my Windows desktop that I use for certain functions — gaming, media conversion and hosting my TV and movie library. It does wonderfully at all of those, and while Chromeboxes are a thing, I can’t see myself getting one anytime soon. Similarly, I can’t see myself going back to Windows in a laptop unless I specifically need one for a future job.
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