A Chromebook revelation by a Mac user

A Chromebook is a lot cheaper than a MacBook, and it's capable enough for a lot of people.

I’ve always been platform curious. I’ve been using Macs for 25 years, but I’ve also used PCs running Windows, various Linux distributions, and even BeOS. I’ve tried out Android and Windows smartphones to know how the other half live. And I’ve even dabbled with one of Amazon’s tablets, enough to know that it’s not for me (though still a good deal for many).

I’ve been curious about the Chromebook for a while, and during Amazon’s recent Prime Day, I took advantage of a deal on a Lenovo N22 Chromebook (Amazon UK link) to try out that platform. Heck, at £99 (about $130) for a computer, I figured it was worth dipping my feet in the water.

In my work, I use a lot of apps: text editors, layout apps, image editing programs, and more. But 90 percent of people don’t use these types of apps; they use simple productivity apps, a web browser, and spend more time on email, Facebook, and Twitter than I do in, say, iTunes.

As such, a Chromebook, even this £99 model, is more than sufficient for most users. ChromeOS is based on Google’s Chrome web browser, and you can install extensions to the browser, as well as apps, but you can also do all your tasks on the web. With a bonus of 100GB storage on Google Drive for two years, this Chromebook lets you handle documents (Google Docs, Sheets, etc.), send and receive email (Gmail), store and manage photos (Google Photos), and much more. (And you can install plenty of other apps from the Chrome Store.)

I was prepared to be underwhelmed, but I wasn’t. I found this device to be responsive and easy to use, with a decent keyboard and trackpad. It has a 1.6GHz processor (with burst mode up to 2.48GHz), and, while it only sports 2GB of RAM, it’s sufficient for the tasks it carries out. Its video—Intel HD Graphics 400—is sufficient for the device, and it has 32GB onboard storage, which you can increase by adding an SD card. It has fast 802.11ac Wi-Fi and two USB ports. If only it had a better display; it’s non-retina, and I’m spoiled by the quality of Apple’s displays. Its 1366x768 display at 133 dpi is sufficient to display low-res HD video, and playback is smooth, but the colors are a bit washed out. (It has an HDMI out port to connect it to a TV or external display.)

As a computer, it stands up well. Rated at 14 hours of battery life, it lasts a lot longer than my 12-inch MacBook. I can perform many of the tasks I need. While I’m not a fan of working in the browser, I understand how some people can manage. In addition to Google’s apps, I can use iCloud for documents and email, access files stored on Dropbox, use Evernote on the web, and manage my websites using WordPress’s web interface.

Sure, some things are missing. There’s no iTunes, nor access to Apple Music. I don’t have access to a good minimal text editor, such as iA Writer, the tool I use for my writing most of the day. And it would be hard to record podcasts on this device (though it might be possible).

At the price I paid, this Chromebook is a steal. (Its regular price is £150.) And I’d bet that I could find a Chromebook with a better display for twice the price; or still less than half the cost of the least expensive Apple laptop. I understand now why Chromebooks are so popular, especially in education.

If you put things in perspective, this cheap computer, while not having the design or display of an Apple product, is capable of doing all the tasks that the majority of people need. For people who don’t use a computer a lot, or who need a simple device for the basics (email, Facebook, web browsing), I will have no qualms about recommending a Chromebook instead of an Apple laptop.

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Kirk McElhearn

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