I'm an early adopter. I'm a dedicated follower of fashion. As a result, I have a number of netbooks and tablets serving as bookends; batteries flat, lock-screen password forgotten—should open a museum. So, having recently attended the GAFE Summit in Christchurch, I thought I should acquire a Chromebook. The GAFE team had hyped Chromebooks to the max, but actually trying to get hold of one was not easy. I signed up for a pre-loved one from Cyclone, who were exhibiting at the summit. My preference would have been for a Samsung; I am something of a Samsung fan. I have a Samsung TV, several models of Galaxy phone, and, if they made kitchen appliances, I'd buy those too. None of the many retailers I spoke to, however, could supply one. In fact, they couldn't supply any flavour of Chromebook, and several professed that they had never to have heard of them. Odd for a device that is (supposedly) taking the education scene by storm. Nevertheless, on June 2 Google Chrome blog announced that Chromebooks are coming to New Zealand soon.* I drove home via Cyclone, and collected my Peach coloured pre-loved HP Chromebook.
First impressions out of the box
After tea I opened the box. If it was pre-loved, I would not have known, the packaging was all in tact and it looked and felt like new. I had paid an ex-demonstrator price, so I was well pleased. The first things I noticed were the colour and the texture, it was pink and rubbery like a hot water bottle; I warmed to it immediately. The next thing I noticed was the weight. I put it on the kitchen scales and the needle went around to a massive 1.9 kgs—compared with my Apple Air at 1.3 kgs. Back in the 1990s we tossed an HP optical drive into Loch Ness (to the dismay of the HP representative, who thought he had arrived to receive praise)—we were that annoyed by it. If later I want to send this Chromebook into Low Earth Orbit, it will cost me around US$5000. Battery life comes at a price. But what battery life! With default power saver settings HP Chromebook outruns Apple Air by 4 hours.
Pros and cons: pleasantly surprised
CORE's IT guru, Glen Davies, warned me I may feel claustrophobic in the Chromebook. With minimal on-board storage, with Chrome the only browser (because the browser is the operating system), and with all the activity channelled through Google, that was a possibility. But you know? I think I feel liberated. I feel less ownership of the device, in fact, I'd be happy to share it, because my stuff is not in the device, it's in my login. Once I re-train myself to think like this, I can go to any cybercafé login, and be at home.
To expand on this idea, and take it into the secondary or tertiary learning environment, it's a lot more robust. No longer is "a crash ate my homework" a valid excuse. A Chromebook that goes bouncing down two floors of concrete stairs can be replaced with a loan machine for the very next class.
And they're cheap. The original target of the One Laptop per Child project was US$100 per unit, but that was maybe never that realistic; better to say US$500, and get a few features that even the undeveloped world might expect … like good battery life, a robust keyboard, a smart lid, virus immunity, and hundreds of great apps.
Worth trying out
So, my suggestion is that if it's not too late, if the Powers That Be have not already decided otherwise, get hold of a Chromebook and pass it around your teachers, tutors, or trainers, and some of your user group, and solicit feedback. You'll be pleasantly surprised. I'd say the big advantage of a Chromebook over a tablet is the keyboard, and the big disadvantage is the weight. Try it for yourself!
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* Looks like they’re on their way: Stuff news