Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Blah-Blah Regarding My Chromebook (Not Quite a Review)

I love my Chromebook. I am irked by my Chromebook.

But overall, I think I'll keep 'im.

First a paragraph of random trivia: I ended up with an Acer R11 Chromebook rather than an Asus Flip. Costco had a really good sale going on the Acer just before Christmas. Like the Asus Flip, the R11 is a convertible: the screen folds back for use as a sort of tablet, which appealed to me for sheet music and PDFs and movies.

It's a little tall and skinny for displaying chord sheets and sheet music, but works pretty well!

It isn't as sleek as the Asus Flip. It doesn't scream "classy." It looks like...a clunky white plastic slab. However, it's a little larger than the Asus (11.6" screen) and has a normal sized, very comfortable keyboard. And I liked the peace of mind of having a Costco guarantee, since the whole Chromebook concept is a new one to me. It also has a little more local storage (32GB) and an Intel processor, should I decide I want to play with Linux at a later date.

There are definite pluses to Chrome OS. For one thing, I already have an Android phone and use the Chrome browser on other computers, and as soon as I logged in, I instantly had all my bookmarks and browser extensions and access to all my Google Drive documents. I did a power wash (basically a factory reset) at one point in the last week, and pretty much lost nothing. Usually switching from one computer to another takes me weeks of tweaking, but there are very few local settings on a Chromebook, so the experience remains just about the same no matter what once you log in. You can upgrade to a new Chromebook, wipe a current one, or just use Chrome elsewhere, and changes sync (mostly) seamlessly.

However, I'm running into a few frustrating issues. Not all can be blamed on the Chromebook itself, but they're there nonetheless.

First of all, one of the primary reasons I bought it was so I'd have an inexpensive, durable, long-batteried laptop to lug to the coffee shop I frequently go to in the mornings. However, as I discovered the very first time I brought it along, Chromebooks can be a little picky about wi-fi. When I tried to connect, I got an error that said "network out of range." This despite the fact that other devices (my phone or my other laptop) connected without issue.

I did a bunch of online research. It appears this is not an entirely uncommon problem. Unfortunately, the advice mostly amounted to making changes to the router--not an option for me.

I've connected once over the last few weeks (presumably the router was reset and worked for awhile), but the rest of the time, the error comes up every time I'm there.

Second issue: Google Docs should work more or less the same off-line as off, though of course won't sync changes until next time you connect. And I have been able to edit existing documents without much trouble.

Creating documents off-line, however, gets a little weird.

For example, the other day at the coffee shop, I couldn't get the connection to work again. "No problem," I thought. "I'll just write offline and sync when I get to work."

So I did. I wrote and edited a short blog article (about 500 words). The top of the screen in Docs said "All changes saved offline." Feeling accomplished, I closed it out, closed up the Chromebook, and headed to work.

At work, I opened up the Chromebook and found...nothing. According to it, I hadn't touched any documents since yesterday. RAGE...RISING.

I thought maybe this was a fluke, that maybe I'd imagined the message saying everything was saved, or that I'd done something wrong. So I tried creating additional documents offline. Same deal. Docs would say it saved my changes. The document would (apparently) vanish into the ether as soon as the document was closed. Sadness would descend.

What I ultimately discovered was that my documents were there (PHEW!), but (aggravatingly) invisible until I'd been connected to a wireless source for an undetermined interval, whereupon they'd magically appear. Perplexing.

For the time being, I created some blank documents named Offline 1-3 to use when I'm just creating blocks of text to be applied elsewhere, since existing documents sync instantly. This also allows me to reopen documents offline. But I don't like this. Hopefully it's something that will be improved upon in the future.

I haven't really, deeply put the little guy through its paces in other realms, but I have used it for displaying recipes while standing tent-fashion on the kitchen counter (soooo much better than trying to read stuff off my phone), and for watching TV while on the exercise bike.

Musician fancy gym bike...

For those purposes, it works like a champ.

I'm not necessarily getting the 10 hrs of battery life billed in the specs, but I didn't really expect that. I can use it at the coffee shop, watch a few YouTube videos during lunch, spend some time surfing when I get home and watch a show while on the exercise bike and still have plenty of battery to spare, and that's good enough for me. My unscientific estimate would be something near 8 hrs.


  • Relatively lightweight
  • Rugged
  • Cheap, at least compared to a "real" laptop, or a tablet and keyboard combo (about $250)
  • Works adequately as a tablet for recipes, PDFs, movies while exercising, sheet music. It doesn't have a fancy retina screen, but the screen is a decently bright IPS panel. It will do.
  • Easy access to Google documents, which is about all I need for creating first drafts
  • Great keyboard, springy and nicely spaced


  • Not as lightweight as the models I'd originally looked at, making it awkward to use as a handheld tablet on the couch or in bed
  • Pretty ugly compared to the competition (though it's almost so ugly it's endearing)
  • Screen is just OK
  • ANNOYING wi-fi issues
  • ANNOYING off-line document creation weirdness

Despite the cons, I think it's a keeper. I shall plaster stickers on it soon. Bwahahah.