The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – Toshiba CB2

I have written hundreds of articles and dozens of reviews over the years. I can honestly say that reviewing the Toshiba 13” FHD Chromebook 2 has been the most difficult. The difficulty has arisen from a number of directions. On one hand Toshiba has directly addressed many of the gripes chromebook users have had (IPS display, 1920×1080 resolution, battery life). On the other hand there have been some very questionable choices such as materials and build quality. Because of the positives, there are only two chromebooks that can even be compared, the Samsung 13” FHD Chromebook 2 and the Pixel. The first makes good sense, similar price, features etc. Comparing to the Pixel has been an adventure. I will explain more as we walk through the review.

Toshiba CB2 groupI have created a unique comparison approach for this review. I feel confident I can efficiently and effectively contrast the Samsung and the Toshiba. In each major category I can clearly identify a winner. When comparing to the Pixel, outside of battery life the Toshiba always loses, so I pondered how to effectively communicate the comparison. I have chose to identify a percentage of the Pixel’s excellence that the Toshiba achieves.


Samsung vs. Toshiba  – Tie

Toshiba vs Pixel – 75%

Using the Bay Trail processor for a few weeks was a great way to compare with the Samsung ARM processor I used for over a month in Europe on a daily basis. I have really gotten a very good feel for both, to use for real work over time, and they perform similarly. They are both a step slower than the Pixel or other muscular Chromebooks like the Dell or Lenovo. This step down was NOT severe enough to bother me in any substantive way. Sure, a pile of tabs opened simultaneously will take a second or two longer. This is not really important to my productivity. As memory seems to affect things more (all 3 had 4GB of RAM) on Chrome OS, I found productivity to be strong with the Toshiba. Given the way Chrome OS is developing I do not expect it to become a problem in the future.

Octane 2.0 using the latest stable release (38.0.2125.110 (64-bit))

Pixel – 20488
Dell 11 – 11680
Samsung CB2 13 – 6904
Toshiba CB2 13 – 7517

Some notes on the benchmarks. While you can see my rant on benchmarks here, it should be noted that the four Chromebooks all have very different processors in them. I can honestly say that the experience with ChromeOS does not drop off much moving between any of these devices. When looking at the range of scores it appears there should be on the surface. I would continue to argue that memory is far more important to a smooth Chrome experience than processor speed.


Samsung vs Toshiba – Toshiba in a landslide

Toshiba vs Pixel – 80%

Both the Samsung and the Toshiba have Full HD 1920×1080 screens. This is where the similarity ends. The Samsung uses a TN display (circa 1990’s) while the Toshiba employs an IPS display which has become the norm in the last decade for displays used by reasonable humans. An IPS display is simply required for outdoor use and I have been stunned that it has taken this long for them to start becoming standard on Chromebooks. My theory is that manufacturers made millions of TN displays for Netbooks a decade ago. These displays have been sitting in a warehouse all this time and they figured they could dump them on a platform they thought likely to fail and make a few bucks. No facts to back this up, just a theory.

The Toshiba screen is quite nice. It is sharp, the colors are correct, and the viewing angles are very good for a laptop at this price point. The only real negative is the lack of a matte finish. The glossy, glassy nature of the screen makes outdoor use more difficult. Not as poor as the Samsung but a headache-generator to be sure. I am writing this article in direct sun at the moment. I will be pausing for a while after this section because of the glare and the associate headache that is starting.

Comparing the Toshiba screen to the Pixel is interesting. Next to a display like the Samsung’s the Pixel looks fantastic, next to a good display like the Toshiba you really see the excellence. It was very similar to when I compared the Pixel to a Macbook Pro. You simply had to say wow. I still have not seen a laptop screen at any price that is better than the Pixel.

The format was interesting to contrast as well. The 16:9 aspect ration of the Toshiba is quite different than the 3:2 aspect ratio of the Pixel. Both can provide side by side windows effectively but the Pixel offers much more height. I think the 3:2 aspect ratio is superior in screen sizes over 15” while 16:9 provides the needed width for multitasking at smaller form factors.


Samsung vs Toshiba – Samsung in a landslide

Toshiba vs Pixel – 20%

Toshiba DesignUsing the Toshiba CB2, feeling the materials and looking back at recent product lines, I cannot help but scratch my head at the awful designs Toshiba comes up with. I have become truly curious what broken process is yielding such poor results on top of very well executed engineering. I get the feeling that as a company, Toshiba would sit down at a five star restaurant and order a Mountain Dew and a plate of chicken fingers. There seems to be a lack of any sense of class at all.

For example a few years ago we needed a laptop quickly. My partner went to the local Micro Center and picked up the most powerful laptop he could. He picked up a high end Toshiba machine we labeled “racing stripes” for its big, gaudy red stripe and liberal use of chrome in the chassis. This unit would embarrass most high schoolers, it was so obnoxious. Mercifully the unit died but left a strong impression on us.

The Toshiba CB2 is similarly lost in terms of design. The outside cover is presumably inspired by a waffle iron. There is also one advertisement on the unit that cannot be removed–for Skullcandy of all things. Why would I want a nice Chromebook that I use every day, and which would appeal to businesses and institutions, to constantly associate with a brand like that? Absolutely goofy in my opinion.

End of rant…

I know I am going to be criticized on this rating. I have this simple proof to offer, we ordered three of the Toshibas, and two of them have had build issues. One of the units has had all but two of the screws fall out of the bottom. One of the other units has a piece of paper (shown in the picture below) sticking out from behind the screen.Toshiba-CB2-Screen-Defect

Then there are the materials used to make the devices. In my review of the 13” Samsung CB2 I lamented the use of cheaper materials than the 11” CB2. Here I can tell you that the Samsung is made of far better stuff than the Toshiba. I think Toshiba chose the worst materials I have seen on a Chromebook and possibly on any laptop I have ever used from a name brand manufacturer.

The issue was simply amplified in my week long alternation between the Pixel and the Toshiba. I was reminded by the starkness of what my eyes were beholding, the Pixel is still the best laptop made in my personal opinion. Yes, most people lament the Pixel as an overpriced idiotic exercise, but it has been a wonder in my heavy use. By contrast I was constantly irritated by the chassis (color, texture, etc) every time I switched back to the Toshiba.

The only positive I found with the chassis design was the lightness of the device. Likely because of the cheap materials the Toshiba is a breeze to carry around compared to the other two. I have no idea what the spec sheets say, the device simply felt the lightest in regular use.

Keyboard, Trackpad

Samsung vs Toshiba – Toshiba

Toshiba vs Pixel – 90%

When it comes to the keyboards all three of the devices have excellent feel and sensitivity. I can easily touch type my way around without any loss of productivity or consistently missed combinations. These are all first class keyboards, the Pixel uses obviously higher end materials but this does not affect the performance of the other two.

I am beginning to wonder if there is a “Keyboard Czar” at Google that oversees all the input devices used on Chromebooks. I am seeing a very nice consistency and quality in all the Chromebook keyboards I use. A big pat on the back is deserved to whomever drove the manufacturers to use decent keyboards instead of the awful stuff you see on many cheap Windows laptops and netbooks.

In the touchpad department the devices are close, but the Pixel and the Toshiba are simply better. The surface might not hold up as well as the Pixel over time (plastic vs glass) but it feels fantastic. I also like the click pressure required on the Toshiba best of all the devices. It is very natural and superior to even the Pixel in constant, all day, use.

Battery Life

Samsung vs Toshiba – Tie

Toshiba vs Pixel – 200%

Everyone knows the Pixel has barely passable battery life. This is partly why it is my “roam around the house” device and not my “go everywhere” Chromebook. The surprise was the equality in battery life between the Samsung and the Toshiba. I expected the IPS screen and Intel processor to cause the Toshiba battery to be shorter-lived than the Samsung. It was not, it was fantastic. In my travels the last couple of weeks the Toshiba could go all day with heavy use. I rarely worried about the battery, and it charged very quickly. By contrast the Pixel runs out of juice by lunch and takes the rest of the day to charge!


Sorry to disappoint but the Pixel is still king, even when compared to the latest MBP from Apple. The Toshiba did not best it.

BUT, the Toshiba is an easy recommendation despite the chassis irritations because of the price and the screen. You simply cannot find a better balance if your focus is not on looks. In weeks of use I could not find any real flaws in the technical execution of the device. It is a very effective tool and I ultimately make my choices on this basis. I will be retiring the Samsung after a short stay in my arsenal and using the Toshiba as my primary Chrome OS device

I give the Toshiba a strong recommendation, I have not seen a better low cost device. As successful as it has been so far, I expect other manufacturers to follow suit and end this silly use of antiquated, awful displays.

Europe on a Chromebook

Much has been and will continue to be made of the viability of Chromebooks as a primary computing device. Microsoft launches direct attacks, inadvertently validating the platform. I see posts often lamenting the lack of gaming support. I judge computing devices by how well the device enables me to do what I need to. It is a functional decision. I have been using a Chromebook as my primary computing device for close to two years now. This last month in Europe was the first time I ventured beyond reach of either a PC or Mac. I have not used them much over the last two years but I have used them.

DSC_0207I posted information on the kit I took to Europe here (

The Chromebook was the ARM based Samsung CB2 13” with a 1920×1080 screen and 4GB of RAM. My wife also brought her phone and our Dell 11” Chromebook. The Dell has a speedy Haswell CPU, and 2GB of RAM. These are really 2 quite different devices that many would like to mash together. The Samsung has more memory and a much higher resolution screen, it is also more svelte and lighter than the Dell. The Dell is made of nice soft touch materials and has the fast Intel processor. Battery life on the two is roughly equal, both very very good.

europe-mapEven though this was a vacation, there was significant work that needed to be done each week for our business. I run a custom software company, Oasis Digital Solutions, and my wife is the controller. Customers still need to be responded to, software releases need to go out, new contracts need to be signed, projects cannot be ignored, employees still like to be paid and we still need to bill each week. These are pretty heady computing tasks. Here are a subset of the computing processes we used regularly just for business:

  1. Editing and creating large docs
  2. Manipulating large spreadsheets
  3. Editing PDFs with Electronic Signature
  4. Online Chats
  5. Screenshares
  6. Video Chats
  7. Email, Browsing

To support our trip we had some significant computing needs as well. I used the Sony lens camera and my phone camera to take nearly 2000 pictures and videos. About 16GB worth. I am a believer in backups so each day I would transfer files off of the micro SD cards to another storage device we carefully stored away. I also backed them all up to Google services which are backed up by Spanning Backup. My wife journaled on the Chromebook each day as we went. We knew we were seeing more than we could possibly remember. We would like to share our trip with family and friends. We also used Google Maps heavily and planned our days using the Chromebooks.

The performance of the Chromebooks can be viewed on a couple of axes. First, there is performance. My metric is different than most, I watched to see which Chromebook we tended to use more. The online and offline performance is also important. Many of the times we had opportunity to use the CBs were on trains without internet access. They can also be judged in terms of storage space and battery life. Here are our conclusions:


By the fourth day of the trip we both preferred to use the Samsung. The extra screen space and memory won the day. I am more firmly convinced than ever than an ARM processor is ok and 4GB of memory is a minimum. The Dell is an excellent device but is struggles with many complex pages open and the memory disappears quickly in the latest versions of Chrome OS. When we streamed an HD movie in Dusseldorf we used the Samsung without problem. When we had Hangouts with our daughter and grandchild from St. Louis, we used the Samsung. The one exception was when my wife was working on a bunch of spreadsheets, so I used the Dell.

I did start getting into the habit of shutting down the Samsung instead of closing the lid. There is some sort of memory leak going on in the latest OS releases that I am not pleased about. Fortunately it takes only a few seconds more to boot instead of un-suspend. I expect they will fix this problem soon, as it seems to be affecting all of my Chrome devices.

Overall we found the performance of the CBs to be fantastic. We never hit a spot where we could not do what we needed in a timely fashion. This made the trip much better.

Offline Use

We did not have internet at all times. In fact we used the CBs pretty extensively in an offline mode. Most of this was content creation and manipulation. For example we would write documents, create spreadsheets, and edit photos. We also used the opportunity to review documents we had stored locally intentionally before boarding a train. The process was quite painless.

The camera I brought was a Sony DSCQX100 lens camera. I used it held in my hand with the phone as a viewfinder. Because the camera was round I ended up with an inadvertent slight tilt to many of my photos. This meant a lot more photos needed to be rotated than normal. I found the tools on my Android phone to be faster than the process on the CB. The tools are there but getting to them from the file manager is not as seamless as it could be. With that said the process of moving the files back and forth was simple because I have a USB stick with a micro USB connector. It works really well with smartphones.

Storage and Battery Life

I expected this trip to be the point I would finally start to get irritated by 16GB of storage on a typical CB. I simply was not. I downloaded a movie to watch offline, I moved photos around, I stored piles of documents for offline use, all without a hitch. Because the model is to store in the cloud and use locally, there is not a build up of little used files on the device. I have rarely found myself creating new folders locally. The files I need I keep in a pile, they sync up and when I am done with them I delete them locally. Storing too much locally defeats the backup strategy, also, so there is not a drive to keep things (pun intended).

Battery life was simply fantastic. I never once through the trip found myself watching my battery or working to conserve. These devices can go and go and go. We would go days without charging them when we were only sporadically using them. On heavy use days we would simply charge overnight. Any time we went out we did not take a power supply with us, it was simply not needed.


PICT_20140825_192211This trip confirmed to me that I no longer need a PC at home. I removed my last one from my entertainment center last night. Its function as a media center PC was replaced by a $35 Chromecast last year. I will still keep a Mac around at the office, but it is not critical either. I will say that I am tired of TN displays. Once manufacturers get rid of all of these old netbook parts lying around and get to real business we will all be better off. The Samsung is a huge winner with an IPS display. I say that because I came back to write this article and others on my Pixel. The Samsung is a fine device and there are none better for traveling, but when I am sitting at home or the office, I want a nice display. Visuals are important.

Chrome OS has successfully defied its detractors. It is a robust OS with capabilities users need in 2014. It is fast, efficient, and most of all, reliable. Users can bounce from machine to machine with ease, your entire portfolio of apps will be available in minutes from the first login. There is not another OS that can boast that feature. I still think the biggest advantage of Chrome OS is a little harder to see at first. When a user buys a Chromebook they are getting a machine that will increase in functionality and speed over time. In any other ecosystem the device slows dramatically over the years.

I am really excited to see where the platform goes over the next year.

Samsung Chromebook 2 11 and HP 11, Better Than The Dell?

Last week I contrasted the Samsung CB2 13” with my stable of Chromebooks and my Chromebox. I purchased a couple of additional Chromebooks for our Intern Hackathon prizes. I took the opportunity to try the units and get some impressions fresh off of the other review. I think this allowed me to quickly and efficiently evaluate the units.

DSC00091The prizes I purchased were the HP 11 and a Samsung CB2 11”. Regarding the HP, I assumed that because I was 6 months removed from the original HP, and the unit was being restocked, that this would be considered the “Revised” HP 11. It turns out there is a new version coming soon that most people have tagged with that moniker and the current model is considered the original.  With that in mind, let’s first compare the two Samsung models.

Samsung Chromebook2 11 vs. 13


Materials are simply much better on the 11 with a couple of exceptions. The lid is soft touch plastic, the rest of the chassis is just a little nicer. The 11 just looks better. The material used on the touchpad is the primary enhancement for the 13. The gray of the 13 is unappealing while the black of the 11 looks really rich and sharp. As stated in the last review, it seems counter-intuitive that the smaller, less-expensive unit would have superior construction, but that is the case here.


The 11 is not as bright as the 13, and the color temp of the panel is a lot warmer. The viewing angles are similar(possibly slightly better on the 11). The panel on the 11 is nice for its size, but when using 1366×768 vs. 1920×1080, resolution is the clear winner. Windows are not usable side by side on the 11 like they are on the 13.

Keyboard, Touchpad

In comparison to the touchpad on the 13, the 11 feels a little irritating. The touchpad on the 13 is smooth like glass, but it is not cool to the touch. The layout of the two keyboards are almost identical, but the pressure and depth of movement required is superior on the 13. Touch-typing is the automatic experience it should be, not a process that requires corrections and attention.

Can the HP and Samsung 11 compare with the Dell 11?


I keep having iMac flashbacks to the 1990s looking at the HP. Did they hire a designer from that old team? This sure feels like one of the old clamshells from Apple. The HP chassis is different from most others, and depending on your preference you will likely either love or hate it. The HP and the Samsung are distinctly thinner and lighter than the Dell, which is a clear advantage. That said, the Dell is still better made in my opinion. The materials Dell uses are top notch for this price point, I am still amazed with the soft touch plastic around the keyboard.

I do like some of the extra design touches on the HP. As a Pixel owner, I appreciate the LED strip on the lid of the HP. I am disappointed other manufacturers have not taken this up as a “standard” feature. It seems to me it could be quite useful for notification, customization, and entertainment purposes.  The color around the keyboard is fun. I never really mind a little whimsy on the inside of my devices, just keep the outside clean. I also love the use of micro usb for charging. This is a fantastic idea and I really wish more manufacturers would give this a try. Overnight charging with the rest of my devices on a multi USB station would be a wonderful change from toting a proprietary brick around.

Chassis quality is distinctly different between all three units. Samsung is attempting to be sophisticated while HP is well, HPish. I have a clear preference for the Dell first, the Samsung second, and the HP third.

Screens and Audio

DSC00086 editedThis HP still comes with an IPS panel despite the rumors otherwise (this may change in the near future but to my knowledge has not yet). I would not be shocked if a TN panel started shipping but it certainly was not in the model I received last week. With that in mind, you will not be surprised to find the the HP has the best screen of the group. Colors, brightness and viewing angles are all better than any Chromebook I have used except the Pixel.

I will say that I like the design of the hinge on the Dell better than the others. The screen sits higher and that is simply more comfortable when typing. The HP sits extremely low. This allows the unit to be smaller, but is less than ideal for heavy typing ergonomics. The Samsung is a step better but not as nice as the Dell.

The HP is also dull in the audio department. The Samsung is markedly better than that, but the Dell is again the clear winner. Movie trailers were far deeper and louder. There was no buzzing in the unit even at full volume. The Samsung is still quite good but I would suggest the HP would simply not work in a moderately loud environment and is only suited for use by a couple of people. The Dell, in contrast, will fill out a small room nicely if watching a movie, listening to music, or participating in a Hangout.

Keyboard, Touchpad

I would not be surprised to find that HP and Dell used the exact same touchpad. They are not quite as nice as the Samsung CB2 11 but quite acceptable. It is very interesting to me that I can easily tell that the pad on the CB2 13 is a step above the CB2 11 which is a step above the Dell and HP.

The Dell keyboard is the clear winner here. The others are good but feel a little cheap next to the Dell. The keyboard is also less audibly “clicky” on the Dell than the Samsung, while the HP feels dull and more like it knows it will break soon.

There is not a lot of debate in my mind on the input devices. I use touchpads and island style keyboards on all of my devices. The long-term usability of a particular piece of hardware is obvious in a few minutes.


The Dell is the fastest machine. As mentioned in my previous review, the CB2 is not obviously slower unless you are using the machines side by side. The HP11 is faster in daily use than the original Samsung ARM Chromebook but is clearly slower than the other two in this comparison.

I systematically opened the same 13 memory intensive sites on the three machines. I then went back and played HD trailers on all three machines. This really stressed them and I was pleased with the separation it provided me to evaluate the units. I was also able to determine that none of them run very hot under load but the HP did get a little warmer than the others.

As a secondary machine all of these will work just fine. For a daily driver I would have to eliminate the HP, the processor is too weak for 2014. I can excuse the first gen Sammy for being a bit slow after years of production, but no excuse for a brand new device.

I am undecided as to the real risk of choosing the HP11 or even the original Samsung ARM CB. On one hand, Chrome has improved its efficiency dramatically this last year and the gains are obvious on such a device. On the other hand, Android apps are coming to CBs and it seems that many of those will tax the processors extensively, especially the games. It is possible that a year from now we will all be wishing for higher powered cpus, but we might not be. I am curious to see where this all goes.

Octane Scores

All done in guest mode on a clean boot with the same version of Chrome 35.0.1916.155

Samsung CB2 11  6620

HP 11 5955

Dell 11  11047


PICT_20140614_101711As I stated previously, the Dell has been my favorite small chromebook by a large margin. If I did not have the 13” CB2 I would very likely begin to use the 11” CB2 a lot more. It has a nice feel and an especially svelte form factor that is appealing. The Dell still has the better keyboard, better cpu, better battery life, better build quality. For now it is still the winning combination for me… long as I do not have the 13” CB2, that has become my go-to machine and the best Chromebook for the dollar.

My ultimate conclusion is the the 11’ chromebooks are, as a group, a toy to me now. They remind me of a 7” tablet. They are good to use, very functional, but never my first choice. The 13’ with a 1920×1080 screen I predict will be the sweet spot for CBs just like they are for laptops. Perfect resolution for multitasking, lightweight, slim, and less than $400, that is a sweet package.

How Does Samsungs Chromebook 2 13″ Really Work?

When a product category has matured to the point of multiple good offerings from many manufacturers, comparing devices gets more difficult but more fun. Last year I was contrasting the Pixel to the original Samsung Chromebook and the Lenovo 131e, not exactly a fair fight. Sort of like Germany playing Portugal in the World Cup or the Cardinals playing the Cubs about anytime in the 20th century.

But this year is radically different. There are very good Chromebooks from many manufacturers. The amazing thing is they all work relatively well. There are only a few bad eggs in the batch and these are easily spotted. First they will have a spinning disc instead of an SSD, immediately rule them out as illegitimate children of a company that still listens to Microsoft. These are cloud computing devices. If you don’t want to be in the cloud don’t buy one.

So enough of the obnoxious comments.

The Final Question?

PICT_20140614_100952When I got to the end of the time where I was working with the units and needing to write the review, which one would I pick up to do it with? I wrote the review sitting outside in my yard under the trees, so screen was important. Battery life was important because I would need the screen turned up and I am sometimes a little verbose. The keyboard was important because I was typing a long article. This became a very important question, and one which helped answer the Title question of this article. Skip to end if you want to know the result.

Side note: A convertible ’60s GTO and a ’40s Chevy hill climber just drove by. I love working outside.

The Processors

Let’s address the elephant in the room straight away. The Dell and the Pixel both have Intel processors. The Samsung has an ARM processor. I will summarize for you. The ARM processor is a little slower in real life. When using the units side by side the Samsung feels a millisecond slower in general use and some pages take an extra second to load. When used on its own, it does not feel slow, and I never hesitated to immediately use Tab Cloud and open my 20 tabs I start every computing session with.

To put it in perspective I will list the main applications I use daily:

  • Google Docs (spreadsheets, docs, forms)
  • Google Drive (personal and business)
  • Gmail (email)
  • Hangouts (video, audio, screenshare, and chat)
  • GApps Administration
  • Atlassian JIRA (project management)
  • BitBucket (repositories)
  • Cloud9 IDE
  • BeeBole (time tracking)
  • QuickBooks Online (accounting)
  • G+ (business and personal)
  • Pixlr photo editor
  • YouTube (video editing, managing our channel)
  • Netflix
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Klout

Another side note: a restored ’65 Chevy Impala with a hopped up engine just drove by. Did I already say I love working outside?

All of these applications work flawlessly on the ARM processor in the Chromebook 2. It is very true that this was not the case in the original Chromebook. You really needed to limit yourself to a few tabs and even then it could bog down. I think the combination of 4GB of RAM and a more powerful generation of processors make the difference.

Yes, it is possible to get the unit in a slow arduous state if you have the right combination of background processes going. You can see videos on YouTube if you want. Yes, it did happen to me once. There is a quick, easy, solution. Because it is a CB you can reboot in 10 sec and reopen all the tabs you were using, easy peasy.

A Rant on Benchmarks

I am specifically defending the ARM processor here because it works for the applications I use every day. Obviously there are many in the computing industry that live for benchmarks. As an electrical engineer with decades of experience (my first computer was an Atari 400), benchmarks are useful for comparing similar devices. A good example is smartphones based on the same chipset or incremental generations of the same chipset. Benchmarks are not good for comparing differing platforms.

PICT_20140614_101711Using the Octane benchmark to compare the Samsung Chromebook 2 with Intel Chromebooks is silly. It is like comparing the power numbers on an automobile with the power numbers of a truck. It simply does not tell you anything you cannot know on your own. An Intel processor is going to benchmark faster than an ARM processor. Real life use is what matters when you are comparing devices built in different ways but intended for a similar purpose. It is a many-faceted analysis that is more abstract and takes real work to put into a usable form.

Octane 2.0 Scores

All of these were done with all users signed out, the machine restarted and in guest mode. They are all running the same version of Chrome 35.0.1916.155.

Samsung Chromebook 2 13” 6994
Samsung Chromebook 2 11” 6600
Dell Chromebook 11 11047
Samsung Chromebook 6856
Acer C720 11177
Lenovo 131e 9722
Google Chromebook Pixel 19017
ASUS Chromebox 11199

In real world use the Dell, Pixel and Chromebox are indiscernible in terms of performance. This alone causes me to question the viability of the benchmarks, the range is 8000 points! This is more than the CB2 scored altogether. It is interesting to me that the latest builds of Chrome have equalized their daily performance. Previously I could see a difference and now I cannot, even when I am trying to discern one.

The Chromebook 2 looks pretty pitiful here but in reality it is barely a notch below the others. It is slightly faster in real use than the Lenovo. It does feel a step slow when contrasted directly to the fastest Chromebooks but it is a joy to use. It is also very obvious that the Chromebook 2 is a lot faster than the original yet the scores are almost identical.

Simply put when looking at everyday life, this benchmark, in this situation, is bogus. Yes, there are times when the data is valuable and I use it, too. But benchmarks are greatly misused and have become a marketing tool instead of a measurement tool. The Chromebook 2 Octane score is not indicative of the real user experience.

Impressive, Uniquely Chromebook

I have made this point before, Chromebooks get better with age. The Samsung Chromebook is still a viable machine (my adult daughter loves it for a daily driver) and is faster today than when it was new. My Pixel was one of the first shipped and is much faster today than it was when new. This is so different from the PC and Mac experience that most people have a hard time believing it. It is true, unlike your typical computer that will steadily get slower with age a Chromebook does not. Whatever Chromebook you buy will improve over time. This is a nice feature and not focused on enough in the media.


I use my device for most of my working day. Screen real estate is king when you multitask. Even when I am mobile I will jump between windows and chats constantly. I need to have things side by side even in a coffee shop. This is simply not possible on a 1366×768 screen. These devices are suitable for single window use only. Within the first day I knew if the processor would hold up that I would be switching from the Dell to the Sammy for mobile use.

The screen is not as good as the Pixel. I am utterly spoiled with the experience on the Pixel so colors seem a little washed out at times on the Samsung. For the price the screen is very nice and I am using it outside right now with the screen half in the shadow of a tree and partially in the sun. It is very usable at full brightness and reflections on the screen are less (better) than the Pixel.

Chassis, Keyboard, Trackpad

In the chassis department the Dell wins easily. Although the Pixel is incredibly well made, it is also really heavy. The Dell feels solid yet light to handle. The materials are well-chosen. The plastic does not feel cheap and scratchy like the Samsung and it does not feel overly industrial like the Lenovo. It just feels right. It also does not have a somewhat ridiculous fake stitched vinyl top, ugh.

The keyboards are all very usable. The Pixel is obviously the benchmark and the best. It is backlit, the use of it is so natural you actually want to type. The Dell feels a little cramped at times but is the best I have used on an 11” device. The Samsung is really good and approaches the Pixel in quality. I wish it had a backlit keyboard but you cannot have everything for $400.

The trackpad actually goes to the Samsung. The Pixel unit is really really good and the glass surface feels incredibly smooth but it can actually be too slick at times. The Samsung feels just right in all situations. The click on the Samsung is not as obnoxious as the Pixel either. Clicking around on the Pixel late at night results in nasty looks from my wife, definitely a negative…


When I went to actually write this I picked up the Chromebook 2 and I never regretted doing so for the morning I spent writing this. These factors were important while writing this in the lovely outdoors on a beautiful day:


The screen is not awesome like the Pixel but it is superior to the other CBs that I have. 1920×1080 simply matters for everyday work. I can easily see my writing full page width on half the screen and use the other half for reference. I cannot do that on the Dell. As much as I love the Dell this kills it for me.


The Pixel could likely get through this article but I simply do not like watching the battery level. It is a distraction that does affect writing. I could get an extension cord but that would be stupid. The battery in the Dell is almost as good so it would certainly have worked from that angle.


The keyboard is really quite excellent on the CB 2. It is not the same quality as the Pixel but is a slightly better than the other Chromebooks I have used. The keys are properly spaced and touch-typing is natural, very few distractions.


This is the big issue. Can an ARM processor really work for what I do? The answer is simply yes. If I have 20 tabs open it feels a step slow when directly compared keystroke for keystroke with the Intel CBs I am comparing it with. BUT, when by itself you do not notice it at all. The processor is simply not an issue for me.

Gripes regarding the Chromebook 2

PICT_20140616_160844Power supply: I really liked the approach HP took on the 11 Chromebook, using the common micro- USB charging connection. It seems that the extra charging time is worth having a more universal adapter that will work with your smartphone and Chromebook. I hate carrying a device-specific brick while traveling. The Samsung power supply is awkwardly shaped and takes twice the space the Pixel power supply does. In the photo can see how neat and small the Pixel power supply is compared to the Samsung, pretty obvious opportunity for improvement.

Materials: Samsung, if you are going to stay married to plastic, please start caring about the experience. The feel could be better, it sounds like a piece of junk when typing on a hard table. Please get your act together and steal some ideas from Dell. When I use the unit on a soft surface (my lap, ottoman) if feels much better than on a hard table. This is not really that important, I just found it interesting.

The Chromebook 2 11″ actually uses better materials. The lid is covered with a soft touch plastic more like the Dell. I find it odd that they would use lesser materials on the more expensive machine. I am guessing they are trying to control the cost of the device since the screen is more expensive.

Other: Not having a charge indicator on the outside of the device is simply silly. When I charge my Chromebooks I close the lid to keep dust out. I should not have to open the unit to see if it is charged.


If your Chromebook is going to be your only computing device, and you want to do more than casual computing, then I would get a Pixel or wait for a FHD Intel unit.

If you have a desktop, Chromebox, Mac, or a Windows laptop still in your arsenal then I would recommend the CB2 over all the others. There are rare times you might want more power but the unit is simply awesome as a mobile computing device.

I believe the Dell is probably the best solution for Education. The extra power of the Intel processor is likely going to come into play for some applications. Since most education environments are single focus I do not expect the screen resolution to be an enormous handicap. Schools seem to function quite well at the standard resolution that is readily available.

Even after my window I still find myself using the CB2 over the Pixel. It is light, handles all my work and the battery last longer than I need it to. When I go to Europe for a month later this year I will be taking the CB2. It simply works and is the best tool for the job. If it gets stolen or broken I simply replace it without shedding a tear. If that happens with the Pixel it is a different story. I had previously intended to take the Dell but I was struggling with the limited screen. With the CB2 I expect to be fully functional on my trip and not miss a beat, what else can I ask for?

The Cloud Life, Backups are for People Too

I had a real life cloud crisis moment occur this week. Fortunately some wise choices prevented disaster. The crisis was in my business but I will bridge the gap to personal very directly. This experience cemented my belief that my current cloud data strategy is correct. More importantly I stressed the system and it worked. We use Spanning Backup for business AND personal cloud backups. I could not be more pleased. Skip to the bottom if you just want the punchline.

The Background:

Last year we were working for a customer converting an internal purchasing application to a current technology stack. The old app was written in Delphi over the course of roughly 15 years by a single developer. The app was not bad but had the normal warts present in such an application that was developed in isolation by a single individual. We took the project down the field and completed roughly 80% of the work. We then transferred the project back to the internal development team last November. At that point we mothballed the project and were in a mode of supporting the internal team on the conversion.

A couple of weeks ago we were asked to pick the app back up and finish it. Our workflow allows us to do this and we had all the work defined in our systems. We simply turned the project back on in our cloud systems (Drive, JIRA, BeeBole, BitBucket) and got back to work. Painless process.

The Crisis:

Stressed BusinessmanWe work hard to ship all of our active projects on a weekly basis. This commitment keeps us moving forward rapidly and working on items that mean something to the customer. After the second week we went to ship and the customer-shared folder was missing. This folder included all the weekly deliveries from 2013, the supporting docs the customer provided to us and the snapshot of the source as of our pausing the project in November. An aggressive search proved fruitless. The loss of this data damaged our ability to efficiently work on the project. The customer had provided us a lot of valuable insight as well as some supporting code from their backend systems.

I was very concerned.

The Solution:

Having spent my career in IT I knew that going to the backups for the data was a crapshoot at best. Backups are notoriously flaky and it appeared the folder had been deleted back in November when we paused the project. It could have been me or possibly the tech lead on the project or the customer. We will never know.

In 5 minutes the folder was restored from an incremental backup from November 20, 2013. This sounds anticlimactic but I was thrilled and impressed. Backups working as advertised are rare and a very big deal. I only had to do the following:

  1. Open Spanning’s console
  2. Select the checkbox to search All Backups
  3. Search for the folder by keyword
  4. Click restore

Best restore experience I have had ever, no contest. To understand my thrill you need to realize I have been working with backups since the late 1980s as a youth.

Why is this important?

Stressed businessman governed by puppeteer handsI hear from people all the time that simply trust their pictures, emails, chats, notes, videos etc. to various cloud solutions. In a very personal sense this data is much more important than a customer project. Customers come and go but your family and your experiences are yours. Understand that Facebook, Evernote, Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Apple and any number of others have outages and failures. They are not guaranteeing that your data will be secure. I know a number of people that have simply lost their content with no warning and no explanation. Google had an especially serious problem a couple of years ago when an algorithm went haywire and completely deleted thousands of accounts and all of their history. Take back control of your content and still use the cloud.

I use Spanning for my backup needs. I cannot think of anyone that would say their content is not worth $45 per year. The link I have included gives you a $5 discount, click here. This could be you, but I doubt it. This is a reliable company that provides a reliable and robust product. I use them on my Gapps domain as well as my personal Google account. They provide something even one step better: I can download a backup of all my data at any point in time. Personally I do this once a month but it keeps my pictures of kids growing up, my work product over 20+ years and other important data in my hands. I even keep multiple copies in multiple locations.

It is possible to live a cloud life and still have your data secure. I would encourage everyone to jump on and giveSpanning or something similar a shot. When those pictures from your son’s graduation or your daughter’s birth get deleted, you will want them back. This I can promise you.


Chromebooks, Coming to the Surface

When I consider the Chromebooks I use, I constantly think of the future. The constant, steady expansion of features. The improved choices in the marketplace. The coming waves of new applications. I tend to think of what it can do, not what it can’t. I have realized this is the core problem with the mainstream tech media’s approach to the platform. How quickly we forget the history of other platforms. I constantly hear comparisons and lists of what a Chromebook cannot do.

Little Flower Sprout  Grows Through Urban Asphalt GroundWhen you look at other platforms; Windows, Mac, Linux, we find the truth. There was a time when you could not edit images or videos effectively on Windows. The platform was mocked and derided, its doom forecasted. There was a time when editing docs on a Mac was a complete disaster, it was said there would never be a place for Mac in corporate America. There was a time when Linux was unusable without heavy command line use, the UI was severely limited, it appeared there would never be widespread consumer adoption.

Well we all know that Windows dominated, Mac has a solid place in business, and Linux is now a common option (with many many good choices). So why all the naysaying? We have gone from “Chromebooks are a failed experiment”, to “Chromebooks are the new netbooks”, to “Chromebooks are only good for schools”. I would argue that everyone is still wrong. Here is why.

Computers have some basic hardware components today across platforms. They have processors, graphics engines, memory, storage, ports, screens, and keyboards. Chromebooks use the same components as most computers on the other platforms. Yes, there are some ARM (smartphone style processor) based Chromebooks, but most are now coming with standard Intel desktop/laptop processors. ARM is coming fast, but that is for another day…

I will make the same argument I have made a number of times. With a Chromebook you have a computer that will be better six months after you bought it. The platform has not hit the obsolescence cycle yet. It will, of course, but we have not arrived. The platform is on the rise and it has the potential to permanently change the landscape. Consider these four major features of a Chromebook:

  1. Agricultural ConceptSecure, well-documented as the strongest platform on the market

  2. Fast, boots in a few seconds, efficient platform

  3. Easy, if you have used the Chrome browser there is little to learn

  4. Modest cost, most Chromebooks are relatively inexpensive

The Chromebooks use the same hardware as other computers and have these features listed above. Who, in their right mind, thinks this is not going to work? If you still think they will fail I cannot help you, but I do believe you will be disappointed.

There is one other major piece of the puzzle coming into focus. This is a platform that the market is rushing towards. I am not talking about the user market, although that appears to be happening. I am talking about the developer market. Everyone in this space is rushing headlong into developing web applications. Even Microsoft has ported Office to the web. Every corner of the software industry is rushing to get onto this bandwagon. If you do not believe me please talk to any developer you know. Very little new effort is going into R&D of large monolithic apps. If you know of some, please share, I am in the industry and aware of none.

This is a very unique place to be. Google does not need to coerce developers to build apps for the platform. The marketplace is on a convergence course with Chromebooks. As these apps arrive, which they are every day now, the platform has the 4 enormous features listed above; security, speed, ease of use, cost. I am absolutely thrilled with the prospect of having a investment like I have in this Pixel, pay off so well. I have a better computer over 12 months after I purchased it. How amazing is that?

Street Road Sign BandwagonAll of this convergence is also opening up doors to a future imagined in movies and science fiction for many years. I am able to walk up to any computer I have access to, login, and have my applications and tools at my fingertips. This is available to me on any platform, centered around Chrome. Believe me, corporate IT with vision is watching the platform very carefully. We are very close to having a true flexible computing environment available for workforces all over the world. Oh, and remember those big 4 features? They matter to business as well.

I really hope more of the tech and mainstream media can pick up on the truth of the platform very soon. Chromebooks are good for consumers. They can radically cut down on the malware issues, especially when combined with the excellent spam catching ability of Gmail. The media prides itself on pointing out what is best for us, hopefully they will see the past for what it is and recognize the future. Chromebooks are still accelerating and that $200 Chromebook you bought 2 years ago as a novelty is more powerful today than it has ever been. Who would not want that kind of investment?

2014 Guide to Chromebook Apps

One of the challenges when entering the Chrome ecosystem is the lack of familiar names and products. The go-to apps on a Chromebook are not the normal fare, and for good reason. Apps on a Chromebook exist in collaboration with the internet at a very deep level. On other platforms, internet goodness is considered a feature, not the root. This does not mean that Chromebooks are useless without internet connectivity. They are not “just a laptop that runs a browser for an operation system”. If you have not figured out the fallacy of these myths please stop reading, I cannot help you.

Previous Chromebook Articles:
A Year With Chromebooks
I Love This Chromebook
A Misunderstood OS

Following is a quick rundown of the apps that I rely upon in my daily use of my Chromebook Pixel. It is very rare that I desire any legacy PC and certainly rarer that I cannot accomplish a task without one. This has happened. The most notable being the lack of support for dropbox zip-format lunacy (well documented). In order to access an archive I had to use a Windows machine. Other than that I cannot think of a time in the last 6 months I ran back to an old platform. So on with the list:

1 Chromecast ($35 Google Play)

ChromecastYes, my first app is not an app. This is an example of the mind splitting differences between the Chrome ecosystem and Windows or OSX. This piece of hardware “behaves” like a supercharged app. In a couple of clicks you can stream your favorite media or mirror your screen for anyone to see. All wirelessly and painlessly. A significant improvement over Apple TV and other media boxes at a fraction of the cost. A must have.

2 Google Drive (Free)

Drive really represents a number of apps rolled into a single interface. Docs, Sheets, Slides, PDF Viewer, Cloud Print are just a few. These offline apps are incorporating many of the benefits of the Quickoffice acquisition by Google. It is important to understand the offline capability, it is best used for new content creation and premeditated editing sessions. If you store everything in the cloud you cannot edit it if you are offline. This is not a failing of the app, it is a reality of the architecture you are using.

3. Lucidchart (Freemium, Subscription)

lucidchart-06-535x535This application is a great value and an example of a rethinking of a traditional space. Lucidchart rethinks how we build diagrams and incorporate them into our work. Not only is it web-centric, but it actually improves upon the standard set by Visio, SmartDraw and others. The tools are easy to understand and use, the user base is broad with lots of templates, and the integrations with JIRA and Google Apps are well done.

4. HootSuite (Free for individuals)

HootSuite is an excellent aggregation point for social networking. I like to consolidate feeds and HootSuite is an excellent place to do that with support for almost all of the top social networks. The interface is well thought out and translates well to touchscreens. Well-designed!

5. Chrome Remote Desktop

If you work with other machines this app is automatic. There is not a lot to say other than it works like it should and is constantly being improved upon. Looking back it was quite spartan a few months ago and now has a number of additional useful features.

6. Pixlr Editor (Free)

pixlrOutstanding photo editor that rivals Photoshop for most users. Excellent community support. I was getting a little irritated by a Chromebook bug up until a couple of weeks ago, but that seems to be completely gone. I use this app a couple of times a week when working with images. Hard to over-emphasize the intuitive toolset if you are a Photoshop or GIMP user.

7. Keep (Free)

Up until earlier this year I was an avid Evernote user. I even paid for the professional version. Keep has removed Evernote completely from my consciousness. I use it extensively for writing articles like this one. I can edit here, on my tablet, or even on my phone without a thought. Everything I do is automatically backed up in Drive and goes into my normal archival system (more on that in a bit). It still needs a few more features to be indispensable but like other apps listed, enhancements are coming regularly.

8. Cloud9 IDE (Freemium)

Cloud9IDEAfter waiting for quite a while, Cloud9 emerged as a viable alternative to a traditional IDE. If you are working with supported tools, the FTP and Git integrations are powerful. I am currently using Cloud9 to develop my personal and business websites. I am hoping to branch into some web app development next.

9. Various content consumption apps! (lots available)

The ones I use, not in any particular order:  YouTube, Netflix, Google Music, Google+ Photos, Kindle Cloud Reader, DropBox, Google Play Books and Movies (viable option to Amazon).

10. Spanning Backup ($40 per year, the link sends you to a discount code saving you $5)

Unlimited backup of your Google account and Drive storage. An automated, daily, incremental backup of your mail, contacts, calendar, and files. There is not a size limitation and it is easy to export your files for local backup at any time. My personal backup solution has morphed radically with the switch to Chromebooks. Instead of trying to carry all my files with me I let Google curate them in Google Drive. Spanning backs them up each day and about once a month I export them in a zip file to a local external drive. Periodically I make a copy and place it in my safe deposit box. This way I have 4 copies in different places without a lot of effort. Thinking this way requires a paradigm shift that I will write about in the future, for me it has been very freeing. I no longer spend large chunks of time performing administrative tasks to protect my files. I execute some simple processes at regular intervals and I have peace of mind that my photos will not just disappear in the cloud.

I am sure my list of top apps will be different a year from now. As I work through this article I am stunned by how little is missing. And to those naysayers out there, most of the apps listed above work offline. There are obvious exceptions but a lack of internet connectivity does NOT keep me from being productive. Enjoy the freedom and flexibility you get with a Chromebook, many of us have dreamed of these features for most of our techie careers.

Merry Christmas!

Cloud Computing & Business

bigstock-touch-pad-concept-31114436Over the last few years there has been a raging debate over the intelligence of cloud computing for consumers. With the success of Dropbox, Drive, et al, we see the tide has turned. Consumers are increasingly happy being seamlessly (mostly) connected to their data across their computing platforms (pc, laptop, tablet and smartphone). The current running debate is about policy, and every so often you run across the conspiracy theorist (partially correct) that avoids Google’s knowledge of his existence. The overwhelming conclusion of this debate is that convenience trumps fear. If you look at the behavior of Facebook, Twitter and other social networks you can see them steadily pushing people away from privacy, and it is working. Consumers are comfortable with their personal details hanging out there for the world to see.

What about in business? That is a whole different animal, isn’t it? I would argue that just like trends in the midwest trail the coast by a predictable period of time, business adoption of technology compared to consumers follows the same pattern. Lets look at the rough era of proliferation of certain technologies in consumer electronics vs. business for a moment:

In the 1980′s computers became comfortable for consumers. I lump the Ataris, Commodores, Amigas and others in the category of computers. By 1990, computer penetration into the consumer consciousness was complete. By contrast it was not until the mid-1990′s that businesses automatically assumed each employee needed to have a computer in order to be productive. That pushes the acceptance gap at roughly 5 years. When it comes to mobile phones the adoption has been almost simultaneous. This is an anomaly that I think is easily explained by the critical nature of phone communication on business.

When you jump ahead to smartphones the gap is once again present. Smartphones became the norm for consumers with the proliferation of Android and IOS. Business is just now deciding that employees need smartphones to be productive. Previously they were optional and only for certain worker classes. I personally believe that the lack of dumbphone options on the market is driving business adoption, not some recognition of the value of smartphones.

Nexus 7You can also see the same pattern developing with tablets. As of this year most families assume they need a tablet as their next logical computing purchase. They are a hot commodity. Business is just now dipping their toes in the water, not certain that their applications can be ported to effectively work on them. Over the next couple of years I think we will see a rapid acceleration of the adoption of tablets in the workplace. Ultimately I think they will supplant traditional pc’s completely for some classes of workers.

These brings me back to the issue of the cloud. I hear a standard set of objections when considering cloud computing for business applications. They typically are:

  1. Security (Data, Intellectual Property, etc.)
  2. Cost
  3. Bandwidth

I believe that the widespread adoption of tablets and the required cloud computing platform will happen. It is an unavoidable tsunami coming that will obliterate some businesses while others surf to new heights. Here are my thoughts on each of those objections.


lockI would boil it down to this simple argument. your current servers are on a network that is connected to the internet. There are routers and firewalls between your data and the unwashed, but it is still connected. If your employees can browse, then nod yes. In a cloud service like Google Apps for Business you are also behind routers and firewalls. The question is, who will do a better job protecting you, your IT guy that you do not pay enough, or Google’s highly paid engineering teams dedicated to internet security. While your guy is chasing that cabling problem on the second floor or rebooting the CEO’s laptop, Google’s team is identifying the latest threat and deploying adjustments in their system to counteract them. Who will you bet on?


dollarIf you are spending what you should on servers, data centers, backup solutions, UPS systems, etc. then a solid cloud option should be a wash in terms of cost. If you are doing a cheap, risky job on your IT see my previous point on security. You need to belly up to the bar and pay the bill. Your business and your customer’s data is worth it.

The cost of storage in the cloud is dropping steadily. There are even solutions that only charge you when you access your data. This is a powerful tool for companies that archive many years of large data. I often hear executives lament that the only time they need it is in a legal dispute and often then backups are bad and the data is lost anyway.


cloudThis is a valid concern in the old model. Many people hang onto the idea that their data has to be present in the same building for it to be safe. This is simply the wrong way to view it. Cloud computing works when your primary storage is cloud-based and backups reside locally. When you pull files as you need them instead of massively syncing files to the cloud your bandwidth requirements drop dramatically. Sure, once a day/week/month pull a backup overnight but this is far different than trying to live sync files to the cloud as a backup. Drive syncing is a horrific drain on the network and completely unnecessary.

There are other arguments as well. Some I have touched on in other articles. The cost of computing hardware actually drops when you go to a cloud-based architecture. Tablets and Chromebooks are inexpensive and fully capable of performing most tasks in business. Sure CAD, extensive graphics work, and modeling are all the domain of workstations. But email, browsing, business documents, business graphics, are all readily executed in the cloud. I believe this wave is coming and I am seeing the benefit of moving Oasis Digital to the cloud two years ago. The benefits have far outweighed the negatives, hands down. I think that will be the case for most businesses in the coming years. The PC is dead, long live the cloud!

A Year With Chromebooks

ChromebookA year ago we purchased the Samsung $249 Chromebook from Amazon. For a long time it was easily the best selling laptop on Amazon. Then in February Google released the Chromebook Pixel. A video and shots of the device were leaked widely on the web and panned universally as foolishness that would never become reality. Google had in fact been hard at work building this device to their specifications with a clear focus on existing in the same class as the Macbook Pro. One of their goals was to establish that a cloud based computer could be used as a primary computing device. They believed that this would give Chromebooks the needed panache to convince average users to try.

I will start be saying that the fact that I am still using the Pixel as my primary computing device, I literally handed down my Zenbook to a new employee, as a clear sign of success. I have always been a power user of a pc, pushing applications places to perform tasks they might not have been intended to. I would like to take the time and run through my top 5 dislikes of the Pixel first and then hit my top 5 likes of the device.


bigstock-Battery-Indicator-182032521. Battery Life

It is a real shame that Intel did not have their act together yet for the launch of this device. The Haswell platform has substantially better battery impact than the Ivy Bridge processors. That said the device would have been greatly imporved if it was 1-2 mm thicker and had another 1-2 hours of battery life. I regularly get about 5 hours use on a full charge if I pay attention to the screen settings. If I do not it is not unusual to burn through my battery in less than 4 hours. This is a shame.

The lack of battery life also has required that I take my tablet with me in more situations than I normally would have. On a long plane flight out to San Francisco my Pixel has no chance, this means I am currently writing this article on my tablet en route to Charlotte. Again, a shame as I would prefer to travel with one less device.

2. USB 2.0

The lack of USB 3.0 ports is baffling and to this day I have not heard a good explanation. I guess it is possible they were trying not to tax the battery any more than it already was. It is also possible they were just saving money. I find the former far more likely with the latter just not jiving with the rest of the premium feel of the device.


With the only port being a mini display port it was a little frustrating at first accumulating the needed adapters to make this device useful in all situations. Once I acquired the HDMI, Display Port, and VGA adapters needed I was fine but my bag was a little more cluttered.

4. Serial Number

Yes, I am really reaching to find 5 things I do not like about the device. The support for the Pixel is fantastic and they have successfully helped me navigate a couple of situations well. Sometimes they just remind me of something I should already know but at least they do not send me a snarky video of how to Google it! All that said a precursor to getting support is entering the serial number. This number is etched into the bottom of the device and is so small I have to get my jeweler’s monocle out to read it. The number is also not to be found in the OS anywhere. This makes getting support when hooked up to my monitor, power supply, and peripherals quite a pain.

5. Accessories

Other than the battery life my greatest frustration has been the lack of high end accessories to go with this premium device. The pat answer of using the accessories designed for the MBP is just not acceptable. The unusual, and fantastic, screen aspect ratio gives the unit a different footprint making most aftermarket cases awkward at best.

Then there was the debacle of spare power supplies. Obviously the person who managed this aspect of the supply chain has spent their whole career chained to a desk. Everyone I know that is a power user and relies on their laptop as the primary computing device immediately buys at least 1 if not 2 spare power supplies. It was fully 3 months before they were available and then you could only purchase 1. This was utterly ridiculous and unacceptable. Hopefully the person responsible has been beat around the head and shoulders by enough coworkers armed with Nerf swords that this will not happen again!


Chrome1. Chrome OS

We have seen this pattern before with Google and they are up to it a third time. Android started out as a mockery of a phone. I used the original TMobile G1 from launch and suffered through Androids early growing pains. I was mocked by all my iPhone toting friends. Failure was assured, Apple could never be overtaken…well we now argue which Android phone is the best in the world and often Apple is not discussed. The same process occurre with tablets. Earlier this year Android tablets overtook Apple in this segment as well and I do not expect we will be looking back.

Chrome OS is growing up right before our eyes. New, exciting features are coming weekly now and the bridge for Chrome users on Windows/OSX is completely in place. If you use Chrome as your browser (most do) you will find them in place when you log into a Chromebook. Education is Apple’s mainstay and saved their mindshare in the 90s when their corporate influence vanished. If you look at the 25-45 year olds that primarily use Apple products it is that exposure in schools that deeply impacted them. What is happening right now, this year, should shake Apple to the core (sorry for the pun). Education is not just moving to Google but flocking to Google in droves. Chromebooks are far superior to iPads for education and Apple cannot afford to make the Air competitive. Google is winning the next generation.

All that aside I really enjoy using the Chrome OS each day. It is fast, predictable and allows me to move quickly and seamlessly between tasks. There are a few things I run into that I wish were present but creating content, interacting with my world, and working offline are all very effective. The big hole in the app support space is screen-sharing and collaboration tools that have business features instead of what Hangouts has to offer. I realize this will be fixed in the future but most of the big tools do not work with Chrome OS.

2. Keyboard/Trackpad

In a word it is fantastic. I am spoiled and will have a hard time adjusting to anything else. I have arthritis in my hands and even after a long day I can type smoothly and pain free on the keyboard. The key travel is perfect and superior to the Apple keyboard I use with it on my desk. The backlighting is so good I wonder ifit could be turned it down and save a bit of battery.

The trackpad is equally impressive. The surface is particularly pleasant, I will avoid analogies here, and the size is perfect. Scrolling and gestures are also excellent, especially when compared to Windows 8 efforts. I find this rather humorous because Google got it right on a device where it is a secondary feature and Microsoft could not get their cornerstone feature correct. That really says a lot to me.

3. Screen

Much has been written about the screen. Suffice it to say you cannot purchase an external monitor for less than $2000 that looks this good or has this kind of clarity. The screen is as good as it gets. I love it and it will be hard to move to anything lesser in the future.

I also have really come to love the aspect ratio. I have found it useful in much the same way I use my 10″ Sony tablet in portrait mode. It is perfect for reading and absorbing content. I might feel differently if my most common use was video but this format is absolutely outstanding for me. The last time I used a laptop screen this way was my Thinkpad with the 1600×1200 screen.

Drive4. 1 TB of storage

This may be the most underrated feature of the Pixel. It took me a few weeks to get all of my data into the cloud but I no longer worry about losing information. It seems counter-intuitive but I prefer to have my primary storage be in the cloud with local being my backup. By having my data there it is instantly available from my tablet, phone, or any other device I log into. It is hard to describe how easy it makes being productive. I am writing this article and I know that as soon as I land it will be synced to the cloud and I will be able to review on my phone or Pixel before I board my next plane.

I am also particularly pleased with my backup strategy. Props here to Spanning Backup for an outstanding service, I highly recommend it. By using another cloud service I have my data in a separate cloud network and I have the ability to download it in bulk. I do this to an external drive at my office. I will also periodically copy it to another drive and stick it in a safety deposit box. Without much effort or cost at all I have 4 copies of my data. This is all possible because of the TB of storage received with the Pixel.

5. It (almost) always works

BSOD is not a feature of Chrome OS. ‘nough said. There are hiccups now and again, see #8 for why this is not an issue.

6. Build Quality

I am really impressed with the quality of the device. This has been covered elsewhere ad nauseum so I will not elaborate but it is really outstanding. There were those that were concerned with the hinge when it was first released. I can honestly say that I see no change with constant daily use, it is well made.

7. Speakers

The sound system this device has even impressed my teenage son. It easily fills a room with clear intelligible sound. It literally is the perfect device to use as an ad hoc conference phone. The shame is that none of the major meeting platforms support it. It certainly makes listening to media a pleasure.

8. Boot/Reboot speed

The device is so fast I have found myself not caring if I shut it down or suspend. This is a major shift from expectations on other platforms. I would suggest that the device really does not need both options, it really is that fast.

9. OK, I will stop

Yes, I love it! My adventure into a post-Windows world has been a rousing success and I do not expect to look back. I truly believe that those who can adapt and move this direction with the industry will thrive.

A Misunderstood OS

Pixel-300x300I have read a number of articles about Chromebooks, the new Pixel, and some of the implications of Google going up against Apple and Microsoft directly. I think there is a very important paradigm shift that I have not seen discussed to date. It is well known that as a Windows or Mac based machine ages it gets slower. Malware and bloated software like Microsoft Office all contribute to this phenomenon. Chromebooks, on the other hand, will get faster and more feature rich over time.This is a really understated aspect of the Chrome OS, likely because marketing types in fancy suits decided it was too cerebral of a concept to communicate. Even the brand new Pixel page in the Play Store only alludes to it in this paragraph:

Like all Chromebooks, Pixel boots-up in seconds and stays fast, requires almost zero setup or maintenance, and comes with virus protection built-in. Best of all, it stays up to date with seamless updates every few weeks.

Lets look at the following three scenarios:

  1. Tom needs a new laptop but does not want to spend a lot of money. He looks at what is available and settles on a $500 Windows 8 laptop at the local store.
  2. Richard hits up the Apple store at the local mall, he needs a lightweight portable computer. He really likes the MacBook Pro but common sense wins out and he purchases an entry level Air for $999.
  3. Harry needs a new machine as well. He uses mostly web based applications so he decides to give the $249 Samsung Chromebook a try.

We all know their experiences once they get home with these devices will be a little different. Windows is still a little frustrating to set up, Apple gets your credit card number immediately, and Google, well, you have to log in. Ok, that is a significant difference but not the point of this article.

Down the line 6-12 months is when the real difference will show. Over time, Microsoft and Apple’s operating systems get bigger, thicker and heavier. A machine purchased a year ago running last years OS X or Windows 7 will not run as quickly today on Mountain Lion or Win 8. This is simply a fact that has been true for decades.

Contrary to that, our Chromebook is faster and can do more that it could when we purchased it 6 months ago. There are certainly limitations. It is still not that polished editing things offline, file management is horrid, and niche apps are almost completely absent from the platform. In some ways it is really lacking.

What is exciting is that the list of negatives six months ago was 3X what it is now. This gives me the confidence that these other issues will be resolved also. The release of the Pixel as a high end computing device will require these remaining limitations to be addressed as well. The crowd that will spend $1300 on a cloud based computer will not put up with an incomplete device for long.

All this to say that I think my Chromebook will be more productive a year from now than it is today. NO OTHER PLATFORM CAN MAKE THAT CLAIM. This truth alone should make a difference for anyone buying a new computer. If you use a preponderance of online applications and very few monolithic programs I think the Chromebook is a compelling choice.

Interestingly one of the biggest reasons holding people back is a lack of understanding of this OS. Google has done a poor job communicating just how different it is. As writers continue to focus on processors, memory, storage size and other legacy PC issues, it misses the real value of the OS altogether. For example everyone is scoffing at the Pixel having 32GB of storage while providing 1TB of Google Drive space. As I have seen with my 16GB device, this is plenty of space. Writers also tend to try to pit Chrome against traditional PCs feature for feature. They are apples and oranges and not comparable in this way at all.

I am looking forward to when the mainstream media will begin to recognize this very real difference and the obsolescence protection provided by a very thin, constantly upgraded OS. One thing is for sure,Windows 8 and OS X will need to go on a serious diet to compete in the future.

I love this Chromebook

Ok, first off, a mea culpa. I have thumbed my nose at the Chromebook since its launch. I thought it was pointless considering how Android was launching its tablet OS (4.0 Honeycomb) and my Asus Transformer had a detachable keyboard, 15 hours of battery life, and a touchscreen. I thought the Chromebook was silly and would die a similar death as other products that arise at Google. This did not come true. Currently Chromebooks are being manufactured by Samsung, Lenovo, HP, and Acer.

I could jump all over in this article so I will keep myself focused with the following list. It also allows people to jump around and read only what interests them (I love when authors do that and save my time). I plan to cover the following points:

  1. Google still made a mistake.
  2. Let’s give a nod to the inventor of the idea, Mr. Jeff Hawkins.
  3. Does this mean that Windows RT has a future?
  4. Is the future of computing disposable and temporary devices?

Google’s Mistake

ChromeThe mistake is very simple. For some bizarre, unknown reason, Chrome works on an ARM processor Chromebook just like it does on Windows or OS X, but does not on Android. Getting Chrome to work well has been a labor of frustration on Android and it has only seemingly been pushed forward by Opera, Dolphin and Firefox driving them. There must be a political battle, competing agendas, or something within elGoog keeping sensibility out of the equation. It appears to me that the Play store and the Chrome web store could have been merged over a year ago. We could be running the full Chrome browser as an option on our tablets or Phablets and the marketplace would be simple. “Chromebooks” could be more functional because they would have access to all the tablet apps, developers would be happier, customers would not be confused, and marketshare statistics would not be diluted. I don’t see any losses here. Lets hope this comes together soon. Jelly Bean is wonderful, Chrome OS is wonderful, it seems logical that the two should become one.

The Real Genius

300px-Palm_FoleoMost people have no idea the Palm Foleo ever existed. Let’s rewind to May of 2007 when the Foleo was announced by Palm. You can read the initial information here. Remember, this device not only predates Chromebooks, it was what inspired the Netbook genre in the first place. It is really clear to me that this device was on target and it would have been wildly successful. All that can be easily tracked by looking at the sales numbers of Netbooks for the following few years. I am not going to add all the links here but I will provide a link to the search.

The device was killed by a lot of smart people who lacked vision. I would encourage you to read some of the articles. PC Magazine, Gartner, Tech blogs galore, all panned the device as a fool’s errand. Unfortunately for Palm, their leadership caved and abandoned the man who dreamed their company up in the first place. I bet they all regret that decision looking back, Palm is but a fading memory and with it many fortunes. This amazing device was instant-on, had long battery life, was inexpensive, synced docs and history with the cloud, had an app store, sound familiar?

The truth is that Jeff Hawkins is and was a genius. He gets it and understands how the human mind interfaces with the digital world in a way very few others have. The list of the device categories he has either invented or heavily driven are:

  • PDA’s
  • Smartphones
  • Tablets
  • Netbooks
  • Touch OS
  • App Stores
  • Probably a few others I am too slow to remember

The guy is possibly the single most influential thinker in mobile computing history. And he works in technology part-time to fund his real obsession, brain research! The shame is that he is rarely mentioned in the same breath as Gates, Jobs, Schmidt et al. He has innovated as much as anyone in the last 20 years.

The impact of Chromebooks on Windows RT

SurfaceRTI cannot imagine that the words “Chromebook” crossed anyones lips when Microsoft was discussing their target market. Bear with me as I make the connection. iPads and Android tablets are simply pdas/smartphones with really big screens. The devices and the OS they use spring from the “data bucket” concept. Their “orientation” is based on media consumption, not media production. Windows devices will always spring from a production mindset. Ingrained in the DNA of Microsoft is the utility of the computer. Creation of content has always been the focus of desktop and laptop computers running Windows, Linux, or OS X. Windows RT is a cloud focused, touch based representative of this ethos.

The Chromebook springs from the utility of the browser and web apps. Its premise is that all of life can exist in the cloud and production takes place in the browser. This is more akin to Windows RT than Android. I think I may have answered my own question I posed above. This may be why Chromebooks remain divergent from Android tablets. All the same I am irritated with Google for making my life complicated.

So with the connection made and the marketplace accepting the Chromebook, does that mean Windows RT has legs? I think it very well might but it remains to be seen whether Microsoft is really willing to bet its future on it. I believe if they do, they might have a chance to remain relevant. If they focus entirely on Windows 8 proper and its future brethren then I think they will devolve into obsolescence. Windows RT, in my estimation, is the only competitor that Chromebooks have. Only time will tell if Microsoft will place that bet.

Is the future of computing disposable and temporary devices?

Those of us that have been in the industry for a couple of decades understand the cyclical nature of technology. As I have written before, this is often in response to the same physical constraints being hit time after time. For the computer to be disposable, all data must reside in the cloud and they must be very inexpensive. Currently we are on swings for both of those things to be true. We have not hit the bottom of the barrel in cost of devices, because we have not yet approached the raw materials + production costs. We are also on a swing for all data to be stored in the cloud.

When you look back at the past you can see the progression. Computing started in the mainframe, moved to pc’s, swung back to client/server, moved to web devices, and now is moving to the cloud. The next step will be driven by yet unknown pressures solved by unknown technologies. For at least a time we will see the value of computing become more intrinsic to our lives but cost us less money, heartache and worry. A nice time to be using computers.

This article was written, researched and published on a Samsung Chromebook. I could have done this on a Surface RTjust as easily. This Chromebook is a great tool that I do not have to worry about compared to my top of the lineZenbook. For a day’s work it functions just as well. THAT is amazing.