My First Chromebook

.. is an Acer Spin 513 2021 (8Gb Ram, 128Gb Drive, Weight 1.2Kg), refurbished from Currys, £324 (bought early Jan 2022).

It follows a long-lived (for me, I usually break them) Lenovo Yoga Book (android, 4Gb Ram, 64Gb Drive, Weight 690g), bought on release date, 2016. Ok, it actually follows two of them, the USB/charging port on the first one broke, I bought a 2nd one on ebay. Before those I owned a succession of Asus Transformers (anyone remember those).

I have therefore upgraded somewhat in size (it seems 10in Chromebooks are mostly low-end, or tablets with terrible keyboards)  also in OS, and a little bit in weight (which was one of my main criteria).

Reviews of Chromebooks in general are ... strange. It was hard to find any that catered at all to my "main portable device is an android tablet with a keyboard" situation. This Chromebook was sometimes defined as "slow", compared to what, I'm not sure. Of course, there are more powerful, chunkier devices out there, no doubt with faster CPUs etc, however they weigh a whole lot more.

I wanted (don't really need, I rarely work away from home), a device that can be used to:

  • Read books (tablet style) - thus needs to be a 360 hinge (or removable keyboard)
  • Play games (mostly casual ones)
  • Chatter over various social media/zoom etc
  • Work on, this involves remote SSH and crucially, debugging websites/javascript.

The last item is where Android based tablets fail - debugging web code on a tablet means connecting to it via a desktop browser, this is fairly impractical.

Chromebooks however now come with a Linux VM (container), onto which you can install a full desktop style browser, bingo, proper local debugging!

I've been using the Chromebook for about a month now, so here's a mini review from a "I used to use an Android tablet" point of view:

It's a bit big - the weight is fine (even though almost 3x as heavy as my previous one), I can carry it one handed, or under an arm. The case I bought is kinda chunky (this also involved a kinda fruitless search, why do none of the sleeve style things open out flat!? In the end I bought a hard shell style) which makes the whole thing quite bulky - I need it though, else I'll inevitably drop and break it, and it seems more fragile than the ole tablet was. I have yet to carry plates around on it (this was previously a frequent occurrence).

Web/Chrome apps are... weird. It came with (or installed after I logged in?) the Kindle and Telegram web apps. The Telegram one wouldn't log me in (enter phone #, press button, which is supposed to prompt you for a code from one of your other logins .. nada.. nix). The Kindle one.. I can't remember what was weird about that - I installed the Play Store apps instead for both. Web apps just seem to open a tab in a browser - might as well be bookmarks.

Android/Play store apps seem to (almost! see below) pretty much Just Work (tm). Telegram, Kindle, Audible, BBC iPlayer, Vivaldi (I should probably have mentioned that I'm not a Chrome (browser) fan, and all my data/passwords are stored in Vivaldi.

Notifications fail to work well at all! How is this a thing that's failing? As far as I can tell, I have sound notifications turned on in Telegram (play store), FB Messenger  (web app) etc, yet they make not a peep! I tried the All-in-one web app  (deprecated in favour of ... applications that don't run on a Chromebook, thanks folks) too, but still no sound. I've just installed (kinda out of desperation) Opera from the play store, as that now has a "messengers" section, which supports the two I most use, I think that's now making sounds ..

The Linux VM is, pretty great - install applications with UI, and they Just Work, they even appear as icons on the Great Pile Of Icons that is the Chromebook's desktop (in installed order, no you can't change it, what do you mean change it!? you'll just have to hunt with your eyes...). A minor bug here is that (as yet) Linux applications, in tablet mode, can't 'see' (use) the on-screen keyboard (aka are fairly useless in tablet mode unless they're games).

Speaking of the on-screen keyboard - not a lot of choices in the layout department, I can have "extended" (aka has CTRL, ALT keys) mode, but only if I also want "US" keyboard layout (not UK extended, nono, that doesn't exist). Oddly (I assumed it wouldn't work) I can also install the "Hacker's keyboard" from the Play Store, and actually use it.... but something keeps randomly turning it off again, and the default is even less pretty. Weirdly the extended mode US keyboard also has some cursor keys on it, though you can only go left/right, not up/down.

To be continued (probably) ...