I wasn't sure about Chrome OS. I mean, when it's described you get a sort of "meh" reaction. "So it's all in the browser? It requires being online? It can't run Windows, Android, Mac, or Linux programs?" is what pops to mind. I was in this camp, too. I didn't think a laptop that relies on cloud-based services for 80% of what it does could be useful. Boy, was I wrong!
First, though, I'll say a bit about the hardware: Sexy. I know the faux leather top is just a sort of foamy plastic, but it looks and feels nice. The laptop is slim, sleek, quiet, cool, and fast. It boots up faster than anything I've ever owned, save for Android or iOS tablets. The dual USB ports, micro SD card slot (yes, micro, because so few new electronics are bothering with full-sized SD cards anymore), and HDMI port are all nice additions to round out this sleek laptop experience.
The keyboard is especially nice. I'm a writer, and to me the quality of a keyboard is important in a laptop design. Equally as important is the quality and sensitivity of the trackpad! I've had laptops with good keyboard that were completely spoiled by the fact that the trackpad was overly-sensitive, causing me to accidentally move the cursor around the screen while typing. None of that happens here. I'm not being hyperbolic when I say this is perhaps one of the best-designed trackpads I've used in decades of computing. I like it even better than the trackpads on my old MacBooks, and those were high quality. It's WAY better than the trackpads on more recently-owned systems like the ASUS T100, the Microsoft Surface Type Cover 2, and my last Lenovo laptop. This was, frankly surprising. I did not expect to like the trackpad this much-- Especially since I've never been very fond of trackpads in general.
The screen is sufficient for a system designed for getting some work done. The resolution could be higher, but having an HDMI port built in mitigates that problem if I'm looking to push more pixels.
Speedwise, I'm quite happy. It doesn't lag with multiple tabs open and handles Chrome OS games quite well. Web-based games also seem to be snappy. I doubt most people will feel they're being cheated on speed or graphics performance, considering this is a Chromebook.
Which brings me to my new-found acceptance-- indeed, admiration-- of the Chrome OS. I honestly didn't think I'd like Chrome OS this much, but I've been swayed over from having a "blech!" reaction to having a "I think I'll do that on my Chromebook" reaction. What I mean by that is that the Chromebook is so quick to load, such a pleasure to interact with, that when I need to do some basic work, get online for any reason, or even check out some media, the Chromebook is quickly becoming my go-to device. it's on -instantly- when I open that lid. Chrome remembers all my settings, and Google Drive transfers all my data from my desktop whenever I need it. It functions just like Chrome on my desktop PC, meaning I can go to my work website and not have to worry about missing plugins or not supporting the web protocols (unlike most Android tablets). It's just a pleasurable, easy experience.
Here are some questions I had about Chromebook, along with the answers I learned:
► "Can I run MS Office on it?"
No, but it comes with Google Docs built in, and Google Docs lets you view, edit, and create MS Office documents. It's not as comprehensive as a fully-featured MS Office suite, but most people don't even use 50% of Office's features, and as I've learned, pretty much everything the average user would need is available in Google Docs.
► "Can I watch videos in Chrome OS?"
There's a built-in video player, and you can get others in the Chrome Web Store. You can also view movies and TV shows from every major streaming service like Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, Crackle, CinemaNow, and of course YouTube, DailyMotion, and other sites.
► "Can I view and edit photos?"
Yes! Viewing, of course, is built into the system. Editing can be done with a variety of Chrome apps and extensions, like PicMonkey and Pixlr Editor. Pixlr Editor is very similar to Photoshop.
► "Couldn't I just get a regular Windows/Mac laptop and use the Chrome browser to get the same stuff?"
Yes, you can access most of the apps and sites from Chrome on any system, but the appeal is the speed with which Chrome OS runs, the fact that you don't have all the other OS stuff running in the background, looking for updates, waiting for things to load, etc. It's the same experience, but on a Chromebook it's MUCH faster and easier.
► "If I can't run Windows programs or Android apps, then how do I download an antivirus?"
You don't need to!!! That's another awesome thing about Chrome OS-- It isn't vulnerable to viruses, trojans, worms, and other malware by design. Right out of the box, you're up and running without needing to connect to an antivirus service, pay for a subscription, or deal with background scans or downloads slowing down the system. Chrome OS is secure. You never have to worry about all that stuff. Just get online and get work done.
► "Can I play games?"
Yes. There are plenty of web-based games, and the Chrome Web Store has several games to choose from. Now, you might not have some popular games like Minecraft, but there are still some quality games to play and waste some time. If you're looking for hardcore gaming, you and I both know you're never going to look at a Chromebook as a serious contender, but then, you're also not going to find a super-thin, super-light, super-fast gaming laptop for anywhere near this price.
► "Does it always have to be online?"
No. There are many offline apps available. Head over to the Chrome Web Store and check out the "Offline Apps" collection.
► "What about basic functions?"
Calculators, note-taking, calendars, alarm clocks, translators, banking apps, and all manner of basic applications are available, and they are fast!
Finally, I asked myself how much of my time at my computer is spent online. I was surprised at the answer: "practically all of it". I honestly don't run all that many programs offline these days. Most of my time is spent on the Web, with lots of time spent in email, shopping sites, work websites, entertainment sites, etc.. If you really examine what it is you do with your computer or tablet, you might find the same thing. I'm not even a big fan of social media like Facebook or Twitter, but I know lots of you folks are, and again the Chromebook is going to handle those tasks admirably well.
So who is this thing for? Anyone who needs a fast, light, thin laptop to get online, do some work, watch some videos, play a few games, edit some documents or spreadsheets (Google Docs), edit some photos (Pixlr), edit some videos (WeVideo is pretty cool), do some basic CAD (AutoCAD360), check Facebook, send Tweets, check & send gmail, check & send Outlook mail, video chat, listen to music (Google Music, Prime Music), transfer files between systems (Google Drive, Amazon Cloud Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive), and even remotely connect to your desktop PC (Chrome Remote Desktop) and work on it from afar.
Who wouldn't benefit from a Chromebook? I guess if you need a laptop that will play the hottest, newest games in 3D, a Chromebook isn't for you. If you need to do super-intense professional video editing on your laptop you'd best go for something Windows, Linux, or OS X based. If you need to run a very specific piece of software on your laptop and can't find the Chrome OS equivalent in the Web Store on on any website, you'll have to go with the system that software was made for.
For everyone else, the Chromebook is the nearly-perfect laptop. It combines insane boot/wake up speed, essential functions, and excellent hardware design into a laptop that handles most functions modern Internet dwellers need.
I would say the Chromebook is especially great for people who aren't all that tech-savvy. They'll never need to sit through a Windows update, a virus scan, or get a BSOD. They'll never have to figure out some ultra-technical way to make the computer do something, because Google really does make almost everything insanely easy and fast. There's just not much to screw up on a Chromebook!
However, I do have ONE minor gripe about the Chrome OS, which is why I'm only giving four stars instead of five in this review. Currently, Chrome OS does not provide an easy way to turn a web page into a desktop or taskbar icon. You can bookmark any page, just like in Chrome, but you cannot drag a URL to the desktop or taskbar and make it into a clickable launch icon without going though some convoluted steps. It CAN be done, but not easily. From what I have read, Google is aware that people want this feature and they're working out how to do it with just a couple clicks. For now, however, you're stuck opening the Chrome browser and clicking the link in your Bookmarks, or finding an official Chrome app/launcher/link that provides one-click access.
This is a minor caveat (and as I said, one that Google is working on) and so it's only costing a star from this review. Have no fear, however, about the hardware involved here. The Chromebook 2 is a fine example of sleek, sexy laptopping (I know. "Laptopping" isn't actually a word. I still like it.) and I'm certain that anyone who gives it a chance will love what they can do with the Chromebook 2.
► Final Verdict: FOUR STARS.
► Recommendation: Unless you're an elitist, professional video editor, hardcore gamer looking for a portable rig, or a Google-hater, you probably want to get one of these to complement your other Windows/Mac/Linux PC, or to stand alone as a simplified way to get online, get work done, and have a little fun. Give it time. You may become a fan.