Update: My love for the Chromebook did not last as long as I expected, but for very specific reasons. Read why.
I love my Chromebook. I bucked the many naysayers who advised me to get a small PC instead. So glad I didn’t listen.
My needs for a Chromebook are very modest: word processing (with Google Docs), email and surfing the net. It is not a replacement for my 15” notebook but is a device that I can easily take with me when I don’t need the notebook. It is lightweight and so easy to use, and the 11+ hour battery life is beyond remarkable.
My $299 Chromebook, an Acer Chromebook 13, has no fan, no noise, no heat emanating from it. It is so quiet that I forget sometimes that it’s on.
First things to do when you get a Chromebook
If your browser lags when you first use your Chromebook, make sure to update the Chrome OS. There should be an immediate improvement in performance following the update. There is an icon in the right hand bottom of the status area that indicates when an update is available.
You can also check for updates manually:
- Click the status area in the lower-right corner where your account picture appears.
- Select “Settings.”
- At the top of the page that opens, click “About Chrome OS.”
- In the “About” window that appears, click the “Check for and apply updates” button.
Change Chromebook text size and screen resolution
I confess that I do not like small screens but it’s the price to pay if you want to travel light. However, after tweaking a few settings, viewing the 13” screen is not the huge problem I anticipated.
First I changed the screen display from 1920 x 1080 to 1536 x 864, which improved viewing without making everything look fuzzy. Now items in the shelf are much easier to see. No reboot is necessary when changing the screen resolution.
Remember this: Ctrl + to increase the viewing size and Ctrl – to decrease it.
You can enlarge text through the Chrome Browser. I set mine to 125% but couldn’t understand why it would go back to 100% when I visited other pages. Then I discovered that the browser remembers the percentage for individual sites, so I change the zoom setting for every site if I want something larger or smaller than the default. For example, when I use Google Docs to write articles, I set the zoom to 150%. The size of the text is perfect for my eyes for Word Processing! When I view images in my pbase photo galleries, I set the zoom to 110%.
You make global changes via “Settings.” In the “Advanced Settings” area, go to “Web Content.” You can customize fonts, change the font size and the page zoom percentage. However, you can still customize the percentage for each website.
Is a Chromebook for photographers?
Nah, not really.
I don’t plan to do photo editing on my Chromebook except in rare circumstances. I accomplish this using the online photo editor, Pixlr. You can only use it online and it can be a little clunky, but it does okay in a pinch. You’ll have to put up with large sized and annoying ads though.
Offline photo editing of a Chromebook is problematic
The Chrome OS currently does not have an offline photo organizer with features like those available on other Operating Systems. The offline experience with images is a time-consuming and a disappointment in many respects. There is a known bug that makes scrolling through images a bad dream. I’ll be writing more about this and some of the ho-hum work-arounds in an upcoming article.
To be honest, I really don’t understand why the developers of Picasa can’t make the program their own Chrome OS.
You can, off course, upload images online, and organize them via your Chromebook like you do on a computer…not fun if you have a large batch of unedited photos and don’t want to use the Google + Photo app.
Some RAW files can be viewed from a camera’s SD card. Those RAW files that are supported can be edited via the Gallery app. But the Gallery only offers a measly Auto-fix tool, a poorly implemented Crop tool, a ho-hum brightness control, the ability to Rotate images left or right and, thank goodness, an Undo tool!
Transferring images from a SD card to Chromebook
If your Chromebook accepts SD memory cards, just pop the card out of your camera and carefully slide it into the slot. If you changed the settings to auto download via the Google+ Photo app, a window appears automatically. Problem is, at least for me, is that all your photos will be uploaded online to the Google+ photo gallery when you import them, which I personally prefer not to use.
If you don’t select the auto upload option, you can open the “Files” app from within the “Launcher” located in the “Task Bar.”
You can also press Ctrl + C to copy selected items to the clipboard and then press Ctrl + V to paste to the different location.
Note: Always use the Eject icon before removing the SD card from the slot.
My thoughts about the Acer Chromebook 13
After considerable research and reading reviews, I bought an Acer Chromebook 13. It is available in two screen configurations: a 1366 x 768 display and a full HD, 1920 x 1080 display.
My Chromebook has a NVIDIA Tegra K1 quad-core processor, four GB of RAM and 32 GB solid state drive. The extra RAM was a wise choice as there is very little, if any, lag when surfing the net (except when downloading large files). Be mindful that a large number of multiple open tabs can slow things down.
I do not find my Chromebook sluggish for surfing the net, email and using Google Doc, but forget scrolling through a bunch of 5mb image files. It’s painful.
The full-sized keyboard is responsive and easy to use. The key board is not back-lit, and I do miss this feature that is on my notebook. There is no dedicated Cap lock button, so press “ALT + SEARCH” to use all caps; press “ALT+SEARCH” again to disable cap locks. See the tip section below for other keyboard combinations. Take time to become familiar with the key symbols as the layout is slightly different from standard keyboards.
My Chromebook comes with large-sized trackpad. The trackpad is easier to learn to use than I first thought, though I will get a small mouse to use at home or in the office when I’m not traveling.
Using touchpad to move pointer and select items
- one finger to move the cursor
- two fingers to right-click
- two fingers quickly across the screen to scroll up or down, and right or left
- To drag and drop, click the item you want to move with one finger and, and use the second second finger to move the item. Release both fingers to drop the item in a new location.
Sometimes the trackpad has a mind of its own, but I expect this to improve with continued use. Scrolling doesn’t always work perfectly; when it doesn’t, I use the keyboard arrows.
Using the trackpad takes some getting used to when holding the Chromebook in your lap. The edges of the device are squarish, not rounded, so the edge can dig into your palm if not careful.
Some reviewers criticize the screen on the Acer 13 but I have no complaints. With the proper adjustments to the screen resolution and text size, as mentioned above, Chrome OS controls and text are easier to view.
Photos look decent enough on the screen, though not quite as good as on my notebook. But I really have no complaints about how photos and other images appear.
Webcam and audio
In decent light, the wide-angle webcam is adequate, but I wouldn’t write home about it. There is a timer so you can get ready for your selfie or usie before the shutter goes off. Currently, there is no built-in video recorder but you can download video recording apps. I tried a few video recording apps but ended up uninstalling them. A digital camera is still my preferred choice for shooting video.
Speaking of video, I’ve watched movies online and they run without a hitch. No doubt, the 4 GB of RAM helps. Surprisingly the audio isn’t tinny and it can be turned up quite loud, though audiophiles would probably cringe.
Would I buy another Chromebook?
You bet I would, though I’d still have a notebook for my major work. For many, it is not at all a substitute for using a computer, but great when you must travel light. For non-power users considering a Chromebook as their only computer, do get one with a larger screen (try it before buying).
Chromebooks are maturing and I think they will continue to improve in the future. Does the Chromebook have a future? Some say no, but I disagree. I visited a classroom and more than half the children were using Chromebooks. These youngsters are growing up on Chromebooks and will probably wonder why so many of their parents generation did not.
Here are some time-saving tips to get you jump-started using a Chromebook.
Settings – Right-click on the lower right side of the “Task Bar,” and click on “Settings.”
Folders – to create folders in the Apps area, drag and drop an icon on top of another icon. You can drop a number of icons in a single folder. Type in a name for each folder you create.
Screenshots -To capture the entire screen, click the “Control + Screenshot” keys. For capturing an active screen only use “Ctrl + Shift + Screenshot keys.” You will get a notice that a screenshot has been taken, along with a “Click to View” link. Screenshots are saved in the “Downloads” folder, accessed via the “Files” icon.
Refresh google drive cache – hold “Control” and press “Refresh”
Fast restart – Occasionally the Chrome OS slows down after several hours of use, especially after opening and closing multiple tabs. To quickly restart your Chromebook, hold down the “Refresh” and “Power” keys at the same time. The OS will quickly reboot.
Saving to Google Drive – To save something in your “Downloads” folder to Google Drive, click and drag it to My Drive. You must, of course, be online.
Quick photo editing – While viewing photos from the OS File Manager, press “E” to quickly edit the photo using the built-in image editor. Double-click on an image to open it. Oh, and don’t expect much from the very limited editor.
Keyboard combinations – to view keyboard combinations press “Ctrl+Alt+?”
Helpful links about Chromebooks:
Chromebook Help Center (Google)