Monday, 29 December 2014

Testing out a TDSB Chromebook

Unboxing - First Impressions

As a member of the DLL (Digital Lead Learners) for the TDSB I've been assigned a Google Chromebook (Acer C720) for work. I initially wrote rough notes on my experience after just my first 24 hours having it at the start of December. I had lots to say (both positive and things that could use improvement) and now here's the tidied up version of those notes.

Relatively speaking, I actually feel like an iPhone 4S is more powerful than this machine, and that the key advantage to this Chromebook compared to a smartphone is the physical keyboard and a decent sized screen. For example, with Siri built in, I can dictate the rough copy of a blog post on my phone, but I have struggled to find a similar dependable dictation function on the Chromebook (even with their chrome store, and the fact "ok google" is built into search.

The Physical Machine

I am impressed at the responsiveness of the Acer touchpad (it behaves exactly like a Mac). While it kind of feels like when I touch it the top is a bit loose, this allows for really soft touch clicking (instead of a harder press of the trackpad, which also works by the way). I will need to compare it against a colleague who has an identical machine to better describe this. The two finger scrolling works instantly as it should.
[This is compared with products I've used from HP (netbooks and laptops), which has incredibly frustrating unresponsive two finger scrolling, and for that reason alone are basically junk machines.]

I don't like that the keyboard has a bit less functionality. For example I'm a huge fan of shortcut keys to improve workflow efficiency. I've been trying to use control and arrow keys to get to the end of a sentence or line (because typically this is faster than using the track pad) - however, there is no end key, and less option keys than I typically use on my Mac. Also - THERE"S NO CAP LOCK!!! Which is a bit weird to be honest - typing with your pinky finger down (note the " instead of ' above).

The search button on the keyboard is nice (but it's basically like the Windows button, just in a different place). I do like the back and forward buttons in the top left above 123. Since this machine is primarily for web navigation, I shouldn't need to constantly move my cursor to the top left of the screen - pushing a keyboard key is much easier --- check out this xkcd comic for an interesting take on time and efficiency. If this button saves me 1 second, 50 times a day, then over 5 years I will have saved 1 entire day of work! Pretty amazing if you actually think about it.

It's Just a Browser

As for the OS/Software, it operates exactly as advertised. The 7 second bootup is great (compared to a regular computer, and even compared with taking a smartphone out of sleep mode). For this the fact that it just works brings you very quickly to the point where you don't even think about it. This says more about the increase of how much of everything is done directly online in the cloud than anything else.

I don't like the TDSB email system (OWA - Outlook Webmail) on the Chromebook because it requires SilverLight - and which I guess can't be installed? Maybe this plugin can be downloaded for Chrome? (More research required). These are "managed devices" so perhaps TDSB central IT will update this for me so that I can have a more functional inbox. (Or perhaps they will finally give up on OWA and just switch us all to gmail, since student email is now through the gmail skin).

I do like how fast it loads up new browser windows. I don't like that there is some difficulty capturing a screenshot (again, no obvious buttons on the keyboard - more research required?). I really like how fast and easy I could make a screen capture video using "Snagit" (came with the Enterprise solution, but easily found on the Chrome store). The problem was that this app didn't seem to be able to record one part of the screen: the top bar was not accessible. I had to take a pic with my phone to get the top right corner. (I was trying to compare the differences between the top bar in the managed user account to a personal Google account.)

Still trying to get a handle on some of the vocab and particularities. For example switching users is confusing. It is interesting to see what has been pushed from the central IT enterprise solutions. I am trying to figure out which usage strategy is better - to try and manage multiple google profiles (eg. school board one, personal one, teacher one) from within one user - or to use different users from the start. I am also still trying to figure out the difference between sign out and shut off? Does either close all your work? What about the effect on battery consumption? I kind of feel like they are basically identical functions. (More research and experience obviously needed).

(This paragraph is more recent reflections on the above paragraph.) I've since discovered that my managed TDSB account closes everything when I click sign out or shut down. Whereas with my professional gmail account everything is still there when I come back, whether I sign out or just turn off the machine. In both accounts, if I click the 'lock' button or just shut the case, my work is still there when I open it again. Still no idea if this affects battery life (ie. is the machine still 'off' when you close the case?) compared with choosing "Shut Down".

Some Miscellaneous Thoughts

Finally, on a bit of a silly note, where do you find the serial number? Is there a system preferences display box somewhere? I had to turn the machine over to see the physical sticker and try to type at same time (I actually just took a pic on my phone). I also haven’t yet figured out how to plug in a projector (think I need an HDMI cable) or how to use a USB external storage device.

So after my first glance I have to say I'm pretty happy with it, given it's intended purpose. However, if I want to do work with my 3D printer (ReplicatorG), or 3D design work (Sketchup), or photo editing (Photoshop), or web design/management (Dreamweaver) then I'm out of luck until viable/suitable cloud-based alternatives come along. I know work is being done in most of those areas, it's only a matter of time.

1 comment:

  1. You could always try and install Linux onto the chrome book!

    Maybe something like this: