Friday, May 31, 2013

happy hardware review: Samsung Chromebook

For the past two months, my primary laptop has been a Chromebook! The little $249 Samsung ARM one.

I'm really enjoying it, for a number of reasons. First off, you can do quite a few things from ChromeOS -- it's really surprising how much time we spend in a browser these days. ChromeOS is lovely and simple and it pretty much Just Works.

But the thing that makes it really work for me is Crouton, the semi-official way to run Ubuntu alongside ChromeOS, from champion Googler David Schneider. It's really really easy to install. You just put your Chromebook in developer mode, which gives you a shell in ChromeOS, then you run the crouton shell script, and it sets up a really minimal Ubuntu, with XFCE by default. It is exactly what you (or at least I) want. Once that's set up, it's a quick key combination to switch between ChromeOS and Ubuntu. The Ubuntu runs in a chroot, but by default your user's Downloads directory is shared with ChromeOS, which is brilliant.

The hardware is lovely, especially considering the price. It's so slim, and it feels pretty well built. And it fits in my tiny running-style backpack. The keyboard is pleasantly clicky in the way a chiclet keyboard can be. My one complaint about the hardware is that the button built into the trackpad sometimes sticks, but it seems to be doing that less and less -- maybe it just has to get broken in.

But here's the biggest thing: the battery lasts roughly forever. I'll carry it around all day, work on it for hours in a coffee shop, and I've still got plenty of battery left. It gets at least six hours.

So if what you want is a little laptop with a nice keyboard and long battery life that makes it easy to run a proper Linux (in addition to the bells-and-whistles ChromeOS things)... you could do a lot worse than the Samsung Chromebook.