Getting back up: How a broken Chromebook proves that Google wins the cloud

My primary computer — my practically perfect Pixelbook — is broken and likely going in for repairs later this week. Three years ago that would have terrified me, but today? Today, it's a mild annoyance, and that's mostly because I had to waste half a morning on a full-tilt System Recovery to prove my hardware issue to Google support. The spartan setup that made Chrome OS a godsend for enterprise and educators has given me the freeing realization that not even a broken computer can put a damper on my peace of mind — or my productivity.

If my Windows laptop needed to be sent off for repairs — or even just factory reset for troubleshooting purposes — backing up my data would eat at least half a day, and the factory reset and restoration of my apps and services would take the rest of the day and then some. Despite Windows increasing compatibility with cloud storage and syncing, the majority of your programs and data aren't easily backed up, and even once they are, restoring that data after a factory reset — and the hours of system updates that follow it — can eat hours and hours of time you could be working or redditing or living your life.

From writing a system recovery flash drive to wiping my Chromebook and getting set back up and troubleshooting the clean system, I needed less than an hour. Backing up my local files took 2 minutes — after all, just about the only locally stored files are in the Downloads folder — and my Chrome extensions like Auto Text Expander synced back up before I even finished logged into the freshly recovered Pixelbook. It was quick and it was as painless as starting over on a fresh machine could be.

Chromebooks are expendable by design, and that is indispensable.

For years, Google's touted the expendable nature of individual Chromebooks to system administrators and the board members that approve their G-Suite contracts: If your student/employee breaks their Chromebook, simply sign them into a new machine and they'll be back to work in minutes. This may feel like something you can only take advantage of if you have the luxury of owning multiple Chromebooks — I'm using a four-year-old Lenovo Chromebook while my Pixelbook is out of commission — but even if you only own one, this way of computing can save your deadline and your delicate sanity.

Sign in and get back to work

If someone walked in and Hulk-smashed your one and only Chromebook, you could go to any other computer in town — from Grandma's Gateway laptop to the public library's Chromebox lab to that 24-hour net cafe downtown that always smells like weed — and the second you signed into Chrome, you'd get back 70% of your normal setup. When my parents helped me move cross-country, my mother didn't bother bringing a laptop with her. She just signed into her accounts on my Chromebook, did her email checking and Facebook browsing, and then she signed out when she was done.

This versatility is doubly helpful for Chromebook troubleshooting and security. The vast majority of your Chromebook is already backed up, so if your Chromebook ever even starts to feel sluggish or "off" for any reason, you can Powerwash it as easily as a game of Solitaire, and in less time than a game of Solitaire. Chromebooks have become the go-to platform many international travelers turn to not just because they're easy to replace if someone steals it; they can Powerwash a Chromebook before and/or after they give it to Customs, ensuring that no one is snooping through their files or bugging their machines.

Before I ever call up the support line for my Chromebook, I can — and have — done every single troubleshooting step tech support could ask in the span of a lunch break. That shortens the support call and speeds along a warranty support claim, getting me back to work before I fall behind. This saves me — and the unfortunate support rep that takes my call — time and sanity, and it is a simple, speedy superpower that I've yet to see from any other platform.

Sign in an get working

Best of all, whether your Chromebook is out for repairs or simply gone forever, you can still get your work done on a loaner machine or a public machine while you're waiting for a replacement Chromebook to ship out to you. Your Chromebook is just a landing pad for your cloud connections and your Chrome browser settings, and you can re-establish those anywhere you, your internet, and your two-factor authentication codes are.

And that's just as amazing for you and your tech-illiterate uncle as it is for your overworked office sysadmin.

Ara Wagoner

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.