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Chromebook Diaries: How I learned to live with Chrome OS

In spite of my obvious allegiance to Android, the truth is that I've never owned or operated a Chromebook. Between two MacBook Pros and a Windows PC, I hardly had a reason to adopt a not-quite-a-desktop laptop. But now that Android apps are a big part of Chrome OS, I'm ready to see what that Chromebook life is like.

I bought the 12.5-inch Asus C302CA-DHM4 Chromebook Flip (opens in new tab), based on a suggestion from my colleague, Android Central's own Jerry Hildenbrand. I was initially planning to hop on the bandwagon and pre-order the Samsung Chromebook Pro before it was even out, but I'm grossly impatient, and thus is the story of my life.

So it's time to buck up. I'm strapping myself into my boots and plugging the power adapter into my first Chromebook. I'll be chronicling my days with the platform all this week. Tune in, ask me questions, give me advice — this is what makes technology so fun.

Setting up my first Chromebook

I have no doubts that I'll soon be met with "back in my day!" comments after writing this column. I know that, like Android, Chrome OS's nascent days ran like one long testing phase. But I also know that people love it precisely because it's a pure implementation of Google's services.

I expected that Chrome OS would be heavily centered around the Chrome Browser, but I didn't expect it to feel so familiar. And though Chrome OS employs similar interface elements from other operating systems, like using an app dock that's similar to Windows 10, it's actually the nuances of the interface, the color palette, and the font style that keep me grounded in the notion that I'm using a Google product.

Look at my launcher.

Sometimes that familiar feeling isn't so welcome, however. The app launcher in Chrome OS, for instance, feels uninspired, and I'm curious why Google decided to keep it so simple as opposed to implementing a full blown application dock, akin to Windows' Start menu. That's the kind of experience I'm used to, and though it may seem antiquated, there's an element of depth that comes across in the Start menu that you don't get from the Chrome OS app launcher. What's behind my Chrome OS desktop? Is there a computer system waiting to be explored and unearthed? Or is it merely one big front for the Chrome Browser?

I plan to delve further into the Chrome OS app experience later this week. I spent the last few days setting up my Chromebook, but I'm still figuring out which apps are worth downloading, and whether most of the Android apps I enjoy using on my Galaxy Tab S2 would transfer over smoothly, at least in terms of usability.

Here are a few other items of note from the first few days with my new Chromebook.

  • I'm incredibly pleased with the look and feel of Asus' Chromebook hardware. It's sleek, it's light, and it feels just as durable and steady as the many, many MacBooks I've owned over the years. The handy fact that I can flip over the screen and immediately launch into tablet mode is neat, too, though this is not the only tablet device you want on you if you frequently use a tablet while traveling. The Chromebook Flip is not light enough to cuddle with in bed, and will require a bit more handling than a dedicated tablet device. But the ability to have more granular control over the interface, and compatibility with Android apps, adds more worth to the Chrome OS operating system as a whole.
  • I'm also impressed with the Chromebook Flip's battery life. It lasted through about three nights worth of usage, from Friday afternoon to Monday morning, where it was at about 19 percent. I've been using it mostly for correspondence and research thus far, though I plan to get a little more serious with it now that we're back in the work week. Also, man, this thing charges fast.
  • Does anyone else feel like Chrome OS is a really fancy looking Linux distro? Quite frankly, it acts like it, too.
  • I'm finding that I continually default to the gestures and commands I'm so used to on Windows and macOS. I like that Chrome OS implements those longstanding ones, like copy and paste (obvi), but it took me an embarrassingly long while to figure out how to take a screenshot. And yes, that was even post Google search.
  • The keyboard on this thing is great and offers a softer typing experience than that of my last-gen MacBook Pro. However, there's something inherently finicky about where the CTRL button is placed. I feel unnatural holding it down to implement a command. Maybe it's because it's new and I haven't gotten into the routine of typing long narratives on it, but it's a humble reminder of how different the experience is between laptops based on the manufacturer.
  • Jerry sent over this helpful extension that's a text expander for Google Chrome. I'm setting it up to help me with work matters this week and it'll be especially handy when I'm writing emails.

Next up, I'll be exploring what it's like working on Chrome OS, including editing the photos that you see here on Android Central. Stay tuned.

Florence Ion was formerly an editor and columnist at Android Central. She writes about Android-powered devices of all types and explores their usefulness in her everyday life. You can follow her on Twitter or watch her Tuesday nights on All About Android.

33 Comments
  • I'm thinking pretty hard about it and will be watching your review. I just hate to think it would replace my Samsung Tab 8.0.
  • I bought the 10" Asus Chromebook Flip about a month ago, specifically to replace my Tab A 8" tablet for web browsing, email, and pretty much anything that requires more than just typing out a few quick words....like this comment. lol. For that, it's been mostly great. The downside is, as the author briefly mentioned, full tablet mode isn't quite there yet. The touchscreen is a bit glitchy and not as fluid or responsive as my Tab A. And the touch keyboard while in tablet mode has an awkward look and feel to it. Some of that is due to being used to Sammy's native keyboard look and layout, but there are also issues with typing accuracy as well. "Swype" typing doesn't seem to be available (if it is, it doesn't work at all), if that's important to you. I think it's also important to note that a lot of Android apps don't work/display properly on this particular Chromebook (maybe all Chromebooks?). I'm not a dev and not going to pretend to be an expert on these things, but I'd imagine that it's going to take time for devs to make their apps fully compatible with Chromebook. One such instance that I was really disappointed with was the Google Drive app. I really prefer the app over the web version. It loads much faster and I'm just more used to the App interface over the website. Downside is that I haven't figured out how to edit or add text to Sheets through the app, which makes it pretty useless. A few other apps that I installed from the Play Store were also problematic, either in their function or in the way they are displayed on your screen...some are only visible in portrait mode, so you're not able to take advantage of all the extra real estate that the Chromebook's screen provides. At this point, it's really hit or miss with Android apps. That said, I'm still very pleased with Chromebook overall, but I still keep my Tab A tablet within reach and I don't see it as a total tablet replacement....yet.
  • Over 30 years ago I started out with Microsoft DOS 2.0. Graduated through all OS. Loved XP. Hated Win 7 8 and 10. Bought an ASUS 15" Chromebook (I don't miss the touch screen) and swore off the unnecessary complexity of Windoze 10. Still trying to get my Classic Samsung printer to accept anything but .txt and printer files. Other than that challenge; Chromebooks for me.
  • Hey Flo... I think there's a typo on the model number. Should be C302CA.... What do you mean by: "Does anyone else feel like Chrome OS is a really fancy looking Linux distro? Quite frankly, it acts like it, too." Do you mean a rock solid performer that can run for days (weeks... years...) without a problem? :)
  • See all keyboard shortcuts: Press Ctrl + Alt + ?
  • Hi Flo,
    Your articles are always well written and I'm looking forward to reading your "diary" about the experience. Keep up the great work that you do and my purchase may depend upon your articles.
  • Nice article. I've had about 6 Chromebooks so far, and I still go back to my tablets. But, I'm trying the Samsung Plus (like you, too impatient to wait for the pro) to see if it can replace both my Surface Pro 4 and iPad Pro.
  • I agree with you Flo on the launcher, needs some reworking. The Cards should be separate too, down near the notification would be ideal.
  • I switched to all-Chromebook about 2 years ago, and can't imagine going back to Windows/Mac. It just makes life so much easier.
  • Regarding screen shots, I didn't have a lot of trouble finding info on keyboard shortcuts, but the few Chromebook sites I visited were terrible. Anyway, I like this series, Florence.
  • I've thought for quite a while that mobile nations should have a dedicated chromebook site.
  • I don't think they should. The Chromebook articles get more hits on Android Central then they would on Chrome Central. I, for one, won't visit that site ever, since I don't own a CB. But I do enjoy reading these articles on AC, especially Jerry's, every once in a while.
  • I love my Asus Flip C100. I picked it up at the local bigbox as a proof of concept venture. I liked the price, having a touch screen, and its ability to run Android apps. The build and looks aren't bad, either. My trusty Sony Vaio crapped its motherboard recently, so I thought I would finally give the CB a try while trying to find a good used MB for the Vaio. I've recently been moving further into Google's online Docs app and I've been using Google Drive for years. However, my biggest test was using RDP apps to run programs on my work and home computers and servers. The Microsoft RDP app for Anroid works well, but is a little laggy. However, Chrome's RDP app works really well, with very ittle lag, if any. I've had no issues running all my PC based programs, such as Excel, Visio, and Office. It's as if I'm sitting in front of the remote machine. The only problem is, unless you are running Windows Pro or Server, there is no privacy curtain on the PC. The Asus CB Flip is quiet, cool, and responsive. The battery lasts for days if the screen brightness is at a moderate level, and charges quickly. I can see myself purchasing a more high-end CB with backlit keys, more power, etc.
  • Nice article.
    I have a Chromebook too (Acer Chromebook 11). I'm using it for University and studying.
    The battery life is very great and it works perfectly for what I need.
    But it's still a ~200$ Chromebook and that's enough. In my opinion, for a different range of price (so about 500$ if we consider this Asus Flip or the Samsung Pro), it's not worth buying a Chromebook over a Windows PC.
  • I think the main reason would be for simplicity over the windows laptop. I bought one for my dad and definitely don't want him to deal with managing a Windows PC.
  • Chromebooks are PERFECT for people who aren't exceptionally tech savvy and/or people who only need a laptop for web browsing, email, and word processing/spreadsheets....which is really like 95% of the population.
  • Yeah it's true, but it's not like Windows is a demon or something, Windows 10 is pretty easy too. So I don't see "I use ChromeOS because it's simpler".
    By the way the real problem is that ChromeOS does a lot less things than Windows, so it should cost less. But it's not a smart thinking because what you are paying it's the hardware. And that's why Chromebooks (and ChromeOS) is not having much success.
    Let them run linux programs too and I think ChromeOS will not be a niche product anymore.
  • Unless, like me, you loathe Windows and have a comparably priced Windows PC collecting dust!
  • I did the same-curious about all the Chromebook buzz, bought a refurb, appx size as my laptop, for $150 after a personal laptop theft. Figured I would use it for travel/work and leave my "real" stuff safe at home. I'll keep my story short. I can't believe how much I like it! It's light, the battery is amazing; it doesn't get hot, it's quiet, fast, updates take less than a minute to download, it's secure...lots of stuff to like-these are just the first things that came to mind. BTW, if you dig into settings menu keyboard layout, you can program your shortcuts, make the number row behave like function keys etc. That was my first aha. Advice: If you buy Chromebook because of your love of Android, you will not love your Chromebook. Android apps that are available pretty much suck so far. I have no doubt they will improve with time, but right now...not even close.
  • A fine initial column, Flo. As one interested in a Chromebook, I look forward to more posts detailing your journey. I haven't bought one yet but I see many strengths in the concept. I'm glad manufacturers are getting past the idea Chromebooks must be cheap entry-level devices. I've looked at them in stores but can't find a way to see what the hardware really is. It's simple to find out what that "quad-core" chip really is in Windows, how do you do so with a Chromebook?
  • How has the 16:9 screen treated you? For me, that is difficult in laptop mode and unusable in tablet mode. That is why I am so excited for the Plus/Pro. Just got the plus and it has been a dream so far.
  • I'm glad you took the plunge, Flo! Here's my quick love affair story with Chrome OS. I have owned several models of Chromebooks over the years and became an evangelist for the product. Today, I use a 2015 MBP. Yes, I switched. However, I needed to change for reasons related to what I do. But, I pretty much transformed my MBP into the best damn Chromebook I have ever owned, lol. I even named it "Machromebook." Seriously, I tweaked everything I could from gestures to shortcut keys. Even found ways to get *some* Android apps on it. I also purchased the ASUS Chromebit (Chrome OS on a stick) and use it several times a week on my TV. So while my main laptop is an MBP, I still love Chromebooks, and Chrome OS like a little kid loves Christmas, lol. Enjoy the whole new world of Chromebooks.
  • I have the Samsung Plus. So far I'm enjoying it. I'm looking forward reading your journey. I heard you mention your initial thoughts on AAA. The thing I'm trying to figure out is whats a OS App or what an Android app. I have a couple icons of both for the same app. The difference is a little tiny white Chrome emblem on the icon. Like Google books (comic book) neither one resizes for portrait/tablet mode. I'm sure they will figure this out. Funny enough is the Comix app works perfect, The resizing, touch, everything. As a Chrome OS device the Samsung Plus is spectacular. The screen is beautiful, The speakers are OK for a thin device. I hope you can figure things out about this new configuration. Apps and stuff to try. Thanks!
  • I replaced my mothers desktop with an ASUS chromebox for Christmas a couple years ago. It was the best present I ever bought myself :). She never calls with support questions and she feels like everything just works. I gave her my old Chromebook when I upgraded and she loves that as well.
    The only support questions I get are around Google printing. I got her a Brother laser printer with Google print on it and that works really well for printing from both of her Chrome OS devices. Twice now the printer has lost connectivity to Google and I had to re-register it.
    I would be interested to see how other people have solved the printing question with Chrome OS
  • If it were possible to simply plug in a USB printer to a ChromeBox, I'd have convinced nearly everyone I know to make the switch to ChromeOS already.
    Unfortunately, "Buy a new printer that supports Google Print, make sure it's connected to Wifi, register it to your Google account, troubleshoot if it loses connection" is pretty much the only solution to the printing problem right now.
    Since the rest of the ChromeOS solution "just works", that solution sticks out like a sore thumb.
  • I'll be following this as well since I've recently purchased an Asus C201P, which I am happy with so far
  • I also purchased the Asus302C and enjoy it quite a bit. Wondering if anyone can shed some light onto why 3rd party file managers (i.e. Solid Explorer and the Asus file manager) do not recognize the 128gb external micro SD card I have installed in the unit? The built-in file manager for Chrome does recognize the card but the other file managers do not?
  • permissions issue??
  • Unfortunately, I do believe this ' bridge ' is missing in Chrome OS - the Chromebook itself can see the SD card, however android apps do not have access to read this external storage at this time- has nothing to do with permissions. I have tried several apps that I use on my cell phone(s) and tested file managers, to no avail they can't access the SD card data - hopefully they will release it in an update once app roll-out stabilizes
  • Thanks for the initial thoughts, Flo! I'm glad you mentioned that it charges fast. I've been going through reviews and couldn't seem to find this out. This is one thing I want when I replace my nvidia shield tablet, USB-C with fast charging. Becoming more and more interested in something like this...
  • Re: The App launcher. It used to look like athe Start menu, but as touch screens became more prevalent the design was changed to the current Aria launcher. If you look at the screen shots of the upcoming Windows 10 desktop, MS is following Google's lead (again) with a remodeled, more touch friendly "Start menu" (http://www.theverge.com/2017/2/8/14553392/microsoft-windows-10-project-n...)
  • Up until now, I have often thought that why would I need to have a Chromebook, one more hardware device, just to have a glorified browser functioning as an OS, when I can have Chrome browser just as easy on any Mac or Windows computer. Made no sense to me whatsoever. What is starting to make me rethink this though, is that Google Play Store compatibility is coming to Chromebooks. That means, all of a sudden, all those apps I used to use on a smartphone suddenly: (a) become alive on a Chromebook form factor and (b) are available offline too. I thought, like, WoW! However, still some caveats for me. Although a Chromebook with Android support can perhaps do 80-90% of computing tasks I would normally do on my Macbook Pro, there are some tasks I just don't see a Chromebook up to snuff for. In short, multimedia processing. That means, support for apps that can process AVI, or, audio, videos, and iimages. OK, granted, there are dozens of apps on Android that will process photos and photo editting, and hopefully some of them (the apps) already work decently on Android running on a Chromebook. The one major weak task where I thiink a Chromebook will fall flat is, video editting and post production. I don't think a Chromebook is sufficient both in terms of hardware resources and the applciations themselves that can do serious video production on a Chromebook. Yeah, there is at least one that immediately comes to mind, Cyberlink's Power Director, which is also available on Android as well as Mac and Windows. BUT, does it even work yet on Android running on a Chromebook? And, is it up to par to still process videos using larger screen real estate, a touch screen, etc. When speaking of video edit and post production work, I usually refer to appliications like Final Cut Pro on the Mac, or Blackmagic's DaVinci Resolve, cross platform on both Mac and Windows. I like the idea of increasingly being able to run Android apps on a Chromebook and would be one primary incentive to cnosider buying one. The other incentive to cement the decision will be to see applications that can support my specified desire for being able to do video production work. I'd even be willing to compromise with Cyberlink's Power Director running on Android if it works as it should and efficiently given a Chromebooks limited resources. I think I will wait a bit longer to see how this concept evolves before rushing into it. So far there is the ASUS flip mentioned in the article as well as Samsung's upcoming Chromebook Plus, and Pro beyond that. But until I see more players, and also an increase in Android compatible apps running on Chromebooks, I reckon it behooves me to be prudent and continued using my exising machine In the meantime designed to support such tasking.
  • "Does anyone else feel like Chrome OS is a really fancy looking Linux distro? Quite frankly, it acts like it, too." Because, basically it is.