Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Chromebook for Writers

Samsung Chromebook
This weekend I was out of town and all I had was my iPad. iPad - Great for Surfing the internet, playing games and reading. Not so great for writing. However, my laptop is a 18 inch, 32 GB Ram 25 pound Alienware desktop replacement. Considering what I paid for this behemoth, I have considered only using it in a closed safe.

Seriously, it is great for my recliner, but it's not the sort of thing you are going to take to the library or sit on a park bench and write. Being retired, I've gotten in the habit of just staying in my house and I'm thinking I need to get out more. So, I needed a cheap, portable computer I could throw in my purse to use on the go.

I ended up getting a Samsung Chromebook for $250 at Best Buy. That's cheap enough that if it gets lost or broken, I haven't lost much.

So, for those of you who are not quite as up on tech issues as some of the more nerdish among you, a Chromebook is a relatively new concept in computing from Google, the people who brought you the search engine, Android phones, Chrome browser and some sort of data glasses in the future.

Basically, all the apps run in the chrome browser installed on the computer. About 2/3 of these run in the cloud (online). However, some of the basics like wordprocessing and spreadsheet can run offline, then when reconnected, the resulting documents are stored on Google Drive in the cloud.

Overall, I'm finding the computer to be pretty much what I wanted. It exists in usefulness somewhere between a tablet and a full laptop.

So, let's look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of this device. First, cost. I paid $250 for my device which has an 11 inch screen and nearly a full sized keyboard. I could have gotten a similar machine for $199, but it didn't have the glare resistant screen or the six hour battery life that mine does.

My machine also has two USB ports, an SD card port and an HDMI connector. There is no DVD/CD slot. The laptop has a video camera, microphone, headphone jack and stereo speakers.

The other big cost saving is software. Just about everything running on the ChromeOS is free. Google Docs and Zoho Docs are both free programs that also have an offline version. Although, I have to say that Zobo Writer keeps getting stuck when trying to load a large file. If you are online, you can also use Microsoft Office tools including Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Publisher for free. Incidentally, you can subscribe and download the entire suite for $9.95 a month and install it legally on five windows machines. But that's just an aside.

The MS-Office web apps are somewhat scaled down versions of the desktop programs, but they are good enough for most on the go editing and writing.

Having used all three (Zoho, Google and Word), I would say that I personally like Google docs a bit better, however, Word was good as well. Since they are all free, I suggest you try them all, if you get a Chromebook. As far as that goes, you can try them all if you don't have a Chromebook just by finding the programs on the web.

There is a product for free very similar to Scrivener called Scriptito which includes a social component where you can share your writing and get feedback from the Scriptito community.

Another cool thing about the Chromebook is it's weight. It's about 2.4 pounds and .7 inches thin. My sister saw it sitting next to my iPad and said, "You could easily get those mixed up." She's right it's just a couple of inches bigger than my iPad, but is much roomier to type on.

As for speed, there is no comparison. It goes from powered down to fully booted in less than 10 seconds. It is, after all, a single function computer. It loads a special version of the Chrome browser that all the apps run under. Also, launching an app takes just a few seconds. The response time within the apps is also impressive.

Currently, it is fairly safe from viruses, but if it becomes a popular operating system, someone will decide to attack it. However, at this point, it is safe.

However, on the flip side, don't expect to replace your laptop or desktop with this device. Just about all the apps are scaled down versions of what you can run on a desktop or a good quality laptop. You can write your story and edit it, using MS-Office share point, you can do some collaboration with your editor or co author, but if you are doing publishing, photo editing, video or audio production, this is not going to be adequate.

Also, there is a learning curve. The keyboard is slightly different. You don't have a caps lock and there is a control key function you need to use. It doesn't have a right mouse button and you tap with two fingers to access right click functions. The lack of a delete button makes editing interesting because you have to put the cursor behind what you want to remove and use the backspace key.

The Chromebook, though, is a good second computer. Like that second car, which is nothing special just basic transportation, the Chromebook is just basic computing. It's inexpensive, fast, makes good use of the cloud services and has a long battery life. For something to take to the library, make video calls, watch movies or listen to music. To sit someplace quiet and just write, it's well worth the money at this price. I wouldn't say the higher priced ones are worth it, though.


  1. LOL, was thinking about Chromebook recently but all those "buts" you stated would be a serious issue for me. Never mind.

    Good post.

    1. Cynthia--

      That's why I wrote this. I am happy with my Chromebook for what I need it to do. I do not consider this a full laptop replacement. If you use a laptop on the go like a replacement for your desktop, a Chromebook is not for you. I use a mobile laptop for simple wordprocessing, checking email, FB, etc.

      The big selling points for me were cost with was about the same as a netbook but with a larger screen and keyboard. The second was it's light weight and thin profile. I can throw it in my purse. I carry a big purse. And the third was the battery life. Six hours is a very long time.

      However, it is a limited device at the moment. As more android apps become available in the ChromeOS ecosystem, it will become more powerful and the updates are automatically delivered so I never have to reinstall a new OS. But at this point, it's a step above a tablet, but not quite a laptop.

      I would use the comparison of a tracphone to a low end Droid phone. The Chromebook is like the tracphone. You can make calls, take pictures, kind of check email and send text messages, but that's about it. A droid smartphone can do way more than that. Now, I own a tracphone because I'm rarely out of my house and when I had a smartphone, aside from making maybe 2 phone calls a week, the only other thing I used it for was an alarm clock. For that I paid 600 dollars for the phone and another 100+ for the month. I loaded my track phone with 50 dollars three months ago and I still have over 100 minutes left and I bought it for 19.95. That makes sense for me.

      However, if I was a business executive and needed to track stock prices, transfer documents on the go, had kids that I needed to get in touch with 24/7, etc. then a Tracphone wouldn't be right.

      That's why it is important to decide what you need this device to do and make your purchase accordingly. You don't want to overpay for features you wouldn't use. But you also want the device to do everything you need it to do.

      Bottom line, unless you only use your laptop for the basics - writing, text editing, surfing the web and checking email - this is not a laptop replacement. However, if you need something just for those types of activities and you don't want to take your $1000 laptop to Starbucks just to kill a few minutes while sipping your latte, it might be good for you. Just don't expect too much out of it.

    2. There are Buts, and there are Buts for Buts.

      I took the plunge for the same reasons (including a mega-ton MSI "laptop"). And I've been Windows since before DOS, through all DOSes, and literally every version. But I want to be free. So, I plunked down $ 499 (plus $ 150 for two year's worth of drops, pixels and coffee oh-shit-insurance), and now have a paper thin ASUS, paper-clip weight, flipable (makes it a tablet), touchscreen Chromebook with backlit (must have) keyboard.

      And within an hour of WhereTF is this key and HowTF am I supposed to do this and that, I stopped everything and searched for Chromebook keyboard shortcuts.

      Are you sitting down?

      Try the most amazing keyboard shortcut ever invented:

      CTRL + ALT + ?

      Then tap Search, Shift, CTRL or Alt.


      Chromebooks deserve to be world leader for this alone.
      It will show you every shortcut/hotkey thing you can do on a Chromebook.

      And now back to the Buts.

      But #1 (for me): The "Oh shit I bought a MAC in disguise and now I can never DELETE anything so I'm going to return this useless POS right now," But.

      ALT + Backspace

      Not as elegant as a Delete button. But does it.

      But #2: WhereTF is Caps Lock? I'm not going to Shift tap every damn key when I want to yell! I can't do that! Damn, I guess I'll have to stop yelling so much.

      SHIFT + Search

      ...it's a CAPS LOCK! ON/off switch.

      But #3: What? No Function keys?

      Pop your favorite browser (kidding--use Chrome). And enter this URL:


      Then click: Keyboard settings

      Then check the lil box: Treat top-row keys as function keys.

      Click the OK button.

      Now when we hold the search key, we get our precious, lovely little Function keys again!

      But #4: No Right Click?
      ("Damn--this *IS* a MAC in disguise!).

      ALT + Click


      Two-finger Click

      But #5: No Photoshop, No Scrivener, and no [_______].

      A. Google is your friend, and

      B. Chrome Remote Desktop is your Lover.

      Final thoughts... yes, there is a learning curve, but you get to do it on a lightweight, long lasting, SUPER-LOW-COST, perfect device that probably makes a few numbnuts think one day Microsoft will make a BingBook that won't work and nobody wants for three times the price of a Chromebook, and makes Bill so rich he buys all the oil countries in the world instead of (ALT + SEARCH) USING HIS PROFITS TO HIRE PEOPLE WHO CAN MAKE WINDOWS NEVER HAVE ANOTHER DAMN BLUE SCREEN AGAIN.

      But you digress... go buy an ASUS Chromebook and enjoy the RED PILL.

  2. I had thought about picking one up as a replacement for my Netbook when it dies. I believe that none of the data is stored locally and you cannot write work on existing documents if you are not connected the web. Is that part correct?

  3. Steve, that is not quite true. You can compose and edit your documents off line and they are saved on your computer. When you go back online, they are uploaded back into Google drive in the cloud.

    If there are documents you think you will be working on when you go out, you just want to remember to open them when you are connected and save them on the local drive in the default google format. Then whereever you are at you can open them. You can also download an app to collect and store your latest emails offline and work on them to be uploaded when you get your connection back. There's an offline webpage clipper too. If you don't have time to read the page online you can "clip" it and put it into a folder and read it whereever you are at. There's a whole collection of apps that are designed for offline use. You just run a search under offline in the Chrome store. BTW, if you have a Chrome browser most of those apps will work in your browser anywhere.

  4. Thanks, Terri. That is very helpful. I had been wanting to use my Nexus 7 tablet for that that but, I've not been able to get it to work properly. Does is use a Google Drive or something on the local drive for storage?

    1. Yes, there is a limited local drive. The one I got has a 16 GB Solid State hard drive. The other one, which was actually a bit cheaper had a 300 GB magnetic HD, but the SSD gives me a 6 hour battery life instead of the 4 hour with the mechanical HD. But with two USB ports and an SD card slot, I can expand storage pretty much indefinitely. For instance, I could simply put in a 32 GB card and quadruple my storage. Or I could use an external HD for up to a TB or more.

      Once you store something on Google Drive (and you get 100 GB there), you can drag and drop it to the local drive or to a USB or card drive for offline storage.

    2. This sounds perfect for what I am looking for. Cheap, useable and functional. Thanks, Terri!

    3. Good to know. I'm enjoying mine for what I'm using it for. It's a particular type of tool for particular types of jobs. I'm not going to create bookcovers on this thing, but I can write and do basic editing, surf the web, answer email. All the basic functions in a highly portable inexpensive unit.

  5. I have a chrome book and I love it. :) But I haven't figured out how to do anything with Word in it, and so I'm limited in that way and still very reliant on Microsoft. :(

  6. There are a couple of things with using word. Lum. First, you can use office.com. Just set up a hotmail or live.com account and sign in. You can use web-based versions of Word, etc for free. They don't have all the bells and whistles but basic editing works. The other way is to use Google docs. Here's how.

    Upload your file to Google drive from your PC. Then go to your Chromebook open Google Drive and right click on the file link. The click on Open in Google docs. It will convert the file to a Google file. Then when you save click on file and download as - Microsoft word. That gives you a copy you can edit in word or if someone needs a .doc or.docx file. You can also use Zoho writer in the same way. Both of those work offline.

  7. I want to just write a novel and access Gogle Chrome for reserch. Can I access the Internet on Chromebook?