Can You Survive on a Chromebook Alone?

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Can You Survive on a Chromebook Alone?

We use nothing but Google's lightweight OS for a week

When Google announced Chrome OS, many people scoffed at the viability of a browser-based OS. Currently, however, Chromebooks are among the most popular inexpensive computing devices today. The search giant has done a great job of making an OS that is light enough to function on entry-level Atom-based SOCs and even low-powered ARM silicon. With the launch of many new Chromebooks (click hear to find out which one we think is the best chromebook) we wanted to see if a person could survive with a Chromebook playing games, videos, word processing and more for an entire week. Read on to see how the OS fared against Windows in our seven-day challenge.

Methodology

The premise of our test was simple, use nothing but a Chromebook for seven days straight. We weren’t allowed to touch a PC during that period, so we left our Windows rig sitting around collecting dust. Below you will find different sections about our experiences with our Chromebook. In addition, we fill you in on whether a person can use one as their primary computer.

We should mention the only other Internet capable device we were allowed to use during our testing period was a smartphone. We did, after all, have to make the occasional phone call/text every now and then.

Acer C720

The Acer C720 Chromebook

The Hardware:

We grabbed Acer’s C720, as it’s arguably the best Chromebook for the money, providing us with a dual-core Intel Haswell processor, 16GB SSD, and 4GB of DDR3 RAM. We thought about using Google’s Pixel, but it’s super expensive at $1,300. The C720 comes very close to the Pixel in performance, and its way cheaper at $250. Not to mention its 0.7lbs lighter than the Pixel as well.

Chrome OS

Chrome OS' desktop interface

Performance:

Using a Chromebook we found some distinct performance advantages and disadvantages. First off, Chrome OS is insanely fast at booting up, taking about 2 seconds to get to the desktop, and we saw the device get us to the Internet in just seconds. In case you've been living under a rock and don't know how Chrome OS operates, it is an operating system that is tied to the cloud. This means that in order to properly take advantage of its features, you must be connected online. 

The battery life was excellent on the C720, as we got around eight and a half hours run time while producing documents and surfing the web. The C720 was highly portable since it weighs just 2.7 pounds and has a thin profile of 0.7 inches. We also liked its small sleek form factor, as it easily fit into our bag. With its small size also comes a small keyboard, however, and we found ourselves missing our full-size keyboard with its 10-key number pad. We did like the C720’s multi-touch track pad, as the multi-touch gestures were very responsive, but it’s a bit too small for large fingers. These hardware peripherals will vary from Chromebook to Chromebook, however, so the aforementioned statements are not relevant to all Chromebooks.

A familiar face

Browsing the Internet:

Our Chromebook browsed the web quickly and efficiently. It handled multiple tabs very well and we didn’t see any slowdown in performance when we had 10 or more tabs open. We did, however, run into an issue with Newegg as some of its links didn’t work properly on our Chromebook. We tried looking at customer reviews on the e-tailer’s website and couldn’t get them to load on our Chromebook no matter what we did. We tried shutting down the unit and restarting it, restoring it to factory settings [A.K.A. powerwashing], and disabling our Chrome add-ons and nothing worked. The biggest weakness of Chrome OS is that not everything supports Chrome, so unlike Windows, you can’t just switch browsers if a website isn’t loading properly.

Google Docs

Google's Word Processing Application: Google Drive

Producing Documents:

Google Drive was how we created documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. We liked using the cloud-based suite, but it’s not as fleshed out as Microsoft Office. There’s simply more functionality in Word and PowerPoint, as they offer more customization than Google Docs. We found there to be more transitions in PowerPoint along with more options to customize our slides than on Google Slides. If you just need basic presentations, documents, and spreadsheets, however, Google Drive can do most of what Microsoft’s Office can do for free. 

One of the biggest advantages Google Drive has over Microsoft Office is its sharing function and we liked how we could easily share our documents with the service. Another strong feature of document sharing in Google Docs is that multiple people can edit the same document at the same time. As noted by one of our readers, Hellabrad, you can also edit and share documents with other Office users with Microsoft's free web client. Finally, Google Docs is constantly and conveniently AutoSaving, which is something the desktop version of Word doesn’t do. By default, the Microsoft Word desktop application AutoSaves every 10 minutes, and this setting can be changed to AutoSave every minute (Hellabrad). 

Click the next page to read about gaming, picture-editing and more with a Chromebook.

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nexiboyyy

For users who don't know how to use the crouton script (Which btw is extremely easy, I mean you can literally just copy and paste your way through tutorials to get xubuntu running.) a chromebook will only be a web browser. However a web browser is 95% of what most users use a computer for besides gaming. Besides a Chromebook is sold as a companion laptop, and the cheaper Windows laptops are horrifically slow and plagued with the Windows problem of software degration over time. I guarantee that if a user who buys a Chromebook doesn't know how to use the crouton script, they won't know how to properly maintain Windows to keep it running at fast speeds.

I for one am using a c720 as my main computer, with an upgraded 120 gb ssd and using crouton to run #!(crunchbang) my little $250 laptop performs like a beast for that price point. I can do all the video editing I need, as well as light gaming (really I'm only restricted by hardware limitations) which honestly if your spending $250 for a gaming machine you're an idiot.

The nice thing about a Chromebook using crouton is that the Chrome part of the laptop works flawlessly regardless of what you're doing. It pretty much in 99.9999% of cases wont slow down and it runs far faster than a $250 machine should. Yet the linux side of the OS runs almost flawlessly as well. There are some quirks here and there with audio, but other than that it runs practically like a native linux operating system. Yet you can switch between the two with a simple key stroke.

So I basically use Chrome os as my browser, and the Linux side when I have to do anything else, and switching between the two is so seamless that it's in some ways faster than if I was running a native Linux OS. Ohh I still have yet to exceed 3 gigs of ram usage as well, even running both operating systems at the same time.

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Eoraptor

Half the comments I see on this are "well sure, after you install a different linux, or dual boot, or install some hack-around to install more linux packages."

So in other words, no. No you can't survive with an off-the-shelf chromebook. Not by the varied consensus here.

Sort of like windows 8 "It's a great operating system, after you install classic shell"

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brunerww

Hi Chris - My Windows 7 machine is now exclusively a video editing workstation. Other than that, it gathers dust.

I use ChromeOS dual booted with Ubuntu via Crouton - so my Acer C720 is a standalone computer when there's no internet connection.

No file management system? Pull the stuff out of the download folder (which is shared between the 2 GUIs) and put them into whatever folders you like (including desktop folders).

Chrome/Chromium doesn't work on newegg? Switch to Firefox.

At work, most of the training and personnel management self-service pages are compatible with Firefox, not Chrome. No worries - I switch to Ubuntu/Linux and Firefox, and there's no need to turn on the iMac.

I carry this little computer back and forth with me from home to work, and haven't used my iMac at work or my Windows 7 machine at home for weeks.

Best $200 I've ever spent on a computer (and I bought my first one, an Atari 400, in 1981).

So, can "you" survive chromebook alone? Some people can't - but I certainly can.

Cheers,

Bill

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vig1lant3

The article I wrote was much shorter:

Can You Survive on a Chromebook Alone?

No.

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Slugbait

I'm curious if the browser on ChromeOS is any more stable than the default browser on Android. It crashes so often on Android that I only use it for Flash sites/content. The Chrome browser is also maddeningly unstable, but not quite as bad...but it doesn't support Flash.

Which leads to the next question: can Chrome browser be installed on ChromeOS?

Also, does ChromeOS support authenticated proxy? Last time I checked, Google still did not support it for Android.

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vrmlbasic

How does ChromeOS handle powerpoint downloads? Does it have to "reupload" them to Google Docs before they can be viewed?

...could MPC get one of its college interns to survive an entire week of college with just a Chromebook?

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Eoraptor

Not sure about the rest, but that would be a great read in my eyes, though probably not suitable to maxpc's short form reports.

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Eoraptor

if you live AND work in an area where wifi is free and ubiquitous and open... or you can swing a very capacious cellular data plan, sure, you can get buy on a chromebook.

if you live between the coasts? not so much. you can have my big resident programs when you pry them from my cold dead harddrive.

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vrmlbasic

I know that I certainly don't live in such an area.

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hellabrad

"Another strong feature of document sharing in Google Docs is that multiple people can edit the same document at the same time, something that’s not available in Microsoft’s Office suite."

The free, web based version of Office allows multiple people to edit a single document at the same time.

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chriszele

Thanks for the comment! I've changed the article to say the free MS Office Web client also allows for Office users to share and edit content together. 

Chris

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big_montana

"First off, Chrome OS is insanely fast at booting up, and we saw the device get us to the Internet in just seconds"

Define seconds, as it would have been nice to see some benchmarks for this unit you used. I have a 3 year old Lenovo Edge E420S laptop running Windows 8.1 with 8GB or RAM and a 260GB SSD that boots to useable Windows in 15 seconds. Does the Acer boot quicker, slower, the same?

"The battery life was excellent on the C720, as we got around eight and a half hours run time while producing documents and surfing the web."

Again my 3 year old Lenovo gets 8 hours on battery while surfing the web, producing documents, reading emails (use the Outlook client). Core i5-2410M processor.

"Google Docs is constantly and conveniently AutoSaving, which is something Word doesn’t do either."

I use Office 2010 at work, and Office 2013 at home, and both are set to auto save documents out of the box. Maybe you turned that feature off?

"The C720 comes very close to the Pixel in performance, and its way cheaper at $250."

You win on price, as I paid $870 for my Edge 3 years ago, and add in the price of the SSD I Install 2 months ago, which adds another $160 to the price. Still would not trade this in for a Chromebook or any other laptop currently available as it meets my needs today. Tomorrow? Well, that's another story.

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chriszele

The Chromebook booted up in about 2 seconds. 

With regard to the Google Docs Autosaving statement, I've used both 2010 and 2013 and had my PC blue screen on me, while most of the document was saved, I lost about a page and a half of content. Google Docs is saving everytime you make a change, so it's constantly saving whereas MS Office saves just once in a while. The web version of Office also does Autosaving in the cloud too, so that's probably the best way to get constant Autosaving in Office. 

Chris

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legionera

No offence but if you don't have any experience computing, how did you end up doing a review about a device that you have no idea about?

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hellabrad

@chriszele: The default autosave time in Word is 10 minutes. Try lowering it to 1 minute in the Word options window.

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chriszele

@hellabrad Thanks for letting me know! 

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big_montana

Thanks for the clarification, especially with regards to auto-saving. Words default auto-save is 10 minutes, and I did modify that setting for home to 3 minutes to match the setting on my work laptop. The lowest you can set it to is 1 minute.

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hellabrad

Mods, tell big_montana to stop stealing my thunder.

8-)

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mitcoes

CROUTON allows you to use almost all the GNU packages in chroot
you can install xUbuntu and even arch - in a near future, still in alpha - and only with a key switching you have almost all you need.

You can use wine if you want to use Autocad, MS office or Photoshop - perhaps even faster than with MS WOS 8 at this humble hardware.

You cannot use, at this moment qemu, xen or vbox, but with this hardware a native GNU/Linux would not perform well for this virtualization. But you can use all the DOS old programs with DOSBOX or all the old arcades with MAME/MESS or old consoles with Genesis/SNES emulators.

For retrogaming is a great cheap machine

And of course better if they would come with any 64bits GNU/Linux with 4 Gb of RAM and HDDs, but OEMs can do that and the do not, and what is not offered is not demanded - Xandros Eee was retired, and Asus killed its own success,but customers did not buy Eees and replace slow MS WOS for faster Xubuntus or Lubuntus -.

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Fruguy

Although Google can certainly make the claim that Chrome OS can't get a virus, I have evidence that it certainly can get a virus. Working as a remote technical support agent, I had a customer call in with a variant of the FBI virus on his chromebook. The customer was unable to do anything with his chromebook. No web browsing, no Docs, no settings. The only thing he was able to do was open the task manager on it. Much to both of our relief, he could click on the item that referenced the FBI virus and was able to end the task. After a reboot, it had disappeared from the system. The only reference I was able to find regarding the issues was the following:https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/chromebook-central/A164smrv0cA%5B1-25-true%5D

As I was about ready to have the customer do a powerwash, there was one response about killing it with the task manager, and it worked. So, while the virus may have not stayed on the pc after its process had been ended, it certainly points out that Chrome OS is not impervious to viruses and malware, but maybe coated with the computer coded version of Rain-X.

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legionera

Those about lack of hackers and malware are so exaggerated. All system have vulnerabilities that could be circumvent. It's stupid to believe that there aren't any backdoors and ways to steal info. It all comes down to the user's stupidity.

Believe me, I've seen idiots coming to me with "I bought a Macbook because there are no viruses". What are you doing using a computer in the first place if you don't have the commons sense, trust random websites online, and install stuff you don't need...??? Are you buying a computer just to test how vulnerable it is to malware? I haven't heard of a virus in a veeery long time, and the last several times I infected it on purpose just before a fresh install.

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LatiosXT

That's a pretty stupid virus if you can kill it with the task manager.

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Eoraptor

such writers count on the average user not knowing WTF a task manager is. plus, the smaller the virus, the faster it can be slipped in under the radar on even a slow connection,

it's an odds game, as all things hacking are; the odds your target engages in risky behavior, is computer literate, or can recognize warning signs, versus building in counters to each of those situations. sure you can write a virus to disable the six larges AV programs out there, sure you can make it have elevated rights to prevent it being killed by a process monitor. but each of those aspects adds a lot of size to the package that has to be delivered.

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jojoguy10

You couldn't use a Chrome App (such as WeVideo) to manage video editing? It's still no Adobe Premiere or After Effects, but to say there is NO way to video edit, I think might be a bit stretched.

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chriszele

The YouTube editor works on a Chromebook, but it's very limited. If you want to produce semi-professional content there's really no way to do that on a Chromebook. 

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MrHasselblad

No computer and/or operating system is without it's major issues, and Google Chrome has some of them.

Would really like to point all of them out at the present time, but.. Take my word for it and wait until March 12th in Vancouver, when my team and a number of others will walk away with over 100k as we get paid to hack Chrome at CanSecWest.

... Or how about this one; which was still verified as **completely active and usable** on most all Chrome models...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5D578JmHdU

...Or simple search under "Chrome Bug Lets Sites Listen to Your Conversations". This is one of over one dozen major issues with Chrome.

Plus here in america; one has to wonder how widespread coverage is, especially when traveling. Take a look at present day high speed internet maps to learn more.

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germanogre

Ran into the same Newegg problem with my Galaxy SIII, using IE, running Android 4.2 and 4.3.

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doctorsub1

I suppose this would be aimed more at the novice/average user that is not willing to pay for more expensive parts. Why not just get Linux running on a little bit older thin laptop?

Example:
Samsung NP540U3C-A03UB Series 5 13.3" Touch-Screen Laptop
$424.00

For around the same price as a Chromebook and the capability to do more IF you needed to do so.

I still struggled with the idea of Chromebooks as I personally believe they should have this OS available for the public but instead they market it with special keyboards, quick boot, and power savings. You can easily get Google drive for 4.99 a month for 100GB if you want that ability.

Nice Article. I appreciate your point of view and even considered doing a Chromebook myself, alas, I went with a thinkpad and linux.

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Granite

I have a phone and a tablet for the light stuff, but if i can't play my MMO's on it, no laptop is of use to me.

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TheITGuy

Only some people could survive on a Chromebook alone. I am not one of them

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firefox91

As much as I hate to agree with those stupid anti-chrome commercials, you are pinned to the availability of wifi. I have a Dell netbook for when I travel and it is great on the plane or in the car for playing movies saved to the drive. Given the minimal amount of memory on the chromebooks, it is hard to have any decent library of videos to work with.

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Baer

It seems that the only real advantage is price. Survival is not comfort.
With MS significantly cutting the price for WIndows for inexpensive devices (I still can not consider a Chromebook really a computer)and with quite a few people not truly realizing the limitations when they got one you have to wonder what the longer term sales trend will be.
Still, competition is great.

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dgrmouse

I disliked pretty much everything about this article, from the title on down. Seriously, this article is all about whether or not /you/ can survive a chromebook, not /me/. Unless I missed it, the article never even mentions internet speeds - it seems to me that the guy with spotty and slow connections is maybe going to have less fun with this OS than the guy with always-on fiber to the curb. I can understand the authors distrust of being told that a product is immune to viruses, but as a journalist I'd expect him to flesh out what it is that the OS claims to do differently and what vectors he believes are still vulnerable. If you're going to complain about the keyboard on a laptop, shouldn't you also tell us if the device has a full suite of industry standard connectors? Do aftermarket docking solutions still apply here?

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gc

"The C720 comes very close to the Pixel in performance, and its way cheaper at $250. "

Acer C720 16 GB regularly priced at $199 free shipping
if sold and shipped by amazon.
BUT Acer C720 is usually out of stock 90% of the time(cause 3rdparty sellers).

Its available through multiple 3rd Party sellers price gouging the Acer C720 16GB to $247 plus shipping costs. Hoping to trick and confuse buyers.

the 32GB version ( Acer C720 ) sold and shipped by Amazon at = $247 free shipping

I also discovered amazon's Acer C720 product and Acer C720P touchscreen versions are monitored by various 3rd party crew, posing as "helpful customers" posting in comments/reviews hyping the product 24/7.

Buyers Beware. If all possible only buy from Amazon and avoid 3rdparty sellers.

"Finally Google Docs is constantly and conveniently AutoSaving, which is something Word doesn’t do either."

My Windows 8.1 devices auto syncs Onedrive-documents regularly. As soon as the doc is given a file name then saved, it autosyncs to Onedrive(skydrive)

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LatiosXT

What about Chrome apps? Are those supported? I don't use Chrome primarily, but I wonder what sort of added features you could get with Chrome apps. And are PDFs supported in some fashion?

It's looking very tempting to get one of these as a cheaper computer-on-the-go as my tablet is showing its age and my laptop is a little hefty for lugging around all day.

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Innomasta

Unless things have changed, I have successfully opened PDF email attachments on a chromebook

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chriszele

Some Chrome apps are supported by Chrome OS, but others need an X86 Windows PC with Chrome installed to run. 

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John Pombrio

Well written article. Like the Steam Machine, I have issues with a computer that have only a subset of the programs available for full functioned machines. The same goes for tablets.
As long as your needs are few or very specific, then these limited computers will work. When you really need a full powered computer, then you will immediately notice how lacking it is.
A fine example is my sister. She uses her tablet for EXACTLY two things, e-mail and Solitaire, heh. She loves it. Me, I pick it up and immediately notice that browsing the web with that limited screen size sucked wind. To each his/her own.

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chriszele

Thanks for the comment John!