Chromebook 14: First Impressions

Background

I have been looking to get  a laptop like machine to use as a hackery system. Something I could take with me on travel, and something I could mess up on a regular basis without disrupting my work / personal system. I started with the classic list of laptop criteria: fast, light, thin, cheap with good battery life. Since it was a hackery system, there were a few other requirements. It did not need a CD/DVD and a quick recovery system would be a good thing, and expandability for futureproofing would be good. Yeah right. Since most of us can’t have everything we want, I had to shortlist this to critical items. Most importantly, I needed something I could easily slip in my pack with my primary laptop, had a decent sized screen, and was cheap.

I considered a number of options, and ended up picking a 14 inch HP Chromebook. I really don’t  understand why the exclusive retailer is Walmart, but the package is interesting. It includes:

  • The Chromebook / 4GB RAM / 9 hours of battery life / Haswell processor
  • 100 GB of Google Drive storage for 2 years ~ $5 x 24 (retail)
  • 200 MB of T-Mobile 3g monthly access for 2 years ~ $5 x 24 (guesstimate)
  • 12 Gogo Flight Internet passes ~ $14 x 12 (retail)

At retail, these individual items total up to about $408 + Chromebook (with a retail package cost of $350), and if we assume between bulk discounts and subsidies the add-ons are probably worth about half that, this puts the effective cost of the Chromebook alone at about $150. For that price, it is the best cheap / thin / big screen laptop to fit my needs.

First Impressions

ChromeOS is more than a browser. The user interface is Chrome Browser on top of a Chrome-like window manager on top of a Linux base OS. The factory default mode has no privileged access (root disabled), but full functionality can  be enabled with ‘developer mode’. As far as running a more traditional Linux install, there is a very interesting chroot solution called ‘crouton‘. More on that in a later post. One of the cool features I discovered is that by switching from developer > factory > developer modes I reset the entire OS to default configuration in about 20 minutes from an internal image – which makes for a very fast / low overhead feature for useful hackery.

Overall – I am still not ready to give up my primary / full function laptop, but this is probably the best value in a laptop I have ever bought.

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