25 minutes | Dec 18th 2017

Episode #23: Chromebooks, a small sample size

In this episode, Jim O’Reilley describes his experience in first selecting and then purchasing a Chromebook to replace his PC.  While doing this he realized that the Chromebook may be an ideal fit for nonprofits, both because of the price points, and also because through Google Docs, it is an ideal way to share work products within a group.

Birgit Pauli-Haack provides the technical narratives that allow us to focus on the technical features of the Chromebook.  There are links attached to lead the reader to the online comparisons and recommendations that led Jim to his purchase.

Resources about Chromebooks and more Transcript: Chromebooks, a sample of one

Jim O’Reilley: Hi everybody, welcome to Episode Number 23 of our podcast series for NPTechProjects, and this one is entitled “Chromebooks, a Small Sample Size”. The small sample size is me, can’t be any smaller sample than one person but it was kind of an interesting system that I went through or process and I’m hoping it will be helpful to you, our listeners. Let’s start off, and I’ll be as candid with you as I can about what was going on, why a new computer for me? My current laptop is or was because I’m now working off of the Chromebook, about six years old.

Why a new Computer for me?

It was getting old as evidenced by the fact that when I had a new cable provider come into the neighborhood, the speed on my computer was measured so slowly they actually hooked an ethernet cable up to it in order to try to speed up the process for the computer but it was also slowing down in general. I had been transferring documents and data from probably three other computers as they went through their lifestyle. When I upgraded to Windows 10 I noticed that any upgrades for Windows 10 were taking a long time. In some cases, the computer would actually, since I’d started as I was going to bed at night when I’d get on the next morning I’d find out that the computer went to sleep and I still had to finish the updates.

Starting about three years ago I started using Google Apps as opposed to Microsoft Office or Windows Applications and the specific immediate one was using Google Docs instead of Word. I haven’t used Word now in well over two years and I’ve become very comfortable with that. That’s sort of the background.

So why Chromebook?

First of all, the price is very compelling. For less than $500 you can get a fully operational, fast, modern, computer. When I looked at my actual usage of what I was using my PC for almost everything I was doing was on the internet. That was of course amplified by the fact that I was in Google Docs where everything was in the cloud so that was not an issue to me, I wasn’t doing that much within the computer itself.

Speed. It’s so much faster because there’s nothing to load. You turn it on and it’s on.

Battery life. Because of its size, which is quite small, I was thinking of it that this would also replace my old iPad, which I haven’t used in a while, but instead of buying a new pad of some sort I could use the Chromebook for that place in my technical life if you will. When I looked at the applications I was using everything was available through the Chrome Book.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Well, that seems an unexpected winner in the race.

Jim O’Reilley: Yes.

How do Chromebooks fare in a business setting like a nonprofit organization?

Birgit Pauli-Haack: How do Chromebooks fare in a business setting like a nonprofit organization? Let me ask you this, it’s a rhetorical question of course. Do we know any other institution that is constantly strapped for cash and has limited tech support staff? Yes, US schools.  And Chromebooks have taken on in the schools. The Online Magazine Salon wrote in February 2017,

“Chromebooks share of the US education market was 49% last year, in 2016. That’s up from 40% in 2015 and from 9% in 2013.”

Something is going on and I did a little research in terms of why would this idea also be ideal for nonprofits? Of course, as Jim said, the price point is pretty attractive.

If the nonprofit is already subscribed to the G Suite on Google for Nonprofit that would be ideal because everybody’s then working together on the Google drive, has access to the content together in the folders but also can use an organizational write calendar, it would be there. All the advantages of Google for Nonprofits would be there. What I also find very intriguing is the central management console to manage a group of Chromebooks. If you have a group of 10, 100 or even 1,000 Chrome Books you can all manage them in a central place on the web-based management console where you can pre-install apps for new ones or for new staff or new program managers. You can configure the network and you have a central user administration and you can track all your assets through that web-based console and there’s still remote desktop available, what some people like on Windows. How, Jim, did you decide which Chromebook you wanted to get?

What’s the best Chromebook?

Jim O’Reilley: Well, that was kind of interesting and it created a little bit of a problem for me because the last time I bought a computer I was able to go into a computer store and look at, physically, look at several different computers, different styles and so forth, but and I’m making a presumption here that I’m going to share with you. Because the price point is so low on a Chromebook trying to find a Chromebook in Best Buy can be a little bit of a treasure hunt because it’s hidden. In my case, the two Best Buys that I went to the Chromebooks were sort of hidden in the back, they only had two models on display, two brands; in my case, it was Samsung and HP. The rest of it they said you could order online and they would bring it in and if you didn’t like it they would take it back as a return to the store.

I wasn’t awfully comfortable with the idea of buying online without physically touching, holding, looking at the shiny, new object so that was a bit of a barrier to me. I started reading some of the reviews, and one of the links that we’ll enclose in the show notes is PC Magazine did a review of Chromebooks and I believe there were 10 that they looked at. Different price points, different styles, different sizes and so forth and that was a good place for me to start.

Then, I’d recently heard of Wirecutter, which is a company that does reviews of different kinds of things. I looked at Wirecutter and one of the things that they had was an article that they published. I believe it was published in May of this year, of ’17 and one of the headings was Best Chromebook so I looked it up, I just looked it up online obviously and they had some really good things to say. I’ll just go over a little bit of a blurb about it.

The Asus Chromebook Flip

For an ASUS Chromebook Flip. It says it’s the best Chromebook for most people. It’s fast enough for tab heavy browser work. I have a bad habit of keeping a lot of browsers open.

It provides a full workday of battery life, and I’m going to put an asterisk after that and come back to that with you. It has a small, light body as well as a comfortable backlit keyboard, which is important to me because in my office I’m dependent on daylight. Early in the day and late in the day a backlit keyboard is very helpful and a bright screen is very helpful. Then they make the comment, “Around $500. It’s more expensive than we’d like but unfortunately, all good Chromebooks are expensive right now. The flip feels more like a $1,000 UltraBook than a $500 laptop so we feel it’s worth that price.”

They then go on and they talk about the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook saying that it’s a great, reliable Chromebook but it lacks some amenities like keyboard backlighting and a touchscreen. They’re saying, “But if the ASUS Chromebook Flip is not available you should look at the Lenovo.” My suggestion to you is to look at Wirecutter because they also talk about what is the best if you have a modest amount of money to spend. What’s the best one on a budget? What’s the best medium one, what’s the best one technically?

I thought it was a good overview. It was a good overview for me obviously because I went out and I bought the ASUS and I thought that that was a very good thing for me to do.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: What made you decide to go with the flip one? That’s kind of so you can … It has 360-degree hinges, right?

Jim O’Reilley: Yes. Truthfully, I haven’t even opened it that far yet. I’ve had this computer, by the way, folks, for about three weeks as we’re talking today. Essentially, what it does is it allows you to move the screen to the back of the computer and then it operates as though it’s an iPad or any other device like that. Because it’s got a touchscreen you can operate it completely that way so that’s why the flip. It made some sense. I remember you and I having a discussion about the touchscreen and I was saying, “You know, it’s not so important to me now but when I think about my phone I’m using the touchscreen all the time so maybe it will become important to me.” Anyway, that was that.

What are the differences in working with a Windows versus a Chrome?

Birgit Pauli-Haack: What are the differences in working with a Windows versus a Chrome? The operating system is Chrome OS.

Jim O’Reilley: Correct.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Did you install any anti-virus or any security addition to that?

High built-in Security & Instantaneous OS Updates

Jim O’Reilley: I did not because everything I read said that the data security on a Chromebook, across brands now, is very high and it’s because things are updated all the time in the Chrome operating system. As soon as something becomes a threat, in theory at least and we hope it’s always true, whatever deterrent is available is automatically installed on your computer as are all updates. Updates are instantaneous on this thing.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Wow, that’s fabulous.

Extensible via USB for larger monitor + wireless mouse

Jim O’Reilley: The other differences that I find, and this isn’t just because it’s Windows, it’s because it’s not operating system specific, the screen size is smaller. I wanted to continue to use a large screen that I have at my desk, which I think is probably a 20 or 21-inch screen. I wanted to continue to use a remote wireless keyboard and a wireless mouse and so forth. One of the negatives, if you will, about a Chrome is that they presume that everything that you’ve got will hook into them wirelessly and there are therefore only two USB ports on the computer, and they’re both USB-C, by the way, so anything that you’ve got now doesn’t fit. Anything I’ve got now doesn’t fit so I had to buy adapters and that was a little bit painful because I bought the wrong adapter, one wrong adapter when I bought the computer, for some reason. It’s totally illogical and you’re going to agree with me, I thought my desktop display device was an HDMI and it wasn’t, it was a VGA, so I’ve got this great HDMI adapter that if I ever hook it up to my television set I’m all set.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Okay.

Long Battery Life, except when viewing video, fast reloading

Jim O’Reilley: Then the other thing I had to do was, and I told you I’d go back to battery life, is it says the battery is good for a full workday. Whenever I’ve seen that … You may find it in some other fashion, there’s a little asterisk after that. I had a hard time finding the asterisk until after I had the computer but I have since found it. It essentially says that if you’re watching videos, such as videos on Facebook or videos on YouTube it will consume the battery a lot faster. What I’ve found in actual usage is I’ll turn my computer on a little bit before seven in the morning and sometime around noon I’ll notice that there’s maybe 15% of battery life left.

I unplug one of my adapters, which happens to be the display monitor, plug in the power port and … I’m sorry, power port implies Apple. It’s not power port, it’s the USB from power cable is what I’m trying to say. I almost bought a power port adapter, that’s why I know that that was the wrong term to use for it. It charges up my battery in about 20 minutes it comes back to full charge.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Wow, that’s fast.

Jim O’Reilley: In theory, if I was an organized person, which anybody that knows me knows I’m not, I could just charge it during lunch. It would be fully charged when I came back and it would be all set for the rest of the day. At any rate, so that is my mea culpa about battery life.

Do you always have to be online and on WiFi?

Birgit Pauli-Haack: I heard from Chromebooks that you always have to be on wifi to use it, is that true?

Jim O’Reilley: It is quite true but not entirely true because you can work offline in Google Drive, and therefore you can work offline and then when you plug back in that goes back online and goes up to the cloud and you’re back reconnected.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  How did you make it through the transition from your PC to your Chromebook in your everyday work life or at your retired work life.

Migrating files and directories to Google Drive

Jim O’Reilley: The biggest problem I thought I would have was moving documents from a PC, which were stored in Microsoft Office … In Windows, stored in Windows, I’m sorry. Not in Office but in Windows, moving documents to Google Drive. What I found, and you tipped me off to this, is that if you go into Google Drive in the upper left-hand corner there’s a big button that says new. If you press the new button below that it gives you a menu. One of the menus is to upload files or upload documents.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Folders.

Jim O’Reilley: I’m sorry, folders or files I guess it is, is what it actually says. Well, I thought, and this is what I had feared because I’m just not this detail oriented, was I’d probably have thousands of individual files on my old laptop, but because I could upload folders I could upload a folder and, literally, the first night I said, “Okay. I’m going to upload my documents folder.” I put new upload documents folder and I started to go to bed. As I’m getting ready for bed I’m just curious. I go back and I look at it and it was already uploaded. I said, “Huh,” so I did another one. It was taking less than five minutes to upload a full file folder and these were full file folders. What I thought was going to be a huge detail-oriented task to make sure I had everything turned out to not be that way at all.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Yeah. Well then, your high-speed internet connection that you just got probably took care of that because your computer was fast enough to use it.

Chromebook are ready to get to work when opened

Jim O’Reilley: Yes, and I still had the old one connected to the ethernet cable. It was actually pretty easy. Because it turns on immediately I feel proactive, I’m not sitting there waiting for it to come on when I … What I had been used to is my Windows would come on, my Gmail file would open up but it hadn’t updated since the night before so I’d have to refresh. It could have been a five-minute exercise. I turn it on now and it has refreshed, as I’m waiting for it it’s refreshing and it’s now less than a 30-second exercise.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: You’re not sitting there searching on your computer and waiting til the Windows updates come through?

Jim O’Reilley: Right.  One of my morning habits used to be I’d turn it on, refresh, go get a cup of coffee. Now I bring the cup of coffee, turn it on because it’s already refreshed.

What did you do with your local software?

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Did you have any, and I know that that’s one of the mental blocks for people to go to a Chromebook is, “Well, but I have my local programs that are stored on my computer and where I have a license on.” Did you run into any of those?

Jim O’Reilley: No, I haven’t. The closest I came to it was I had, have Kaspersky on my old laptop and I elected not to move it over so the issue just didn’t happen for me. I don’t think I had anything else.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  You don’t have any Quicken or QuickBooks or something like that?

Jim O’Reilley: No. I do have a tax program but I’ve already checked with them and since I already moved the folder across, the older things are still there and I’ll just download electronically when the new version comes out for 2017.

Amazon WorkSpaces, remotely accessible machines via Apps

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Okay, yeah. Now, we in our office when … I wanted to say robot but the remote. Everybody is now remote and we are using MACs but we had one Windows computer where QuickBooks was installed. We didn’t want it to go, for whatever reason. I know the reasons but it’s kind of because it’s we have multiple companies in that and our accountant doesn’t like it. We were having a hard time figuring out what to do with that local copy and do we still need a Windows computer just for that particular function. I found Amazon Workspaces where you can order a computer in the cloud and then you get an app for your Chromebook or an app for your MAC or an app for your Android tablet or a program for your iPad. Then you can access that Windows computer through these different devices and on the Windows computer you can install whatever you need to install.

I downloaded to the computer a license of QuickBooks that I already bought, the physical license, and was able to install it on the Amazon Workspaces. We will talk about it in our next podcast.

Jim O’Reilley: I’m really interested in learning more about that because I’m sure that at some point in time I’m going to run into a program, process, something that is not designed for Chrome OS and somebody is going to decide they don’t like Google or whatever and I’ll want access to it. That sounds like a great tool.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  It’s a very new service so you hear … Amazon also offers for nonprofits quite a few services so I’m ready to do another podcast but let’s bring this to an end, so you are happy with your Chromebook?

Chromebooks speed up your Computer work

Jim O’Reilley: Yeah, I’m very happy with it. Actually, a very good example is today prior to … Actually, prior to last week when it was the first time I used the Chromebook on a podcast. Prior to that, I would come here with a briefcase that would have my PC. It would have my plugin wire because I didn’t know how long the battery would have to last, my portable or my wireless mouse, and it would take me maybe 10 minutes to set up and then find your wifi connection here. I come in today, I’ve got the mouse and I’ve got the Chromebook. Between the two of them, I’m probably lugging maybe three pounds worth of hardware at this point. Yes, that is a joke.

I turn on the computer and I hit update for my Gmail account, which I have it open up into, and I was up and running, again, within 30 seconds. It had found the wifi, it was up and running and everything was updated and I was ready to go. Yes, I’m happier because it’s new. I like when I drive a new car, I love the new car when I first drive it. I’m feeling the same way about the computer. I really feel like I made a good choice and the more I use it the more I really believe that for a nonprofit that’s got budget restrictions when you’ve got just a few hundred dollars to spend to replace a computer that’s going bad in your office think seriously about the Chromebook. I think you’ll find that you, you’ll feel like you made a good choice.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yeah, I think so, that that’s really something to consider especially when you have to replace more than one computer to get them all on one platform there. All right. Well, if you want to learn more about Chromebooks feel free to comment on our podcast. The show notes are as always nptechprojects.org/podcast. This is the episode number 23 and if you don’t want to leave a comment because it’s too public for you we are happy to answer your emails, podcast@nptechprojects.org. Podcast@nptechprojects.org. That’s it for me.

Jim O’Reilley: This has been Jim O’Reilly and Birgit Pauli-Haack. We’re the co-founders of NPTech Projects, which I forgot to say when I introduced us back at the beginning of the podcast. Have a great time and try a Chromebook the next time you walk into Best Buy or your favorite local computer store.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Thank you for listening.

Jim O’Reilley: Bye-bye.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Bye-bye.