Anirudh RegidiJuly 19, 2021 5:14:06 PM IST
I’ve always felt that ChromeOS is from the beginning. An operating system designed for the terrible days of Intel Atom-powered Netbooks, from an era when budget laptops had nothing to worry about doing anything other than exist. But this happened sometime in 2011-12, when Chrome was good but not great when Windows Phone was the thing and when broadband meant 1 Mbps.
In almost a decade, in the world of 4G, I now have the opportunity to experience faster and more modern ChromeOS. We now have applications to play with, faster, more powerful processors and a much more sophisticated, touch-friendly interface. Certain Linux applications are even supported. A lot has changed, but surprisingly not.
What is a Chromebook?
A Chromebook is a laptop that uses ChromeOS. ChromeOS is an operating system like Windows or macOS, but Google designed and focused almost exclusively on the Chrome browser. You are expected to work in the cloud and primarily use Google’s suite of truly powerful web applications. In 2011, this was a problem when Internet speeds were hidden and there was no talk of cell phone data. In 2021, it will not.
Experience ChromeOS in 2021
Overall, ChromeOS isn’t too bad. The Chromebook I use is an Asus Flip C214. It’s a budget, student-centric device powered by a Celeron N4020 processor and 4GB of RAM. It has 64GB of internal eMMC storage that is expandable via a microSD card, a pair of 5Gbps USB-C ports that support charging and a DisplayPort port, a USB-A port, dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 – support as well as a touch screen with 11.6-inch HD + touch screen and pen support.
On a Windows computer, this information would be ridiculous. For ChromeOS, they are a decent entry level.
Since Internet access isn’t an issue, and most of my work has long since moved to the cloud, working in ChromeOS wasn’t an issue. Web apps like Gmail, Docs, and Sheets open up quickly and respond well, and with powerful, image-only editing apps like PhotoPea and Adobe Spark that take care of my editing needs, one of my long-standing complaints with web-based operating systems has been addressed.
File management is quite efficient and better than terrible Files app on iPadOS. It even recognizes the NTFS file system and most files open without any problems. Although not all video formats are supported by default, you can easily use a player like VLC.
Let’s talk about performance
The performance on the C214 is a bit of a mixed bag.
While the interface is fun and you can quickly switch between apps and tabs, there’s a slowness in the system that’s … weird. It’s like the operating system wants to make your bid as quickly as possible, but hesitates to hit every time it has to be made. This is particularly noticeable YouTube.
Double-tap a YouTube window to take it full screen and see the window expand immediately. At the same time, it remains black when the sound is played in the background. Half a second later, the video snaps into place. Fast forward the video by double-tapping the page and you’ll see a quick-rewind animation right away, but the video won’t reach until half a second later.
Basically, it looks like the interface responds immediately, but everything else needs time to catch up. When you perform multiple tasks at the same time, it sometimes feels like you’re queuing commands rather than enjoying real-time computing.
Like I said, it’s a weird kind of slowness and I suspect there’s a guilty clever GPU here. Perhaps more powerful hardware than what the C214 packs provides a smoother experience.
And then there are some weirdos. When using an Android app such as Word, typing is fast and smooth, but make the text bold and you won’t see the effect until you move on to the next line. The window does not follow the cursor, which also tends to disappear sometimes, the text gets strange lines through it, etc. Google Docs however, works well.
Could I live with ChromeOS? Absolutely. Would I like to? No.
Here’s the thing: I don’t care about ChromeOS, but I don’t think it’s evolved at the same speed as PC hardware, Windows 10, and macOS. It is an operating system that still seems to have been made a decade ago. There’s a clear lack of fine-tuning, a weirdness that’s more annoying than charming, and a lack of flexibility that feels like an obstacle.
In the hardware itself with the Asus C214 Chromebook, I am again in two senses about the device. It is designed for young students and focuses on durability, repairability and ease of use. To this end, Asus has succeeded. The Chromebook feels very durable and this is one of the few laptops I’d love to throw on a bed from 5 feet away. The hinge is very sturdy, there is no tendency in the body, and the cheap-feeling plastic is sure to not scratch.
The screen is missing from the color section, but scores with contrast, making the text stand out. The battery life is estimated at 11 hours, and I found the device to easily get me through two hard working days. The keyboard is not backlit, but the keys have a rough, sticky texture, index well, and are comfortable enough to type on. My only real complaint is the speakers, which are only useful in quiet rooms, and in some TV shows, it doesn’t even work.
Overall, the C214 is a decent device and looks like a good option for young students and school use. But then there is the price and limitations of ChromeOS as a learning platform.
Verdict: Make the right compromises
I see two problems in my mind, especially on Chromebooks and the C214 in particular.
First, it’s clear: ChromeOS. ChromeOS is great if you live online, but I don’t think it’s enough as a learning platform. I don’t think ChromeOS can grow and evolve as your child’s IT needs grow and evolve. If your child has an interest in computers, they’ll grow from a Chromebook in an instant, and the C214, unlike the iPad, can’t double into an entertainment hub when its usefulness as praised browsers is obsolete.
Second, there is a price. The pricing of the C214 (Rs 24k) puts it at a striking distance from Apple’s entry-level iPad (27k). While the iPad lacks a keyboard, the iPad basically does everything the C214 can, and does it in a better, and better-built, better-looking package. If you want web apps, you have Safari and Chrome, and at the same time you get a better explored app ecosystem, a better display, a better-designed, more responsive interface, a powerful speaker, faster storage, and more. However, getting a sturdy case and keyboard will raise the price by more than 30,000 characters.
You can also spend more than 30k of smoke and get the power and flexibility of a real desktop operating system like Windows 10 on a laptop with a powerful, 10th Gen Gen Intel Core CPU or 3rd Gen AMD Ryzen APU.
With a budget and student-only devices, the C214 certainly has an argument to make, but I think it’s worth digging a little deeper and spending a little more on either an iPad or laptop if you’re looking for long-term value.