Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Chromebooks - a real alternative to a Windows laptop now?

The day before setting off for my week working in Perth, my laptop screen failed.  It tantalised and teased me to begin with, flickering slightly and responding to a "waggle" and the classic switch-it-off-and-on-again approach to fixing anything.

But hours after starting to show signs of problems ahead, it simply died and left me with a laptop that was on and working but with no screen to see what I was doing - unless I plugged into an external monitor.  It's not really an option to cart a 24 inch monitor halfway around the globe so I only had a couple of hours, before the shops closed and my flight was ready to board, to see if I could find a replacement laptop to take with me.

My laptop, a Lenovo X1 Yoga, is my trusted old friend and still in warranty so I really only needed something to work on while I was away.  Our local PC World had a few laptops that appealed but they were all £1500+ and that's far too much to spend when I knew that my own laptop would be repaired by the time I was back.

So... I challenged myself to look at alternatives and browsed the Chromebook section of the store.  Could a cheap and cheerful Chromebook possibly do the job for a week?  Could I possibly live without a "proper OS" ie Windows?!?  The Acer Chromebook R13 looked well built and very cost-effective and only £300:

The Acer Chromebook R13 - click here for a review
Checking to see what software I use all day, every day, I realised that most of it is now web-based or has an online version I could use at a pinch:

- QuickBooks Online is our accounts software
- Alpha Tracker runs our business* and is entirely web-based
- Outlook is available through Microsoft's Office365 website and so work email, tasks and calendar would be OK, and
- Gmail and the other Google cloud tools would sort me out for personal stuff.

Chrome even has a remote desktop feature which would allow me to access my broken Windows laptop (if I left it on in Telford while I was away).  So I rationalised that I could manage with just a web browser for the week and decided to give it a go.

Then I noticed a sticker on the Chromebook and had the revelation... Chromebooks can now run Android apps from the Google Play store! Did everyone else know this and just not me?!  This was amazingly useful - so favourite phone and tablet apps for Outlook, Tasks, Skype... they all install and work perfectly to give an almost-Windows feel and capability.  It should mean that even mobile app development software like the incredible new Alpha TransForm should work perfectly.

So, what's the verdict so far?  Yes, it works just fine!  I'm missing one or two Windows features (like the in-built photo editor, for example) but nothing important.  This has been a real eye-opener and an example of how the Internet and cloud computing is changing the hardware world, too.

*Eagle-eyed readers will be thinking "but isn't Alpha Tracker software for asbestos consultancies?".  Yes it is! But Alpha Tracker is actually end-to-end business management software which works for most businesses, whether they are in the environmental industry or any other - and it works perfectly for us a software company.  Using our own software to run our own business also means that we have a real incentive to fix bugs and improve it each and every day which is great for our users.




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