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Reviewing the $250 Samsung Chromebook as a Developer (travisthieman.com)
71 points by omni on Mar 4, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 46 comments

I received the same Chromebook on Thursday, and also gave Crouton a shot. I pretty much completely agree with this review. Although I've since ditched Crouton and returned to the verified OS, at least for now. Overall the machine and ChromeOS are very pleasant, and I hope this style of computing keeps growing and catches on.

The hardware is very impressive for $250. I especially find the keyboard and trackpad very functional, much more so than many PC laptops that cost 4x as much or even more.

The wifi issues are very annoying, and I suspect they are at the hardware level and probably not fixable. I would have gladly paid another $20-50 or whatever it would have taken to get a better wifi chip in the machine.

Another alternative to Crouton is using dev_install, which is how Chrome OS developers get a decent dev environment going on their machines. I've not yet tried this, but plan to.

I truly hope to eventually find myself using ChromeOS as it was intended and still developing with it. This basically means using something like Cloud9.

Oh and another thing I am finding nice about this machine is it's a great test bed for HTML5 games. The current game I am working on crashes on the Chromebook if I enable sound, I suspect I am loading too many sound files and running out of memory. It's good to have a handy "lower end" baseline to test things with.

EDIT: I forgot to mention, I really wish ChromeOS would let me pin bookmarks to the taskbar. You can only pin apps, not websites.

I might not have bought this machine if I'd known about the wifi problems. I'm in an apartment with eight to ten ssids visible on each channel. My other wifi devices work great, but the chromebook frequently lost connection. As in, lose connection, try-fail, try-fail, try-fail, try-succeed just long enough to load another page, repeat. I've mitigated the problem somewhat by boosting the signal strength (thanks to tomato+linksys-wrt54gl).

Other than that I'm pretty happy with it. I do spend most of my time in the ssh app..

"I do spend most of my time in the ssh app."

Is there a decent VNC client?

Also is this a "real" SSH client like I can X-window forward and share ssh keys or just a "sorta SSH" like I'm better off using ajaxterm?

For portable use I've been using a very old netbook with android-x86 installed for some years now, but I'm not too happy with the (pitiful) battery life and I've used the heck out of it so I'm sure the battery is not long for this world. So its either a new chromebook or something like a new android tablet with a bluetooth keyboard is in my near future. Its probably going to be the tablet/keyboard route unless something/someone convinces me a chromebook would be better.

> Also is this a "real" SSH client like I can X-window forward and share ssh keys

First, I use Google's Secure Shell app [1]. X-fowarding does "work", but (and I'm using the default window manager) the wm doesn't give you access to the window. I just see it briefly. I haven't had problems using ssh keys. Port forwarding options work great.

> Is there a decent VNC client?

If by decent you mean a client not requiring you to hit third party servers, not that I've found.

I'm optimistic about both these problems being fixed, one way or another. If by neither Google nor chrome app, then by installing your own software and switching between x servers.

[1]: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/secure-shell/pnhec...

I haven't had any trouble with the wifi. I have whatever the high-end Cisco 3x3 MIMO router is, and the Chromebook connects flawlessly every time. I also have no trouble on the GoogleGuest network at work.

250$ Samsung Chromebook is the greatest mobile device I have ever owned. I hope they release new version of it every year with 250$ price tag but lighter, smaller, faster and with longer battery life. I will buy that new version every year.

Their goal should be 10h of battery life for this year's model, which would be easily achieved by increasing its tiny battery. Unfortunately, I think they will have other priorities with it, which means they'll have to keep the battery tiny again to cut costs and be able to use the other stuff they plan for it.

If I were to build the next Chromebook, I'd put 802.11ac Wi-fi in it, increase battery life to 10h, use a quad core 2 Ghz Cortex A15 chip, and probably leave the resolution the same for this year (so it doesn't nullify the 50% bigger battery I'd use), but use a higher quality IPS panel. And probably try to increase the quality of the build, too, a bit, as long as it costs me as much as they did last year. I think all of those are doable for this year's $250 Chromebook.

The battery is comparable to that in a macbook air (30 vs 35 Wh).

> Unfortunately, there seems to be no option to change the way apps are opened.

If you right click on an app's icon, you can select "Open as window" or "Open maximized", both of which emulate the traditional model. Unfortunately, maximized apps always feature a pair of floating buttons (unmaximize and close) in the top right corner.

I bought my Chromebook in a desperate attempt to satiate my urge to buy a much-more-expensive MacBook Air, and I'd say it's working.

To be honest, I spend most of my time in the SSH app, but web browsing is surprisingly smooth given the machine's price. The extra-wide (and extra tall!) left control and left alt keys are a welcomed touch, and, like Travis noted, battery life has been better than expected.

The thing I was most worried about was battery life. It must have been a different one where the advertised battery life was 4 hours. 6+ hours for $250 is much more tempting.

The $200 Acer model is the one with the low battery life, in large part because it has an HDD.

You can also upgrade the Acer to a SSD and you might be able to upgrade its RAM.

And its Celeron chip.

Just the other day I connected an external display to my Acer C7 Chromebook and I was able to use both displays just fine (even tried an 1080p video on the external one).

So this problem that you cannot extend the desktop on the 2nd display looks like a device issue, not an OS one.

This is an ARM device - may very well be a hardware or driver issue - hopefully one that can and will be fixed in a software update.

While I haven't tried Crouton, I've been able to get quite a lot of Development work done on my Chromebook thanks to tools like Cloud9. If you opt-in to the dev channel for ChromeOS, updates start coming in much faster (and generally very stable at that).

Thanks for the advice, I'll look into using Cloud9 and the dev channel.

Anybody around running archlinux ARM [0] on it and kind enough to share his experiences and insides?

[0] http://archlinuxarm.org/platforms/armv7/samsung-chromebook

I tried with a usb stick. Couldn't get to bash prompt, think it might be hanging looking for root on an sd card. Since the instructions say use an sd card, assuming it's my fault. Chrooting seems to work just fine..except the networking seems messed up. Can hit ip addresses, but not domain names. But here again, I'd guess it's some dumb mistake that a little rtfm and troubleshooting should fix.

Non configured /etc/resolv.conf. A common issue with chroot setups.

I think a lot of the negative experiences can be avoided if you try to stay in ChromeOS as much as possible.

I think some of the hardware issues are also device-specific as I have an Acer C7, and I haven't run into any of the issues he's mentioned.

The point of the Chromebook is you're accessing everything from the cloud on a thin client. A lot of the personal gains I've found from using my Chromebook is that I'm not setting everything I use up in such a way that I can access everything I use from any computer connected to the internet.

The fact that it's a super-cheap and super-small laptop that's great to travel with is just a bonus.

It does seem likely that the ARM Chromebook is having some device-specific hardware issues, both due to its cost and because it is lagging behind the other devices in terms of getting OS updates.

I don't remember exactly, but isn't there an option to completely get rid of ChromeOS and install ubuntu? Does that work better?

I'm thinking of buying some as gifts, but preloaded it with Ubuntu instead. Is that feasible?

There's ChrUbuntu, which is easy to install but gives a barely functional trackpad, no sound, and a 75% chance of hanging on wake.

Supposedly 13.04 is significantly better, but upgrading is stupidly hard and I've yet to manage to do so (currently trying to figure out how to work around a known bug in Plymouth.) But even then, OpenGL ES may or may not work yet, and unity apparently doesn't work in 13.04.

Those issues have all been fixed (well I never heard of the hanging on wake issue) FYI.


Not in the default (or default-updated) 12.04 ChrUbuntu install, unless something has changed in the last 6 hours.

Also using the Arch files only half fixes the trackpad - using the physical button is still very finicky compared to Chrome OS.

The hang on wake issue I see might be "Auto-suspend/closing lid crashes Ubuntu" in your list, which lists no known fix.

And your workaround [1] for audio is explicitly dangerous with the stock kernel (I know Marcin Juszkiewicz's kernel for 13.04 has a fix so you won't melt your speakers, but it seems ChrUbuntu hasn't adopted it as of two weeks ago)

[1] http://www.whatthetech.info/fixing-sound-chromebook-chrubunt...

I'm running ChrUbuntu 12.04 on an Acer AC700, and I haven't been having huge issues. Right now the majority of my use on the machine is sshing to more powerful machines, TeX-ing problem sets for class, and a very light amount of Django work. I haven't run into any major problems, other than a general slowness of the system that I'm willing to deal with for freedom from my four pound Dell Latitude.

Specifically, I'm not having the issues with the trackpad, the sound, and the hanging on wake. What machine are you running on?

Samsung ARM Chromebook. I'm pretty sure all the issues I'm having are specific to that model; x86 Chromebooks should work better with Ubuntu.

hm... I guess it's not the best idea to repackage it and gift it to people...

Darn. It's fairly cheap and it's stylish. Since some of the people I want to gift to will treat this as a primary computer...

Oh well.

Unity seems to work on 13.04. Using it now on my C7.

>The keyboard has dedicated volume and brightness keys but lacks media player buttons.

A very minor point to take away from the article; but do people actually use the media player buttons on their keyboard? I use brightness and volume buttons all the time; but I do not ever recall using the media buttons on my laptops/desktops in the same way as I would on other media device (phone, mp3 player, etc).

If I wish to switch song on my laptop, I tend to open my media player and select one which I actually want to listen to, rather than be at the mercy of shuffle.

The ability to control your media player without opening its window is great, but you don't need dedicated buttons for that. I've been using global hotkeys for it for years, with the following pretty handy configuration: shift+alt+s for play/pause, q and a for prev and next song, x and c for volume down and up, and z for play random song.

Yes, I use the media buttons constantly, play/pause in particular as well as forward. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

To make this post more valuable, here's a link to the script I use to make it work with Spotify/Ubuntu: http://code.google.com/p/spotify-notify/

I've had the machine since December and crouton since early February after trying Chrubuntu and Bodhi Linux. It has worked fairly well.

I haven't had the Wi-Fi problems besides not wanting to connect to my cell via Wi-Fi tether. And every monitor I've tried has worked.

I have noticed that the chroot can cause the battery to falsely report. Other than those minor issues, it has become a reliable coffee shop coding machine for me.

Did you have to make any changes to get external monitors to work well? Mind going into detail if you did?

My chromebook doesn't suffer from the WIFI issues reported in this article. One key issue with the crosh from a developer perspective is the lack of a copy and paste option. You can't copy content from another chrome window into the crosh terminal. Seriously affects development but then it also indirectly let's you type and remember commands :)

I have no issues using a two-finger tap to paste content into the chrosh terminal.

    Apple offers both matte and glossy finishes on their notebooks
This has not been the case for years.

Non-Retina 15" models still have a matte option.

Do some people actually prefer glossy to matte? I find the use of glossy screens on notebooks bewildering. What's the benefit of having lots of distracting reflections on your screen?

Ah, looks like you're mostly right. They don't do that anymore, but when I bought my MBP in early 2012, I did have the option. I'll correct the article, thanks.

Hrm. I thought they dropped the option in mid-2011.

Maybe they just did an excellent job of convincing him that he had a choice, and funnelling him to the only option available.

A chapter from Henry Ford's playbook

Funny, I just talked to a consumer that called his new Chromebook "useless" due to wi-fi problems; since I hadn't heard of this, I assumed he had a bad router. Being an inherently connected device sure makes this a more showstopping issue.

Sort of sounds broken. I expect $250 devices to work as advertised.

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