Chromebook Diaries: Learning to work my way around Chrome OS
“Its based off of Android,“ I told myself. “How much of a learning curve could there be?“
One of the biggest hurdles for me in giving Chrome OS a try was the realization that have to adjust the way that I work around the interface. I thought that maybe because Chrome OS was somewhat, tangentially related to Android — or, at least, because it came from Google — that Id quickly catch on to its mechanisms. Well, based on my current experience, I can tell you that isnt the case.
Im also facing a bit of a learning curve with the hardware of the Chromebook Flip, since Ive spent most of my laptop life armed with something from the Apple Store. Despite some of the familiarity of the menu screens and services that hook directly into Chrome OS, its a new beast Ive yet to tame.
A new way of life
I know, I couldnt be more dramatic. But Chrome OS isnt Mac or Windows, which Ive used thoroughly and through so many iterations. Im familiar with their nuances. I can recall their commands by heart, or diagnose them if something goes awry. And even though this is a column about trying new things, the truth is that I fear change, especially when related to my tech life.
The Flips slightly sluggish trackpad is noticeably slower compared to Apples MacBook Pro.
My first order of business was to set up my Chromebook so that I could easily file a story here without being slowed down by the Flips slightly sluggish trackpad, which is sort of disappointing considering how much I spent for the laptop. Even with the sensitivity setting set to the highest point, the actual tracking is choppy, especially compared to the smooth fluidity of the trackpad on the MacBook Pro. Say what you will about Apple, but the trackpad is what keeps me buying Cupertinos pricey hardware. Thankfully, theres a touchscreen display as backup when using the trackpad is absolutely maddening, but my work flow is primarily centered around using the mouse. I cant even use my Logitech MX Anywhere mouse because the Chromebook doesnt have USB. (To that end, anyone have a suggestion for an affordable Bluetooth mouse?)
The trick to Chrome OS (I think) is to equip yourself with the right apps from the get-go, so I went on an app hunt. I found a viable text editor called Text that I could use to open text files from my Dropbox, and I downloaded Microsoft Word for everything else. (I use Grammarly on the Chrome browser to help me along with grammar and spelling errors once Im in the CMS. Writing is a multistep process!) Then, I grabbed Snapseed and Adobe Lightroom from the Play Store to help with images.
The Chromebook Flips soft, almost velvet-y keyboard is a nice writing companion.
The writing part of my job — thats easy to do on a Chromebook. You have Google Docs, a variety of text editors, and Microsoft Word readily available. The Chromebook Flips soft, almost velvet-y keyboard is also a nice writing companion, and I can honestly say this is the most comfortable hardware Ive ever typed on. The hard part is editing photos.
I dont have any USB Type-C compatible USB plug-ins (ike these from Anker) readily available, so I grabbed an SD card adapter I had laying around with a 64GB microSD card on the inside. I used that to snap pictures with my DSLR, and then popped out the microSD card and placed it into the Chromebooks built-in card reader. The files were easily viewable with Chrome OSs built-in file explorer, but it was there that I stumbled a bit.
I wanted to edit the photos — you know, make them look good. My usual process on a Windows or Mac machine would be to edit in Lightroom, and then open it up in Photoshop to crop and save for the web (Im sure you have an easier way of editing photos, but this has been my process for almost five years and I dont plan on changing it now). But on Chrome OS, I couldnt even open the photo in Lightroom. Apparently, Lightroom does not inherently offer SD card access on Chrome OS just yet, so theres a huge limitation to downloading it from the Play Store and attempting to use it as the default editor.
I ended up editing the photos with Adobe Photoshop Express and Snapseed — the former for basic editing and the latter for specific image tweaks. Uploading it to the CMS was fine, too; I do everything in the Chrome browser as it is, so that experience wasnt drastically different.
The point is this: There is always a bit of a learning curve with something new, even if its mildly different than what youre used to. But the nice thing about Chrome OS is that it does hearken back to Android. The pieces that unify the Google products are all there, but like the Android experience, its up to the user to put in the initial time to customize things and install the right apps that will help initiate a certain workflow.
On my quest to find a worthy text editor — I should have just asked Jerry — I learned that typing in
data:text/html, <html contenteditable>will bring up a text editor inside the Chrome browser. Neat.
The trackpad on this particular Asus Chromebook Flip is almost…horrendous? I know, thats a strong word, but I grow increasingly frustrated trying to use each day. Yes, yes, I have a touchscreen, but sometimes I just want to use my laptop as that — a laptop.
Someone asked me if Id buy a Chromebook over a standalone Android tablet, to which I responded “absolutely not.“ The thing is, the Chromebook will fit a very particular role in my life, and thats to be my mobile filing machine. Its a bonus that it flips over into tablet mode, and it makes things like digital journaling and playing some Android games feel second nature. But its still a weighty computer and you cant cuddle with a Chromebook the way you can with a tablet. I mean, you can, its just different. You know what I mean?
To that end, do consider a 2-in-1 if youre considering a Chromebook. Having that tablet functionality is AWESOME and makes life with the computer much easier because of its malleability.
Chrome OS does have split screen! I use this feature constantly on Windows, and Im happy to see that theyre here, too. Theres even a handy shortcut for pinning: its ALT + [ or ALT + ] for each corresponding side of the screen. Split screen mode cant be used when you flip into tablet mode, however.