Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Chromebook Experiment: Part I

Today our technology director asked me if I'd like to take home a Chromebook to play around with over the  winter vacation. Of course, I immediately ran downstairs to the tech office to check out the device and start using it. I've become increasingly convinced that Chromebooks are the next big thing when it comes to student devices, and ever since I used one during the Google Teacher Academy I've been imagining how they might change the landscape of my classroom.

First impressions of the Samsung Chromebook:
Dell Latitude and Samsung Chromebook

Lightweight My excitement over having the device for the next two weeks was only slightly dampened by the thought of lugging it home this afternoon along with all the other classroom items I intended to clear out before winter vacation. Of course, the instant I actually picked the laptop up I realized these concerns were misguided. The Chromebook is incredibly lightweight. I was barely aware of it in my backpack as I walked the 3+ miles home. Macbook Air is on notice.

Processing Speed These things are fast. I mean, I knew they were fast. Everyone talks about how Chromebooks, with their SSDs and web apps, boot and load quickly, but seeing this with my own eyes really cemented the significance of this feature. The entire operating system feels as snappy as the Chrome web browser does. My students devote a fair amount of their class time to booting up netbooks, logging into their accounts, opening Chrome and logging into Google Drive, so the possibility of streamlining those processes and giving minutes back to writing and instruction is very appealing (more on this in future posts).

Keyboard The keyboard took some getting used to, as it uses a slightly different layout than my Dell Latitude or Macbook. For example, where my Macbook's lower left corner is devoted to four keys (FN, CTRL, OPT and CMD), on the Chromebook I have only CTRL and ALT. And, as a very keen student immediately pointed out while looking over my shoulder, the Chromebook keys are lowercase, a classy nod to the convention of lowercase letters in URLs. Finally, a nice touch is the top row of keys that mimic the buttons of my browser -- I can move between web pages, reload and minimize the browser all from my keyboard.

GUI When I first used a Chromebook back in October, I found the browser-only interface claustrophobic -- my impulse to minimize Chrome and view my desktop kept creeping up, and the inability to do so was a little frustrating. The desire for a desktop is fading though, as at school we use Drive for all our writing and my students rarely need to open up Word in order to do some writing. I think the change in UI is an issue of familiarity and not functionality.

Battery Life My Chromebook was fully charged at 1:45pm. I spent 3 hours working on the device and another five with it asleep in my backpack, and my battery is still at 50%. The Chromebook literature claims an 8 hour battery life and so far that seems legit.

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