I recently flew with Virgin America, and had an opportunity to check out a Chromebook for the flight. Since the flight was delayed 2.5 hours because of weather in Chicago, I was actually able to give this thing a pretty good workout. At the end of the trip, they asked me to fill out a feedback form; since I spent the time typing it out, I figured I might as well make a blog post out of it.
Overall, not great, but not terrible. I had one of the white Samsung models.
A few comments (mostly critical, and very long; sorry for that):
- THANK YOU for CTRL-ALT-T. Being able to ssh is a big deal for my line of work; I spent a good amount of time looking for browser-based solutions, and finding none (that worked), found a post talking about the text terminals.
- In that vein: no java support? :-( (My first stab at this was an applet-driven ssh client.)
- No support at all for my company's VPN (in this case, it's a Juniper SSL VPN solution). This is a deal-breaker for any kind of travel use for me or any of the professionals I work with, which is a shame, since we do damn near everything online (google apps for email/docs/etc, confluence/jira for wiki and bug tracking, reviewboard for code reviews, remote machines for development; almost nothing runs locally).
- As a current Mac user, the touchpad was jarring; two-finger touch worked, but continuous/intertial scrolling wasn't there. Acceleration in general didn't seem to map well. So, kind of "uncanny valley" in that respect; close, but different enough to feel really weird. (Also, it's been a while since I used a non-Mac keyboard layout; it's really weird that the flower key, which used to grate on me constantly, has become something I miss now.)
- As a current Linux desktop user, I saw a problem that grates on me there as well: terrible font rendering. After using recent Windows and OSX releases, and Linux desktops that have been manually brought into the modern age of typography, it's really rough seeing that kind of rendering on the screen. :-P You're Google, you should be able to cross-license what you need to make this suck less.
- Constant crashing. Had to have happened at least 5-10 times over the course of my flight (plus a 2.5-hour delay). To it's credit, the browser was able to mostly recover my session (although I ended up having to locate my position again in the PDF book I was reading each time this happened). Also, text terminals survived, so I was happy about that. :-)
- Speaking of books: I didn't see anything obvious that suggested that an ebook reader was available...given the competition you have in the tablet and ebook reader space, maybe an opportunity to point out another device people wouldn't have to carry if they had one of these? :-)
- About that 2.5-hour delay: the battery held up wonderfully. I picked it up at around 12:30 PST, and used it constantly the entire time. I closed it for the trip at around 7:15 PST or so, and there appeared to be plenty of life left. Awesome!
- Hardware fit-and-finish: love the big touchpad (but you really should make tap-to-click the default!), the keyboard layout was mostly good (although I kept fat-fingering the arrow keys, and the spacebar was sprung VERY tightly), but the laptop itself was starting to flex considerably (lots of creaking, could actually twist it laterally) and the screen hinge was pretty loose. I assume it's because of the heavy use on these flights, but I have a pretty good idea of what the hardware will be like after a year or so of use.
- Separate bullet point for the screen: :-( The brightness controls were basically a large hammer rather than a fine adjustment, and without adjustable contrast, there was basically only one or two usable settings. Viewing angles were pretty bad as well, and because I'm a big guy, I generally can't look at a screen straight-on when I'm on an airplane without tilting the whole thing at an odd angle (fine for movies, bad for actual work).
- Caps lock by pressing both shift keys? Yeah, discovered that one by accidentally hitting them both, then had no clue how to turn it off (I figured it out, but "Aunt Tillie" would have had no clue). "Search key" instead of caps lock? Seriously? DO NOT WANT.
- Wasn't able to do a proper sync with my google apps account, every time I clicked on "customize" under sync prefs, it looked like there was a quick page refresh (to chrome:///settings/syncSetup) and then bam, back at the same screen again; I assume it's because that was disabled in these models? Would have been nice to have my bookmarks and preferences (I'm a heavy Chrome user on my regular machines).
- Missed the ability to have multiple things on the screen at once. I started suffering from tab-switching fatigue by the end of the flight. ;-)
- Performance was noticeably bad. This is one I have a hard time forgiving: with only a few tabs open (gmail and twitter, specifically), Angry Birds was almost unplayable (it screams on my laptop and older desktop machine) with jittery animation and generally stutters in activity. I noticed this on-and-off in regular use; the mouse would be responsive, but the UI would queue up input, and not respond for several seconds. Frustrating.
So, at the end of the day: not going to pay over $400 for one of these, even for a non-technical family member (who I think a device like this might eventually be good for). At that price, I can get them a nicely-configured Android or iOS tablet with a dock and bluetooth keyboard, or even a decent fully-functional netbook. It was interesting, but felt like prototype hardware and software, not something you'd actually expect someone to buy.
This all sounds very critical, but I'd like to put one thing in perspective: I'm an ops and software dev guy, well outside what I'd expect to be your target audience, and I managed to use this thing the entire flight without once pulling out my MacBook Pro. I worked on code, read part of a book, listened to a bit of music, trolled on Reddit, and kept up with multiple email and Twitter accounts. Of all the points above, only one was a real deal-breaker (the inability to connect to our VPN); the rest are almost all software issues that can be solved over time, with a few fit-and-finish points for your manufacturers.
I expected to play with this as a toy for an hour or so, then pull out my real laptop and get some work done. Instead, I went the entire flight with the MacBook unopened. That's fairly impressive, at least to me.