Google Chromebook: Is It For Me?

Welcome to the first of a recurring series here on my Making Technology Simpler blog: “Is It For Me?” I’ll explain a product or technology, then help you figure out if it meets your needs. This week’s subject is the Google Chromebook.

Chromebook laptops
Google Chromebooks (Photo courtesy of

Google Chromebooks are a series of inexpensive laptops with great battery life, strong integration with Google, and little maintenance needed.

Chromebooks use an operating system created by Google called Chrome OS…the whole operating system is basically the Chrome Internet browser that many people use on Windows and Mac computers. The computer hardware is made by companies like Acer and HP.


Here’s another thing that makes Chromebooks unique among laptops: the whole operating system is designed to be used with Internet access, and the hard drive in the computer is tiny.

Google intended for these computers to be used in conjunction with Google’s cloud storage, so photos will need to be stored in Google+ and documents stored in Google Drive. (I wrote about cloud storage here.) With everything stored in the cloud, there’s no need for a big hard drive. The benefit of this is the computer will boot up very quickly.

This reliance on cloud storage has a couple other ramifications. On the positive side, no data backups are needed, since almost everything is in Google’s cloud. And once the computer needs to be replaced, you can sign into your next Chromebook with your Google account, and all your emails, documents, etc. will be available immediately. No file transferring necessary.


On the flip side, you will be limited in what your Chromebook can do without Internet access. You can do some document creation, for example, and the document will save to Google Drive when you connect to the Internet again. Internet access is becoming more widespread, however, and some Chromebooks will allow you to also connect to a 4G network through a carrier like T-Mobile.

Because almost everything you do on a Chromebook involves Internet access, the speed of the computer itself will be heavily influenced by the speed of your Internet connection. If you regularly use a slow connection, be prepared to pay for faster speeds to really enjoy a speedy Chromebook experience.

The other main limitation of Chromebooks is that you can’t install PC or Mac programs on it. So if you really need the full version of Microsoft Office or some specialized accounting program for your work, a Chromebook isn’t for you (unless it’s as a secondary computer). You’re limited to using Google’s apps and others available through the Chrome web store.

Ease of use

Chromebooks are low maintenance devices, partly because they update automatically and Google says they’re very secure and have no need for antivirus software.

Setup is also easy, to the degree that you’re already part of Google’s services. If you already use Google for email, documents, photos, and music, your new Chromebook will be ready to go as soon as you open it and sign in with your Google account.

If you use iTunes for your music and store documents or photos on your current computer, you’ll want to transfer all of it to Google’s appropriate online service before you make the switch to a Chromebook. (And if you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod, know that they won’t sync with music on your Chromebook.)

Remember, third-party apps like iTunes or Microsoft Office can’t be installed on a Chromebook. So you’ll need to use a Google service or a third-party service that can be accessed online (such as Pandora for music streaming or the online version of Microsoft Office).

Is it for me?

A Chromebook might be great for you, if:

  • You use Google for all of your email, documents, photos, media, and calendar (or are willing to move all those things to Google)
  • You have Internet access almost all the time
  • You need a very portable computer with a battery that lasts all day
  • A low up-front cost is important to you

You should probably stay away from a Chromebook, if:

  • You need an application that only runs on a PC or Mac, like Adobe Creative Cloud, Microsoft Office, or iTunes
  • You prefer to store your documents, photos, or media locally (i.e. on your computer’s hard drive)
  • Your computer needs to handle intense tasks, like games or video editing

Have you seen or heard about another device or technology that’s made you ask, “Is it for me?” Let me know below, and I’ll write about it soon.



Should you update your iPhone to iOS 8?

iOS 8
iPhones running iOS 8

Just this week Apple released the latest version of their operating system for iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches. It’s called iOS 8, and it’s a free upgrade for Apple users. Last year’s iOS 7 included visual changes to almost everything; it took a while to get used to. This year’s update looks very similar to iOS 7 and is more of a refinement, adding various features that most people will find useful.

If you’re an avid iPhone user, you’ve probably already upgraded. If you have an iDevice and aren’t sure if or how to upgrade to the newest operating system, I’ll help you out.

CAN you upgrade?

Apple’s official iOS 8 website says eligible devices are the following: iPhone 4S and later, iPad 2 and later, and iPod Touch 5th gen. and later. The biggest missing name from their last update is the iPhone 4, so if that’s your phone you won’t be able to get the newest update[1].

SHOULD you upgrade?

Every time Apple (or similar companies) update their operating systems, the new versions are typically designed to work best on the newest, most powerful hardware available (in this case, the newly announced iPhone 6). So this means that older phones, computers, etc. will run a little more slowly when upgraded to the latest system[2]. This is probably the main reason iPhone 4 and the original iPad aren’t included in this update.

If you have an iPhone 5, 5C, or 5S, any possible slowdown will be tiny, if not imperceptible. I’d say definitely upgrade. If you have the iPhone 5S, you’ll have the option to use the Touch ID fingerprint sensor to log in to all kinds of apps — one of my favorite new features.

Any of the iPads after iPad 2 (such as Air or Mini) should also handle the upgrade without a problem. Definitely upgrade. If your device is one of these, feel free to skip to the next section.

But the iPhone 4S and iPad 2 will run more slowly on iOS 8, and probably noticeably so. Ars Technica has written a couple of good articles detailing what to expect if you upgrade your iPhone 4S or iPad 2.

I happen to use both these devices. I’ve already upgraded my iPhone 4S, and I think I notice various animations being a bit slower (so I actually turned some of them off to help a bit). However, to me the additional features and functions that were added made the upgrade worth the (at times) slower operation.

Another consideration: this is the smallest screen size Apple still sells, and some new features mean you’ll see even less on the screen than before when the keyboard is up.

I’m doubtful I’ll upgrade our iPad 2 to iOS 8. We most often use it for reading books or checking email. I rarely use it for messaging or other uses where new features seem really promising. I’m happy with the way iOS7 works with the ways we use it, and it seems a safe bet that it will also be noticeably slower with iOS 8. Based the Ars Technica article I mentioned earlier, I don’t recommend iPad 2 owners upgrade.

HOW do you upgrade?

Chris Breen of MacWorld wrote a step-by-step guide I highly recommend. I’ll give you the summary version.

First, back up your device. You can either do it on your computer with iTunes or back up to iCloud through Wi-Fi. The iOS 8 install shouldn’t erase anything, but things go wrong now and then. It’s always a good idea to back up your data.

To download the update and install it, you have two options. Download it wirelessly via the Settings app on your device, or plug the device into your computer with the USB cable and upgrade in iTunes.

The simpler way is probably from the Settings app, but if you have limited space on your device, you’ll want to do the install via iTunes. The installation file that’s temporarily downloaded can be several gigabytes in size.

I recommend starting this before you go to bed, because the installation file can take a long time to download depending on your Internet speed. Once it’s downloaded, it may take up to another hour to actually complete the installation.

Once complete, you’ll have to go answer a couple setup questions. For reasons explained here, if you also use a Mac and store files in iCloud, I’d choose “Not Now” when you’re asked if you want to upgrade to iCloud Drive. Do that once the new Mac operating system comes out in a month or two.

And that’s it! If you’re upgrading to iOS 8, enjoy the new features. Again, you can learn more about what’s new here and here.

Have you updated to iOS 8? What do you like or dislike so far?

I’d love to hear from you! Leave me a question or comment about anything below.

1 – Frankly, iOS 8 would probably run so slowly on the iPhone 4 that you wouldn’t want to upgrade anyway.

2 – For the same reason, certain new features in any new operating system won’t work on older devices, even if they’re fast enough to run it without any problem.

Can a Tablet Replace Your Computer?

This blog’s been on hiatus for a few weeks. While I was away from the blog, my wife started another semester of grad school. I’d been getting used to using our computer while she was on break, but now she takes our laptop to campus with her every day.

That leaves me with our iPad as my primary “computer.” I feel very blessed to have a second option to use when our laptop isn’t available. I know many people don’t have access to one computer, much less two.

Microsoft Office on an iPad
Microsoft Office on an iPad (Photo courtesy of

But it reminded me of a question that I’d been thinking about earlier this summer: could I use a tablet as my primary computer? I’ve grown up using computers, first Windows, then Mac, and only within the last couple years have I been using a touchscreen interface on a tablet or smartphone.

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, recently said he does 80% of his work on his iPad. A tablet is considerably cheaper than a laptop with similar power. But to have only an iPad in the house, no laptop, wouldn’t I need to be able to do 100% of my work on the iPad? 80% wouldn’t cut it.

Now, I’d be shocked if the CEO of Apple doesn’t own a laptop (along with every other device the company makes). But he hints at a trend that’s been happening for decades: computing devices have become more powerful while also becoming smaller.

Tasks that used to require a desktop computer can now be done on a tablet, such as writing a report or recording a song. But not every task is doable on a tablet, and some that are doable just aren’t as efficient.

For example, I’m a video editor by trade. While I can do a certain level of editing on my iPad through apps like iMovie, it’s still not comparable to editing on a full-fledged computer. The iPad doesn’t have the storage space for all the video files I use, and the touch interface makes precise edits more difficult than with a mouse.

That’s why, for me, a tablet won’t be able to replace my computer…not yet at least.

So what do you use your computer to do? Watching videos, reading books, writing papers, and sending emails are all tasks that can be done just as well on a tablet as on a computer.

If you use a computer and only do those types of activities, you probably could go with a tablet as your primary computer.

You may find that particular workflows that are familiar on a laptop are not possible or not as easy on a tablet. But I think tablets have caught up to computers on most basic tasks.

One last thought: if a tablet is going to be your primary computer, don’t make a hurried choice. Make sure you try different ones and find the right size, operating system, and power to meet your needs.

Do you use an iPad or another tablet? What activities do you find more comfortable on a tablet than a computer? What about vice versa? I’d love to hear from you below!

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