Last year Chromebook accounted for 20% of all laptops sold to schools. That figure is all the more incredible when you consider the number was just 2% the previous year. What is it about this cheap, low spec’d laptop that schools can’t get enough of?
I’ve been using a Chromebook personally for more than a year, and have been supporting Chromebooks in schools for six months. Our students are using the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook, and they love it. But why? The screen is washed out and dull, the processor is slow, and the build quality is only slightly better than a paper aeroplane. Why, taking into account all of these issues, do they still prefer Chrome OS to Windows?
I decided to ask the people who know best — the students.
Speed is Everything
Both students and teachers said that the speed of the Chromebook was the most important thing to them. From a technical perspective this might seem contradictory — the Series 3 is hardly a computing powerhouse — but despite this the Chromebook manages to get to a log on screen almost as soon as you’ve lifted the lid. Likewise logging in take just a few seconds when compared to several minutes on a Windows machine.
[pullquote]In the classroom, where teaching time is limited, and keeping students focused is essential, the additional few minutes logging in to Windows can derail an entire lesson.[/pullquote]
Study after study demonstrates that a delay of even a fraction of a second between the user initiating an action and it taking effect on screen significantly reduces productivity. In the classroom, where teaching time is limited, and keeping students focused is essential, the additional few minutes logging in to Windows can derail an entire lesson.
Microsoft has been promising that instant boot up was going to become a reality for the best part of a decade, but Chromebook does it now. Windows 8 benefits from a significant speed improvement when starting up, but it’s still not even close to that experienced on a low spec. laptop running Chrome OS.
It doesn’t matter if you have the most powerful laptop in the world if the battery doesn’t last, and this is an area Chromebooks generally excel in. It’s not unusual for our school Chromebooks to get 10 hours worth of use before requiring another recharge.
Battery life is one of those features which changes the way you use a device. When you don’t have to worry about being near a power socket, or continually being concerned that your laptop could shutdown any minute, it adds a level of freedom which most Windows laptops can’t achieve.
Float like a Chromebook
While the Samsung Series 3 is arguably one of the worst built laptops I’ve ever used, it also has a certainly style. Admittedly much of this style is copied wholesale from the Macbook Air, but our students find the design very appealing.
[pullquote]Imagine driving a car which looked exactly like a Rolls Royce, but when you got out the door flexed and wobbled and the bodywork creaked an buckled if you lent on it. This is Chromebook.[/pullquote]
Imagine driving a car which looked exactly like a Rolls Royce, but when you got out the door flexed and wobbled and the bodywork creaked an buckled if you lent on it. This is Chromebook. But it’s this build “quality” which gives Chromebooks two of their most important features — low price, and a feather-light weight.
Hold a Dell Latitude in one hand and a Samsung Chromebook in the other. The difference is night and day. This difference, for our students, changes the laptop from a static workstation to a portable tool. They can pick it up and move around the classroom, share their screen easily with other students, or tuck it away at the corner of the desk to work on something else. This might seem like a minor issue, but for students it makes a huge difference.
Chromebook has become a real boy
As someone who was initially sceptical that the Chromebook was nothing but a fake laptop, and after using one for more than a year, I will never go back to a Windows laptop. My Chromebook has all the features that make the iPad popular — quick start up, reliable speed, great battery life — but in a form factory designed for productivity.
The opinions of the students I spoke with demonstrates the importance of user experience and mirrors the trend we see in the consumer market. Users are prepared to forgo features such as high resolution screens, glass track-pads, touch-screens, and sexy design for a device that gets the job done quickly and efficiently.
And it’s no coincidence that we see a similarity between the features listed above and those found in the iPad. Steve Jobs made the analogy that the desktop computer would become the heavy duty transporter, and the iPad the everyday vehicle that people would drive 80% of the time. It’s this space that the Chromebook fits into.
I wrote this article on a Chromebook with a crappy small screen, a 5 year old CPU, and only enough RAM to open a web browser, but it’s still the best laptop I’ve ever owned. It’s with this type of competition that Microsoft and Windows are simply not able to compete.