Chromebooks……Now there is a word that you either love or hate, and for the past few weeks, I have tried to get my head around the pros and cons of Google’s venture in to the personal computer market. Regardless of what Microsoft or Google might want you to think, the device does have some good points as well as some not so good, but we will get to that later.
Thanks to a friend loaning me his Samsung Chromebook, I’ve tried to form an opinion from a consumer’s view point.
The Samsung 303C Chromebook looks the business with a nice silver finish and a matt black keyboard embedded into the case. The plastic feels reasonably sturdy considering how light the device is in general. Almost all the ports are located at the rear of the device, aside from an SD card slot and headphone jack. It is understandable why, as the device is so thin the rear is the only part thick enough for the usb ports to be installed. The results are some awkward fiddling when you’re wanting to swap between usb devices.
Surprisingly Samsung opted out of using an IPS screen on the series 3, instead choosing a cheaper, more common, low resolution TN 1366 panel. Likely a move to keep the device affordable, which an IPS panel would not have done. Using the Chromebook I found the viewing angles to be annoying and the colour quality poor, blacks appearing slightly grey and other colours generally washed out. Turning up the brightness only worsen the effect and after a few hours typing, I began to develop eye strain. This might have been ok in 2005 but in this age of high def video and IPS screens. I have to confess the screen was my main niggle about the device.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The unique trackpad finger gestures took me some times to adjust to, but after a day or two i found them very handy. Especially the two finger tap, this is a feature i could easily get used to. I’d recommend familiarizing yourself with all the gestures to get the most of of using the ChromeOS. The keyboard is reasonable, I found myself instantly at odds with the absent caps lock key, which has been replaced with a search button. Fortunately you can reassign the button back to acting as caps lock. A friend was surprised I actually missed it, did i really still use it while typing? Apparently yes, more than I had realised, so when it was gone my typing feng shui was totally out of whack.
Every application you use on the ChromeOS is run via the web browser, be it a word processor, paint package or game. I have to say I was dubious how good this would be and was surprised to find it worked pretty well. Google Docs runs really well and for blogging I would say makes an excellent word processor. This entire article has been written using the Samsung Series 3 in an effort to test how good it was for writing. While it won’t be replacing my iBook G4 anytime soon, I can honestly say it has not been a bad experience. Google Docs and Spreadsheet applications will suit your average user, but if you’re used to macros and the more advance features of applications such as Office, you will probably find it severely restrictive.
Gaming on the other hand was a hit and miss experience, but I never really expected it to be Call Of Duty. The vast majority of games I tried to play, redirected me to websites offering all manner of jewel, crystal, bubble puzzle games with one or two genuine retro arcade offerings, such as Pacman or Mario. This would have been fine were it not for all the adverts, like most websites they are filled with inline advertisement and popups. some of which are targeted advertisements sourced from my google browsing habits. Which feels uncomfortably big brother to me.
This is also one thing which is worth touching on, the apps in the app store really should be apps. The biggest failing i found for the ChromeOS was that the vast majority of the apps I installed, were simply web pages and not Chromebook specific applications. Most of the time these links would lead to a web page informing me that i did not have the right plugin installed, the most common of which being the Unity plugin. When I saw “Iron Man” in the apps store I got excited, believing I would be flying around as Tony Stark. What a disappointment when it turned out to be yet another link to a unsupported Unity game. While Google has provided users with its main staple applications such as Maps, Calendar, Docs, Spreadsheet, Play Music. There is room for improvement if Google wishes to impress the average user.
Plenty of websites I visited over the past few weeks made comparisons between the Samsung Series 3 and the Apple Macbook. In my opinion this is a bad comparison and sets peoples expectations of the device on a bad footing. So we are clear, a Chromebook IS NOT A MACBOOK nor does it perform like one.
For a sub £200 netbook the Samsung Series 3 offers plenty to people who spend a lot of time surfing, working or socialising on the internet. The best way to imagine a Chromebook, is to think of it like a tablet with a keyboard. Now I want you to remember that tablet with keyboard analogy because it will crop up later.
Unlike the Android operating system found on many tablets, you will be hard pressed to find the bells and whistles of Google’s flagship. The ChromeOS is basically the Chrome web browser integrated with a lightweight linux kernel. Unlike Mac OS, Microsoft Windows, Linux or Android, the operating system is minimalist. I read one review which tried assuring readers that the ChromeOS is like Windows. In a sense, yes it is, in the same way a go kart is similar to an automobile. They both have wheels and an accelerator to make them go. If you are familiar to the chrome browser you will likely find using a chromebook pretty straight forward. However If you’ve been using computers for some time the transition might not be so seamless. Many of the features we take for granted on our desktop computers are not to be found in the ChromeOS. Some of the things I struggled with over the past weeks were:
- Printing a document
- Playing my music or movies from a networked device
- Sending a file from my chromebook to someone elses computer in the same room.
Printing with a Chromebook can be done, however it requires that your printer is new enough to have Google Cloud Print or that you have Chrome installed on your main PC. Using Chrome (on your desktop PC) you then set up a share your printer and chrome, so that your chromebook can access it through your main computer via your network. Needing this second computer is not exactly friendly on your electricity bill, but it gets the job done. You sadly you can’t plug the printer in to the USB port and print directly like a normal computer, this literally is a “net” book. The device depends on your having a wireless network, otherwise it becomes a pretty useless device. I appreciate why some websites might feel inclined to write pro google reviews, but lets not get delusions of grandeur. A Chromebook is not a desktop replacement, not to the general home consumer at least.
Sadly because you are restricted to working through a browser, the Chromebook does not support SMB or UPNP shares without third party software. Even if you can access shared networked storage, the Chromebook does not have the ability to play MP3 or Divx files through any sort of file browser. Whether Google will address this issue is anyone’s guess, as the device is aimed at the internet, it is probably unlikely that network sharing with Windows or Apple devices is at the top of their list. For now the only way I found to exchange files with someone was via Dropbox, Google drive or email. Ok, that is how Google wants people to handle their data, however if you’re in a room with a friend and trying to exchange photo’s from last nights party. Having to upload and download the data seems time consuming, not to mention a pain if you have a limited data allowance on your broadband connection. The only way around this is using a USB pen or SD memory card.
Appealing To More Than One Market
Markets that might find the Chromebook appealing are the education and corporate sectors. Chromebooks offer cloud storage and data backup, a sandbox environment that prevents malware and viruses reaching the system, no OS license fees and low cost. Because the ChromeOS runs applications via a web browser, applications can be written and run through the browser without needing to be install on each and every computer in an office block. In schools, teachers could write up lesson material for students to access easily via a web page. It is easy to see how such a device would be appealing to organisation looking for low cost computers that require a minimal amount of work to setup. In addition any company that is tired of renewing their anti virus software or keeping on top of operating system updates, may find Chromebooks a cheap and appealing alternative to Microsoft Windows and Norton Antivirus. Damage your Chromebook and you can replace the device, log in and all of your files will be there, provided you have stored them online.
Are They Worth The Money?
Chromebook sales are on the up, but will it become the sell out that Android was for the tablet market? Your guess is as good as mine. The devices are quick, secure and reasonably cheap but really they don’t offer much more than that. Google intention is for the Chromebook to be that third device in the house. While it does not replace the main computer, it offers a little more than a tablet when it comes to writing up that essay for school, blogging about your holiday or updating everyone on Facebook about what you had for dinner. This wouldn’t be ByteMyVdu if I did not point out that all of these things could just as easily be achieved on an old laptop bought from ebay or Craigslist. Even working within a budget of £20 to £80, you could pick up an old Windows or Apple laptop. An example would be the G4 iBook 1.33Ghz which I use to write articles for this blog, I certainly find the screen easier on the eyes.
Out of all the articles I have read while trying to research these devices and drawing on my own experience this past week. There was one article by Melissa Riofrio that I truly agree with, who hit upon something which totally clicked. Who would I give a Chromebook to? Most likely someone to whom computers are a mystery, the sort of friends who constantly fill their hard drives with apps that promise to optimise their computer or protect against spyware, while doing the exact opposite. People who want the ease of a tablet with the functionality of a laptop computer with a keyboard and mouse for email and surfing. See didn’t I tell you the tablet and keyboard analogy would crop up again?
The ChromeOS may not suit us techies, but to the not so tech savvy it offers a real alternative to a full blown computer. Especially if all you are wanting is something for surfing the internet, send emails or order that Friday night takeaway.
PiHub By Pimoroni
As some of you know, I dabble on an off with the Raspberry Pi. As a casual user, I use my pi mostly for playing with linux and the odd gaming session. The Pi is a fun little computer, so long as you don’t expect to much from
it. As an indie games platform it offers a lot of fun, so much that I have even felt myself being drawn to writing a program on the tiny computer.
Anyone who has used a raspberry pi for any length of time, will know that cables can soon start to mount up. It’s amazing that such a tiny computer can take up so much room. The RPi can work fine as a stand alone computer, but start adding a wifi dongle, keyboard, mouse, USB memory stick, card reader and suddenly you’ve run out of USB ports. There are solutions to get around the RPi’s two usb ports, but none of them are simple or straight forward as buying a powered USB hub. First and foremost if you buy a hub for your RPI, you have to get one that comes with its own power supply.
On early models of the RPi, the USB ports were fitted with polyfuses designed to protect the tiny computer from devices that might try and draw too much power, such as external hard drives or web cams. Later models did away with the two fuses and now the RPi has just one fuse. While the latest design has improved matters, you are still stuck with just the two ports which is where a power hub like the Pihub comes in, alleviating your power woes and freeing you from two port hell. The Pihub is the creation of Pimoroni, the UK company that also brought us the Picade. Their website offers supplies to a wide audience of tinkerers, modders and electronic hobbyists. One of their recent offerings to the RPi community was the Pihub, aptly named as the housing of the Pihub is in the shape of the Raspberry Pi emblem. Adorned with green leaves and red berry colours, as hubs go it is by far the cutest I’ve seen. The case is but one cool feature of this little device, and the hardware inside is pretty impressive as well. When buying your Pihub, you have the option to opt-out of buying it with the accompanying power supply. While this might seem like a good way to save money, I would recommend spending the extra money for the PSU as it is well worth the money. Rated at 5.2 volts and 3mA/h, it is more than capable of powering the RPi along with anything else you might want to throw at it. Struggling with external CDROM drives and USB hard drive are a thing of the past.
Unimpeded by polyfuses like the RPi, the Pihub offers the full USB 2.0 package, with a multi TT (transaction Translator) chip for bringing USB 1.1 devices in line with the high bus speeds of USB 2.0. Some devices use only
one TT chip, sharing a single 12mb/s data channel amongst several USB ports, which can significantly impede your performance and lead to a bottle neck effect, unlike the Pihub which has been designed to provide high performance. Designed with 4x USB ports, one of which is specifically engineered to power your Raspberry Pi
computer. Providing a dedicated 1.1 Amp supply, it means no longer needing two separate power supplies, you can run everything from just the one psu. For me this is a massive selling point because I found the increasing number of bits i needed for my Pi really annoying. My desk has been turned from crazy cable jungle to almost down right respectable. While yes, powering the RPi from the Pihub does mean your taking up one of the ports. You’re still left with three full USB 2.0 standard ports as well as the spare port on your RPi. Overall I think the trade-off it worth it.
Speaking with Paul Beech from Pimoroni, he informed me the Pihub had specifically been designed with high quality chips to guarantee 100% compatibility with the RPi. This is no doubt due to the number of cheap hubs on the market, that are less then RPi friendly. In an odd turn of events, I actually observed how compatible the Pihub really was in general. After plugging my wifi dongle and mouse in to the Pihub, I connected it to a Windows XP machine. On booting, XP didn’t even ask for drivers, instead logged me straight on to the local area network through the wireless adaptor. I’ve seen few hubs work this seamlessly. High praise has to go to the chaps at Pimoroni. In conclusion, the Pihub is well worth the £20 if you’re on the market for a decent usb hub for your RPi or PC in general. 10% of profits are given back to the Raspberry Pi Foundation, who use the money to help educate future generations of geeks.
Till next time, keep on geeking!
The Pihub can be found via the Pimoroni store at
In a recent update you might have seen I had bought two new games for the original Xbox; Robocop and Dungeon & Dragons: Heroes.
One of these games turned out to be a great buy, while the other one was a massive let down. Can you guess which was the winning game? Well if you where wishfully hoping it was Robocop, you’re bang out of luck. Seldom have I had the misfortune to play a game so full of promise, which instead manages to disappoint at every opportunity. I would even go as far as to say ET on the Atari 2600 is better, purely for the comic value. Yes that’s right, you heard me invoke the name of ET!
Produced by Titan Software, Robocop looks like it has the potential to be a good game, that is, until you boot up the Xbox and take one glance at the menu. The options are sparse and the music is, well, terrible. It reminds me of an old 90s dance tune. I would highly recommend anyone to select the inverted controls before attempting to play a level. I’d say it makes the game easier to play, but then I’d be giving the game more credit then it deserves.
The games comprises of eight levels, each made up of sections Robocop must traverse while attempting to complete his primary and secondary objectives. The levels in Robocop are huge, and I mean ridiculously so. It can take up an hour just to finish one level and that’s if you know what your doing. This might be bearable were it not for the fact the game does not have mid level saving. So the only way to save your progress is by finishing the whole level. It is almost unthinkable why the developers did this on a console fitted with a hard drive. Back in the days of the NES, Amiga it was common practice, but then levels did not take a mind-numbing 50 minutes to complete.
Now a word on the levels. As I’ve already stated, they are annoyingly extensive. They are also teeming with bad guys with terribly AI, who are armed to the teeth and take 6-8 shots to kill. Ammo is always in short supply, add to this the fact Robo’s weapons, of which he has 3-4, are pretty feeble. You’ll find yourself dying a frustrating number of times. Enemies also have the unfair advantage of shooting through walls and being able to shoot from jokingly long distances. Who needs a hunting rifle with night scope, when you can pop off shots with a pistol from half a mile away? As I mentioned the AI is laughable, play Halo or Ghost Recon and then play Robocop, you will feel the urge to laugh and probably cry. Another factor to the levels is the difficulty, which goes from passable on level one, to absurdly hard on level two, which also happens to be the biggest level of the entire game. You will be confronted with a limited supply of ammo which is dwarfed by the number of enemies that are scattered around the environment. Half of your time will be spent trying to find ammo or energy, yes Robocop is no longer impervious to bullets like in the movies. He now must replenish his energy at regular intervals. I can understand the logic behind this, I really can, an impervious Robo would be like running around with the cheat mode permanently switched on. However the balance of enemies vs supplies is tipped against the players favour even in easy mode. I played Robocop for several days to prepare for this review and I assure you it was a struggle. I found myself torn between my love for Robocop the character and wanting to find some good in the game and the fact the game sucks.
I’m not even sure it is worth covering the sound effects, which are terrible (big surprise!). You will be treated to some of the most cringe worthy one-liners. With Robocop uttering such unfamiliar phrases as “Oh yeah” and “Bullseye” the voice acting for Robocop is terrible. From what I gather it was done in house, with the developers lending their voices for several if not all the characters. Like the rest of the game, the sound is just appalling.
The graphics are sadly nothing to get excited about, resembling something that would look more at home on a Sony Playstation 2. For the original Xbox they are surprisingly bland, colourless and poor. Levels suffer with video glitches, flickering and characters becoming trapping inside walls. Robocop has several view modes, one of which is the almost completely useless thermal vision. In theory it gives you the ability to see enemies through walls, in practice is barely comes close to performing as intended. Half the time it will not show anything useful, leaving you to stumble across enemies.
Playing Robocop is an exercise in futility, which leaves you feeling annoyed, frustrated, and betrayed. Mostly because the box cover looks deceptively good, leading you to think the game will be as well, that is until your take it home and try playing it on your Xbox. Ten minutes in and the illusion evaporates faster than water on the pavement during a heat wave. This is one game to neglect from you collection. Playing it will result in the overwhelming desire to throw your controller at the television. So my advice would be to not play it, or buy a back up TV.
Yesterday I picked up two games for the original Xbox.
Dungeons & Dragons:Heroes and Robocop. After looking
online, I’m not expecting much from the latter, movie tie-ins
rarely work well. As the Xbox is now very much a retro console, it
seems only fitting to do a review on the good and not soo good
games of the original Xbox.
Anyone who visits ByteMyVdu regularly, will have noticed by now, that I have something of a soft spot for vintage Apple technology. Not that the new stuff is bad, its just pretty expensive and well it’s not old or obscure enough to feature here on ByteMyVdu.
Several weeks ago while doing a spot of cleaning, I found my 1st Generation Ipod hiding away in the back of a drawer. I had all but forgotten about the thing, having taken to using my phone for playing my music while on the move. However finding the Ipod gave me an idea. Would I find it easier to use the Ipod then my phone for my general music needs? I have to admit I do tend to avoid abusing the MP3 player feature on my phone, so I don’t end up draining the battery.
After three hours on charge, the Ipod displayed “Charged” on its little LCD screen. By now, the original batteries in most 1st Gen Ipod’s are well past their prime. I knew mine would at least hold some charge, as I had replaced it only a couple of years ago. Thankfully I discovered the battery held enough charge for a couple of days use. Long enough for me to perform my little experiment.
As I still use an upgraded G4 Pismo as my backup blogging machine, I pretty much had everything I needed to get the Ipod up and running again, e.g iTunes and a Firewire port. After a couple of hours syncing the Ipod with my music collection, I was rocking and rolling, if you’ll pardon the pun ;-).
Getting A Feel For It
The first two days went by smoothly, I found I was listening to more of my music in the car then usual. Normally I stick on whatever album I have in the car. Now with the Ipod at hand, I was able to bring more of my music with me, without filling the car with CD’s.
Job’s really was right with his “Thousand” songs in your pocket, the Ipod really did doom portable CD players and later CD’s as a viable medium.
Another aspect to using a 2001 Ipod, which I found gratifying, was the presence of hardware buttons and a scroll wheel. In an age of touch screens, it was refreshing to have physical controls for a change, there is something to be said for tactile feedback. As humans we spend our days interacting with the world through sight, sound and touch. Through repetition and muscle memory, I personally believe physical buttons permit a degree of dexterity which touch screens have yet to achieve. Before my first touch screen phone, I could text a friend on my Sony Ericsson, while only glancing at the screen. This was solely because I knew the feel of the phone’s keypad by heart.
Players Old And New
Compared to the Sansa Fuse+ I had bought a year ago, the 2001 Ipod feels vastly easier to use. The user interface is smooth and easy to navigate, this is primarily due to its intuitive layout and simplicity. Whether we have Steve Jobs and his passion for perfectionism or inventor Tony Fadell to thank for this, is really anyone’s guess. What cannot be denied is that together they invented a groundbreaking product, which would eventually lead to the invention of the iPhone and iPad.
The first two weeks really were very interesting, as I noticed a change in my habits. Perhaps it was the novelty of using the Ipod, but I was listening to more of my music. Ordinarily the only time I get to listen to my CD’s is on my stereo or in the car. So getting through them can take a while. The process of choosing which albums I wanted to import, forced me to think about what I was listening to. Unlike the ‘on mass drag and drop’ I usually do with my Sansa or phone with my main PC. The Pismo has only a small hard drive, so I had to pick and choose which CD’s I wanted to import. Did I want more classical music over 80’s pop?
While on the subject of importing music, am I the only one who finds it amusing, that Apple call it “importing” while Windows media player refers to it as “Ripping”?
Working within a confined storage limit really improved my playlist, whittling out music I thought I wanted, but never ended up listening to. The original Ipod has a 5Gb or 10Gb internal hard drive, mine however has a 15 gig drive. As the original drive failed and I replaced it with one bought off eBay. Compared to newer models, this is admittedly small but still how much music can you get through in a week? In two weeks I had not listened to all the albums on my Ipod’s hard drive.
The one thing I might pull the original Ipod up on, is its weight. At 192 grams, the Ipod is 68 grams heavier them my phone. Comprised of an acrylic fascia and metal rear shell, the majority of the weight boils down to the internal drive and lithium battery cell. I know some of you will be rolling your eye’s at me and thinking “68 grams, man that’s nothing!” but 200 grams in your pocket along with what ever else you have in there, will make your coat feel heavy. When I go out, I’m usually carrying:
– House keys
– Mobile Phone
– Car keys
Hmm I’m beginning to see why I own three messenger bags, aside from the fact one of them has Pac-Man on it. I can’t really berate the Ipod too much for it’s weight. When you think about the technology available in 2001, it really was cutting edge. There is a story told, that when Steve Jobs was presented with the first prototype of the Ipod, he said it was too heavy. Apple engineers explained the complications of designing the Ipod and that it simply was not possible to make any smaller. After a short pause, he walked over to a nearby aquarium, leaned over and dropped the Ipod in the water. When the Ipod hit the bottom of the tank, bubbles came out of it and rose to the surface.
“Those are air bubbles,” he snapped. “That means there’s space in there. Make it smaller.”
So Much For Smooth Sailing
On the third day, I was travelling in the car with my girlfriend, who is not particularly keen on Apple products. She was using the Ipod to select some music to play in the car. Simple enough you would think, except it wasn’t. In fact on her first attempt she was able to lock up the Ipod, which could only be recovered with a hard reset. I’m convinced the Ipod was picking up her negative vibes and decided to be grumpy. Later in the day it froze once more, which is when I decided something was wrong. I previously used the Ipod on my Windows PC, so it was formatted in the Fat file system. I decided to perform a restore via iTunes, returning the Ipod to a native Mac OS format. This is when I discovered another problem. Since Apple made the move to the Intel chipset, they have dropped all support for PPC hardware. The latest version of iTunes for the Pismo running Tiger, is 9.2.1, as such it will not connect to the iTunes store or even the update servers. Something I needed if I wanted to restore my Ipod.
I could feel doom looming over my venture to bring back my trusty Ipod, how could I restore my device without a connection to the iTunes server? That’s when it struck me, had Apple ever offered the firmware restores for download? Not everyone had the internet back early 2000, surely Apple took those people in to consideration. As it turned out, they had and after an hour looking online I was able to find a copy of the file I needed “Ipod20060628.dmg”.
The Ipod updater supports six different devices and not just the 1st Gen Ipod scroll. So if you own an original Shuffle, Mini or 3rd Gen Ipod, this download might be of some use to you. After running the utility, the Ipod rebooted, formatted now in a Mac OS file system, iTunes quickly detected the device and asked me if I would like to set it up. It could be my imagination, but I found synchronising 5-6gb of music through firewire went much faster then over USB to the Sansa Fuse. Part of the slow down could be due to the speed of the SD card I have installed in the Sansa. Firewire was a short lived feature of the first and second generation Ipod’s, with Apple opting for USB in later models. The switch had other benefits, such as a proprietary 30-pin connector. Which opened up the door for manufacturer to design a variety of custom speaker systems which the later Ipods could dock with.
One Month later
I’m still using the 1G Ipod and I think I will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. It saves me from draining my phone battery and syncing my music with iTunes is painless, the only problem I can see will be filling my Pismo’s hard drive with music. I have plans to eventually replace the internal drive of the Pismo with an solid state drive, so we shall see how that works out. I also need to buy a new lithium battery, as I’m only getting a maximum of two days use from the Ipod, when really the device should be lasting a week before needing a charge.
For the vast majority of people, carrying an Ipod in addition to their phone is too much hassle. Your typical smart phone does a good job doubling as phone, camera and music player. If however, like me your battery conscious or one of those people who like using a phone as a phone and nothing more. A personal music player is probably still a useful tool to own. This past month has proved to me that while the 1st gen Ipod might be considered an old timer, it is still a useful device. Less clunky then a personal CD player, the experience is reminiscent of the Walkman. I love using this device, I’ve had friend ask me about it and then get excited when I tell them it’s the first Ipod, an icon piece of history.