Earlier this week, Google released unto the world two new Chromebook laptops (among many other devices) from manufacturers Hisense and Haier, priced at a low, low $US149 — cheaper than most tablets, and for a full computer, to boot. Google’s on a mission to provide a lot of computer for a not a lot of money.
I’ve been using the Hisense Chromebook for the last few days, thanks to a review unit given to me by Google. And if you want to know if the Chromebook is a solid investment at $US149, I’m here to tell you a resounding “maybe.”
It depends what you want to use it for! I’ve found that it scratches the perfect itch as my everything-but-work machine.
About the Chromebook
The first and most important thing to know about the Hisense Chromebook is that literally all it has by way of an operating system is the browser. Log in to the Chromebook with a Google account and you’re up and ready to go. Want to use email, Spotify, Twitter, Evernote, Slack, or even Amazon Kindle? Get ready to use the webpage versions.
Even when you install “apps” from the Chrome Web Store, clicking them just launches the appropriate web link in a browser tab. That means that you’re never going to run the full versions of Microsoft Office or basically anything else.
The upsides to this aren’t immediately obvious, but it means that it’s cheap, manufacturers don’t have to pay for Microsoft Windows to come pre-installed on the devices, and that gets passed down to you. And since just running a browser doesn’t take that much computing horsepower, the device turns on in a snap and works pretty quickly.
And since you’re only really using stuff in the browser anyway, if something happens to the machine, most of your stuff is still hosted with Google/Facebook/Amazon/whoever anyway, so nothing of value is usually lost.
There are limitations — you’re not going to be doing anything resource-heavy like playing new video games like Battlefield: Hardline or editing movies, not that you’d want to on its mediocre screen. But it’s pretty good at checking Facebook, writing email, and reading the news. Soon, Chromebooks will get even more useful with the addition of the ability to run certain Android apps.
This is something that’s common to all of Google’s Chrome OS computers, including other Chromebooks, the Chromebox desktop, and the Chromebase all-in-one, but it’s probably still the least-understood part of these devices, judging from people’s reactions when I showed them the Chromebook.
The construction of the thing is pretty good too, for a $US149 device. I’m not sure it would qualify as “sleek,” but the plastic casing isn’t the ugliest I’ve ever seen. The mouse touchpad, too, is of surprisingly decent quality, save for the occasional bouts of odd jitteriness. There’s even an HDMI port on the side, in addition to two USB ports.
How I used it
I had never actually used a Chromebook before. Once upon a time, I used a Google Chromebox from Asus for a week, which is the same idea, but it was during a vacation and I didn’t have much to do with it.
The first day I had the Hisense Chromebook, I struggled with this. At Business Insider, we write our stories directly into a website in the browser, and for whatever reason, it kept loading the mobile version of the website — maybe because the Chromebook uses an ARM processor, the same kind of chip you usually find in smartphones and tablets.
That same ARM processor means that the Hisense Chromebook gets pretty good battery life, safe for one instance where I left it in sleep mode in my bag and the battery kept discharging. Other than that one time, I’ve gotten a pretty solid 6 hours out of a full charge.
I use a Macbook Air issued to me by Business Insider most of the time, and it’s been my primary computer for the month I’ve been here. But it’s a work machine where I get my work done — which means that when I flip it open, a barrage of Twitter and email notifications turn me over into work mode whether I want to be or not.
Just for kicks, I wrote a Medium post on the Hisense Chromebook, and found that the uncluttered, nothing-but-browser interface kept me singularly focused on what I was doing. And since it turns on so quickly, it became my go-to for quick little things like doing some online banking, checking a recipe, or even changing a setting on am Internet router.
It’s not that using the Macbook Air is a hardship, exactly. It’s more that the Chromebook can be relied on to turn on instantly, do what I need it to do quickly without expending too much battery, and then go back into my backpack.
At $US149, it’s the perfect device — fast, with a keyboard, and versatile enough to do most things — to just have around to do anything but work. It’s a mediocre machine, but at that price, that’s far more than I could have asked for.
You can preorder the Hisense Chromebook from Walmart today.