30,000 ft Test Flight of a Google Chromebook

Chrome Zone
Chrome Zone

I love gadgets. Let me say that again. I LOVE gadgets. I wish I could try more of them before I buy any of them.  Tied-down demo models of new gadgets at big box stores never provide a really satisfying experience, especially with store rep after store rep interloping on the "getting to know you" stage of a burgeoning human-gadget relationship. So I was relatively excited when I entered Terminal 2 at SFO and saw the kiosks to try out a Google Chromebook. We were on a family trip on our way to Lake Geneva, WI for some good Midwestern time at the lake. It was about 9:45 am, 10 minutes to boarding. I swept up my 2 year old boy Gavin and said, "let's go see something cool".

Every gate in T2 at SFO had someone from Google redirecting people to a centralized bar where the Chromebooks were. I went straight to the bar a started playing with a Chromebook. Then Rush, one of the Google reps, told me that I could TAKE THE CHROMEBOOK WITH ME! That's right, a seriously innovative  trial program that allows passengers on select routes to take a Chromebook on their flight and drop it off at the arrival gate at their destination city. Now this is the penultimate "try-before-you-buy" program, the ultimate being able to take the gadget home with you for a week. But wait! There's more! Google arranged it so you can access GoGo Inflight WiFi on your flight for free while using the Chromebook! Leave it to Google to innovate around the retail experience at an airport by lending the chromebooks to passengers for a flight.

Test Flight Sign Up

Great marketing with people at each gate, directing folks to Gate 51 within T2 to pick up the Chromebook. Signing up for the program was relatively painless. The few minutes of registration (name, address, email, credit card swipe!) is offset by the Chromebook just flat out working. Nothing to configure, no settings to adjust. Simply log into my Google account on the login screen.

Waiting for "Ding"

As we waited for the cabin door to shut signaling our departure, I started thinking about what I was going to do with the Chromebook once that beautiful "ding" happens at 10,000 feet, allowing roughly 150 people to fire up their gadgets for the remaining 3 hrs of flight. The anticipation continued to build until I felt like a starved lion ready to pounce on prey, eyeing the Chromebook in it's very trial-friendly slipcase. 10,000 ft. DING!

Stick-time on the Chromebook

I lifted the lid and the Chromebook came alive instantly. I laughed a little to myself, "No wonder they call it 'sleep' or 'hibernation'" - PCs take forever to shake off the warm coziness of having their lid shut. Not the Chromebook. This thing was like a jack-in-the-box. No drive to spin up. Barely an OS to wake up from sleep or hibernation. The Chromebook doesn't sleep or hibernates. It cat naps - ready to spring into action at a moments notice. I had signed into my Google account at the gate, so no need to re-enter credentials. Here are some of the things I noticed:

  • Form factor of the device was great. A truly "internet-optimized" keyboard is decently sized and laid out. Great size for a airplane tray table..still had room for my coffee.
  • Windows shortcuts like ctrl-c, v, x work very well - great for productivity
  • Touch pad had good sensitivity, but buttons were a little off...I kept pressing for a left mouse click, but the "right mouse" menu would appear...needed to play around to figure out the right spot to click the touch pad
  • Screen is plenty bright and clear
  • GoGo Inflight WiFi was decent, but definitely not snappy. I opened three tabs at once, and it took a bit of time for the Chromebook to catch up
  • SD card + USB makes me happy
  • Sound quality was decent, but a little tinny at times
  • Video was ok...surprising well on buffering content on YouTube at 30,000 ft

Unexpected Delights

  • THERE IS NO DESKTOP. I caught myself a couple of times trying to get to the desktop. I never realized how getting rid of a desktop was so Feng Shui. Forget about cleaning up the desktop - just GET RID OF IT!
  • Working solely in a browser without having to alt-tab or command-tab through apps was dreamy
  • Putting Chromebook into a "cat nap" with open browser pages and resuming automagically when opening the lid
  • Realizing I could toss this thing out of the plane at 30,000 ft, pick up another one when I land, and pick up where I left off. Just like in the youtube video
  • After 2 hours of continuous use, the battery meter hadn't drained a single pixel

Disappointing Kinks

The test flight was not without a few minor issues:

  • Attaching Google docs in a gmail message is a hassle at best. Why can't i attach a google doc from a gmail message? Chrome exposes this problem...users need to share a google doc instead of attaching it which means the recipient needs to create a gmail account (not likely for my general contractor doing work at the house).
  • Netflix is INCOMPATIBLE with the Chromebook! Holy Bajeezes! Are you kidding me! Tried watching a Netflix streaming video and got the error message:
Instant Watching System Compatibility
Dear Chromebook user,
Streaming is not currently supported on your device. We're working with Google to ensure that Chromebook users can instantly watch TV shows and movies from Netflix. More details will be announced in coming months.

Upon Arrival

When departing the airplane, handing over the Chromebook couldn't have been simpler. The Google kiosk was literally at the opening of the jetway, no need to go out of my way at all to drop off the device. They really made it painless to try out the gadget.

The Chromebook defies being classified as a laptop, notebook, or PC.  Funny enough, I inadvertently never used those terms in this post to describe the Chromebook. The Chromebook is NOT A NOTEBOOK. It is a new category of computing devices. I wonder if "chromebook" will become a synecdoche like xerox.

Using the chromebook for a couple of hours really underscores how much computing I do in the cloud...I accessed all of my favorite apps like Evernote (LOVE IT), DropBox, Twitter, Wordpress (of course), google docs, corporate email -- what else do I need? I wasn't able to try the corporate VPN and accessing internal corp SaaS apps. I'll give that a whirl on the return trip maybe.

Final Thoughts

Working within VMware's End User Computing business unit definitely makes me appreciate the Chromebook that much more. Our vision is to provide a user-centric experience for accessing your data through any app, where ever you are. The adoption of iPads has certainly impacted our vision and I think the Chromebook has an opportunity as well. The

iPad is on track to drive 2% of all internet traffic in North America by end of year

It will be interesting to see how the Chromebook fares in terms of not only driving internet traffic, but also sales vs. netbooks.

I'm looking forward to another test flight of the Chromebook - hopefully on the trip back to SFO.

Please comment and let me know your thoughts!

- PG