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ноември 09, 2013

HP Chromebook 11 - developer's review.

Ever since the inception of the Chromebook project I have been a huge fan.

I envied the attendees who got the cr48 one. Then I was furious that the Samsung ARM one was not available (or any of the other ones as a matter of fact) in my country. I have travelled, but never got the chance to see one or wait long enough for a deliver on any given place.

Finally few weeks ago when the new HP Chromebooks have been announced I decided it is time to purchase one of those.

A little bit about my love-hate history with the 'new laptop' purchases.

I have an old Thinkpad X61s. Purchased 6 years ago when it was brand new it costed a lot! Really big money for the time. But I loved it. I has always been running with Linux and even thou I had to manually install a script every time I reinstall (every 18 months or so) it worked great.

A year and a half back I realised it was maybe the time to upgrade. So I went hunting for a new laptop.

This is the place to say that I do web development for living. Mainly front-end development (CSS, HTML, JavaScript). Modern front end development also requires you to run Node js, Java, GNU Make, Bash, Python and a series of other more obscure tools. They are not part of the final product but greatly reduce the work load and provide assistance which is invaluable for modern development practices. Linux fits here in the middle. Lots of tools work best with OSX, like Casper etc, but is much better than Windows.

Naturally I went first with Thinkpad again - Edge 340 (or something like that, sorry don't really remember the numbering - core i5, 4GB, 120GB HDD, 11 inches wide, glossy display, built in camera). Well the problem with that laptop was it was way too hot to tolerate on my lap. And the fan never ever stopped even on Windows, let alone on Linux. So I returned it.

Then the next choice was Apple - MacBook Air 11 inches. I have to say it was a very well built machine. It only goes hot when watching flash videos in full screen. And then there was OSX. Well, there is the menu bar always on top - stealing precious 25 pixels from a very short 768 pixels. And then there was Chrome not being able to make plugins go full screen (so when you go to apple trailers you have to watch them as small as they come). And then there was the fact that lots of tools had to be managed/installed from different sources manually. At least in Linux there is one general command to manage all software. I have been with it for 2 weeks and then I returned it. Some say I should have given it more time. Sometimes I think that too, but then I remember what I had to put up with all the time for the smallest things and I do not intend to to back to OSX any time soon.

To sum up I am a web developer who is fed up with badly designed hardware and software that was not fitting my expectations.

And then there was ChromeOS. I decided to try and live off the Chrome browser (on Linux) for a month and see how it goes.

I uploaded my pictures to G+ and my videos to YouTube, my pdf and manuals to Drive and my docs and spreadsheets to Docs. My music did not fit in anywhere, but I was listening more and more off my phone so it was not such a big deal. I moved my development environment to Cloud9 and what I was not able to move there I accessed 'live' with sftp mounts. (Well I was not aware that sftp mounts are not allowed in ChromeOS which sucks).

The experiment went for like a month and I was sure I can live with the Chrome browser. I still have my work PC at the office if I needed to test Firefox or IE compatibility.

I was thinking a lot which Chromebook to purchase. At the end I just wanted a silent machine and the one without a fan seemed just the right choice. I was aware that it might get slow with more than 5 - 6 tabs, but it was okay, I just need to make some adjustments to my browsing - that's what I told myself.

So I went and purchased the HP Chromebook 11 - ARM.

First I needed to wait for the availability. Then I needed to wait for the delivery. Then for the delivery from UK to Bulgaria. It costed me almost as much as a regular netbook (around 300 Euro). But it finally got here.

I had to wait (a lot) for the initial update, but after that it was fine. For viewing my email and G+.

And then I tried watching a movie from my thumb drive. H264 (480p) plays just fine. Excellent actually. Xvid is really bad (read SLOWWW). I haven't tried anything else yet, but I think h264 is okay. For now.

And this morning the shit hit the fan. I like to watch tech videos on YouTube at 1.5 speed. So naturally I went and enabled html5 player. And then it stopped working. Like at ALL! I was no more able to rewind in the videos. If I do it stops playing and it never comes back. Even after refresh. Even after restart. So I go back and opt out of the html5. But guess what - even if it says you are served the flash player you still get the html5 one. Even after clearing all caches. Even after resetting the browser. Even after deleting all the cookies. Even after powerwash. Even in incognito mode. Even in guest mode. So basically you are stuck with html5 play back which is terrible on this laptop.

After advice from G+ community I installed an extension that half resolved the problem. Now the video starts loading and then the extension kicks in and reloads the video this time with the flash player. Great! So after pushing for years now for html5 it does not work on the machine that they have designed? The big shots have more important things to do I guess.

So I went about my day and logged in c9 to do some work. Yeah, not so fast! c9 uses socket to communicate. And the HP11 decided to drop the connection every few minutes. Even when on the same network with the Thinkpad which never drops it. Even when left alone in the network with the router. Even after powerwash. Ha! So basically the terminal restarts every few minutes. And youtube videos stop every few minutes. And it is not the network and it is not the router. So it IS the HP11.

At this point I doubt that it could be used for anything more than to rant about it on the Internet. That one is does great. It is actually so bad that half of my spreadsheets do not work (actually they do, but after one makes a change it starts auto save and no new changes are reflected in the UI until a successful save and the saves take 1-2 minutes. Yes, MINUTES!

This reminds me of a toy that is sold currently - an imitation of a laptop which plays some music and displays some text to teach the kid the alphabet. Anyone looking to buy such a toy please feel free to contact me - I have one for sale and as a bonus you can also (try to) watch your porn on it.

In the scale from 1 to 10, 10 being the best laptop, HP11 is a 2. One point for being completely cool. Half point for being shiny good looking and half for the good display. Everything else about it is grossly unbearable and should never ever be sold to customers.

Important notice: It is NOT the software. I have lived with Chrome-only environment for the last month and everything was great. But it is great when run on a normal hardware. When run on something like the HP11 where the wifi is unreliable and youtube seem to be hated it turns into a nightmare. Developing in the cloud is absolutely impossible (if you want to stay sane). And you can never install anything locally, remember?

So two options left: sell it or try to run Ubuntu on it. About that - only 4 GB left free. How come from 16GB? What do those people put on this machine? I have Linux installs with 10GB only root filesystem and with all possible software (including build tool-chains, java, gimp, open office and lots and lots of other software it never goes beyond 7GB. How come ChromeOS already ate 12 GB?!?!? Its a mystery!!

When I get back to the city I will try it again. And if it fails me again I will just sell it. Too expensive to return it.

I have no problem parting with it. The problem is what will I get instead of it. I cannot live with Windows. And I certainly do not want OSX. But Linux is becoming weaker and weaker with every year. ChromeOS seemed like a nice fit, but evidently that still need to figure out the hardware policies. Because I am not paying 1300 USD nor putting up with a half usable laptop.