The big list of Chromebook work-arounds and caveats

Chromebooks are finally getting some love. Let's define what you really can and cannot do on a web-only laptop.

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You may have heard that the latest Chromebooks are finally seeing good reviews. The kind of reviews that suggest people actually buy a computer that is, at its core, a secure, well-synced, thin, light, fast-booting browser machine. For $250, Computerworld, Laptop Magazine, and The Verge, all recommend the $249 Samsung Series 3, or its even cheaper Acer cousin, with some reservations and caveats.

The wait-a-minute warnings focus on how a Chromebook isn't a "main computer" for anyone who uses a computer every day for their work. Even Google has picked up on this, and has changed the way it frames the Chromebook pitch: it's a great secondary computer, it's great for kids, for travel, it's handy for everything that counts as "casual usage." And every Chromebook reviewer who's ever had a friend use their Chromebook will tell you exactly the ways in which a Chromebook will not work for people who need Photoshop, iTunes, modern graphics-intensive games, or other unspecified but necessary tools.

Allow me to get specific, then. I will try here to list the most common needs of a modern computer, such as they arise when trying out a Chromebook.

Things a Chromebook can do that you might not know

In no particular order:

  • Switch easily between multiple users (and Google Apps accounts): Unlike a typical laptop, Chromebooks are remarkably easy to share among families or friends. Just log in with your Google account and run with it.

  • View and upload photos and files: from a standard camera (through SD card or USB connection), non-Apple smartphone (most of them, via USB), or other standard storage connection.

  • Work offline: In particular: Gmail, Calendar (read-only), Drive/Docs word documents (and viewing for spreadsheets), Kindle books, the New York Times, and quite a few more than you had thought.

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