ChromeOS isn't working for me

About 18 months ago I decided to buy a cheap-ish device to use at home instead of my Macbook Pro. Something that could do most of the things you need but is completely segregated from anything related to work. It actually made a big difference in helping me establish better boundaries between work and home.

Can’t be too expensive, I’m not made of money. But still has to be actually usable (so, decent screen and other hardware, etc.).

I’ve been using an iPad Air 2 since shortly after it was first released. And it works. Sort of. Like I’ve written before, the non-Pro iPads, while great for apps, kind of suck for anything beyond the most casual of casual web browsing and iOS’s home screen web apps have been broken for ages (that damn reload bug). Add to that the lack of a good hardware keyboard (don’t bother recommending one, I’ve tried pretty much all of them) and no real support for precise, indirect pointers like a hardware trackpad (which is essential for me when it comes to editing text) and the iPad has been relegated to a secondary device. I use it to read ebooks & comics, twitter, and my feed reader and that’s it.

The Chromebook was an improvement, even as broken as the OS is (and it’s pretty damn broken), having a usable hardware keyboard and trackpad, as well as a Chrome that could actually handle a couple of dozen browser tabs and doesn’t eject a site from memory at every opportunity (although that does come with its own issues, see below) was an improvement over just having the iPad.

I still have to juggle the two as a Chromebook is still a pretty crap reading environment (crap apps and too heavy).

The problem is that even though I still can’t make the iPad work as my primary device at home, ChromeOS actually isn’t working for me either.

I’ve haven’t spent this much time trying and failing to make an OS work for me since the days when I was trying to make Linux work for me as my main desktop OS. (Which was from 2002-2006, so a different era. Hopefully things are better there now.)

I’ve had this Samsung Chromebook Plus for over a year and a half and it’s easily the most awkward, unreliable, and unpleasant computer I’ve owned for over a decade. I haven’t run an OS that feels this unreliable since the pre-OSX days of the Mac.

It keeps running out of memory even with 4GB of RAM with very little going on. What’s worse its response to running out of memory is horrible: it locks up while trying to shut down processes before usually taking down the entire Android subsystem or (also quite commonly) crashing Chrome itself.

This would be fine if most web apps out there weren’t bloated, memory-guzzling, performance hogs who leak memory like sieve.

The Android app support is consistently unstable and doesn’t really properly support many of the features you’d expect (like accessing the microSD card) which makes many apps totally useless. The Android apps that don’t crash regularly are still rubbish at tablet/laptop sizes. It looks like Android doesn’t really have that many tablet apps that I like. (Plenty of good phone apps, though.)

And now the touchsceen on this device has started to sporadically go completely haywire, behaving as if there was a ghost finger constantly touching or pinching the screen.

(Turns out it’s a known issue with the hardware and requires sending it in for repairs. Or, you could just do as I did and turn the touchscreen off.)

So, ChromeOS isn’t working for me (I haven’t even scratched the surface of the issues I’ve had) and I’m trying to figure out alternatives. Android tablets aren’t an option because, as I wrote above, I haven’t found an Android tablet app that I liked. The regular iPads, while an improvement over my Air 2, still don’t fix the fundamental problems I have with them. The iPads Pro come close but are a little bit too expensive for a home device. Most Windows devices in the Chromebook/iPad price range are just godawful. The only Mac within a throwing distance of this price range is the archaic and thoroughly obsolete Macbook Air.

The only device that looks vaguely interesting while remaining (sort of) at a reasonable price is the Surface Go. But once you add the Type Cover that kind of starts pushing against my self-imposed price boundary as well.

Maybe I should just accept the fact you can’t get a decent computing experience for less than CDN$ 1000-1200. Aim for an iPad Pro with proper external keyboard. Or a Surface Pro. If I think of it as replacing two CDN$ ~450 devices with one CDN$ 1000 device it might not feel as galling.

What do you think?

Baldur's Notes @baldur