Six Steps to Using Your Chromebook Offline

Google Drive & Docs
Google Drive & Docs

Using a Chromebook Offline is not as simple as turning WiFi off and expecting it to work. There are a few steps to guarantee a smooth transition to offline.

Google has made huge strides with the Chrome OS operating system, ensuring the Chromebooks can work effectively offline. Microsoft’s ill fated Scroogled campaign tried hard to make Chromebooks look like bricks when not connected to the Internet, and initially, that was true. Today, a Chromebook can work effectively offline.

“Using a Chromebook Offline is not as simple as turning WiFi off and expecting it to work”

I created this document a few minutes ago, while sitting in a bus far from WiFi.

Media playerI am listening to music played by the ChromeOS media player, and typing in a Google Document. I have successfully used Google Docs completely offline for a week to prove the reliability of Drive/Docs over a long period.   

From startup to offline use are from six to ten steps, depending on what apps you use. Let’s have a look at six of them.

The first thing to remember is that a chromebook does not run background processes like Windows, or a mobile phone. Drive, Keep, Gmail Offline, and Google Books only run when they are opened in a tab. For example if you use Keep on your phone, tablet and Chromebook, you MUST open keep on your Chromebook for it to update with changes made on your phone.

“Drive, Keep, Gmail Offline, and Google Books only run when they are opened in a tab.”

I use Keep frequently as a note taker on my Android phone. The ability to capture a quick note as a voice recording is exceptional. But if I want to access those notes on my Chromebook I must open Keep while I am connected to the Internet, so the Keep tab can update. I does not happen unless the Keep tab is opened.

This applies to Drive, Gmail and any other app that shares or syncs data with other devices or cloud services. If you rely on these apps and are frequently away from a network, pin the tabs and keep them open all the time.

Lets step through the things you need to do to use a Chromebook offline. I assume you are logged in, and have an Internet connection. If I describe a service you do not need or want, go to the next item. This is based on my personal useage.

1. – Open Keep. You are done. Keep is a simple but powerful note Google Keeptaker, and it synchronizes automatically and continuously. If you have a lot of notes in keep it may take a minute to download everything. This is it for Keep! I suggest you pin the tab, or open it as a separate window so it stays up to date.

2. – Open Google Drive. Go to settings and select “Offline” and wait Google Drivefor it to sync up. This can take a while. If you only store Google docs, sheets, slides and drawings, you are done.

3. – Open the Files app. If you want to save non gDocs in drive, there Files Appis another step. You must open the Files app, find the files you want to save locally, and right-click each one and tick “Available offline”.  Optionally, if there are a large number of files, copy them to a USB or SD card, and open them from there.

Files Offline

4. – Open Google Calendar. In settings, select “Offline” to enable Google Calendaroffline access to the Calendar app. This will sync all current appointments. It will NOT allow you to add new entries in your calendar at this time. But usually, you will be offline because you are travelling, so your calendar should have the information you need in it beforehand.  

Calendar Offline

Calendar Syncronizes

5. – Open Gmail Offline. Go to settings and select offline.  and decide Gmail Offlinehow much e-mail you want to store. I delete everything not vital, so my mail store is small, I select the longest time available, one month.

As Gmail Offline syncs, it starts from the latest, and saves backwards, giving a running update on how much it has stored. You can read, delete, and create mail while offline, but, obviously, nothing is sent or updated on the web until you are back in range of WiFi.

Offline EmailThe Gmail Offline app also saves starred messages. I am looking at a package dispatch notice sent to me four years ago, that I starred at the time.  This app is not my favourite, but it works fine. One gotcha is that it does not download graphics, so if you have email that is heavy on graphics, it will not be readable offline.

Some people who have multiple gmail accounts use Gmail Offline for one account, so they can have two accounts open without having to log out of their main account in Chrome OS.

6. – (Optional) Open Google Books. You may not use Google Books, Google Play Booksbut I find it a wonderful resource. Not only does the Google Play Store sell many books cheaper than Amazon, but any ePub that does not have DRM can be uploaded from your local machine. I have purchased books from Baen and other publishers, and downloaded many from sites such as Project Gutenberg. Some of my Favourite Sci-Fi authors are available on Google books, but not on Amazon. And books purchased on the Google Play Store can be downloaded and used in other e-readers if they do not have DRM added.  

I read most on my Nexus 7 tablet, but the Chromebook also provides a good reading experience. Simply look at “My books” hover over the ones you want to take with you, and select “Make available Offline” to download it. I currently have eight books available on my Chromebook.

Google Books will synchronize the reading locations, and my copious highlighting and notes between the Chromebook and any Chrome browsers I use, and my Android Reader apps in seconds. I highlight and take notes on the Chromebook, it is easier with a mouse and keyboard. I can then read and see my notes in seconds on any other device. It is a great study tool.

At this point, your Chromebook is ready to be used offline. Any time you have a connection, simply open the Keep, Drive, Gmail Offline and Google Books tabs, and they will sync.

I use a number of other tools, but what else you use is a matter of personal preference. One tool I think is irreplaceable for me is Pocket.

7. – (Optional, Bonus) Open and Synchronize Pocket. Pocket allows Pocket Offlineme to capture content from any web site, and read it later, offline. I can access it on my Chrome or Android device for offline reading. I often capture news articles, blog posts and other content relating to articles I am working on. I also often capture articles that I want to read later, when I have more time.

The “Save to Pocket” addon puts a button on the browser toolbar. Clicking on this saves the article to Pocket. Tags and annotations can be added. Then, when the Chrome App is opened, it downloads all the articles to the local machine for offline reading. I currently have several hundred articles saved in this fashion. Not everything works offline, searching does not work, but usually I have no trouble making things findable.

So that is the basics. Most people will want other apps and tools, and there are many that work offline. I will discuss some of them in future posts, and some have already been discussed.

You may also like to read:

A Week With A Chromebook Offline – Conclusions.

Google Drive & Docs
Google Drive & Docs

Using a Chromebook offline for a week was not a challenge after all. With one quirk understood, I worked productively in half a dozen locations with no WiFi.

This is the week, based on my journal, recorded in Keep.

Offline: Day Two – User Error

I had forgotten a feature of Evernote for Android. It requires the paid Pro version to allow saving of offline folders. I use the paid version, but you must visit each folder and mark it for offline access to be able to use notes when offline. This only applies to the client you are using. The folders must be selected and synced before going offline.

I stored some web pages in Evernote for use while offline in my Inbox, but I had forgotten to mark it for offline use. User error!

Fortunately, I save web pages I require for reference in both Evernote and Pocket, and Pocket continued to show the 300+ saved articles.

“Pocket continued to show the 300+ saved articles offline”

I also use Google Keep for lots of notes, and it syncs automatically and has been 100% reliable.

Day Three – File Naming

Offline Document CreationAnother quirk of Google Docs offline is file naming. When on-line, a new document is created automatically, with a generic name. It can be re-named later. In offline mode, you are asked to provide a name when the document is created. That name cannot be changed while offline.

“You are asked to provide a document name when it is created. That name cannot be changed while offline.”

All my documents are numbered and named. I accidentally gave a new document the wrong number. I will have to wait another few days to correct the mistake. No big deal, just an interesting quirk.

Day Four –  The Only Failure

I rebooted the Chromebook. I rarely do this, I usually just close the lid (screen) and known it will start from hibernate instantly the next time I lift the lid. I decided to do the full power cycle to check for problems.

But rebooting while offline, a few things went wrong.

StackEdit, my favourite Markdown editor would not restart without connecting to stackedit.io. It works offline, and I use it to format content for blog posts. I can save from Stackedit as HTML and paste directly into WordPress. I have never noticed this problem before, but Stackedit is usually running.

StackEdit, my favourite Markdown editor would not restart without connecting to stackedit.io.

I initially wrote a rant about having contributed to become a lifetime supporter, but finding a need to connect constantly to a server to start the app working being a slap in the face.

I have re-done this test a number of times, and each time StackEdit has started offline with no problems. So I withdraw my rant and will wait to see what happens over time.

My faith in StackEdit is, however, bruised. It was only the fact that I had been doing all my writing in Google Docs, as most users would, and copying text back and forth that allowed me to continue for another few days without re-connecting to the Internet.

I must assume this was a one-time problem. But would the StackEdit client have re-started if I had attempted to open A Markdown file stored locally, rebooting my access to the number of files I could not access? I did not think to try, and it has behaved perfectly since then, so I have no way to know.

A Real Problem & A Solution

“Another problem was the disappearance of three Google Docs that I had edited and closed.”

Another problem was the disappearance of three Google Docs that I had edited and closed. They did not show up in a search for their names. They were not in Recent, or in the folder I had saved them to.

I tried the search in the ChromeOS Files app, my work was gone, or was invisible. This was not a happy outcome.

But all Google Docs are given long unguessable URLs that do not change. So I went into browser history. The lost docs where there.

Offline Document In History

“I went into browser history. The lost docs where there.”

 

Save Document URL
Save Document URL

I also have a master document with the names of all the documents I have created. Documents and articles not yet started are in red, in progress is blue, finished is green. I usually paste a link to each document into this master document, giving me a hyperlink to everything. I had done that with one of the three missing documents, and it opened immediately. Everything was there, just not visible in Drive.

Work continued Uninterrupted.

I had copied the content to other apps, and saved to a USB stick after applying Markup so nothing would have been lost.

Day Seven – A Stress Free Week

The rest of the week has gone perfectly. I have experimented with a number of apps that work offline, including Evernote for Android, Write Space, QwertyZen, the Calculator, Google Calendar, Gliffy Diagrams, and more.

Only once did I have a concern with Google Docs. A message opened up saying “Offline editing has stopped working, please reload the tab”. I did, with trepidation, and the document came back, with the cursor where I had left it, nothing lost.

Day Eight

I turned WiFi on and opened Drive. My missing documents popped into the list within seconds. I opened Gmail Offline and mail that had been read and deleted synced. Sent mail queued up in the Outbox went. Opened documents quickly showed spell checking working. Voice Typing came back.

With only one or two hiccups, the week had gone perfectly. If I had continued to use ChromeOS from hibernate instead of re-booting, there may well have been zero problems.

“I am now confident that I can use a Chromebook offline for extended periods with little risk.”

I am now confident that I can use a Chromebook offline for extended periods with little risk. Not backing up your work is hazardous at any time, and while Google Docs cannot be saved outside Drive, minimally formatted content can be copied and pasted to other file formats. Only Sheets and Presentations rely on being on-line for backups. anyone who writes can work confidently for long periods.

If you need to be offline for really extended periods, or use Sheets, Presentations and other formats for extended periods there are other options. More on that later.

 

The Last Word…

For now, my only advice is, create a number of blank Docs, Sheets and Presentations while on-line. They will be visible in Files and Drive and can be edited and closed with no drama.

More Later. Enjoy!

The decision to try offline for a week is made.

My rant about the “Chromebooks Don’t Work Offline” argument.

 

00178

Why Retail Sales of Chromebooks are Doomed

The HP Chromebook 11
The HP Chromebook 11

Recently a friend visited to ask my advice on a chromebook for his father.

He had visited Harvey Norman, A major Australian retailer. While they had several chromebooks in stock the Harvey Norman salesman were very dismissive of the product and told him that in a year they have not sold one. I found that hard to believe since I have personally bought two chromebooks in that store.

The problem for Google (and users) is that salesmen have very little incentive to sell Chromebooks because low cost means small commissions. And retailers train sales staff to sell the items with the biggest profit margins.

The Chromebook is an appliance like a television set, you simply plug it in and it works

The Chromebook is an appliance like a television set, you simply plug it in and it works. You do not buy antivirus software, Microsoft Office or any other of the other big ticket items that make a salesman’s day. So any salesman, seeing mom and pop walk into the shop will upsell them using brands and names they know. While it is ageing and tarnished in the tech. world, Microsoft Windows is a well known brand. For the non-technical person, the advice of a smiling salesman combined with a name they know, Apple or Microsoft, will convince them.

You do not buy antivirus software, Microsoft Office or any other of the other big ticket items that make a salesman’s day.

The result will be inevitably that’s for Google to succeed with chromebooks they will have to be sold online not through retailers who simply have no incentive to sell them.

This may well mean that for these brick and mortar retailers the day will stay with windows and Apple devices until the market gradually withers and dies and then find that they have lost out to Google and online retailers forever.

I visited Harvey Norman myself the next day, and received the same dismissive response to Chromebooks. The HP 11 original version is my favourite computer. To my delight, I found they had two in stock, reduced almost to half price. I picked one up for my son, with the intention of pensioning off and old Samsung Chromebook.

Before filling out the paperwork the salesman looked at me over the top of the beautiful molded box and said “You do realise that a Chromebook is not a REAL computer…” I assured him I knew EXACTLY what a Chromebook was, and left with a half price Chromebook.

This post was written offline on a Chromebook, and moved via USB drive to post here – My Offline Chromebook challenge is half over.

The Chromebook Offline Challenge – A Week Without Internet.

Drive is OfflineAt 11:45 this morning I walked out of my office with my HP Chromebook 11. I had synced drive and offline Gmail, Calendar, Evernote (the Android app.) and Pocket. I have opened Keep, StackEdit, and other apps that I use while online, allowing them to sync up. Then I turned WiFi off.

“At 11:45 this morning, I turned my Chromebook’s WiFi off. It will stay disconnected for a week”

I will not connect this Chromebook to the Internet for a week. I will write using Drive and Docs, and do all the work I normally do on my Chromebox on this device.

The HP Chromebook 11
The HP Chromebook 11

The purpose of the experiment is not to live without the Internet, but to test the reliability of Docs, Drive, Keep, and other tools for a long period of disconnection. Will they be reliable? Will I lose work? A common criticism of Chromebooks is that they do not work offline. That myth has been debunked repeatedly, but the question remains, just how safe is a Chromebook if it is offline for a prolonged period?

“The myth that Chromebooks don’t work offline has been thoroughly debunked…”

To protect my week’s output, I will copy and paste text into QwertyZen or StackEdit and save to a USB stick in case of total disaster.

The first loss, of course is that spell checking does not work in offline Docs. I will have to wait until I am back on-line, or copy text to another editor that does spell checking offline such as StackEdit, QwertyZen, or Write.

One drawback with gDocs (Google Docs) is that they cannot be copied and pasted to a USB drive or otherwise accessed outside Drive. And another drawback is that non Google files, like .txt, .json or .html are not syncronised automatically. These non Google documents can, however be saved to a USB stick or Dropbox, Onedrive or a Windows share for storage. They can also be set to save locally and synchronize using the ChromeOS Files app. Simply save the file to Drive, find it using the Files app, right click and check “Available Offline”. This will need to be done in each instance of drive where you want this file kept, it does not propagate across machines.

I will update my progress periodically. I do not expect to have a problem, but time will tell.

This post was writted as a Google Doc, formatted in StackEdit, saved as HTML to a USB drive and uploaded via my Chromebox.

Google Voice Typing – The Future of Writing.

Google Voice Typing Active
Google Voice Typing Active

When I started my Chromebook this morning I discovered that Google had added a powerful new feature. I can now use my voice to type in Google Docs.  Impressed when I was wondering if it would work on a Chromebook. and particularly how accurate it would be, as I have found that most voice activated systems tend to work very poorly. I spend more time editing and correcting then I would have done if I had typed the entire article myself.

Google Voice Typing
Google Voice Typing

To my surprise I find that Google Voice typing works almost flawlessly. the only fault I have found is that the words new line tend to be interpreted as a new lawn, and I do not get the new line that I was asking for unless I speak very clearly, probably my Australian drawl.

As an example of how accurate the voice recognition on Google Voice typing is I have produced this entire article using Google Voice with no editing at all.

While this is incredibly useful for writers like me who I slow on the keyboard or in my case have a problem with a shrinking tendon in my right hand, I can only imagine what the future will bring for those who are visually impaired or physically impaired when Google can expand this technology to make a Chromebook completely voice activated.

I have literally not edited a single word in this rather short post about Google Voice typing. I have been a little careful with the pronunciation of words but other than that I have SAT with my arms folded and talked the whole piece.

I am absolutely amazed at the accuracy of Google Voice at the top of the screen is a message telling me we are having trouble hearing you and yet it is continuing to record my words with great accuracy.

Voice typing menu
Voice typing menu

Additionally in each sentence words are underlined in gray and if I right click I get an option of Digimon and word was several words that might have been what I meant at that point if I had been misinterpreted.

Strangely I find it very difficult to compose as I speak. when I type I have more time to think through what I want to say and therefore, I am sure write better than I speak. Or as I should have said more accurately.

Punctuation is limited to only a few options which I will now cut and paste in because there is no way I can do them using the voice recognition system.

  • “Period”
  • “Comma”
  • “Exclamation point”
  • “Question mark”
  • “New line”
  • “New paragraph”

Google Voice typing has arrived with very little fanfare, but I suggest it is going to be one of the most important features in Google Docs in the future. I have tried other voice recognition systems for riding and found them all extremely frustrating. This is working very smoothly.

Enjoy!

00170 

Chromebooks Can Now Access Windows Servers, OneDrive and Dropbox (Updated)

00162-smb-playstoreI was excited to see a post from +Yoichiro Tanaka on Google+ that he had posted a new App in the Chrome store for ChromeOS devices.

It is a new service for the Files app that allows Chromebook and Chromebox users to connect directly to SMB (Windows) server shares. I immediately installed it and connected to my NAS4Free server with no problems.

The NAS4Free share appears in the left pane of the Files app, and everything is immediately available.

I was ecstatic, for the one downside of Chromebooks and Chromeboxes is that the only way to connect to a local resource is to use FTP by typing and FTP address into the browser.

For example to play a video from my NAS server required me to connect with ftp://192.168.1.250/ and then right-click a file and save it locally to play the content. SOME FTP content will play directly in the browser, but most has to be saved locally.

Compared to the point and click possible between Windows and Linux machines and network shares, ChromeOS has been pretty clunky.

00162-services-in-file-managerUnfortunately, I was unable to connect to my ASUS router. It has a 3TB USB drive connected and shared as SMB and FTP. All attempts to date have failed to connect. This is unfortunate, but for an App that has only been available for days, it is a VERY GOOD start. SMB is a difficult protocol to cope with. Microsoft spent years trying to break connections from any device that was NOT Windows until they finally realised it was in their best interests to let everybody connect to their servers.

UPDATE: The latest version of this app now connects to everything in my office perfectly. I have connected to a NAS4Free box, ASUS router and a Seagate Wireless Plus Mobile Storage / Wi-Fi hub that is my travel server.

The Service/App is not perfect. Pausing a video during playback causes a timeout error, and I wonder if the failure to connect to some of these SMB devices is simply the slow speed of low powered devices such as router based SMB shares and NAS boxes that take time to spin up sleeping hard drives.

I am confident that Yoichiro will continue to work on this, as long as he gets some encouragement, and with time it will sort out the problems.

New File Services
New File Services

As I worked away with this I noticed something new in the usually simple Files left pane. A new item at the bottom. Add New Devices!

And behind that button is OneDrive, WebDAV and Google Cloud Storage.

00162 0 dropbox-app-storeAdded to this the exciting Dropbox implementation done as the first proof of concept for the new API Google released, and some seriously exciting things are happening in the Chromebook / ChromeOS world!

I do NOT want ChromeOS to grow into the bloated sloth that is Windows, but by adding features such as connecting to local network devices, the ability to connect to Bluetooth headphones and speakers and access phones via Micro-USB / OTG in just the last month or so.

ChromeOS is getting very interesting.

 

Review: HP Stream 11 – A Low Cost Windows Laptop

HP Stream 11
HP Stream 11

(Review edited and updated 2015/04/16.)

I recently purchased the HP Stream 11. I have better Windows computers, but since becoming a fairly serious Chromebook convert, I thought I should try to be balanced.

Please understand, I am NOT a reviewer. Nobody sends me computers or hardware to try out. If I like the look of something, I spend my own, very limited cash on it, and hope I have made a wise (or at least justifiable) decision.

The HP Stream 11 has low but interesting specs.

  • It uses the  Windows 8.1 with Bing Operating System.
  • The processor is an Intel Celeron N2840 running at 2.16GHz with Turbo Boost Technology, up to 2.58GHz.
  • The screen is an 11.6-inch WLED backlit screen with 1366 x 768 resolution
  • Memory is 2GB of 1333MHz DDR3L SDRAM and it has Intel HD graphics.
  • The 32GB eMMC Drive assures a pretty snappy response.
  • And it has an HP TrueVision HD webcam that does a pretty good job.
  • It has an SD card slot on the left and 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.
  • It has USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports, a full sized HDMI port and an audio jack on the right side.

There are speaker ports under the front, but the sound emanates from under the keyboard. The DTS Studio Sound is quite good for a compact device, and is clear at full volume. It is perfectly adequate for personal listening. If you care about audio quality, you will be using headphones anyway.

I like the fact that it is Fan-less. After months with Chromebooks going back to a Windows PC with whining fans can be annoying. I have learned to love silence.

Activating a new Chromebook takes about 90 seconds. Switch on. Select the WiFi access point and type in the password. Enter my Gmail address and password. Thirty seconds later it is working. With my many plugins and large Drive storage, it takes another five minutes to be fully functional, but that happens in the background as I work.

With the HP Stream 11, it took me almost five hours to get it to a stable working point.

I had to register and log in. I had to install multiple updates.

The computer came pre-loaded with a number of apps and pre-installed spyware, scareware and bloatware, that I had to remove. These programs I considered to be “Potentially Unwanted Programs” or PUPS were:

  • Super Optimizer, a system optimizer utility, once installed it claims that several issues were been detected on your computer. However, if you try to fix these issues, Super Optimizer will state that you need to buy its full version before being able to do so.
  • iStartSurf a browser hijacker, it will change your browser homepage to iStartSurf.com and default search engine to search.yahoo.com. It will also append the argument http://iStartSurf.com to random Windows shortcuts on your desktop and your Windows Start Menu.
  • And TV wizard – It is a Windows application. It installs plugins in your browsers. They spy on your internet usage, and display ads. They also assist malicious sites to install adware and spyware via deceptive advertising.

One of these would not uninstall. I had to resort to Systools to stop it booting. It is still installed, cluttering up my drive, but does not run on boot-up.

And of course there was the inevitable anti-virus trial version, not needed if you know a bit about computers, and all the HP special bits and offers.

There was then a multi-step account activation process to begin using Skype and Office 365. This required TURNING OFF SECURITY SETTINGS in IE so it could run ActiveX controls (seriously Microsoft? let’s make the new user expose their PC to attacks from the web by de-activating the security we finally build into IE just so they can activate a Microsoft Office 365 account!!!) Then the various office components downloaded and installed.

All in all, the setup was an exercise in frustration. A basic user will get it going quickly, but redeeming all the vouchers, offers and add-ons took a lot of time. Removing the spyware and setting this machine up properly may well require help.

The Stream is a surprisingly good experience for Windows on limited hardware. The Keyboard is a little clicky, but quite nice, and a good size. The track pad has received well deserved criticism, but I use a mouse.  The case is solid and comes in a striking Matt finish in blue or pink. Predictably the blue I wanted was sold out, but everyone had pink. I waited for blue. The keyboard surround is an anodised aluminium finish with a graduated colour scheme. It actually looks fantastic.

I name ny computers, and since it is running Windows 8.1, NOT my favourite O/S I named it Humphrey after Sir Humphrey, the obstructive bureaucrat in Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, the BBC series that is surely a comedic seed for House of Cards.

The screen resolution is often criticized, but in my opinion an 11.6” screen does not benefit from higher screen resolution, 1366 x 768 is perfectly adequate. The viewing angle is poor, and would be less of a problem if the screen tilted back a few more degrees. It is simply not bright enough. It is the one true let-down with this laptop.

It works perfectly for web browsing, email, writing and general purpose use. Just don’t try to watch to much video on it. One episode of House of Cards has convinced me I cannot do the 30 day challenge I was contemplating. The screen is just not up to long term use or quality video watching.

The computer works fine as long as you do not try to do too much at once. Office will exercise it, too many applications open at once will slow it down badly. I would not want to keep Outlook open all day, it will cripple everything else. For basic Windows users, It is fine. If you spend most of your time in a web browser, it will be perfect.

HP Stream 11 Pink
HP Stream 11 Pink

My Stream, after a basic installation of my usual suite of Windows apps including Evernote and Chrome has 2Gb of disk space left.

Much of that is taken up in my case by Chrome storing my Google Drive contents offline, Dropbox, and Evernote. Desktop Evernote downloads my entire database. You probably do not use all these services.

If you are using the Microsoft OneDrive storage that comes free with the HP Stream 11 for the first year, this is not a problem. If the Stream runs out of storage, you can move it elsewhere. Perhaps the ideal would be a 32 or 64 Gb SD card tucked into the SD slot on the left side of the machine. Moving the OneDrive storage is easy, and there is a tutorial on how to do it here on CNet.  I can do something similar with Dropbox, if I desire.

I cannot use the HP Stream alone as a daily driver, the screen and performance fail it. I use a computer many hours a day, and this is just not good enough to be my only computer.

For me, it becomes the thing you toss in the backpack before going to the library or to type with for an hour or so.  It is cheap, connected, and adequate. Not suitable for continued use.

But, don’t give up on it just yet… It does have a place, and potentially a large one.

Microsoft sells Windows computers as superior to Chromebooks by talking about all those crucial applications that people need like Photoshop, Quicken and Call of Duty. None of these will run at all, let alone well on this computer ( well maybe Quicken). Audio and video editing apps like Audacity and Openshot will run, but with no disk space left, editing audio and video becomes a balancing act with the available disk space and constantly inadequate (and non-upgradeable) RAM. Adobe Premier will require 4 times the RAM, more disk space than is available, an external monitor, and a better CPU, rule it out here.

The Verdict:

If you are a digital nomad, flitting from country to country, living out of a 7 Kg carry-on bag and working online for a living, this computer is NOT for you.

If you are a digital grey nomad, living out of a van or motorhome, or house sitting with the 22 Kg  lifestyle (7 Kg carryon plus 15 Kg checked bag) this may be for you. It is rugged, reasonably compact and capable. It is quite suitable for an hour or two a day of use on its own. It can handle video, windows programs and works happily offline. If your van or house has a TV with an HDMI Port, a cable will give you a big screen, and it can drive it well.

For the price, it is an excellent computer.

Keep in mind that it is reliant on a Microsoft Office 365 account for most of its features, including OneDrive storage. These cannot be transferred. If you buy it, you own it for the first year. Resale is pretty difficult, since the new owner will need to immediately purchase and Office 365 licence at around $99 per year to use the Office apps, Office 365 cloud applications, OneDrive storage or free Skype minutes.

I can pass a Chromebook to anybody and they can be online in minutes, at no cost. Most of my Chromebooks have three accounts, and can switch between users instantly, or allow free guest access. This is not possible with Office 365.

It is not for me, I prefer the simplicity and speed of a Chromebook or the Performance of a high end Windows Ultrabook, but it does definitely have a place with many digital grey nomads.

I cannot sell it, since it is now locked to a new “outlook.com” email address and account. If I sell it, it will be useless to the next user as I outlined above. It weighs more than my 13″ HD ASUS Ultrabook, and almost twice as much as my Chromebook (with power supply included, when I travel, that has to go as well) so for me, is is not a viable option. It may be perfect for you.

LATER: I have bitten the bullet and installed the Ubuntu 14.10 operating system on the HP Stream 11, and I am very pleased with the results. It is still too heavy to be a prime travelling machine, but for the price, I will find uses for a full featured laptop with Audio and Video editing software and, now, quite a bit of free disk space. For those who know Linux, it was pretty much a default install. I will write about it later… PAS.

HP Chromebook 11 Charging – revisited

The HP Chromebook 11
The HP Chromebook 11

I have had a comment on a recent post from Kathy, concerned that the HP Micro-USB charging port is not living up to it’s potential.  She was concerned by the “Low-power charger” message.

I decided to redo the last group of tests, to be sure.

last night I ran my HP Chromebook 11 flat by playing the Iron-man movie continually until the battery was dead. I do NOT like or recommend ever running a battery below 18-20% as this can damage the battery. I am not an Apple fan, but they have an excellent web page on battery care for laptops and devices with Li-Ion batteries here

I plugged the charger into my basically dead Chromebook four hours ago, and rebooted when the battery reached 9%. The results, with the computer asleep and only being checked every hour where:

  • Hour 1 – 33% up 24%
  • Hour 2 – 56% up 23%
  • Hour 3 – 78% up 22% (with the PortaPow fast  power only cable)
  • Hour 4 – 84% up 6% (with the computer in constant use)

smoothing out the results, this is about 24% / Hr, or four hours to pretty much full charge. The original HP charger does this in a whisker under three hours. not a bad comparison.

Interestingly, temperature is a factor for battery life, and fast chargers heat batteries up, as does fast discharging doing things like playing video at full screen and full screen brightness.  As a result, I have chosen, where possible to charge all my devices as slowly as possible.

Anker 4 Port Charger
Anker 4 Port Charger

My most used option for the HP Chromebook 11, my Nexus 7, and my phone is a one meter illuminated charging cable. I have purchased three different types, and the common factor is usefulness rather than speed. They glow red when charging, and turn blue when charging stops. They charge at about half the speed of the fast PortaPow cables, but I plug all my devices in at night, and by morning, everything has been charged slowly but effectively.

When I travel, speed becomes more of an issue, and I go to the fast charging options.

The HP Chromebook 11 and  the “Low-power charger” message

I have no inside information here, but I see devices described by my HP 11 as “Low-power chargers” charging at a pretty good rate (See the figures above)  My feeling is that the HP charger uses a customized “hardware handshake” or unique resistors between the signal and power lines. I am sure no matter how powerful the charger, and good the cable nothing but a genuine HP charger will be considered the full powered option. It does not mean the the charger is not doing a good job. Slower? Yes, but that is not always a bad thing.

I have worked for days with a 2 amp Nexus 7 charger slowly charging ( and sometimes discharging) my HP Chromebook 11 while it is being used. When I close the lid and the computer is suspended, it charged at a pretty fast rate.

I am currently writing this on the HP 11 with Drive, Gmail and a couple of other tabs open. It has charged only 5% in the last hour. But in my experience, a Windows Laptop being used while charging can often take 8-10 hours to charge. Assuming a 20% starting point, that is 8% per hour, so the difference is noticeable, but not catastrophic.

This computer has now been charging for four hours, three in sleep mode, one in constant use, and the battery has gone from 9% to 82%. Not a bad average, given that my $1800 ASUS Zenbook takes four hours to charge from 20% while not being used.

The thing to remember is, if you use the machine constantly, the charger will keep it going. Any USB charger will bring it back up overnight, and that USB charger can also charge your phone, tablet, headphones, keyboard, mouse and more. And the slower charging rate will preserve the battery in your Chromebook.

Also worth mentioning is that the power-bank you bought to recharge your phone or tablet can also keep the HP Chromebook 11 running longer. Everything from a 2600 mAh lipstick sized charger to the 10400 mAh Soshine power bank beside me (review coming) can keep that HP Chromebook 11 running longer.

My Takeaway:

  • Any USB charger can charge the HP Chromebook 11
  • Any HP Chromebook 11 charger can charge a myriad of other devices
  • Lower powered chargers may take longer, but they will extend battery life
  • The HP Chromebook 11 & Charger is a VERY light travel solution, and can charge other devices
  • pick the best cable for the job you need

If you have doubts, look at the numbers, and, does it really need to charge in three hours? What is your real usage model? In my case, a trickle feed keeping it going all day and an overnight top-up is perfect, and any charger can do that…

Enjoy!

Charging the HP Chromebook 11 Without the Factory Micro-USB Charger.

Hint: Its all about the cables!

The HP Chromebook 11
The HP Chromebook 11

The HP Chromebook 11 broke new ground by using a fast 3 Amp Micro-USB charger. It also generated a lot of bad publicity early on when the US chargers had to be recalled due to overheating. The USB charging is effective because the computer has a relatively small battery, and thus achieves a fairly rapid charge. To get reasonable battery life despite a very bright 300 nit screen, it uses a relatively low powered processor, limiting it’s performance. At a weight less than a Mac Book Air, it is a joy to carry, and on short business trips, the ability for the single, light charger to charge every device I carry is seductive.

But there are reports that the chargers are difficult to replace if they fail. Any Micro USB charger can charge the Chromebook overnight, but they lack the power to charge the machine while it is running. A 1 Amp phone charger will raise an alert that it is a low powered charger, and the running device will still bleed down slowly.

My experience with a variety of chargers and cables shows that while many chargers will deliver the required 3 Amps, the Cable used is the big leveler. The original HP charger is rated at 3 amps and works fast. I have not dismantled it, but I am sure it uses heavy gauge wire.

Most USB cables use thin #28 or #24 AWG wire. Non-intuitively, lower numbers are thicker and therefore better conductors of current. The USB charger supplies 5 V (volts) and the thicker the wires the better. Thin wires provide resistance, and power coming from the charger is lost as heat in the cable. So as a rule of thumb, shorter is better, and thicker is better. Over the last 12 months I have tested about 30 different cables. Some were quite expensive, many were not. The shortest ones worked best, but at 200 mm (8 inch) cable is not very convenient.

PortaPow fast charging cable
PortaPow fast charging cable

The single best charging cable I have found comes from PortaPow in England. It is the PortaPow Fast Charge Micro USB Cable (Length: 100cm (3.3ft)) Most cables of this length would only deliver 0.6 – 0.7 A. That translates to about 3.5 W, not enough to charge and run a Chromebook. The PortaPow cable delivers 1.75 A or about 8.75 W. from the same power supply. I believe my cable is #22 AWG, but they have since increased the size of the conductors to #20 AWG and I have two more on order.

Lets look at three chargers that work well with this cable. In each case the Chromebook is running with multiple tabs open, multiple docs, Gmail, Drive and some web pages. WiFi is on, and I am using a Bluetooth mouse. Brightness is at about 80%. In all cases they are reported as low power chargers.

Anker 4 Port Charger
Anker 4 Port Charger

My favourite charger is the Anker 40 watt, 5 port IQ+ charger. It has been superseded by a 60 watt version, but mine is working fine and does not need an upgrade. With the PortaPow cable, it delivers 1.75 A and the Chromebook is working and charging steadily. If I close the lid and hibernate for 30 minutes, it will charge up by 12%. Basic arithmetic suggests about 4 hours to go from 20% to 100%. With the computer working, of course, it will be MUCH longer, but will get there.

Kensington 2 amp Charger
Kensington 2 amp Charger

I also have a Kensington 2 amp, 4 port charger that can be plugged into the power socket or be used with a figure 8 cable instead of the adapter. It charges the Chromebook at 1.45 A and has enough power in reserve to also charge my smartphone without reducing power to the Chromebook.

Finally, the ASUS 2 A wall-mount charger that came with my Nexus 7. This small charger is rated at 2 A and pushed about 1.35 A through the PortaPow cable. This is enough to run the Chromebook with a little left in reserve for charging. With my current settings it is charging at about 3% per hour. I would suggest playing video at full brightness will cause the battery to drop.

There is an endless parade of USB Chargers, and the cheaper ones are not worth the time. Ask yourself if you really want a $5 charger between mains voltage and your expensive device, and then move on to a name brand charger.

My summary of the best options:

If you already have a 2 amp charger lying around ( I am sure you do) simply buy the PortaPow fast charging cable, and you are in business. The Nexus 7 charger weighs 62 grams (2.2 oz) with an Australian plug.

If you want flexibility and low weight, the Kensington 2 amp charger (112 grams ( 4 oz)) comes with a range of international plugs, and can be used with a figure 8 cable if the power outlet is inaccessible and can charge four devices (up to 2 amps) simultaneously.

For speed and power, there is no substitute for the Anker 5 port IQ+ charger. It weighs in at a hefty 250 grams (8.8 oz) with a cable but I have been on vacation with four people, a chromebook, three tablets, four smartphones, a USB powered WiFi hotspot and assorted keyboards mice and Bluetooth headsets and the Anker handled the lot perfectly.

My Review of the Anker Charger is here, you might enjoy it.

I also reviewed the HP Chromebook 11, and decided It is my favorite Chromebook despite it’s limitations!

ASUS Chromebox Review – The ASUS Chromebox Is A Winner!

 

ASUS Chromebox
ASUS Chromebox

The last step in my conversion from “Full” PCs running Windows or Linux has occured. I pre-ordered the ASUS Chromebox with the Intel Celeron 2955U Processor and it arrived two days ago. I have been using it constantly, and I am very impressed.

It took me a long time to decide to try a Chromebook. The “It’s just a laptop with a browser” crowd kept me away for quite a while. Once I bought a Samsung Chromebook, I was hooked. I Took the 31 day Chromebook challenge,  using nothing but the Chromebook for a month (well, I did give in a couple of times) and I was hooked. I love ChromeOS! I have gradually moved further and further away from Windows and Linux.

The ASUS Chromebox is a not very exciting looking black square, about 120mm square and 35mm high. It is surprisingly heavy, with the ASUS logo and Chrome logo on top, and an Intel inside hologram sticker on the front. The back is an array of connectors, including the ability to connect two monitors, one by HDMI and one by Displayport. I have connected mine to the HDMI port. It has Ethernet, 2 x USB3, Audio out, and power in. On the left side is an SD reader, and on the front two more USB3 ports. It has vents on the bottom and back, and in use is just a little warm on top. It seems to be fanless.

ASUS Chromebox
ASUS Chromebox

There is also Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11 a/b/g/n wireless. It ships with the VESA mount that allows mounting it on the back of a monitor, but my monitor does not have the mounting point, to my dissapointment.

Having the power switch in the corner creates a psychological urge to mount the box at a 45 degree angle with the button facing forward. This makes sense in many cases given that then the right and left sides would have the connectors for SD card on the left and 2 x USB on the right at 45 degrees to the front, and quite reachable. In my case it does not work because of the direction cables must be laid to reach desktop openings.

It boots to a logon in five seconds or less. I am using a 1080p monitor, and the screen scrolls smoothly. I am impressed by the speed. I can play video, edit, and browse with multiple windows open. Scrolling is limited by load time not CPU. I have not yet seen the checkering that is common while scrolling on my HP Chromebook 11. I bought the HP for its light weight and USB charging, not the speed, and I am happy to compromise when I am mobile. But the flicker free, fast performance is a great on a desktop computer.

I am not a big fan of benchmarks, but I ran the Octane test and it runs at about 11,000. That is similar to the speeds I am getting using Chrome on a high end Core i5 Ultrabook running windows, and considerably faster than the HP Chromebook 11.

The (small) manual said I can sleep the Chromebox by pressing the power button, I am not seeing that happening though, it just seems to lock the screen.

It came with a Microsoft wireless keyboard and mouse. I do not like the keyboard, and have replaced it with the Bluetooth keyboard and mouse I have been using for my Chromebook when it is up on its desk stand.

I am currently spending a lot of time in the office, so I have been using it constantly and It has performed flawlessly.


For a Chromebox of this performance, costing $250 (in Australia) delivered, with wireless keyboard and mouse, I consider it an excellent buy.

You might like to read my assessment of ChromeOS at the end of the 31 day challenge here: