Seventy-two hours ago, my two-year old Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) Envy 14 notebook crapped out. Just like that—one year after the warranty ended but a long time before I expected difficulties from it.

DH Kass, Senior Contributing Blogger

January 13, 2014

6 Min Read
Chromebooks on a Tear? Here’s One Reason Why

Seventy-two hours ago, my two-year old Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) Envy 14 notebook crapped out. Just like that—one year after the warranty ended but a long time before I expected difficulties from it.

Not only did my very own Techno-gedden come at an inopportune time, but also it showed up without warning—no stuttering drives, no flashing displays, no buzzing, no whirring, no file errors—nothing to clue me in that I was about to lose all my documents, photos included, and be left gasping and bobbing for technology air.

What’s worse, I had three blogs due that day for The VAR Guy. Please don’t ask me if I backed up my hard drive—I’m a blogger; we never back up, we just move on to the next topic.

Somewhat ironically, it also happened in the wake of Chromebook news in and around the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show—the NPD Group measured the platform’s market share at a surprising 21 percent of all notebook channel sales through November, and Dell and Toshiba showcased upcoming, new, more powerful models.

I’m brand-agnostic and I like the Envy 14 just fine. I got it for a bargain basement price, it’s never given me any trouble and it’s served me well. But really, my initial post-crash thought after “Oh, #$@&*!!” was, “The last thing I want to do today is spend two hours on the phone with tech support.”

No knock on HP’s first-tier phone support, but I knew it was going to cost me $60 for them to tell me what I already know, and likely I was going to have to prepay who-knows-how-much for a send-to-depot service ticket. And then wait two weeks. It’s like calling the plumber when the pipes leak—you don’t have much choice but you wish you did.

While I’m not a system admin, being in and around IT since the early, early, early days has left me fairly tech-fluent. I pretty much knew the hard drive on my belly-up notebook was corrupt, I just didn’t know how badly it was damaged. Most importantly, I wanted to move on quickly, and as inexpensively as possible. Sure, I could myself replace the hard drive, reformat the entire system (if I could find my Windows 7 disks) and reinstall some productivity software, but what if the display had gone south? That was beyond me to fix.

My second thought—and it didn’t take long to get there—was that I’d been blabbing for quite a while about the cloud, and privately had dissed my friends’ desktops, jibbling that my next computer would be a web-based, cloud-centric notebook.

Because I write news for a living (if you can call it that) I don’t need a fancy file management system. I’m not a power Word or Excel user, I’m all happy about free cloud storage, processing speed is important but not a deal killer, and I spend half my time noodling on the Internet and the other half writing about what I found.

Outside of the education market, that makes me the perfect Chromebook new user. Here, out of the ashes of my crapped-out Envy 14 was my chance to see for myself if the Chromebook buzz made sense or if it was mere marketing hype for an underpowered, underperforming something-or-other.

So I did some basic homework, searching on my phone for Chromebook reviews, examining as best I could Acer’s and Samsung’s models and trying to settle in on my priorities. At this point, the specs of the various machines are pretty much the same—slower performing processors, middling graphics, 2MB of RAM and 11-inch screens, all running the Chrome OS. Anything you want or need to do has to be executed within the confines of the browser.

I concluded that similar to the Envy, I wanted a 14-inch display, which culled my choices down to the HP Chromebook 14 for better or worse.

No Wonder Chromebooks Are Catching On

The truth is, while I had blogged a fair amount on these pages about Chromebooks from a sales and marketing standpoint, I’d only fiddled around with a few in-store demo models. I didn’t really have a good enough handle on how the HP unit’s footprint, keyboard or screen would suit me, let alone its internals.

Regrettably, that meant I didn’t have enough hands-on experience to buy it online comfortably. I needed to see it, handle it and operate it myself to see. For a confirmed online buyer such as myself, that’s unusual—no, honestly, it’s an anathema to me—in-store shopping isn’t my thing.

Still, I cruised around online to learn that while there isn’t a whole lot of variation in the configurations, there are some price differences, as much in one case as $70 above the $299 list price for the HP Chromebook 14. Reluctantly, I figured if I was going to buy the Chromebook, the local Best Buy (BBY) was as good an option as any, especially considering I wanted it in my hands right away.

It helped that I knew what I wanted—it was all of 10 minutes from the time I walked in the store to the time I left with my Chromebook purchase in hand, including demo time, which suited me just fine.

Much to my surprise, the 10 minutes that I spent buying the thing was about twice as long as it took for me to set the system up, figure it out and get up and running. That took all of five minutes. To some extent, I feared the rudimentary nature of Google Docs and Google Sheets would hamstring me, but the apps have proven to be just fine. And, there’s enough helpful tips from users available online now to smooth over any rough edges.

Of course, I had to put in the two long hours on the phone with HP support to diagnose what to do with my soon-to-be-drydocked Envy 14, along with pre-paying the requisite $250 to ship it to HP’s repair depot to fix what HP thinks is wrong with the thing.

But after slogging through that chore—and setting the addled Envy 14 out of my sight—I now had an easy-as-all getout, web-centric, cloud-access system up and working that met my needs (albeit in a less-fancy but thoroughly acceptable way). And, for under $300. Surprised the you-know-what out of me.

Of the many Chromebook reviews I’ve read, the ones that stuck with me the most emphasized that the quasi-computers aren’t for everyone, which isn’t exactly big praise in the minds of those who write reviews. That estimation earned even the best Chromebook a high of three stars out of five, a middling performance at best.

But you know what? Chromebooks just might be way more than that. The unit I bought saved me a lot of time, money and headaches. What’s not to like about that?

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About the Author(s)

DH Kass

Senior Contributing Blogger, The VAR Guy

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