Thursday, January 17, 2013

Waxing anorakish about new toys # 1

I finally made a decision about replacing my defunct Dell Mini computer, the one which saved my back from sitting too long at the supposedly ergonomic computer chair, as I could cart it around with me and balance it on top of the dog, who usually got to my lap first, on the sofa, and which saved Tom and me from computer-generated marital disharmony.  Tablets simply didn't appeal, except I suppose the real i-McCoy, an opinion largely founded on the remarkable creative things Plutarch seems to be able to get up to on his, and hisquiet putting of the case for it in the face of its detractors. But the price was simply more than I was prepared to cough up, and I'm a bit refractory about buying into the whole Cult of Apple anyway.

Which is somewhat ironic really (why is it ironic, exactly, why do we say that?  I try not to as I think it's a misuse of the term, it is neither, as far as I can see dramatic or any of the various forms of situational irony, but then I say it anyway...) because I got a Chromebook, thereby putting all my eggs into the basket of another world-eating behemoth instead.

The fact is I've been well hooked into Google - Chrome as a browser, Picasa for photo editing and Gmail - for ages now and I rather liked the idea of doing without Windows altogether. I didn't want to pay a lot, and at under 200 quid this wasn't a lot.  Also I do need to have an English language OS, and even more important, a qwerty keyboard, Francophone azerty ones make me feel as if I've had a stroke, and even from specialist computer places here that seems to be impossible. So I have to order from the UK, which is also problematic, as many suppliers just won't, or if they do when you check it turns out they charge about another 50 quid (I exaggerate not) for carriage, which I think is scandalous, so I resorted to that other entity bent on world domination beginning with A and named after a South American river or a tribe of woman warriors from Ancient Thrace, who sent it to me immaculately, beautifully and securely packed in a scant three working days for just over a fiver, which I thought was brilliant.

So, what do I think of it?  I like it, but of course it has its limitations.  I kind of quite like limitations, like the woman I remember saying that one of the reasons she bought organic food as a policy was because she got so fed up with endless, time-consuming, bewildering consumer choice and liked having to work within the limits of its availability.  I'm quite happy that I'm more or less told, this is cheap, it is solid and will work but you'll only get this this and this with it, don't expect that, that and that as well.

It's also very quick, and the battery life is good.  It's sleek and light and pretty with a good screen and an interesting, spacious keyboard with these odd sort of low relief keys; which I'm getting used to.  Then there's the touch-pad.  Unlike most people who seem to prefer them, I am completely useless and cack-handed with a mouse, have only ever used a standard two-button touch-pad (never used a Mac of any kind either).  This one has no buttons, so one press with one finger equals a left-click, two fingers a right, one finger held down and the other drawn for drag-and-drop etc (but you have to remember to do it in two separate movements or it thinks you mean right-click), and a really smooth scroll by drawing two fingers up or down simultaneously, which I think most touch-pads do but not always as well as this one.

So much for the hardware, when it comes to the software, really, everything you can do with it has to be done on-line, within the Chrome browser, there's a reasonable amount of internal storage but it's all for downloads.  Documents can be created on-line as Google Documents, which I used to do quite a bit, when I wrote more. You can plug in an SD card or external drive and work directly on it, but you can't transfer the stuff onto the computer. All is up there in The Cloud, looked after by rainbows and unicorns.

What's more, there's no Picasa.  Well, Picasa web albums of course, but no Picasa editing programme, and you can't download it.  There's a very, very basic editing tool which you can use on pictures you've either downloaded or which are on an SD card, but since Picasa has always been, for me, one of Google's great achievements, it seems a bit odd that there's no way you can use it here.  There are plenty of on-line editing programmes, some of which seem pretty good, but they require you to upload first of course, and without the means to shrink and export, that's slow and, to me, carries an unacceptable level of redundancy, (even with the oodles of free on-line storage that come with the machine, so I shall never be required to start this blog over again because I've used up my picture allowance). I think I'll probably end up editing photos on the main computer, uploading them to Blogger, or Picasa web albums, or elsewhere, and working with them from there, which was mostly what I used to do with the old Mini, because of its limited storage and small screen. (The batch of photos here I edited on the card, then uploaded directly from there to Picasa, then posted here by URL, which is OK for small numbers but not ideal.)

But then there are apps.  I didn't really know what an app was until the other day.  Not sure I do now really but I've started using them anyway.  And there are extensions, and I don't really know what they are either but I've got a dinky little toolbar full of them already. As well as WOT and Adblock, which I've had for a long time, I've got a thing to turn anything into print-friendly format, a thing to send any web-page in Kindle-friendly format to my Kindle, a little icon of a radio which opens up any of the main BBC radio stations and plays them, with a link to the BBC i-player too, a little leaf which gives me a new fascinating factoid everyday, today's is:

The pieces of a ball that has been taken apart can be used to build two balls identical to the original one - at least in set theoretic geometry. This peculiar trait is known as the Banach-Tarski paradox

and another which gives me a new obscure word every day (rather disappointing, so far none have been very obscure or unknown to me).  There's a word and character count tool, a thing to conjugate French verbs, and another very neat device called 'Accents plus' which takes the place of the character map in Windows only using keyboard shortcuts.  There's a blocker for those intensely irritating Faecesbook thumbs-up 'Like' buttons and all their evil kind, which is cherishably called 'StopSocial', I love that one.  There's a little thing which will make printable teaching flashcards to your own design using any picture on the web, and another button you can press when you buy anything on-line which will plant a tree or trees at no extra cost. Best of all, though, or it will be when I have the required equipment, there's a widget to turn any photo into 3D.  Now all I need are the glasses.

Of course I could have got them all on any computer using Chrome, but I never saw much point before, now browsing the webstore has become somewhat addictive, and they're easier to get at, and free. Except for the  small matter of selling my soul, of course, but you don't get owt for nowt I suppose. 

I haven't put any links in for any of these, since I think I'm giving them enough of a plug as it is. Apologies if required for such lengthy meta-meanderings, I'm always rather taken with a novelty. At least I suppose I'm not blasé (hey, it works, e+control!).


I was going to go on about other things that have come my way, but I think that will do for now. It's really a bit much how I don't blog for nearly a fortnight then can't seem to stop; I shall put the rest in a post tomorrow, you see if I don't!


The Crow said...

Can you plug it in to an outlet to save battery life? Can you buy a more powerful battery for it?

I suppose I could go to one of the big box office supply stores and ask them, but I'd rather hear a report from someone I trust, who uses it as I probably would.

Thank you for this review, Lucy. My grandson needs a laptop type computer for shcool and this one fits the purse rather well.

zephyr said...

How comforting to read this.
i shall "never" want a tablet
and i refuse to buy Apple because of the snobby "we are cooler than you" cache here in the states
they force one to pay FAR TOO MUCH for what you get from them
just so you can feel cool. i've worked on both systems and fail to see what all the fuss is about.

i do confess to coveting a Samsung Note II--but not until it becomes the has-been and is cheap as an upgrade to what i talk on now.

i have been pondering this Chrome possibility and am encouraged by your positive review.
My problem:
i am addicted to playing in Photoshop! i really do love it. But, like you say. i could keep this machine for that and have the "lighter" one for all the rest of the stuff i do.
i also confess i've never created a Google doc and must always send Word docs to editors...and i love MS Publisher. hm. Must figure that one out. Anyway. Thank you for the good news.

My absolute favorite line
which made me chuckle out loud:
"All is up there in The Cloud, looked after by rainbows and unicorns."

Roderick Robinson said...

Good grief. I assume your assumption into the catholic church, your conversion to veganism, your espousal of Ukip and your first faltering steps towards becoming a soccer hooligan could all take place over a weekend given that the big - the really BIG - decision is now out of the way.

You might, by the way, have given me screen dimensions because otherwise this thing looks like a ringer for my Compaq Netbook but somewhat larger in total area. This latter feature has proved to be an inspired advantage since the Netbook fits quite easily into my shoulder bag (that dirty sandy-coloured thing I was never without - even when I went to the loo - that you may have noticed when I came, like Queen Isabella, (see the undramatic yet meaty historical She-Wolves series about Britain's queens on Ch4) to Brittany).

I see you also have one of the Netbook's shortcomings - no DVD drive. We live in a downloadable age and so this shouldn't be a problem. And you can, as you say, transfer stuff as email attachments from the desktop. I did investigate external, plug-in DVD drives since these are available for as little as £10. However, these are read-only. Read/write costs about £35.

How curiously defensive you are about using a mouse.

I note from Zephyr a subject you and I have touched on and about which you (I think) have remained pagan. That's Photoshop. Me, I couldn't get along without it but I prefer to have it on the desktop which is linked to one of greatest computer extravagances I ever made (or VR made) and that's my blessed ILYAMA. Eat your heart out; mine's going to compensate for cataract.

Sabine said...

You can download picasa for free (or/and a paid version with more gadgets)no problem. Just google search for picasa download.

Lucy said...

Thanks three.

Crow, Yes, it plugs into the mains, which is how I'll probably use it quite a lot - I have an extension lead and plug accessible from the sofa! I'm not sure about it for Donovan. I don't really know what he needs, but I think this only really works as a second computer. There are a lot of things you can't do with it which might leave him frustrated, and new ways of doing things to learn, though maybe only for oldies like me, not for him. It is very reasonably priced, the Samsung Chromebook is quite a bit more, but there are Acer netbooks with Windows OS which aren't a great deal more expensive and would probably would be more versatile. I didn't get one because I didn't need to spend the extra, and also because of the ordering problems I mentioned. And I kind of got fed up with all the choice, I actually welcomed being given a drastically reduced choice for less money!

You can run Chrome on any (Windows) machine obviously, and benefit from the same apps and extensions.

Zephyr (and Robbie) - that's rather how I feel about Picasa; there's something abut sitting down in front of a new batch of downloaded pics on Picasa and playing, nothing like it. I used to have PS but never reloaded it, I liked it but found it (or rather myself using it!) slow,frustrating, non-intuitive, and again, just too much choice, I could never decide which adjustments looked better.

Samsung are the other people who do a Chromebook, there's is more expensive and the latest model much more, I don't know why, whether it's much better. Their netbooks look nice too. Google docs aren't difficult, and there are probably apps that convert them to pdf. Sounds like you're better with a Windows netbook though. You pay a bit less over there than we do anyway.

Robbie - screen is 25.5 cm x 14.5 not including the frame, I think that's 11 1/2 inches, a bit bigger than my old Dell Mini, and much clearer. It's very neat, I have a lovely colourful soft shoulder bag my sister made which turned out to be the right size for a small laptop. I now feel like popping it into it and going a-wandering! Except it's snowing and there's nowhere I want to go.

I'm afraid I didn't observe your movements to and from the loo when you were visiting, but what is and ILYAMA? Regarding Photoshop, see my response to Zephyr, who like you is a whiz with these clever things...

The absence of dvd drive has never bothered me, DVDs as back-up storage became chaotic clutter, I have an external hard drive (Seagate I think) can't remember how much it cost, probably around the £35 mark and it's great. I could plug that into this and work on things, as with the SD drive, but don't see a great need to, again though, I can't shift things from that to the Chromebook, only the other way around.

Lucy said...

Hi Sabine, missed you there! No, you can't download Picasa onto a Chromebook. Like I say, as they're both Google you'd think you could but you can't. I've checked reviews and forums, and it doesn't work, presumably because you need an operating system like Windows to effect the download and make it work. Rumour has it Google may phase Picasa out eventually anyway, in favour of something else to do with Drive or Google+ or something, which would be a great shame.

Thanks for stopping by.

Roderick Robinson said...

Is a sequitur the oppposite of a non-sequitur? If so, here are some.

The Ilyama is a monster (47 x 25 cm), high quality monitor, part of which is visible on my blog heading pic. I bought it as a DTP aid when I was editing a community magazine (ie, properly printed) in Quark Express and needed it for ultimate niceties of layout. Also full-page layout comparisons.

I mentioned the plug-in DVD drive just in case you ever wanted to download from a disk or send someone a whole host of pix that would be too much for an e-mail attachment.

Back-up. I have to take this very seriously: I couldn't afford to lose the MS of, say, Blest Redeemer which came to 153,000 words when finished. I have a special Lindy dock on the front of my desktop into which I slot what is, in effect, a remote hard disk. The appeal of this arrangement is the ease with which I am able to employ it, something that is hard to define in cash terms - until, that is, you've used it a few times.

My shoulder bag (now a disgraceful colour) goes with me at all times (wallet, chequebook, mobile phone, pens, coin purse, Hugh Johnson's pocket wine guide, address book, etc). It is not particularly large and wouldn't take a conventional laptop. However the Netbook fits in nicely; thus I am totally absorbed on the train journey to and from The Retreat, but without adding to my burdens

Avus said...

Interesting, Lucy.

I am at present fighting my way through the thickets of lap tops, note books, etc. since considering whether to change from my desktop PC.
I use Windows "Paintshop Pro" extensively rather than Photoshop and also Quark Express, so not sure your baby would be suitable for me. You certainly seem very enthusiastic about it and I will be interested to read your future postings about it.