Chromebooks are becoming increasingly popular. The affordable computers currently account for four of the top five best-selling laptops on Amazon, ranking higher than Apple's MacBooks and various Windows 8 laptops. With price tags under $300 and a strong advertising budget provided by Google, the Chromebook's success shouldn't come as a complete surprise.
The question remains, however, who's buying these computers? I rarely see a Chromebook out in public, and chances are you've never seen one. In fact, the only time I run into a Chromebook is at an industry event, usually being tested by another member of the press.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Chrome OS and Chromebooks in general, they are Google's attempt to bring a laptop to the masses. The computers are usually pretty bare-bones; most include a relatively small solid-state drive, a low-end processor, and not many external ports. The trade-off, of course, is that sub-$300 price tag.
Chromebooks rely entirely on the cloud and Web applications, meaning they aren't like any other computer you've used before. Essentially every action is performed in the Chrome Web browser, although there are some (limited) offline capabilities, such as writing e-mails, viewing documents, and even playing some games.
Thanks in part to my love for Android, I already rely heavily on Google's ecosystem. Everything is seamlessly synced from one device to the other, whether it's my contacts, browsing habits, or documents, my information is always available at a moment's notice.
I decided to put my MacBook Air aside for a few days and rely solely on a new HP Chromebook 11. I learned a lot about Chrome OS and came to appreciate the operating system as a whole; I even discovered things I never knew existed.
If you're curious about making the switch from Windows or OS X to a Chromebook, these tips will help you get started:
Setting up a Chromebook is a hassle-free process that can be completed within seconds. Assuming you already have a Google account (chances are you do), connect to a Wi-Fi network and sign in as you would on Google's Web site. It's as simple as that.
Exploring the settings
Google has taken a minimalist approach with the Chrome OS interface. An Alt click on the desktop will reveal only two options: toggling the shelf of apps to hide or remain persistent, and to change the wallpaper.
On the lower right-hand side of the shelf you will find the time, battery life, and your avatar. Clicking on this section will reveal even more information, such as your Wi-Fi network, Bluetooth connectivity, Sound, Settings, and a help, power down, and lock option.
Clicking on the Settings option will open a new Chrome tab (don't worry, it still works if you don't have Internet), from here you can change your default search engine and personalize your Chromebook with a new wallpaper or theme. This menu also houses settings to alter options relating to the touch pad, keyboard, and display.
Whether you are coming from a Windows computer or a Mac, the biggest change will be the Chromebook's keyboard. Your first week with the new laptop is going to be hell. You will accidentally hit keys you never intended to, especially when attempting to copy and paste.
Chromebooks only have a Ctrl and an Alt key; there is no Windows button or Command key like in Windows or OS X. Caps Lock has also been replaced with a rather helpful Search key, which lets you search for content on your Chromebook, the Internet, and in Google's Chrome Web store. The Caps Lock feature can be temporarily enabled by clicking the Alt and Search keys.
Other missing keys include Home, End, Page Up, Page Down, and Delete, but these can be accessed through other methods.
The Home function can be replicated by clicking Ctrl, Alt, and the up arrow, while Ctrl, Alt, and the down arrow replaces the End button.
The Alt key combined with the up arrow will replicate the Page Up function, Alt and the down arrow replaces Page Down, and pressing Ctrl and Backspace will delete your previous word.
The top row on the keyboard is also different than what you are used to. The traditional F keys have been replaced with various browser and system commands. The first three buttons pertain to browser functions: going back to your previous page, moving forward, and reloading the page.
The two keys with squares on them are to toggle full-screen mode and to switch to the next window, while the last five keys control basic system commands like reducing the brightness, increasing it, muting the volume, decreasing it, or increasing it.
Chrome OS supports a large number of keyboard shortcuts that can be used to easily access various commands. Combining the Ctrl key with the next window button (F5) will capture a screenshot, while Ctrl, F5, and Shift will allow you to select a small portion of the screen to capture.
Screenshots are saved in the Download folder, which can be accessed in the Chrome OS file manager or by pressing the Ctrl and O key when a browser window is open. To view and force-close running programs, press Shift and the Esc key to open the operating system's task manager.
Chromebook's can be locked by holding the Ctrl, Shift, and L keys, while swapping the L key for the Q key will log you off completely. A fast way to open apps from your dock is by selecting the Alt key and combining it with numbers 1 through 9. For example, if the Chrome browser is the first application on your dock, pressing Alt and the 1 key will open it.
There are dozens of different shortcuts baked into Chrome OS. You can explore them all by pressing the Ctrl, Alt, and ? keys at the same time.
Check out CNET's review of the HP Chromebook 11 for more information about Google's latest laptop.