Apple announced a new iPad today, so I bought a chromebook. Actually, I bought it a few days ago; it just happened to arrive today. It’s a 2 in 1 flip around touchscreen tablet laptop all in wonder. I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently on my other chromebook, but sometimes I wish the keyboard would just go away. And when I’m reading on an iPad, I wish I had a keyboard. Technology is all about convergence, right? Bring on the singularity.
As a laptop, it’s not too bad. The keyboard is a little thin, and some keys are quite small. I wouldn’t write a novel with it, but it’s good enough to leave scathing comments on internet forums. The hinges are solid. It’s definitely more useful than a tablet with a keyboard. I have a special soft spot for laptops that can unfold 180 degrees (hello thinkpads!), so this machine earns a bonus star for that, too.
As a tablet, not too bad either. It’s a little bulky, and the keyboard feels weird, but it’s a nice big screen and easy to read. Especially as a reading machine, flipping to portrait mode helps. Certain unnamed newspapers only use a third, or even a quarter, of the screen width in landscape mode, leaving giant gutters on the side and a mere paragraph of text in the limited vertical space. Spin things around and paragraph upon paragraph of easy reading text flows down the screen.
The touchscreen, however, is terrible. Every time I tapped it, I was going to the wrong link. At first I thought the calibration was atrocious, or maybe the display was poorly laminated, but a little experimentation with the stylus reveals it’s a software problem. Worse: it’s a feature!
When you tap the screen, chrome looks around for what it thinks is the most interesting target in the general vicinity, and clicks that. Even if you very precisely use the stylus to tap this link, if chrome thinks that link is more interesting, that’s where you’re going. The touch targets also extend quite a ways out from the actual link on screen. I spent some time poking the HN homepage with the stylus and it was amazing (appalling) what taps went where. (It’s also very hard to dismiss the long tap context menu: a tap on a link dismisses the menu, but also visits the link. Since it’s impossible to know where chrome thinks the link ends, there’s nowhere safe to tap.)
I’ve been using iPhones and iPads for a decade now and have never had this problem. It’s fucking ridiculous. ChromeOS has a lot of work to do.
That kind of puts a damper on things, no? Anyway, it means certain sites will work well, and others don’t. The first thing I tested was of course flak. It’s very easy to read posts, which is good, but even with practice I had trouble clicking on the desired link in the sidebar. I want to read thoughts; chrome decides I want to read rants. Indeed.
Some other software components are also less than complete. The chrome kindle web app works nicely in tablet portrait mode, with big full pages of text. You can turn pages by tapping page edges, but the other menu controls are hidden until you mouse over them. In tablet mode there is no mouse! So trying to skip forwards or backwards quickly, or switching to another book requires pulling out the keyboard again. Sigh. Also, sometimes it crashes changing orientation.
Tried the android kindle app instead. First the Google Play Store app crashed three times before begging me for a phone number and then a credit card and some other stuff I declined. Finally, I was able to install the kindle app. Rotate the screen to portrait mode and... What? The kindle app rotates and resizes itself to a tiny super letterboxed app that only covers the middle half of the screen. Who would ever want that? Verdict: maybe a web page reading machine, but definitely not a book reading machine.
Hilarious bug: if the machine is restarted in tablet mode, the keyboard isn’t disabled despite being folded back. Have to unfold, then fold back again to disable. The perils of edge triggered conditions.
Even better: using the onscreen keyboard, press alt-tab. This brings up the task switcher and hides the virtual keyboard. Task switcher doesn’t respond to touch and won’t disappear until the virtual alt key is released, but the keyboard is gone too...
The screen is a nice high resolution. By default, it’s at 2x 1200x800, which makes most sites a little too blown up. Leave the resolution alone but change default scaling to 75% and things are great. I played with the reverse, but increasing resolution makes UI elements like tabs and the location bar smaller (and thus even more difficult to hit via touchscreen).
It’s a compromised machine, but it’s not worst of all worlds bad. I think it’s definitely better than a kitted out tablet with stand and keyboard and etc. A bulky tablet beats a floppy laptop. Around the house, the right tool for the job and all that, but as a vacation travel machine? Read and watch movies on the plane, compose email from the hotel? It could work for that.