Three years ago, I went to Fry’s Electronics in Burbank (the sci-fi one with Hollywood props of creatures from outer space), and bought a $250 Samsung Chromebook.

It’s gone the distance with me, surviving many airports and punishing deadlines. But I tend to work for long stretches at a time and can be a furious keyboard basher, so the E, T, and Backspace all snapped off recently, and I could also feel the shift key creaking madly. But at $250, I didn’t expect it to last forever.

After some due diligence perusing PCMag recommendations (naturally), I set out to do some in-person comparison shopping. I would have ordered online, but didn’t want to wait. In a move that would have horrified my younger purist geek self, I ended up at Target.

How to Get Salespeople to Ignore You

“Do you have any Chromebooks?”

I got a blank look at first from the Target salespeople; it’s clear this isn’t the usual opening line they want to hear. They motioned to the latest 10.5-inch iPad Pro. I peered at the virtual keyboard, picked up the Apple Pencil, and put it down again.

“I type 85 words a minute. I’m a writer. I need a proper setup. And I don’t want to pay more than $350,” I said. “I also have three Gmail accounts; use Google Drive, Docs, and Sheets for my billing. I’m happy with a Chrome browser, so I want another Chromebook.”

You can clear a sales area really swiftly with this sort of talk.

They pointed at the three Chromebooks on offer and walked away, disheartened at my lack of desire to be among the gods of high-tech digital ownership.

It was a sad, small display: a couple of Acers (10- and 15-inch screens, both under $200) and an HP X360 convertible touch screen, which just screamed “I sit in the back of the classroom and hate my life.”

Hello, Touch Screen

But then I spotted a locked cabinet and got to Googling the tech specs of each box I could see through the glass. A 14-inch HP Chromebook looked promising, although it only came in white (sorry, “Snow”), but when you’re downsizing you learn to live with compromise.

I asked the sales staff to unlock the door and someone complied. By that point they’d heard my British accent, so I guess I started to look more quirky rather than (just) cheap. After dropping enough tech terms to be taken seriously, I had several electronics geeks asking me questions about my Chromebook experience. They also did a double-take at the low price—$311 including tax.

I hadn’t owned an HP product in forever. But I was up at Stanford recently, doing a story for PCMag, and geeked out when walking past the David Packard Electrical Engineering building and William R. Hewlett Teaching Center. I do have a soft spot for pre-Millennium Silicon Valley upstarts.

Once I’d paid, I perched myself at one of the high stools and asked them to open the box; I never leave a store without at least starting up a device to see if it works. Someone grabbed a Swiss Army knife and we did an unboxing at the Target counter before locating a power outlet under the cash register.

It was a silent startup (no telltale F Sharp major chord as per all Mac devices). The 14-inch screen had a pleasing resolution (1,366 by 768; you can set it higher but this is the recommended one), and the keyboard was suitably bouncy to the touch. Because it’s white, it’s a bit like typing on milk.

HP Chromebook

As the sales staff milled around, watching, I logged into my three separate Google profiles. I have a couple of different bylines, and am also a ghostwriter, so I like to keep my disparate lives organized. I resolved the instant security checks as Google pinged my phone about this new device, checked that everything was still present in the cloud, and was good to go.

Re-boxed up, the new Chromebook headed home for some serious settings wallpaper/theme/font overhauls, a switch to the 24-hour clock (I’m a European, after all), and bookmark syncing. All systems were go.

Summing Up

What’s a Chromebook good for, apart from my bank balance?

Well, writing, researching, fast browsing (I have 8 tabs open now with no problem), streaming movies, keeping all my accounts in order, multiple editing partners allowed simultaneously via Google Docs and listening to BBC Radio live via the surprisingly good Bang & Olufsen (B&O) in-built speakers. I’m also digging the touch-screen option.

As it’s a Wi-Fi-only device, there’s always the issue of connectivity. I’ve gotten adept at finding Starbucks, airports, train stations, public libraries, or—if I’m in a smart outfit—5-star hotels. Have I ever been frustrated at a lack of access to the internet? Yes. Have I ever been less than a mile away from an access point? Not in recent history, no.

The only thing it can’t do is gaming. But I’ve never been a big PC gamer. I’d rather let off steam at the arcade, and I live not far from Break Room 86. Because everything is stored, and runs from, the cloud, that’s where you want innovation, storage, and processing prowess.

My younger tricked-out, gadget-loving self would be appalled I’m now using a Chromebook (not to mention a basic ZTE smartphone and retro music player). But I hope my future self is suitably smug I haven’t spend thousands on keeping up with the rest of the geeks.

All I have to do now is transfer the stickers from my last journalism trips to NASA and DARPA before heading out to the cafe to grab some breakfast. I’m sure I’ll be the only one typing away on an HP Chromebook in West Hollywood today. And that’s okay by me.



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