Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Review HP Chromebook 13 G1 (Core m3 model)

So I am not a high end type of person. I rarely splurge and usually try and find the cheapest way to do something. Which is why I surprised even myself when I ordered the new HP Chromebook 13. Even worse, it was the Core m3 model which runs even more than the Pentium model.

Now if you are reading this chances are that you have already read some reviews and maybe have seen some videos of the HP Chromebook 13 in action. I am hear to tell you, however good it looked in the videos or how good it sounded as you read the is 1,000% times better. When I took it out of the box I was shocked at how light weight it was. Then I noticed how solid it felt. I have held quite a few Chromebooks and this one felt great. It definitely lives up to the hype of a premium build.

Opening it up I was greeted to a gorgeous display. Once again, I'm not normally a spec guy, just a gets the job done guy, but this thing shines. All models of this Chromebook come with a Quad HD screen and it shows. Colors are vibrant, images & text are sharp, and the 13.3 inch screen size is actually a decent size for work. When I went side by side on some windows, there was plenty of room to work with. That was probably the biggest surprise, I didn't think a 13.3 inch screen could split the screen enough to make it usable.

So how does it feel using it? Typing on it is great. Everything works like a charm and I have zero complaints. The Core m3 model flies when moving around. I have a lot of scripts and formatting in my Sheets and sometimes the c720 slows down, the HP ran through it like it was nothing. As I used it, it felt faster than my i3 Chromebox. When I ran the Google Octane test, my assumption was correct...and by a lot. My i3 Chromebox scored in the 15,000s-16,000s, the HP Core m3 was in the high 21,000s to low 23,000s. I can't imagine needing anymore power than what this thing has.

In my opinion the HP Chromebook definitely lives up to the hype. The build quality is great, the screen is great, and the speed is great. I think this would have been one heck of a laptop for teachers, even the Pentium version. I have seen those Octane scores in the same range as my i3 Chromebox.

The only drawback is the lack of touch, on any configuration of this Chromebook. Android Apps are making their way to Chrome OS and some might do better in a touch environment versus mouse. I'm not 100% sold on this because I have used Remix OS, Android in desktop form, and it works just as well with a mouse with no touch required. I am getting in the Dell i3 with touch, so I am curious as to how it compares to the HP Chromebook.

If you are looking for a higher end Chromebook that will make people think twice about what a Chromebook looks like then this is the Chromebook for you.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Learning Curve Part 3 - Apps & Extensions

As I mentioned in the last post, part of making a transition from one OS to a new one is making it as smooth as possible. Most people are going to be clicking around trying to open up programs or trying to figure out how to install programs. One of the benefits is that Chrome OS doesn't run any traditionally installed programs except the Chrome browser, because of this Chrome OS devices are faster and more secure. But people will want to have something that does something similar to traditional programs. That's where apps come in.

Most of the apps that run on Chrome OS are web apps. In other words, shortcuts to webpages that do the work. There are a few that run outside of the Chrome browser, but most of the more powerful ones are web based. Extensions for the Chrome browser are the other tools that will help make the transition go more smoothly. 

Once again in the second half of 2016, the entire Android Play Store will become available to Chrome OS. When that happens ever most of these suggestions won't be as necessary. Because there is a Photoshop app for Android. There are also better versions of Office on Android then on their Office web apps. It is something that will definitely need to be revisited once that happens. 

This list of apps and extensions will be what I have found to be useful for teachers. I am sure that others will come out in comments later.

  • Office 365 Mail Checker: a great extension if you are still locked into Outlook for emails. Notifies you with an email near the address bar and also one in the bottom tray. Chrome doesn't even need to be open to get the notification.
  • Checker Plus for Gmail: if you happen to have Gmail as your main email, this is a must. Another extension that allows you to get email notifications and even respond without having to open up Gmail. 
  • Cloud Convert: one of the best all around file converters out there. If you don't like the way Google Drive's built in converter works, you can always try this one. I usually use it to convert pdfs to jpgs. Also integrates well with Google Drive.
  • Pixlr: Doesn't need an introduction probably if you have researched Chromebooks before. Pixlr is a solid photo editor. It's not Photoshop, but if you need Photoshop on a regular basis you won't be buying a Chromebook.
  • Nimbus Screenshot: taking screenshots of pages is very important for educators. This used to belong to Snagit, but they are discontinuing their Chrome extension, but this one is just as good. Another good screenshot extension is Fireshot. I actually use them interchangeably. 
  • Save to Google Drive: an unknown extension that is a must when you transfer into Chrome OS. This extension allows you to save any page, picture, or document directly to your Google Drive with one click. 
  • Google Keep: This extension is useful if you have started using Google Keep. Similar to some of the other extensions like Share to Classroom or Save to Google Drive, this app takes any webpage that you are on and shares it to Google Keep. This is useful because if you are putting together resources for students, but want to look at them in more detail later, you can save them to Keep and have them waiting for you at a later time.
  • Share to Classroom: For teachers using Google Classroom, this extension adds a share button. When you see a website you want to share, just click it and it will go to the class you want to share it with.
  • PDF Escape: In a perfect world, pdfs would be naturally editable, but they aren't. If you were to search PDF editors on the chrome web store, most aren't that highly rated. It is difficult to edit a pdf file. PDF Escape is an app that does a very good job of allowing you to open and edit directly into the pdf and save it. There are a ton of PDF apps out there and this is probably my favorite.
  • HP Print for Chrome: talked about this in the printing post. A must if you have an HP printer.

Those are some of my must have apps to help make that transition from Windows to Chrome OS a lot smoother. If you have any other apps you want to share go ahead and list them below.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Learning Curve Part 2 - Printing

In part two of the learning curve series we will go ahead and look at the second biggest knock on Chromebooks, printing. Some people would say that printing from a Chromebook is the biggest issue, not Office. In the last post David Andrade brought up a good point. When Android apps make their way to Chrome OS in the second half of 2016, almost all these issues can easily be resolved. Most every printer comes with an Android app that allows for pretty simple printing. But Chrome OS devices last a long time. For example, every Chromebook on our campus won't get Android apps, neither will my Chromebox.

For most PCs installing a printer is pretty straight forward. In fact, most printers used to be installed via usb directly into the computer that used them. Nowadays, printers are generally set up as network printers, meaning you hook that printer up to a network and more than one device can print to it. And it is because of this shift in printer setup, the notion that Chrome OS is obsolete because you can't directly hook a printer up to it is almost null.

The first method that most people will look at is Google Cloud Print. When GCP was first rolled out it was difficult to set up. Most printers weren't set up to handle cloud printing. Early Chrome OS adopters probably had to set up Google Cloud Print on a Windows/Mac machine and keep it on as a printer server. Most printers are made now for Google Cloud Print. Set up is simple and painless. I recently bought a Samsung laser printer and it was completely set up without a computer. All I needed to do was plug it into our router.

If you need to set up a printer server through another machine our IT guy came up with a quick solution. He took an old laptop and installed the printers and put them on Google Cloud Print. Then he simply shared those printers with staff members. It allowed us to print to the machines and not have a laptop running 24/7 for the rare occasions we printed. 

If you happen to own an HP printer, they developed their own Chrome App, HERE. I talked about the HP printer app before, but I feel like some of the things are worth mentioning again. All you need to do is find the ip address of the printer. Type it in and you are done. The two printers near us are both HP and they haven't had an issue once. I set up this app on my two colleagues Chromeboxes and not one time have I heard them tell me they can't print. 

And that is what we want when switching to a new OS, a seamless transition. If staff is able to work like normal and not have to worry about things working, then they are more willing to fully buy into what they are using. 

Our campus also has copy machines that are set up on our network for direct printing as well, for class sets. It was always hit or miss on our laptops. Sometimes is would work, but most of the time it didn't. In fact, I know of a handful of teachers who have never printed directly to the copy machine. Something that you might not know is that if a printer is one the network it has an ip address. And when you type in that ip address you are taken to a webpage for that printer. Most printers have a way to directly print from that webpage. So that one teacher that could never print to the copying machine can now upload the file to print and send it to the copying machine. Also to note, these printer webpages have all the options that you can select on the actual copier. So if you want double sided & stapled, all you do it check the boxes and it will print.

So from this post it sounds like printing isn't a real issue anymore, and honestly it's not. When I started the Chromebook Challenge I had to keep my laptop on when I wanted to print because it was my server. This year? Don't need it. Chrome OS has come a long way in terms of printing. And I'm not sure if that is because of Google or the printer companies. Google Cloud Printing is still technically in beta even though it has been functional for years now.

Despite all the advances in printing, there are still a couple of things to be aware of. The options in the Chrome OS print screen aren't as detailed as a Windows print screen. Chrome OS basically gives you the option of what to print & how many copies. Also a lot of the success lies in the printer. Even though I have had zero problems with my personal Samsung laser printer, some people complain that the printer is always said to be offline. And keep in mind if your network printer isn't an HP, then you will have to set up a printer server on a Windows/Mac machine to run through, or use the solution we came up with and have one machine and share them out.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Learning Curve Part 1 - What about Office?

Ok so let's say you have been following my journey and have decided to take the plunge on going all in on Google. So you buy that new Chrome OS device and now you have to work through the dreaded learning curve. We all know it exists. Whether it be going from Windows 7 to Windows 8, Windows 7 to Windows 10, or even from Office 2012 to Office 2014. It doesn't matter when technology changes, there it is the learning curve. What do you need to do to be successful in the transition?

I have been exclusively Chrome OS for over a year now, so I have already gone through the curve. I also have two colleagues that I convinced to go Chrome OS this year and have helped them through their curve as well. They were both surprised that there wasn't much of a curve at all. Why? Well, the answer is simple. Most of the work of Chrome OS is done within a browser. It doesn't matter if you run Windows or MacOS, you use a browser. And chances are it is Google's Chrome browser. So you already feel comfortable when you turn it on.

Now, the number one thing everyone that has made the transition from Windows to Chrome OS is how to deal with Office Documents. Now while I was transitioning over from Windows to Chrome OS, I did a little research and found an extension called Office Editing for Docs, Sheets, and Slides. What this extension does is allow you to open an Office document in Google Drive, edit it, and save it as an Office document. You never have to change it over to a Google Doc if you choose not to.

After I installed that on my account and my colleagues, that helped out. But in reality, it wasn't perfect. Which leads us to the biggest issue about Office documents, formatting. Google Docs is about 97-99% accurate when converting Office to Google and I will say that that number is pretty accurate. When it becomes a problem is when there is a lot of formatting on the Office document. Then when it converts to a Google Doc, there will be some formatting that needs to be done on your part.

But here in lies my point, with every transition there needs to be some front end work put into it. When teachers got computers, there was a lot of work done to put together those power point presentations, worksheets in Word, or even tests in Word. But education changes. If you are still using the same power point from 5 years ago, maybe it is time you update it. And that is what I would tell those teachers that will complain about having to change and do work on their lectures.

Other issues with Office I have noticed, there is no smooth way to add in music into a Google Slide. Also, there is no way to easily add a watermark to a Google Doc.

Office is the one thing that people will say stops them from moving to Chrome OS. I am hear to tell you that the main issue you will run into is formatting. My recommendation is to convert it all in to Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides and go from there. Just know going in there will be some formatting that will need to take place eventually if you go from Office to Chrome OS. Once again, if you are using the same powerpoint for years and years, there are bigger problems that you need to tackle.

Next time we will talk about printing.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Perfect Solution?

I think it is no surprise that I think our school site should move away from Windows and towards Google & Chrome OS. I also have felt that a Chromebox is the ultimate device for teachers. I have documented my own journey, on this blog, from ditching Windows completely and going all in with a Chromebox this year.

But even though the beauty in Chrome OS is to be able to access your files & work anywhere you have a Chrome browser, some people still want a dedicated laptop. And here is where the struggle begins. You have a certain number of teachers who will never embrace a laptop. The keyboard is smaller, there is no dedicated numeric keypad, screen is too small, etc. And you will have another side that will argue that they need something mobile, so they can take it where ever they go.

I have found a solution that makes both people happy. Unfortunately, this pushes the old budget, but keeps it under $1000 a teacher, which is what I have heard our last laptops cost. My solution is to get a Chromebook that allows for a docking station, like the new HP Chromebook 13 G1.

It is one of the best Chromebooks on the market today, if not the best. I would recommend getting the m3 processor, so that initial cost of the Chromebook is $600. Definitely on the high end. But if you get every teacher the docking station that comes with it, for $150, then you have just turned the laptop into a desktop.

So Chromebook and docking station gets you to $750. You can easily find a monitor, mouse, & Chrome OS keyboard for less that $250. I would guess this set up would be around $900. But you actually now have two devices, a Chromebook (top of the line) & a desktop.

Now I know you might be thinking, just plug in an HDMI cable to it and you are good to go, why waste the extra money on a docking station. The docking station has a lot more going for it. More usb ports, ethernet connection, and 2 display ports. I used a Chromebook last year hooked up via HDMI and it worked, but this seems like a more powerful solution.

Also, why HP? Honestly, I think most Chromebooks are the same. I don't get impressed with shiny designs or other cool things. I care about specs. This is nice because it works with a Chromebook. They are made to go hand in hand. 

Now, the Dell Chromebook 13 is also another Chromebook that could work in this case, 

It is a great solid Chromebook as well. It has the option for a touchscreen for $629. So price range is very similar to the HP Chromebook with no touch. Dell doesn't make a docking station, but Plugable recently announced they have a docking station that works with Chromebooks, right now Dell is the only one, but more are coming.

Their docking station is $100, so the combined cost with a touch screen Chromebook is actually cheaper than the HP. It comes with more usb ports and has a DVI output, which is more compatible with most monitors. The only downside is that this won't charge the device when it is plugged in like the HP will.

But two solutions that gives everyone what they want.