Thursday, May 3, 2018

Review and Set-up of Samsung Chromebook Pro

So I have had my new Samsung Chromebook Pro since spring break and have used it periodically. I needed to find a suitable replacement for my Note Pro 12.2 that was getting old and slowing down. It is still on Android 4.4 (they are now on 8.1). Also, the Android app for Google Docs on my tablet wouldn't render some of my Google Docs properly. On some occasions my formulas and math type wouldn't show up at all.

I won't go through a typical review because the Pro lives up to all the hype. It is a really nice Chromebook. The screen is sharp and bright. The battery life is good. And despite what people have said about the smaller keyboard, I have not had any issues adjusting to it. In fact, the cut in half back space is perfect to my pinky to just go up and hit. It is very thin despite the fact that there is a physical keyboard attached to it. It feels solid in the hand and the lid feels sturdy every time I open it or flip it around.

If I was to compare it to my old Dell Chromebook 12 (i3 model), I would say it is better. The Dell was a great Chromebook, but it was heavy and thick. The Chromebook Pro is just as fast and responsive, but it so much thinner.

Instead of a typical review, I will be comparing it to the Note Pro 12.2 since that is what I am replacing it with. I also think the Pro is a good descendant to the Note Pro. The are both made by Samsung, they both have the same screen size, and they both utilize the S Pen.

Screen Sharing
I use my Note Pro for lectures pretty much every day. I give my students a Google Doc as a template for them and I edit over the notes using the screen capture tool. I connect my Note Pro to Samsung's wireless dongle that allows me to share my screen through the projector.  If the network was down, it didn't matter because the Note was communicating with the dongle and nothing else. The Note would always connect. It just worked. Very nice.

This is where the first difference was noticeable. The Chromebook Pro wouldn't connect to the dongle because it isn't a Chromecast. I expected this to happen, so it wasn't a surprise. I figured I would bring in my Chromecast and connect my Chromebook Pro to it and cast my screen that way. Well our network is WPA Enterprise, which basically means we have a unique ID & unique password to access our network. A Chromecast can't connect to that type of network, so I was stuck. I then tried an ethernet adapter, but that also wouldn't connect wirelessly. So down to my last straw, I brought in an old router connected it up to an ethernet port and configured a small network. So now when I teach, I have to connect my Chromebook Pro & Chromecast to the same network for it to work. It isn't hard now at all, but the set up took longer than it should have. The issue is that when the network goes down, the Chromecast won't work and I am dead in the water. Also, the Note Pro would automatically share the entire desktop, whereas the Chromebook Pro I need to select what to share, desktop or browser.

I am still surprised Google hasn't addressed the WPA Enterprise connection yet, especially since they have such a huge footprint in the education market. This wasn't a hard fix, but it might make educators think twice about using a Chromebook in the classroom as a tablet.

During Lectures
As I said, I used my Note Pro to screen write over their Google Doc. Sometimes I would go to Geogebra to do activities. Since the Note Pro is wireless, I could walk around the class or sit down in an empty seat to do notes. Screen capturing was a double click of the S Pen and I was off and editing. When I was done with the page, I could save it or discard it. It worked well. When using the Chrome browser on it, I ran into some issues with speed because it was an old tablet. But it was never enough to make me not want to use the browser during class.

The Chromebook Pro is obviously a little thicker because it has a keyboard built onto it. It is a little weird holding it and feeling the keyboard underneath, but I am sure I will get used to that. The nice thing is that my Note Pro S Pen works with the Chromebook Pro. It has a case on it that makes it the size of a regular pen, so it is easier to write with. The screen capturing for lectures is still pretty easy. Instead of just clicking twice, I have to select area of screen I want to use and draw a box around it. That makes it a little more time consuming, but it works. I can also delete the drawing when done, but it seems easier just to save them in Google Keep (default) and label them.

Open Notes
With the Note Pro I had the ability of using S Notes to just get a quick blank page and start writing out notes. It would save everything I did and I could download them or export them as pdfs.

The Chromebook Pro has a few other options. I could just open up Google Keep and start taking a note, but it is limited to 1 page. Since the Pro also has Android Apps, I went ahead and installed Squid Notes, which is an Android version of S Note. It is nice and works just as well as S Notes. The only issue I ran across is that when I try to cast Squid Notes with the built in cast button, it doesn't move past the loading screen. So what I have to do is cast from my browser then share the entire desktop. So once again, it works, just a few more steps.

Final Thoughts
The Note Pro was a perfect tablet to use in class. It just worked and could do everything I needed it to do. If not for the fact it was starting to slow down and the Android App didn't render Docs right, I would probably still be using it. In fact, some of this review was done on the Note Pro using my bluetooth keyboard. But I think the Chromebook Pro will be just as good. There is a learning curve. And that makes sense because I am switching from something that I have used for almost 5 years, and the Note 10.1 before it.

The Chromebook Pro has the huge advantage of having a built in keyboard. I had a bluetooth keyboard for my Note Pro, but using it wasn't as easy as something built in (connection issues). The Chromebook Pro also supports Android Apps, which means I basically have an Android tablet (like my old Note Pro) still in my hands.

The Chromebook Pro has lived up to all my expectations. I am sure that by Christmas time next year I will be fully adjusted to the new set up and routines I need to go through on a daily basis.

I don't know if I would say the Chromebook Pro is the best teacher Chromebook, but for right now it is the best teaching Chromebook. I still think the Acer Chromebook 15 (2017 model) is great teacher Chromebook because of the larger screen.

If you are looking for a replacement for an old Android tablet, get yourself the Chromebook Pro, you won't be sorry.