A Playwright’s Look at the Chromebook


January 20, 2014 by Sam Graber

Yes, it’s time for another fun-filled installment of ‘playwrights seduced by electronic gadgets.’

As you know, I have adamantly adumbrated the dangers of getting lured into the dark sorcery of consumer electronics. However, it doth behoove us to continue to explore at least the possibilities provided by the latest and greatest in gadgetry release. As much as playwrights don’t need to be any more sidelined by product marketing and their associated pitfalls, it’s not like spending hours messing around with the latest shiny object is any less damaging than the same hours spent transfixed with the greatest distractions YouTube has to offer.

Need I say more.

Situation as follows — I felt the need to look into buying a new laptop in late 2013 because, as a playwright, I was running into some sticky spots with the development of a new script. Whenever one finds themselves stuck, whenever one finds themselves at a creative impasse, whenever one reels from the onset of depression due to going-nowhere-fast scriptwriting, then nothing alleviates like blaming the tools. It’s far cleaner to blame the burnout of a laptop fan than the expiring flame of the mind.

Hello, Mall of America!

In the process of looking for a new laptop I landed on some discoveries. Windows 8 is a disaster. Also, MacBook Airs/Pros are incredible but expensive. What is a playwright to do?

Enter Google’s new Chromebook. I researched. I bought. I played. After looking at many options, it seemed the Acer Chromebook C720 was the best package at the most competitive price. So here’s my review just for you playwrights…

…and keep in mind as context, the family and I went out of the country on vacation (I would post a picture of where I was but I don’t want to be mean). I took the C720 with me to see just what would happen when traveling with a smaller, mobile laptop unit. Would it really suffice overseas? Let’s just say this surpassed my expectations…

There are two parts to the Chromebook, which are the hardware and the software. It’s similar to any legacy Windows laptop, in which Microsoft makes the OS and another manufacturer puts together the hardware. This is the same situation with the Chromebook. Google has made the Chrome operating system and my particular hardware unit is packaged by Acer.

First, the thing is $200. $200! That is the price, nothing else added or surcharged after the cashier closeout. $200. The youngster at checkout asked me if I wanted to purchase a hardware protection program. I asked how much? He said $99. I said you want me to buy insurance at 50% of your out-the-door cost. He said yes. I said why. He said it could break. I said if it breaks, I’m out $200 and I just come in and buy another one. Today’s youngsters don’t understand the concept of additive insurance, possibly because they are too busy still figuring out ObamaCare.

The Chrome system is totally smooth. No hiccups. No lags. Clean and simple. The OS bootup from cold start is five seconds. Going to sleep and waking up from sleep is instantaneous. Closing the lid and lifting the lid presents zero latency. It is that responsive.

The big requirement for any Chromebook is that you have to be connected to the internet. Let me repeat — you must be connected to the internet. There are almost no resident apps running local data. It’s all cloud. But who isn’t connected to the internet nowadays? My suggestion is, if you’re someone who is truly mobile, to buy a Mifi-type device so you’re always connected. Otherwise, smartphones can function as a hotspot.

Right away, you’re thinking, but what about Word? Scrivener? Final Draft? Not here. I am using the Chromebook as a secondary laptop, not as my primary workstation. So I do my writing in various cloud apps on the Chromebook and then transfer over to my primary workstation for proper formatting later. Keep in mind, Word is now available on the web as a free (read: FREE) app. Otherwise, there are plenty of cool web-based writing apps that you can access from anywhere, anytime as long as you have an internet connection. And really, is your play writing so precious that you don’t mind the NSA taking a quick peek whenever it wants?

The hardware is solid enough. Fits in the hand. I don’t notice I’m typing on hardened plastic. And just like any new keyboard, it took a couple days to get used to the spacing and chiclet responsiveness. But now I am absolutely flying on the hunt-and-peck without many spelling or keystroke errors. In fact, as I was sitting at the swim-up poolside bar typing this, I turned my head to notice native islanders on bar duty ogling at me. One asked if I was actually typing that fast or just randomly hitting keys. Serious. That happened.

The battery is rated at 9 hours per charge. I’ve been getting around 10. I can go all day, remoting from various places and incurring no decline in battery life. However, my screen brightness has been hovering in the 50% range (if you can’t get me for 50% add-on insurance, you get me with 50% screen brightness). Once increasing the brightness to higher illumination, the calculated battery remaining drops off.

Downsides. The screen is weak. It’s not HD nor 1080p resolution. Also not touchscreen. Furthermore, the trackpad isn’t as perfectly uniform to the finger motion as I would like. I find myself double-tracking to get to the exact spot on the screen. However, there are some cool little Chrome finger motions that allow you to move around quickly, which make up somewhat for the lack of touchscreen.

One of the other island dudes tending bar warned me about random splashing. One splash and water could come pouring onto my laptop and destroy it. Hey island dude — $200! Meanwhile, this resort was truly all-inclusive, with all food and alcohol incorporated into a single master charge. They had a sushi restaurant with imported bottled beer. You figure it out.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Sam, this reads fine, but it’s comparable to my experience with any Apple laptop. For sure. I’m not advocating this is better than a MacBook. It’s not better. It’s CHEAPER. DID YOU NOT READ ABOVE WHERE I WROTE $200??? Go back and read that part again.

Also, $200.

This Chromebook just absolutely works for a secondary, mobile unit. I can check email, maintain communications, write, surf the web, conference call, etc. Meanwhile, the amount of apps on the Chrome web store are growing. While most apps are nothing more than gateways to websites, some apps are actually resident and can be accessed in the absence of internet connection, though I haven’t tried those.

Final thought as it relates to my personal story: in 2008 I bought a laptop for $1,250. In 2010 I bought a laptop for $800. In 2013 I just bought a laptop for $200. Computers are appliances. Disposable, interchangeable appliances.

If you’re like me and always figuring about ways to never compromise the ability to get right to your writing, while strengthening the elasticity of your dollar, I suggest you check out the Chromebook. And hey, nowadays, you don’t like, you bring back and return and get refunded.

Wish I could say the same for my writing!

2 thoughts on “A Playwright’s Look at the Chromebook

  1. Reay Jespersen says:

    Thanks for the post. Just what I was looking for, as I’m currently split between getting a Mac laptop (sweet, but pricey) or a Chromebook (cool and cheap, but limited).

    Question: What app(s) do you write in which you then convert back at home base? I’m mainly using Movie Magic Screenwriter for scripts… other formats aren’t particularly key, since you mentioned that Word is now available as a free app.

    Perhaps more to the point: is there a Chromebook app whose format easily lends itself to getting imported into a program (like MMS, or perhaps Final Draft) for quick, accurate transferring without the need to go back and tediously re-format previously written work?

    • Denniz says:

      Same question here… I don’t want to have to format everything again when I copy and paste everything in Final Draft. Thanks

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