Wednesday, March 8, 2017

On Chromebooks - First Week [Part 04]


Battery life is a subjective thing. I know that sounds odd, because even as I type it my mind objects. Which is to say, batteries drain in an objective manner, so "battery life" ought to be an objective quantity. It isn't, though. It depends on the needs of the system and the usage scenarios applied. These are objective things, perhaps, but working together in unpredictable ways they make a device's "battery life" more a matter of perception than quantification.

I have no idea if the battery life of my new Chromebook is better or worse than my previous, Windows-based convertible. This is mostly because I keep the former device plugged in at all times. I had no confidence at all that the Asus T100 was going to get me through an entire day on a single charge. In fact, if I left the device on - but locked and closed - for the duration of my drive home from work (about 20 minutes), it would arrive with less than half battery remaining. I doubt it was always this way. No doubt, years of leaving it plugged in at all times has produced undue strain on the battery it has.

Other than this anecdotal evidence, I have only my memories to aid me. I don't recall the T100 being particularly adept in the longevity department, but I do know I used to take it to the YMCA and write on it for an hour each day. I also know I never had any troubles with the battery during those excursions. I think it is safe to say that device might have given as much as five hours of use (probably not heavy interweb browsing, gaming or video watching) on a single charge in its prime. It is no wonder I kept the device plugged in.

The device I used before that, and the one I did far more writing on, was the Asus Transformer Prime. Again, I have very few memories of its actual battery life because by the time I was actively spending time away from any outlet I had already purchased a keyboard dock for it which essentially doubled the battery life of the device. For the Transformer Prime, battery life was never an issue. I could use it for twelve hours uninterrupted without any worries.

Moving back to the present, I've been testing my new Chromebook as an actual laptop. I don't want to have to plug it in or worry about the battery. For the most part, it lives up to this expectation. So far, it has lasted through my entire workday of 10 hours without actually running out of battery even though I am using it for always-on music and occasional typing. This kind of use isn't really constant use because the screen turns itself off while unattended. Doubtless there are other efforts at play which are extending the battery as much as possible. Regardless of what is factually happening, subjectively the battery life seems very good to me.

I have the confidence to grab my Chromebook and head to any place feeling assured I would be able to use the device for whatever needs I might have. I may need to charge it afterward, depending on the duration of the day, but it appears to fulfill my needs. I don't know if the battery life will remain exceptional as time marches onward. These devices only allow for a limited number of recharges before the battery's life cycle has ended. Using a power cord is hardly the worst fate I can imagine, though. The only real ramification of that eventuality is the tablet mode would cease to be as effective.


I ultimately made the decision to choose the Asus Chromebook Flip C302 over the Samsung Chromebook Plus for two reasons: internal storage and the keyboard. I've already covered why I think internal storage is much less of a factor than I had originally assumed. Now I should cover the keyboard.

Firstly, the keyboard has backlighting which is a big deal for me. I am not sure why it is so important to me as I never look at the keyboard while typing. Nevertheless, I have trouble accepting any keyboard that doesn't light up. There is one logical reason the light up keyboard has important, which is that I never learned touch typing. I taught myself to type. While I range in speed between 80-110 words per minute, I do so without any real technique. I've called what I do "advanced hunt & peck" which seems an adequate description. Once I get started, I have no need to look at the keyboard again, but just when I place my hands on the board, I need to know where to find the keys. In the dark, light up keys help with this tremendously. The other possible reason is that I am simply a snob. Having attained the glories of lighted keyboards, I am unwilling to give up my prize. Whichever it might be, Asus has it and Samsung doesn't. This is inordinately meaningful to me.

Secondly, the keyboard has a snappy and responsive feel to it. I would be lying if I claimed I was not disappointed in any way. The advertisements for the Asus Chromebook Flip C302 (yes, I will continue to type its full name) had portrayed the keys as making a loud and abrupt snapping noise when pressed. This is not true. These keys are silent and soft, just like nearly every other laptop key in existence. They have shorter travel than I am used to (likely because I spend most of my time on full stroke mechanical keyboards) but not in a bad way. Sometimes keyboards with very short keystrokes are a bane to my typing because the keys tend to activate at unexpected times. Not the case here. The short travel also helps to mask the wobbly post feel of scissor-switch keys. They aren't actually wobbly, of course. It is just play in the scissor mechanism (and the scissor mechanism is far superior to other membrane alternatives discounting Razer's "mecha-membrane"). It's not the best typing experience I've had. It's not even the third best. Still, it is a really good feel. I have no trouble sitting with the Chromebook and typing for extended periods. I have no real desire to attach any other keyboard to it (except for the times I just have a desire to use a different keyboard).

Thirdly, the sizing of the keyboard is exceptional. I hadn't anticipated the differences in keyboard layout between a standard qwerty keyboard intended for a Windows environment and a qwerty keyboard for ChromeOS. The F1-12 keys are gone as are many of the superfluous Windows-specific keys typically added to the bottom row. There could be function keys on this keyboard, as there is a row of action-specific keys designed for ChromeOS along the top but there is no purpose for them in this environment. The result of these differences is a group of relatively large and well-spaced keys, which surprised me given the Chromebook's diminutive 12" layout.

Lastly, the Chromebook suffers from the same problem as every other laptop with a touchpad in that while one is typing one's palm will move the mouse and occasionally click in unexpected places. I can't criticize this device for a problem that exists with every device of this form, though. The touchpad is actually positioned fairly well and the problem manifests less often than I have noticed on other devices, so that isn't nothing.

Overall, I am not entirely surprised that this is the best keyboard Chromebooks have to offer. It is a really good keyboard. I in no way object to the idea of spending much or most of my time typing on it, and that's a pretty big plus for the Asus Chromebook Flip C302. Is this a plus for Chromebooks though? Not at all. There are great keyboards all over and there are better keyboards out there. It's just a hardware thing and this particular hardware is great.

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