It's been quite a birthday weekend, as I received one of the best birthday presents a gadget geek girl like myself could hope for – a Chromebook. What is that, you ask? Well I had been considering a tablet – like an iPad (or an Android-based one), but as a blogger, I wanted to be practical, not trendy. I just couldn't fathom composing posts on an iPad (never mind it lacks Flash), and the other tablets had the same problem – no physical keyboard.

I knew that Google was going to release a hybrid of a laptop and tablet – a device that runs on its Chrome operating system, with no hard drive – all storage was in the cloud (online), and had a form-factor like a laptop. Well Kate, Tim, Miranda, and Mr. C. and Mr. E. sent me a Samsung Chromebook Series 5 Arctic White 3G Model.

Nothing but the Web
Chromebooks are built and optimized for the web, where you already spend most of your computing time. So you get a faster, simpler and more secure experience without all the headaches of ordinary computers.

Thin & Light design – just 3.3 lbs.
Weighing in at 3.3 lbs and just .8 inches thick, the ultra compact design provides maximum portability without compromising on functionality and optimal performance.

Instant Web
Chromebooks boot in less than 10 seconds and resume instantly. Your favorite websites load quickly and run smoothly, with full support for the latest web standards and Adobe Flash®. In fact, Chromebooks are designed to get faster over time as updates are released.

A good tech review with complete specs is here. I've been using the Chrome browser and Google Apps for years (over IR or Firefox), so getting used to the interface was a breeze. And as you'll read in that review – you can surf on this baby for 8 hours on a charge. I'm sure playing vids will drain it faster, but for the work I do, going almost a full day without having to juice up is amazing.

The whole concept of working without a physical hard drive for your primary storage and using no traditional installed applications is new to many, but I've been doing all I can in my day job to have my department do almost everything on a server or in the cloud, not resident on their hard drives. 

Most people have Gmail accounts, so you sign into the Chromebook with your account and you're in – all of your bookmarks, installed Chrome apps and extensions,  even your custom settings are automatically updated and part of the OS. All of your contacts are synced up, and you can bounce between multiple email accounts with ease.  

It detects available wireless networks around, so you sign in and you're online and computing in no time. Mine has the 3G Verizon service built in (2 years free, with 100MB/transfer mo.), though in its wisdom, Samsung supplies a SIM card slot so you can put your broadband card SIM into it if you like (and already have paid service). 

It has a 12.1 inch screen, so it's bigger than a netbook, smaller than most laptops, but the screen is more than adequate for work on the road. There are 2 USB ports (I use one for my wireless mouse), a multicard reader (SD, etc.), and, thank goodness, a port with adapter for VGA, so you can connect a monitor or projector to it. The trackpad, for those who like them is HUGE, the largest I've seen on any laptop, so that's a nice feature. The keyboard is chicklet style, really quiet and full-sized.

Is it as fast as a laptop? Actually, yes, for most things, since you don't have the overhead bloat of a traditional OS or apps. If it had to perform under the weight of “real” apps and an OS it would be pokey as most netbooks currently are.

What is the downside? None if you don't need to run proprietary client software that most road warrior business class folks would need, but if you need email, social networking, photo and video, and Office-like apps, you're good to go. Anything accessible by a traditional web browser works fine.

Stability? Man, I've been working this thing on all sorts of web sites and the OS has not hosed. Now the browser itself has encountered pages or elements that cause the window to crash, but most Chrome users already know that you can keep on surfing because one tab crashing doesn't KO the rest of your open tabs. It's the same on the Chrome OS. YouTube vids play well, loading of large photos is fine. (Note, if you need a photo editor, Picnik is available, and there are tons on things on Android Market/Chrome Store) that will work on this device.

So far there's only one obvious downside – if you have no Internet connection on the wifi-only Chromebook and there is no 3G service, you can't connect to the Internet, and therefore, you're pretty much SOL using anything of consequence on the Chromebook. Now, that's usually a rarity in most places, but say if you're on an airplane and it doesn't offer wireless service, you might as well just close the Chromebook and get some shut eye on your flight.

But that's really not a day-to-day issue. I really can't say enough about the Chromebook. Is it an iPad killer? No; they are simply different devices for different tasks. However, if you write frequently on the road and at conferences, the Chromebook really blows tablets out of the water. I think a lot of early-adopters of the iPad for travel/reporting will be moving over to this more functional, practical (and less expensive!) device down the road.

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Google+

http://www.google.com/+/demo/ 

So this is Google's new social network and it's a lot like Facebook, with some improvements. Instead of friend groupings, there are Circles you affiliate them with. So far it's invitation-only, but there are a lot of people on as of this weekend…

My page is here, and you can see what my profile page looks like below. Since I'm maxed out on Facebook friends (I do have a fan page people can “Like”)

  

I don't see this is a Facebook killer; it's just another social network to plug into.