This afternoon my family and I went to the Mall of America, and I stopped in Best Buy to see if any Mac Minis were on clearance. We’ve been looking for a Mac Mini to use as a media server in our home. Well, Best Buy didn’t have any Mac Minis, but they did have an open box Samsung Chromebook for $216. The Google Chromebook normally sells for $249, so this represents a discount of 14% on a computer that is already dirt cheap.
Physically, the computer looks like an 11″ MacBook Air, which, ironically, will be my next laptop. If the computer didn’t have the Chrome logo and Samsung on the cover, you could switch it out on an unsuspecting MacBook Air owner, and they wouldn’t know until it was too late! Even the keys on the computer look (and almost feel) exactly like an Air. There are, however, some other differences, such as an SD card slot on the side of the computer, not to mention a USB 3.0, USB 2.0, and a HDMI port on the back of the device. Of course, you can’t run a lot of “Main” programs on the Chromebook (e.g. Finale, Sibelius, Notion, SmartMusic, MuseScore, etc.). If a program isn’t web-based, you can’t run it on a Chromebook. But it is amazing how many web-based solutions exist, many of them offered by Google.
We used to have a joke at my college that it would take you from the cradle to the grave (they built a child care facility while we were there, as well as a retirement home…all a part of the college’s ministry). The Google Chromebook will do that, too…it will take you completely into Google’s services. But let’s be honest…many of us are nearly already there! Who provides YOUR e-mail? Who hosts your webpage? Who hosts your videos? Who hosts your pictures? And what service is your district adopting as a standard? Gmail, Blogger, YouTube, Picasa, Google Docs, etc. All Google.
Now, I found the Chomebook a tad difficult to set-up. Logging into Google with my password was no issue…but Netflix didn’t want to work right away for me (it required at least one restart). The computer is supposed to receive an update every six weeks (free of charge), continually improving the Google experience. Everything in run in a tab, so if this is a computer that you would consider buying for your parents (or grandparents) instead of an iPad, you’re going to have to make sure that all the proper extensions are working and that they know how to navigate tabs. Truthfully, I’d buy an iPad for my own mother (and have…and she knows how to use it, even to send us iMessages and to use FaceTime) rather than a Chromebook. Yes, Google+ has hang-outs and messages…but Apple certainly is a step ahead in “intuitive” features (I’ve been using that word a lot lately).
My main interest in the Chomebook is this: some schools are adopting it as a solution for education in place of tablets (iPad or Android). So my main question is “Can this device be used in school music classes?”
I don’t know the full answer yet, but as I’ve been working with the device (I’m typing it as I write this), I’m already beginning to get some answers.
The Chromebook runs most web pages…except Java-enabled websites, such as Minecraft (much to the chagrin of my thirteen-year-old stepson). You can install “Chrome Web Apps,” which are, as far as I can tell, simple links to webpages.
The entire device is dedicated, logically, to the Google experience, so if you have Google services, you will be in good shape. The device also allows for multiple-user log-ins, and even comes with 2 years of 100GB of storage on Google Drive, which would cost $100 a year on Dropbox. This means that if you buy a Chromebook for $249, and simply use Google Drive instead of Dropbox, you’ll pay $49 for the device. Think about that for a moment.
Now, are you going to use this device during a music class? Probably not. You aren’t going to put this device on a music stand or hold it in a choir, nor are you going to want elementary music students sitting on the floor with their Chromebooks. You won’t even want to pull PDFs up on the 11 inch screen.
But you CAN use the Chromebook for some music activities. For example:
- musictheory.net works just fine
- noteflight.com works just fine
- chromatik.com loads just fine, although pages are hard to see and I can’t figure out how to upload a song from the Chromebook
- There is a Chrome Web App entitled Beatlab that is a very basic beat generator
- You can examine Google JAM, which allows you to play music with friends (this is also a web app)
- Soundteamplayer (another Chrome Web App) allows for audio recording and uploading to SoundCloud
Still, the Chromebook isn’t a device to be purchased specifically for music education. You would be better served with an iPad, or if you have to have a computer, a notebook of some sort (Mac/Windows). Nonetheless, the Chromebook is an interesting piece of hardware, and its low price and large feature set (particularly 100GB of online storage for two years!) make the device an attractive buy. Perhaps as more developers move to HTML 5 and web apps, the Chromebook (and versions that follow) will be able to take advantage of those apps.