Blog Post:  by Alex, SSV Senior Digital Learning Leader

Brief Introduction

Hello everyone, this is Alex, a Digital Learning Leader, and here is my first actual review of the Chromebook Toshiba CB35-B3340. I have done it based upon each criteria that I have listed. If you have not already please see my first post: http://voices.britishschool.nl/digitalleaders/chromebook-review-first-post-alex/ 

Cost

The device is surprisingly cheap. Retail prices looking at around €250-€350 (depending on where of course). However, when bulk purchases and educational discounts are added, this will drop even further, however, due to its apparent low profit margin, this may not be a huge reduction in price compared to other educational discounts on other devices, but it is still quite cheap and that’s why it gets a 10 for cost.

Compatibility

This device uses a Chrome OS. In short it isn’t Windows or Apple, (probably the most commonly used among students at the BSN) and because of this, compatibility is not expected to be great. However, considering the internet based nature of the device, compatibility is not as much as a problems as it initially seems. On the other hand, as a sixth-form student I only have three subjects, all essay based, so perhaps there are a lot more apps and websites that are not compatible but needed for the subjects in the lower part of the school, despite this I did feel limited by the use of it as programs like OneNote and Microsoft Word were not possible. Also, when trying to transfer files from the Chromebook, my personal and school computer was not happy with the file type for Google Docs, a relatively minor issue but an issue all the same. Overall, I can definitely see this being a larger issue for other students, but it was not the end of the world for me. As a result, I have given it a 4.

Intuitiveness

Thankfully, the Chromebook is pretty simple to use, maybe too simple for some, it does not take long to get use to. As it is very internet based, as long as you can use the internet, it should not take much effort to use it. If you want to be sure just follow the 60 second explanation of each function and application when you first use it and so I have given it a 10.

Flexibility

The hinges on the Chromebook allow for minimal movement, which does cause some issues, for example, when given a paper handout to fill in during class, it is cumbersome to take a photo of it in order to make direct references to it when working, this hurt the functionality of the device as many teachers still work with paper handouts. However, merely putting the non-printed version on Canvas is normally all it takes for the problem to be solved. In terms of carrying around the Chromebook, it was not much of an issue for me, as I was given a small padded laptop case to protect it, even though it had a handle, my bag had a laptop pocket, which most people do not have, this made it rather simple and easy for me to carry around, but I understand that this could a problem for others. As a result, I have given it a 4.

Battery

Honestly, the battery life is quite good, all you really need is it to last a school day as you can charge it when you get home, or when you sleep, and the Chromebook does this easily, it last about 10 hours when using it for internet research and notes/essay writing. Keeping in mind that I used the Chromebook for research and note taking. I have have given it a 10.

Speed

I actually have not noticed many problems to do with speed at home. The processor is not top of the line, the price shows that much, but for educational applications it is sufficient. Also, any deficiency in speed is made up for by the Solid State Drive which increases the speed, I will not bore you with the details of how. Also, you can leave all of your apps and programs open, shut down, turn the Chromebook back on (which happens instantly) and all the files will still be open, without using up battery life. This is quite useful, as it allows me to keep open apps and websites I need in all my subjects, for example Canvas, but also save battery life simultaneously. There is one issue with the speed, whilst at home it runs quickly, as I literally work 1.5 metres away from our WiFi router, but at school it is a slightly different issue, it is slower. However, this is not to say that the school WiFi is bad, but when a few hundred people at minimum, students and teachers, are using it at the same time…. It does not perform as well as it does with a stronger internet connection. Keep in mind that I only use it for basic tasks like typing and research. As a result, I have given it a 7 for speed.

Endurance

Sadly, this is a bit of an issue for the Chromebook, after about an hour of typing and research on the internet it already heats up. This may be problem as if it is being used in each lesson of the day, whether it be the staple of that lesson, or as a supporting tool, it will heat up quite fast, although the heat is really only problem if your hand is holding the underside of the Chromebook for a long time, as the topside of the Chromebook (keyboard area) remains quite cool. Constant overheating is not good for the lifespan of the Chromebook, and as a result may not last long. However, considering the brash nature of the students and the rapid growth and obsolete nature of technology, it is possible that replacements might be needed every now and again anyways, so this might not be a groundbreaking issue, and health & safety is not much of a problem here, as even though it heats up, the amount it is producing is not causing any real damage anytime soon. Despite the heating up, there is no noise, in fact it was so quiet that I did not even think to mention sound into the review until briefly hearing about some of the other reviewer’s experiences. In addition, even though there was a bit of heating, I did not notice any significant drop in performance, likely due in part to the Solid State Drive. Keep in mind that I only use it for basic tasks like typing and research. Thus, I have given it a 4.

Features

Some good, some bad. First, it has a rather nice keyboard, meaning that you can write fast. That’s it about the keyboard, as many teachers prefer and sometimes request work, especially essays, to be handwritten as the exam is too, personally I agree with that point of view, the muscle memory, handwriting quality, the ability to write fluidly (you cannot go back to the start of your essay and just type in some extra points in an exam without hurting its clarity) and spelling skills gained from handwriting is vital in the exam. Now the Chromebook is linked to your Google account and as a result is intended to use the Google ‘office’ apps. Docs, Slides, and Sheets as examples. These have an interesting feature of scanning your document for key words, processes them and then searches the internet for relevant research and websites. Whilst this is useful for looking for facts to boost the quality of your essays and research, you can just type what you want into Google like you would normally do on any other computer. Also, this tells us that Google is scanning your documents for its content and as a result is collecting data about you as a person. Whether this is a issue or not is a personal one, after all it is about privacy. An interesting feature I discovered in my Dutch class when noting down key words, their translations and language rules. It did not matter what language I used (as you tend to mix them in the same document a lot when taking language notes), it just checked the spelling etc. of both the Dutch and the English words, unlike in other programs like Microsoft Word, who not only prevent you from having two languages at the same time, but also make you pay for their spell checker for some languages, like Dutch. Unfortunately, if you have misspelled a word in English, but its spelling remains correct in a separate language then it will not show. If you feel that you are missing aspects of the more developed MIcrosoft Word, you can browse the Add-ons section of Google Docs, for replacement features, but this can be time consuming and you still may not obtain all the features that you want, but some people actually do not use many of the functions on Word, so it depends. Overall, I have given the features a 5, as I did not feel like I had or was really missing anything great.

Memory

Yeah, well this is the major downside of a Solid State drive, as they are expensive to manufacture, the memory on it is reduced to keep the price down. On the Chromebook, brand new, there is 16GB of Memory. Decent (modern) Hard Drive based computers generally have about 1000GB. On the other hand, you really do not need much memory on the computer with the expansion of cloud based systems like One Drive, and Google Drive. In fact some Chromebooks come with deals, this one for example offers 100GB of Google Drive storage included in the price (which I have not used as this is not my device). For school purposes this is probably enough as long as the programs and apps used in school are online based. But some people, myself included, do like to have plenty of storage space available on the computer itself. Now, the Chromebook is automatically linked to your Google account, and this gives you direct access to a cloud system, but the students at the BSN already have a cloud account with Microsoft when using their school email. Whilst the extra online memory is great, having the two accounts reduces the value of having each individual drive, and having the forced option of the Google Drive (due to the linkage) may cause confusions and issues (as you have a school Microsoft account giving you a One Drive) as some will change to the Google account in order to maximise compatibility, and some will stick to the Microsoft account as it is more familiar and already has most of the students’ files. So the small amount of memory, and complete dependence on cloud systems, (there is an offline mode, but this can only hold 16GB worth) is poor in my opinion. Therefore, I have given it a 3.

An Brief Thought

One of my findings was that when I was using the Chromebook at home, I realised that I could move my arms about a metre pick up my laptop and use it instead, it would have the same functionality, but with all the features the Chromebook lacks, I would have access to my Google Drive and OneDrive and my vast storage space. Now I understand that not everyone has their own laptop at home or even a family laptop, but it made me doubt the value of the Chromebook in a home environment especially as I could just use my own laptop. Now in the lower key stages it is perhaps a different story but it still made me wonder if the Chromebook would really improve my learning, and this is compounded by the fact you sometimes see sixth-formers in the common room using their laptops, or Macbooks, in order to do their work, and a few sometimes use them in lessons, in fact I did this myself several times when I was doing my History coursework. So why would I use this device specifically, when I could use my personal device and achieve a similar if not better result?

Conclusion

Overall I found the Chromebook to be sufficient in most cases for myself due to the low requirements of my subjects but even I felt like it was limiting every now and again, however I recognise that these experiences of mine will be different than most others, and as a result we need to wait until it is the turn of the other Digital Leaders to use the device and give their own review of it, in order to properly assess its value.

The Overall Rating

In order to understand my ratings and point of view please see my previous post: http://voices.britishschool.nl/digitalleaders/chromebook-review-first-post-alex/

  • Cost – 10
  • Compatibility – 4
  • Intuitiveness – 10
  • Flexibility – 4
  • Battery – 10
  • Speed – 7
  • Endurance (Essentially how fast it heats up) – 4
  • Features – 5
  • Memory – 3

Raw Score = 57/90

I will do all of the weighted scores in my final review as I look back upon my experiences during this experiment and think about what was most important to me in school.