The Chromebook: Secret Weapon of the Digital Nomad?

Digital Nomad's Chromebook

As I started my Journey Toward Location Independence, I began to look at the many tech options available to me. Was there a ‘perfect’ system for my needs?

The 4 Main Choices

To be able to run my business from anywhere, there seemed to be 4 main options available to me: a desktop computer, laptop, tablet, or simply a smartphone. What I needed to do was find the option that best fit my online business needs..

Eliminate the Obvious

4 Tech OptionsWorking through this list, I was able to eliminate 3 of these rather easily..

The Desktop Computer

Even though there are some semi-portable options, in general there are several downsides to the desktop computer.

  1. Size & Weight – this choice is the least portable option.
  2. Static Location – even if you bring it with you, it can only serve as a “home base” at best.
  3. You’ll also need a desk. Depending on where you are, you may only have a counter or table, not a proper desk to work from. Also, if you frequently work while standing, this makes it even harder.

The Tablet

While iPads and other tablets can be a convenient way to read, watch videos, etc., they aren’t very good when it comes to creating new content. Sending email, writing, and filming quality videos can be done, but not very quickly or easily.

The Smartphone

Screen size is what really kills this one for me. Add to that the same downsides as working with a tablet, and this option can also be easily eliminated.

So where does that leave us?

The Laptop

The portability and functionality of this option seem to make it the best choice for a Digital Nomad living the ‘laptop lifestyle’. Upon further inspection, though, we are still left with 2 choices..

Either go big, or go lean.

 

Going Big

Most entrepreneurs I’ve observed have chosen this option. The idea is to get a high-end laptop with the most possible speed, RAM, hard-drive space, screen resolution, and loads of professional software suites.

These, too, were my initial thoughts (more on this in just a sec), but all too often I observed this option being taken more as a status symbol, than as the best choice for that individual.

The next option, go lean, is one that I hadn’t seen too many other people choose.

Get Lean

Going Lean

Philosophically, going lean sounds like a good idea, but the execution seemed like it would be lacking quite a bit. Even though I was sure this would be the case, I still decided to look into this possibility.

As I dug deeper, I came across a device that was quietly growing in popularity: The Chromebook. The more I looked into it, the more it seemed like it could almost be a viable option.

I just needed to find out if it would be possible to run my entire business using only a Chromebook. Here’s how it all played out..

My Journey

This started when it was finally time to upgrade my laptop. As I hinted at earlier, my initial objective was to get the best and most powerful laptop I could find.

I found one that suited my apparent needs, and placed the order. Shortly afterwards, though, I got an email that it was on back order and would ship out in a few days.

Well, a few days turned into a couple of weeks, and I started to get impatient. Did I pick the right one, and if it didn’t ship in another week, what would be my next choice?

The Chromebook

Sample ChromebookIt was at this time that I started entertaining the idea of going lean instead of going all out.

The one thing that was important to me, was to shrink from a 15″ screen down to a 14″ screen. Even though I was planning to go all out, I had wanted an edge with a bit more portability.

In the online comparisons, an HP Chromebook kept showing up. Since most of what I had heard about Chromebooks was negative, I was a bit intrigued. I liked the concept, but wasn’t sure I could make it work for me.

With each passing day, though, I kept leaning more towards this choice. It was finally settled when I got another email that my laptop wasn’t going to be back in stock at all, and I’d need to choose another model. I finally took the plunge.

How does it work?

Chromebook ExampleBefore I finish my story, I’ll take a moment to bring you up to speed on Chromebooks, if you’re not already familiar with them.

Basically, it looks & feels like a ‘normal’ laptop, but uses a different operating system (Chrome OS). This operating system is much lighter weight, and doesn’t take as much in the way of resources to run.

Most of the functionality requires that you are online, but there are still plenty of capabilities if you happen to be out of WiFi range.

Rather than full local ‘programs’, it uses lightweight Apps (similar to smartphones and tablets). Beyond that, you can access everything else through the Chrome browser.

It also syncs with your Google account once you log in, and automatically installs your extensions & bookmarks. There are no drivers to worry about, no updates or antivirus to download, and it doesn’t slow down over time.

In fact, you’ll get a couple of tiny updates each month that only add about 10 seconds to the lightning fast 5 second boot speed.

Now I’ll get back to my story and show you how it all played out for me.

Using it as a 2nd Computer

When I got started with Chrome OS in 2013, it couldn’t yet replace everything I needed it to. Over time, however, it has gotten better and better, eventually becoming my primary device.

 

What MUST it do for me?

Before switching to a new platform, I made a list of everything I needed my device to do. When I had finished, there were about 6 things that I couldn’t do on a Chromebook at that time.

The main things that I originally couldn’t find suitable arrangements for were:

  • Desktop Publishing
  • Audio & Video Editing
  • Screencasting
  • Using my VPN

As each month passed, though, new apps were added, and some of the software I needed began to be offered using the SaaS model.

Chromebook Promo

Now, my Chromebook can handle between 95-98% of everything I need to do for work, and I anticipate the last few percentage points being added in the coming months.

Since ChromeOS is an operating system based on the Linux kernel, I’ve actually installed GalliumOS (a Linux distro built specifically for ChromeOS devices) alongside Chrome, giving me a full range of desktop applications (should the need arise), but that’s a story for another day…

There are even a several competing devices entering the market now that Google has proved the concept of a cloud based laptop, usually running either a stripped down version of Windows or even Android. I expect the number of devices and competing systems to continue to rise, especially as the heavier desktop applications move into the cloud as SaaS.

The Digital Nomad’s Secret Weapon?

To bring the post back to the question I asked in the title, could a Chromebook be the secret weapon for Digital Nomads? I think so.

A Digital Nomad keeps things lean & lightweight. Their tech system must also be easy to maintain, and ideally everything would backed up automatically. Also, if they’re living abroad, they likely only have one computer with them.

You may think this would be the reason to have the end all be all device, but I say that this is the main reason for having a less expensive device.

Which laptop is more likely to be stolen; a $300 Chromebook or a $1000 MacBook? And assuming you keep your laptop secure, what about accidents? I can replace my laptop 3+ times for that price, and with ChromeOS, my new device will be setup exactly like the old one within a few minutes.

This is the definition of simplicity & practicality, and very cost effective to boot. If your interest is piqued, here’s how I’d suggest you go about trying out a Chromebook.

How to Make the Transition to Chrome OS

For anyone looking to try out the platform and possibly make the switch, here is what I suggest

  1. Start using your Chromebook as a backup computer.Acer Chromebook C740
  2. Begin transitioning to cloud based services. Start with data storage, then begin trying out SaaS options & apps for the software you use.
  3. Embrace “good enough is good enough”. Just because the program you use has 100 features, doesn’t mean its replacement needs all those features. Find replacements for things you actually use.
  4. List any “must haves”, and start researching your options.

Other Considerations

Most early Chromebooks only came with smaller screens (11-13″), but now you can find models with the display sizes ranging from 10-15 inches. Try choosing one that has a screen size closer to your existing laptop, or maybe just an inch smaller.

Also, many devices only have 2 Gigs of RAM, but I’d strongly suggest going with 4 Gigs if you’ll be using it for your primary device, and it’s truly a must for power users.

With it’s main use case being in the education market, the trend used to lean towards longer battery life rather than raw performance. This is changing now that mid range and high end devices are now available for the consumers outside of the education market.

Some quick research will point you to the Chromebook that best suits your needs. To check out the current Chromebooks on the market, go HERE.

You can learn a lot more by reading the blogs dedicated to Chromebooks & Chrome OS, watching YouTube unboxing and review videos of each device, and checking out the Amazon review.

Whether or not a Chromebook may be right for you, the concept of going lean with your tech is definitely something to look into. Even if you have no interest in switching platforms, learning more about Chrome OS and Chromebooks will give you better insight into where computing is headed.

To quote my good friend Sherlock Holmes:

That’s it for now. See you in the next post!

Patrick

One comment

  1. Thanks for your insight! I was on the fence with Chromebooks for a while, but seeing how Chrome OS has matured (especially since Android apps are now working on them), I picked up the new Flip and hardly even use my Mac anymore.

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