It’s been four years since we bought our first Chromebook, a remarkably cheap, self-repairing computer from Google. The original one may have walked off with a sticky-fingered repairman. We were overdue for a new one anyway, so we bought a “refurbished” Acer 14, for $274. (Saved $25!).
We are now up and running with the kind of computing power familiar to several million six-year-olds. (Now in 50 percent of schools.) Compared to Windows machines, which slow down as you add more programs and tabs, nothing bogs down a Chromebook. It stays lightning fast, because it fixes problems every time you reboot, and nearly everything it does takes place online.
Unlike Windows, a Chromebook starts up in a few seconds. But even if you don’t mind going for a cup of tea while your Windows PC climbs out of bed, the slow loading of web pages is enough to drive some of us crazy. (It’s a short trip.) Joy typically has 12 web browser tabs open at once, and on the Chromebook they still load quickly. For her, getting a Chromebook for Christmas felt as good as a shiny new bicycle.
The Acer 14 isn’t the top of the heap, but somewhere in the middle. Chromebooks start at $149 and go up to around $700. The 14 (14-inch screen) has great resolution, and feels as thin and fancy as a Macbook costing a thousand dollars more. We didn’t feel the need for the high-end model, which would be good for gamers or video editors.
Chromebooks have come a long way toward ease of use since the first ones came out. A tiny start button with your picture of choice is on screen in the lower right corner. On the lower left, there’s a green “help” button, with links for doing work, playing music or video chatting. A help section called “App replacements” has links to free substitutes for programs you might miss, such as iTunes, Skype and Photoshop. The lower left area of the screen also has icons for Gmail, Google Docs and YouTube.
We’re using our new (refurbished) Chromebook to write this column, update our website, edit photos, create a new website, answer email, listen to music and play videos. The battery life is a seemingly forever 12 hours according to the manufacturer, though PC World tests clocked it at a real world nine hours.
There are drawbacks. (Key ominous music in the background.) You can’t install any Windows programs. Well, we guess that’s a drawback, but increasingly it seems like everything we do takes place online anyway; think of all the smartphones in constant use by anyone under 30.
There’s plenty of memory. Download anything you want to its 32 gigabytes of internal storage, or attach a thumb or flash drive to either of its two USB 3.0 ports. So we’re happy with all this — and we’ve become several decades younger. The Acer 14 also has an HDMI port, in case you want to connect it to a big screen TV. Yeah.
Wanna Be a Windows Insider?
Anyone can be a “Windows Insider,” by typing “Windows insider” in the Windows 10 search bar and signing up. Insiders get new Windows features before other users do. So far, the best thing we found was “Paint 3D.”
This is a new version of the classic “Paint” program that has been a part of Windows since 1985. It allows you to create a scene with what looks like 3D characters. You can take a selfie and pop that picture into an astronaut’s space suit. Or take a picture of a porpoise and drop it in to your aquarium picture. It comes into the 3D scene without its background, which photo editors call “masking,” and is a real pain to do. It’s perfectly cut out and looks like it belongs.
You don’t have to use your own pictures to add elements to a scene. There are hundreds of free 3D objects at Remix3D.com. Go to Remix3D, choose an object and then click “open in Paint 3D.” We added an elf, a toy soldier and a reindeer to our snow scene. Once in there, it was also easy to move them around.
If you select “print” while in Paint 3D, it may ask you to click “repair” to fix the object first before clicking “order online.” We know this all sounds complicated, but it’s much easier than signing up for health insurance. Theoretically, anything you build here can be printed as a 3D object and delivered to your home for a price. But we have enough junk, so we skipped that part.
Upworthy.com has real news, instead of what happened yesterday. For instance, an article on inflation in women’s clothing sizes points that when the ultra-thin actress “Twiggy” was buying pants 50 years ago, she wore a size 8. Today that would be marked as size 00. We also read that Sweden is running out of trash they burn to heat homes. Boy, have we got a new source for them. The site also has videos, and will send you a daily news briefing to your email if you wish.
- Glamping refers to “glamorous camping.” Oprah Winfrey told Michelle Obama they should go glamping together, and listening to the interview, Joy thought, “what is glamping?” (She is so out of touch.)
From Camcorder to TV
A reader wondered how to get the video files from his Canon camcorder to a DVD so he can play them on his TV. Thank heavens he asked. We would use a free program called “Ashampoo Burning Studio Free,” from Ashampoo.com.
Burning Studio is great at turning “VOB” or “AVCHD” and other strings of meaningless letters into playable DVDs. But how do you get the files off your camera onto the computer? Watch a video on how to do it, on YouTube. One of those is entitled: “How to Transfer Video From a Canon Camcorder to your PC.” In the search box on YouTube, you can put in the kind of video camera you have.
A friend gave us a flash drive full of “VOB” files. Ashampoo’s program turned those into a playable DVD. (It was pretty boring stuff, actually.)