Saturday, 23 February 2013

Chromebook vs iPad: Productivity

This is the second part of my small series about the comparison between the iPad and the Chromebook. This one talks about the "Productivity" side of things and how each work well and how they work badly. There are several different ways each works well for this, but also some areas in which one works better than the other. At the end of the day, neither is truly capable of fulfilling a primary computer role, however since I use them in a secondary role most of the time anyway, it isn’t really a problem.

The usual stuff that goes in my 'work' bag

Apps vs the Internet

The Chromebook uses Google’s Chrome browser at its core, this means that it uses the internet for the vast majority of tasks. On the other hand, the iPad uses iOS apps. These are each self-contained entities . They are often lighter, less complex versions of full-blown desktop apps and are built for the touch-centric interface on the iPad. An example of this is the Google Blogger app. It is nowhere near as full-featured as the Blogger webapp, but it is a good place to draft a post. before completing it in the browser. For example,  I wrote and posted the first post in this series using just the iPad. There were no opportunities to insert hyperlinks, or to decide where pictures should be placed in the text. This problem does not occur on the Chromebook as the full version of Google’s webapps are available in the browser.
On the other hand, the iOS App Store has access to far more apps that are incredibly capable and often easier to use than those on the Chrome Web Store. Where the Chromebook falls short is when no webapp is available or no website can perform that function and another must be used that performs a similar function, forcing the user to make the best of the situation. Often those webapps that can are only usable with an internet connection, whereas most iOS productivity apps are built with offline capabilities in mind. A good example for comparison is that Pages, Apple’s own word processor has a full dictionary whilst offline, something Google Docs does not. Very strange.

Form factor

We would naturally expect the Chromebook to win this category hands down. It has the full-size keyboard and trackpad, the larger screen. However, the problem is that there are so many different things that come under the catch-all of “productivity”. Not only have I been using the iPad to read papers and draft the odd post. It fits easily into a bag and is smaller and lighter than the Chromebook. I have even been known to write chapters of a story in full creative writing mode. The form factor is great for sitting in a cramped coffee shop and since I have a spare Apple wireless Keyboard and a great case for it, as well as a cheap, but functional stand for the iPad, it can be just as good if not better than the Chromebook for getting words on the page.
Having said that the iPad does have some serious shortcomings as a word processing machine with the keyboard. Firstly, the keyboard shortcuts simply aren’t up to snuff. The inability for the user to jump between the different apps or tabs in the browser is very disappointing, meaning that you have to reach up and touch the screen to perform many actions. Now this doesn’t necessarily take a long time or a lot of effort, but it is less efficient than using a key shortcut. Something that is easily available on the Chromebook.
Finally, while the Chromebook is bulkier than the iPad, there is something to be said for a physical keyboard. While I have been known to type a great deal on the iPad’s onscreen keyboard, I much prefer to be able to see the entire screen while typing rather than having half the screen obscured by my fingers and the keyboard.


The convenience of connectivity is all important with these two devices, and each has its benefits. The Chromebook has a USB port and an SD card slot. This means that I can plug flash drives or cards into it to watch videos or transfer files across. This is something the iPad doesn’t do, nor intends to allow, and is certainly a massive plus in the Chromebook’s favour. The ability to quickly plug in a device and quickly drag files on or off it, is a massive bonus, something the iPad cannot do.
On the other hand I have a 3G iPad with a GiffGaff SIM card in it allowing for access whenever I want when I am out and about when the Wifi isn’t available. While this is something that *is* available for Chromebooks, I have yet to delve too deeply into the settings to get it to work on a UK phone network, and even if it did, it wouldn’t quite beat the almost smartphone-like convenience of taking an iPad out of a bag, as it is still a full-size laptop!

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