Monday, October 14, 2013

Chromebook, a kid's first computer.

That is my 5 year old sitting on his future to-be inherited "Tony Stark" Eames lounger with his kiddie laptop, an Acer Chromebook. That is his place to lounge and pretend he is like dad. Robert Downey Jr's lounger in Iron Man 3 was a fake replica, this is a real deal but is this chromebook a real laptop or just another wannabee kiddie toy? Lots of people have a prejudice against a limited "cloud-only" based device like the Chromebook, myself included. I may not be the intended audience for this device but I figure school grade kids might find this "kiddie" laptop useful. This post is about how my kid uses his junior laptop.

For my use, the Chromebooks (both my Samsung and the Acer) are fairly limited except for the casual browsing of the Craigslist classifieds while I am lounging.  For my son, it is his real computer. So he thinks! He's been doing his kindergarten homework (Flash based) and he watches youtube video of Gangham style Star Wars music videos. I gave him the Acer model because, well, I like the Samsung more. I doubt he will ever need to use it more than the three hour at a time run-time on the Acer. Plus, it has a 320GB hard drive that I can fill it up with cartoons in MP4 format for off-line viewing. Hence, the Acer is a better fit for him.

You can't go wrong with these Chromebooks for a five year old. They cost around $100-140 refurb. Basically, if they break, you won't make a big fuss about it. Unlike a cheap Android tablet, Chrome OS doesn't have the thousands of useless mind numbing games to keep my kid pre-occupied. The most damage he can do is venture into some questionable youtube videos on his own. He is five so he can barely read. I doubt he will do any damage by going to the internet on his own. I have a few bookmarks of where he needs to go and he can click away to "play" with his assigned homework from school.

ChromeOS and Chromebooks are suitably perfect for a five year old. Hence, you can't really call it a "replica" or fake computer. I think of it as a computer with training wheels. I've have to reset and restore the device a few times. However, after a factory reset, the Chromebook is back and running in a few minutes. No lengthly re-installs. Developer mode for hacking is ill-advise for a kid who can barely read the dialogues. 

In the past, I've tried a few kid's specific Linux distros, the OLPC build, and even a locked down OSX Parental control account on the mac with a locked down dock. With all of those, my kid still figures a way to do some damage like pulling out the bootable USB stick or memorizing my passwords (by looking over the shoulder) which enables him to login into my desktop. With Chrome OS, he has his own account and it is pretty much fool-proof. Again, this is design is child-friendly.

Once in a while, the wireless would cut-out. Sure, this would piss most people off but it doesn't bother me so much because it cuts into his computer time. Another good reason to check on what he is doing. I simply disable and re-enable the Wi-Fi and he is back to using it.

Now, a computer with just homework is simply no fun. Sure there are games on the Chrome store but they pretty much stink. My son also has an iPod touch and he prefers that for gaming Cut the Rope. We let him play with his iPod touch 1-2 hours a week on the weekends. With the Chromebook, the only source of entertainment is to watch curated videos. The Acer does have 320GB of storage and I could copy movies at random but I found just using Plex, my life becomes a whole lot easier.

There is no dedicated Plex app for Chrome OS but the web interface works just fine. Both the Samsung and Acer can stream up to 1080p videos and for the type it can't stream, my PLEX server transcodes.

With Plex, I just type in the URL , http://[IP Address of PLEX server]:32400/web , and he uses the web client as you see below.

So far, this works pretty good in my household. My kid doesn't have a bookmark and doesn't know the address of the PLEX server so I have to enter it in for him. This way, I can keep check on his usage. I'm sure when he is around 7-8, he'll figure it out on his own. He hasn't drop his laptop yet and I'm not really worried about it. If he does break it, it will be a good lesson in responsibility. He thinks it is expensive and I don't want to tell him otherwise so he is extra careful. It is his own device and he takes pride in ownership. Unlike the iPads and other tablets in the house, this isn't a shared device. He owns it and is responsible for it like remembering to charge it.

I should be getting my MIIPC in shortly if they ever ship it but for now, the Acer Chromebook makes my little man feel like he is just like his dad - a geek.

Here is the desk of a five year old future geek.

Now back to Tony Stark, that Eames Lounge and Ottoman is a Plycraft replica by just looking at the head-rest and foot base. My son brought that up. He'll grow up to be a watch and furniture snob just like his dad.

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