Each week, the Huffington Post Canada's Living team will try out something that has sparked our curiosity, and as long as we live to tell the tale, we'll let you know all about it.
Test Drive Subject: Samsung 11.6-inch Chromebook
What It Is: Google currently has two Chromebooks available for purchase in Canada. One is made by Asus and the one we're testing out is made by Samsung.
Many of us are familiar with storing our media in the cloud — using online servers to save data, while you use a fairly basic computer on the user end to retrieve the files. Facebook is a cloud-based application. So is the photo-sharing site Dropbox. The Chromebook takes cloud computing to the next level where even the applications and games running on the computer are performing from the cloud.
The Chromebook runs Google's own operating system, called Chrome OS. The device is very different than what you're used to with personal computers, yet it's very easy to grasp. At the heart of the operating system is the Chrome browser. Everything in the system has been optimized to run through this browser, including the settings of the operating system. Google is best known for its web services and there is no surprise that you must be connected to the Internet to truly leverage what the Chromebook can offer.
Trying It Out: The Chromebook powers up in about 10 seconds and wakes up from a sleep/hibernation mode almost instantly.
One of the first things you want to do is have it connected to your WiFi network. The American models come with a two-year, Verizon mobile data plan. The model that I was testing did not come with a data plan so I used it with WiFi.
You can use the Chromebook without a Gmail account, using the guest mode. I would advise that you login with your Gmail account, as the guest mode is rather limited.
Using the actual hardware is satisfying. The keyboard is responsive and has a solid feel, but lacks back-light, perhaps to conserve battery life? The screen is surprisingly crisp and bright. Two speakers at the bottom on the Chromebook produce a decent sound. The Chromebook is silent and runs cool, and the battery life is great. I was able to get over five hours out of it over continuous use, browsing the web and streaming media (both audio and video). I wasn't able to test the battery performance on the mobile network.
Browsing the web using Chrome in Chrome OS is blazing fast. You forget that you are using a cheap device because it performs so well. I was also surprised to see Flash content running well but did not take my chances on using it for too long as I was still uncertain about the battery life.
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Mealspirations Delivery Service
Our Thoughts: I really like the idea of a service that gives you ideas of meals for the week (I can't tell you the number of times I've searched 'meal planning calendar' online), along with high-quality ingredients and recipes that you might not attempt otherwise. Once they're made, the meals are very yummy and often leave leftovers for lunch the next day. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/02/19/mealspirations-delivery_n_4815861.html" target="_hplink">Read the article here. </a>
Madonna's Hard Candy 'Addicted To Sweat' Class
<b>What it is</b>: A 60-minute cardio and dance class for all levels that challenges your ability to stretch, balance and dance. The class was taught by Madonna's trainer Nicole Winhoffer, who also happens to be the creative director of the Addicted To Sweat program and a kickass dancer. Using a variety of equipment, including steps and towels, the high-energy workout is meant to push your cardio limits and "harden" your body. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/02/11/madonna-hard-candy-fitness-toronto_n_4769566.html" target="_blank">Read the story here</a>.
<strong>Our Thoughts: </strong>I'm only 5 feet tall, so I'm up for trying anything that targets getting long, lean muscles as opposed to short and stocky ones. The best part is, you can do it anywhere. All you need is a mat, and maybe a chair if you want to get into some of the deep stretches. The balance between strengthening and stretching while focusing on your core also feels kinder to your body than just punishing it with high impact cardio or heavy weights. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/01/essentrics-review_n_3670444.html?utm_hp_ref=test-drive" target="_hplink">Read the story here. </a>
<strong>Our Thoughts:</strong> The abs portions was probably my favourite. Even though having your whole body on a machine seems a bit awkward at first, you start to adapt to it. These exercises challenged my balance, energy levels and of course, my lack of flexibility. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/07/12/studio-lagree-review_n_3505560.html" target="_hplink">Read the story here. </a>
<strong>Our Thoughts:</strong> The Chromebook is not yet for everyone. You have to "live and breathe" Google in order to be able to use the device to its fullest potential, and also be connected to the Internet. Lucky for me, I use Google's Enterprise service and it integrates beautifully with the device. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/05/29/chromebook-review_n_3346629.html?utm_hp_ref=test-drive" target="_hplink">Read the story here. </a>
Kobo Aura HD
<strong>Our Thoughts:</strong>The Kobo Aura HD addresses the three most important factors in an ereader flawlessly — screen quality, speed and battery life. The secondary objectives such as form factor and feel in hand are somewhat off. One could argue that the device is bulky and the back design does not resemble a conventional, modern gadget. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/05/08/kobo-aura-review_n_3239669.html" target="_blank">Read the story here</a>
Microsoft's Surface Windows 8
<strong>Our thoughts:</strong> The size was a little too big — for a tablet at least. For my own use, I would've preferred something smaller in size. However, when it came to typing, size did matter. Since the tablet can rotate, it was easy on the fingers for typing. Next was the quality of photos and videos. For a tablet, I thought the images worked well. Pictures were easy to scroll through (I tested out saving a few in a folder), and videos online were quick to upload. The photo quality for the built-in camera was average — but I've never been a big fan of taking photos with tablets to begin with. (Taking self-portraits with them are even more awkward). The tablet also included a cool travel tool that let you browse different cities and their go-to spots — pretty neat. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/12/microsoft-surface-review-_n_2830782.html" target="_blank">Read the story here</a>
Divine Heritage Artistry's Bollywood & Bhangra class
<strong>Our Thoughts:</strong> "Years of watching "So You Think You Can Dance" had me terrified to make any hand gestures that might offend, but that didn't seem to be too much of a concern at Sarkar's class. I've never tried Bollywood dancing before, and at first found it a challenge to keep up with the moves -- but fortunately, the size of the class (around 60 people) made me instantly less self-conscious and I was able to enjoy just spending the hour learning new steps." <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/14/bollywood-dance-moves_n_2678478.html#slide=2109843" target="_hplink">Read the story here.</a>
<strong>Our Thoughts:</strong> "The first thing I noticed when I got my digest was how empty my inbox was. At least 15 of my regular emails were grouped into one convenient email that was easy to read on my phone and the computer. I also noticed I didn't miss the emails I had unsubscribed to -- I actually couldn't even remember a lot of them." <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/01/24/organize-emails_n_2516217.html" target="_hplink">Read the story here. </a>
Kobo Mini, Kobo Glo Review
<strong>Our Thoughts: </strong> Wow, it's light. Really light. I'm a media junkie so I pick up magazines, newspapers and other things to read like a stray dog picks up fleas. The Mini is probably lighter than this week's issue of The New Yorker and it's definitely lighter than that September issue of Vogue (DEFINITELY lighter). <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/11/07/kobo-mini-kobo-glo-review_n_2089735.html?utm_hp_ref=test-drive" target="_hplink">Read the story here. </a>
Slow Cooker Love
<b>Tips</b>: If you're planning to start your meal in the morning, the trick is to prepare the ingredients or any sauces the night before. Leaving your full chicken or curries for the morning can get frustrating -- and sloppy. Another option for those of you who don't want to leave your cooker on during the day is to leave it on overnight and unplug it in the morning. This way you have a lunch and a leftover dinner. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/11/01/slow-cooker-recipes_n_2049274.html?utm_hp_ref=test-drive" target="_hplink">Read the story here.</a>
Hot Dog Stuffed Crust Pizza
<b>The Warning</b>: Not everyone in the office was willing to try Pizza Hut's newest pizza fusion. One editor even described it "wrong," which is probably the biggest thing we have to warn you about: People will judge you for your willingness to try new things. They will judge you hard for your acceptance of hot dogs and pizza belonging together. You may even lose a few friends in the process. Granted, that's what ordering in is for, so feel free to leave your food-fusion hating friends at the restaurant. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/10/12/hot-dog-stuffed-crust-pizza-canada_n_1961905.html?utm_hp_ref=test-drive" target="_hplink">Read the story here</a>.
Thoughts: "With its motto of "the natural taste," iögo is created without gelatin, artificial colours or flavours, and no preservatives. Available in seven lines (fat-free yogurt, probiotic yogurt with lactose-free options, Greek-style yogurt, drinkable yogurt, fresh cheese and -- wait for it -- cheese in a tube), iögo comes in over 40 flavours." <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/08/22/iogo-yogurt-in-canada-new_n_1821397.html?utm_hp_ref=test-drive" target="_hplink">Read the story here. </a>
Extension Room Ballet Class
Our Thoughts: "Like any dance workout, this isn't as easy as it looks and it may take me a few classes to actually catch up and follow every move. The pace did slow me down a bit and by the time I ended up understanding one dance move, the instructor was onto the next one -- I definitely would stand closer next time. But in terms of a workout, it was great. My abs, arms and legs were sore the next day and my back felt more relaxed than ever -- especially after sitting at a desk for eight hours a day." <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/08/08/extension-room-test-drive_n_1755924.html?utm_hp_ref=test-drive" target="_hplink">Read the story here. </a>
<strong>Our Thoughts: </strong>While we didn't have a chance to try out all the features on this prototype (like the full-featured iDrive Touch controller), this system looks to be the most comprehensive out on the market. Announcing Twitter and Facebook statuses has sure been a good way to pass the time in traffic, and those mapping graphics are truly fantastic.
<strong>Our Thoughts:</strong> With so many workout classes opting for "new" and "improved" techniques these days, it was nice to go to a class that was purely about strength conditioning -- albeit with the suspension gimmick for a bit of interest. As someone who does strength training occasionally -- say, once a week -- the exercises were a challenge throughout. And better yet, there were plenty of options to make it more difficult once you'd mastered the original pose, merely by moving your feet around a bit.
Combining the use of ballet barres, resistance bands and weighted balls, BarreWorks is a group fitness course that focuses on muscle sculpting, cardio, core conditioning and forcing our bodies to stay balanced. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/20/barreworks-test-drive_n_1597764.html?utm_hp_ref=test-drive" target="_hplink">Read more here.</a>
Our Thoughts: Did I feel the burn? I felt it right after and the next day, but just like any workout aftermath, it was the best type of pain. My shoulders, neck and thighs felt both tense and relaxed. I could feel that I worked out my abs and butt, even if I couldn't keep up with all of the moves. I realized this was not necessarily for a beginner like me. I did have to work at my own pace, but, with a few more classes, I can see myself catching up. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/23/socacize-test-drive_n_1537190.html" target="_hplink">Read the story here.</a>
LeRoy's Gourmet Flavored Ketchup
<b>What It Is</b>: Figuring Heinz et al had the classic ketchup market cornered, LeRoy's, a Milwaukee-based company, set out to innovate. They concocted flavours such as Dill & Celery, Homemade Chili, Mustard & Spice, Smokey Mesquite and Beer & Onion (two additional flavours, Crispy Bacon and Ghost Pepper & Aged Cheddar came out earlier in 2012).<br> Available in select stores in the U.S., and hoping to arrive in Canada this summer, the ketchups are meant for anything from fries to burgers to chips -- or any other recipe incorporating this favoured condiment.
ISIS Sports Bra
<strong>Our Thoughts:</strong> "Compared to my last bra with no real support, yes, the ISIS was better. Compared to another one I own from Lululemon that boasts similar functions? I would rank them about the same. This bra does the job of securing your girls when you're running or jumping, and it does a great job of collecting sweat. The straps, again, are the selling point, thanks to the support they allow." <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/25/isis-sports-bra_n_1452356.html" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>
Lumosity.com's Brain Games
<strong>Our Thoughts:</strong> As someone who's less than stringent about adhering to any particular gym or general wellness schedule, I actually found myself looking forward to my daily Lumosity games. The idea that I could be making my brain work better just by memorizing matrix patterns or figuring out rules to a card game was incredibly appealing, and really compelled me to 'play' every day. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/16/lumosity-brain-training_n_1245345.html?ref=test-drive" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>
Imagine Organic Hearty Chicken Noodle Soup
<strong>Our Thoughts: </strong>First, you should know that I L.O.V.E. soup. I can eat it day and night, hot or cold, any time of the year. There are two things I will never get tired of: soup and cheese. Oh, and bacon. Oh, and fruit. <br>So I have pretty high standards for my soup, and especially chicken soup. My mom's is the best (5 stars!), my grandma's was the second-best (4.5 stars!). Canned and prepared soups will do the trick, but generally don't fool me (1 - 3 stars). How did Imagine's soup measure up? <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/21/test-drive-imagine-chicken-soup_n_1368615.html?ref=test-drive" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>
Kinect's Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2012
<strong>Our Thoughts:</strong> Approaching the workout as a game is great in concept, but tougher to do when you find yourself yelling at the screen as the trainer "asks" you to do another 12 squats. And that's probably the game's greatest asset -- the feeling that you have a personal trainer motivating you to keep going. Yes, it is a computer-generated person who doesn't respond when you tell them you've had enough, but for many people, this push can be the difference between sitting on the couch and getting up and air boxing. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/12/your-shape-fitness-evolved_n_1417815.html?ref=test-drive" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>
<strong>Our Thoughts: </strong>Did it work, you ask? Pretty darn good as a moisturizer. It left my skin feeling ridiculously soft, and didn't cause breakouts like I feared it would, but that may be because I use another moisturizer with glycolic acid to help keep my skin clear. But it left my skin dewy, plumped up and kind of glowing, and was a good companion to my other moisturizer (NeoStrata, which I can't recommend enough). <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/06/argan-oil-anti-aging_n_1189238.html?ref=test-drive" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>
Snacks Of The Week
PRICE: $3<br>AVAILABLE AT: Most grocery stores across Canada. What's In It: 25 per cent of your daily iron. <br>Putting It To Use: Cooked along green vegetables and mushrooms, this tofu makes the perfect protein option for vegetarians. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/23/food-products-test-drive-_n_1294300.html?ref=test-drive#s715178&title=Presidents_Choice_Berry" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>
Be Kool Kids Fever Patches
<strong>Our Thoughts:</strong> Now, we must be honest -- our testers were a group of adults, none of whom had fevers. So the sheets were slightly small for our foreheads, but no less effective because of it. As soon as we stuck them on, the cool, tingling sensation made an impact, alleviating tiredness and for some, the after effects of excessive holiday partying, including headaches. Taking the "patch" on and off did mean it lost adhesion, but when left alone, the sheet was as cool as when it started, even three hours later. We can imagine in the case of a fever, the sheets would be greatly appreciated, but definitely shouldn't take the place of appropriate medication. We also loved that the sheets were cold upon impact, with no need to stick them into a freezer. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/12/23/bekoool-kids-soft-gel_n_1167653.html?ref=test-drive" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>
Starbucks Cake Pop Kit
Our Thoughts: In the end, I had some pretty good-looking cake pops to give my family, though we could each only eat one because of the sweetness. Were they the same as the ones you buy at Starbucks? Not exactly -- baristas apparently have a better handle on covering the ball in icing, and seem to tone down the sugar so as to keep customers from going into a diabetic shock. On the plus side, the homemade pops were much more moist than the ones in store. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/24/starbucks-cake-pop-kit_n_1110167.html" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>
<b>What It Is</b>: Get ready to feel like a little kid in a candy store -- just replace all that candy with Coke. The Coca-Cola Freestyle machine is nothing like your typical soft drink fountain. This touch-screen mixer lets you combine up to 100 flavours of traditional Coca-Cola brands with new (and tasty) shots of peach, cherry and lime-flavoured products. Oh, and did we mention the machine also includes the return of classic Cherry and Vanilla Coke? <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/09/06/coca-cola-freestyle-mixing-flavours-_n_1858109.html?utm_hp_ref=test-drive" target="_hplink">Read the story here.</a>
Our Thoughts: The Chromebook is not yet for everyone. You have to “live and breathe” Google in order to be able to use the device to its fullest potential, and also be connected to the Internet. Lucky for me, I use Google's Enterprise service and it integrates beautifully with the device.
It's important to note that at this point, the amount of applications published for an iPad or an Android tablet exceeds what’s available for the Chromebook significantly. If you are in for a mature and widely available base of applications then I suggest that you look elsewhere.
There is a comprehensive list of offline apps for the Chromebook but it is clear that the intention is for the device to be connected to the Internet consistently.
The Chromebook could pave the way for how we will use computers in the future, where all apps are web-based and upgraded in real-time.
You may initially find it limiting but you quickly realize how many tasks could be achieved, assuming you are willing to readjust your workflow and use what is given to you with the Chromebook. For example, you can't run Skype but you can use Google Hangouts instead. If the majority of your computer habits are web browsing then this is the perfect computer for you.
Another Chromebook to watch for is the Chromebook Pixel which you can buy directly from the Google Play Store. The Pixel has much better hardware and a slicker design, which comes with a $1,000 premium.
The Warning: This is not your typical laptop and you really need to have Internet to be able to use it properly. There aren't a lot of popular third party applications and games available yet, so check the Chrome Web Store to see what is available. The applications will not automatically degrade to an offline mode. You must download offline versions of the applications that come pre-installed such as mail and Google Docs to be able to use it with no Internet.
Tips: I highly recommend checking out Chrome Experiments to see how powerful Chrome experience could be.
For a quick rundown of the features see this video.
Use the handy "Get Started" collection on the Chromebook to learn about important keyboard shortcuts. For example, pressing the Alt and Zoom keys at the same time is equivalent to pressing the Caps Lock button with other computers, which is not present on the keyboard of the Chromebook.
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