chromebook 4g – part 3 – unboxing and getting started

Since I made a mistake and bought the wrong Chromebook (see part 2), I got to unbox and set up two different Chromebooks. This blog post compares the experience between the two along with differences from two years ago.


HP Asus
Size of the box 12″ x 8″ x 2″(was in 14.5″ x 10″ x 3.5″ outer brown box (for shipping) 14″ x 10″ x 3″
Look of box cute white container with a blue ribbon around it. black box with handle and the phrase “Prepare for Incredible”
What inside box
  1.  Chromebook (laptop)
  2. Micro-USB charger
  3. The little 15 page guide that nobody reads
  4. Small piece of cardboard saying to turn on, pick a network and sign in with your google account (or create one). The back suggests what apps to click on to get started or to visit
  1.  Chromebook (laptop)
  2. AC Adapter
  3. Paper that says to call Asus before returning the Chromebook
  4. Warranty booklet
  5. Safety pamphlet
  6. One pager of instructions in 5 languages (charge, lift display panel, press start).
What happened when I opened the lid Nothing. I needed to press the power button as expected The ChromeBook automatically started up. This caught me by surprise. It’s ok. I just wasn’t expecting it. When I shutdown/restart without shutting the lid, I have to push harder/hold down the button anyway.
Initial charging The little light by the power plug was green for a few seconds and then turned yellow. Then the machine turned on. It was initially at 96% charge. It stayed green when fully charged though. The instructions said to charge for 3 hours before first use. I thought that meant the battery shipped dead, but it was at 88%.
Initial version of OS (approximate age) Version 31 – December 2013 (11 months old!) Version 37 – August 2014
Initial time zone (before connecting to internet) California (Mountain view) Two hours east of me (which is the ocean) – odd
Default internet connection setting Verizon Wifi

Getting started

The first screen has me choose my language (English), keyboard (US) and internet connection. I could choose Verizon wireless or a wifi connection. I chose Verizon Wireless because I wanted to know what the plan options were. This was a mistake as it couldn’t connect to Verizon since I didn’t sign up for a contract in store.  Looking at my notes from last time, I see that I was required to connect over wifi the first time as well.

I then accepted the terms of use and opted out of sending information automatically to Google. (Don’t want my mother’s bandwidth wasted sending information)

Trying again, I chose my home wifi and WEP key. That worked. I was able to sign in using my google account (which uses two factor authentication) – the extra authentication prompt was seamless. I was worried it wouldn’t work since the computer thought it was some time ago. The date autocorrected when connecting on wifi though.

Then I got asked which image I want to represent me. This year, my Google Account avatar is a choice. Which means my mother will get to see my picture as an alternate user every time she signs on. (Two years ago, I could only pick a stock art image).

I was able to check my email as a quick test. Success! I did get the message “This version of Chrome is no longer supported. Please upgrade to a supported version”. The details say they support the current and latest version of Chrome. (Things work just fine with an older version so this sounds like them covering themselves). I got a “restart to update” message. It brought me to version 38 (the latest) in one fell swoop. After restarting, “mobile data” was disabled in settings instead of thinking I am on a Verizon contract. At this point, I was able to sign up for a 4G plan.

 Asus specific: connecting to an external monitor

My mother’s  external monitor has a DVI-I port. We bought a VGA adapter two years ago.  My home external monitor has VGA already. I bought a VGA/HDMI adapter and tested it successfully on my computer. For my mother’s external monitor, I decided to use the same VGA/HDMI adapter (and use a string of adapters) rather than look for a DVI-I adapter for three reasons:

  1. I want to test the same way on both my setup and hers.
  2. If she ever decides to upgrade the external monitor, she will have a more common adapter.
  3. It was really hard to attach the VGA adapter to her external monitor in the first place. We got it wedged in there so I don’t want to touch it.

Off topic: shout out to Microcenter. I was able to get the parts I needed (and didn’t need since I returned the HP) without having to buy online. And they had a smooth return process. The adapters were in packaging that you could just stick them back in rather than having a pile of plastic.

Anyway, testing on my external monitor. By default (plug and play), it extended the monitor. I wanted to mirror so pressed control and the display key above the five as suggested in help. That did get it to mirror. However, I had black bars on the sides of both screens. I then switched back to extended mode and clicked that popup to check the resolution of both screens. The chromebook was 1366×768 by default and the external monitor was 1280×768 by default. I wasn’t able to fix this with the Chromebook alone because it was a monitor/tv setting. I clicked the picture size button on the tv (external monitor) remote. When I switched it from “normal” to “full”, it expanded to use the full monitor size. The Chromebook screen stays with the 1.5 inch black bars on the left and right, but the monitor uses the full screen. When I unplug the HDMI cable, the Chromebook goes back to full screen mode. That’s fine. We’d be using either the external monitor or the Chromebook screen, but not both at the same time.

Asus specific: Chrome OS updates

On the initial setup, it looked for updates and spent a while on the “Determining device configuration” page. Per this Amazon review, that page stayed for hours. Rather than wait for hours, I pressed the power button to turn it off and back on. After restarting, the error appeared for a few seconds, complained about internet connectivity and then I got prompted for my Google account.

After logging in, I checked email to confirm internet connectivity was fine. I then went to settings > about and saw I’m on Chrome OS version 37. It started searching for updates and slowly started incrementing the percentage. Going from 0% to 1% took a few minutes. Then it started going faster. It took about 15 minutes to complete the download. I then clicked restart to complete the update.

Asus: finishing up

At this point, everything works and I’m just dealing with minor things. Some are for security or user preferences. Some are just to simplify by not allowing features the user doesn’t need.

  • Covered up the camera.  My mother isn’t going to use the camera so no need to have it operating. Plus I bought a pack up a bunch of little blue foam covers, so might as well use up another one.
  • Set wallpaper to blue (my mother prefers a solid color that a pattern)
  • For my mother’s account, set up her sync password since sync can’t be turned off on a Chromebook. I exempted passwords and autofill (which are off anyone so there is no data saved.)  I disabled more settings for myself.
  • I kept the timezone has Pacific since the Chromebook will be going there in a month.
  • Prevent sites from accessing microphone and camera
  • Disable Google drive
  • Set home page to load on startup and not just when click home.. (Hidden in advanced settings > on startup)

Asus: Don’t turn off

I told my mother that when she takes the laptop to wifi every other month for Chrome OS updates, she doesn’t need to watch it. This conflicts with the default 6 minute sleep mode on battery and 8 minute sleep mode when plugged in. For that matter, when plugged in, 8 minutes is a very short timeout. You go to the bathroom and the machine is asleep! I installed the Keep Awake plugin to avoid this problem.

I also checked the Chromebook was up to date and skimmed the latest changes on the Chrome Release blog. There isn’t a way to turn off auto updates, but it is smart enough not to update when on a 3G/4G connection. (or on a wifi hotspot now)

chromebook 4g – part 2 – choosing a model and best buy

Part 1 covers the decision to buy a 4G model. Now we see which one I chose.

Picking a store

I wanted to buy the ChromeBook at a physical store so I could return it if there was a problem. Two years ago, Best Buy was the only physical store that sold a Chromebook. This year, I know of three stores: Best Buy, PC Richards and Walmart. I live in New York City where Walmart has been treated as unwelcome. I could find the 4G model on PC Richards website. (I didn’t look very hard – it was easy to find on Best Buy’s website. So I chose Best Buy again. Buying it at Best Buy went smoothly last time.

Picking a model

Best Buy sells two 4G models. Here’s a brief comparison of the two. Note that the price is different if you sign up for a two year contract with Verizon. I wasn’t so for me, the price was the same.

HP Asus
Screensize 11.6″ 13.3″
Price $299 $299
CPU Samsung – 1.7GHz Intel 2.16 GHz
USB 2 USB 1 USB 2.0 and 1 USB 3.0
Weight 2.3 lbs 3.1 lbs
Reviews This model has been around longer so has more reviews. A year ago, there was an issue with the chargers that got resolved. Other than that, reviews were fine and numerous. This is a newer model so less reviews. No complaints though.

The HP 11 doesn’t connect to an external monitor well

I chose wrong and had to return/exchange it. I read in a review that:

There’s no VGA or HDMI port on the HP Chromebook 11, but you can use a SlimPort adapter with the microUSB port to connect an external display.

I didn’t realize this meant I couldn’t charge the device while being connected to an external monitor. (In hindsight, that is obvious.)

Be careful you don’t get an old HP 11

Before December 2013, there was an issue with the charger. Make sure your computer hasn’t been sitting around for a year. When I went back to Best Buy, the person speaking to the Chromebook rep had an issue with her charger. I’m not clear if it was the same issue. The computer I got had been sitting around a long time as well.

Buying at BestBuy initially

I ordered the Chromebook online with local in store pickup. I could have gotten it the same day as a store about 10 miles away which had it in stock. I chose to wait and get it from my local store. This is a huge change from two years ago. It’s great that Chromebooks are no longer being treated as a niche product. Best Buy felt the need to open the brown box in front of me to check the contents were correct and then tape it back up. Doesn’t exactly give a warm fuzzy feeling when they don’t trust their own shipping department. It was correct though.

Returning at Best Buy

I spoke to the Chromebook rep/specialist at Best Buy.  He said I’d be better off returning the HP 11 Chromebook and buying a different model since the ability to connect to an external monitor was important to me. He showed me the floor sample for the Asus and that it had an HDMI port.

I went home and reset my Chromebook. This was easy; only three steps:

  1. Cancel Verizon 4G plan. (My mistake cost me $20)
  2. Powerwash to restore to factory state.
  3. Put back in the box.

I returned it and bought the Asus 4g model which costs the exact same amount.  This took a long time. Waiting on the return line and returning took time but was straightforward. They didn’t challenge my reason for returning.

When I went back to the computer department, the Chromebook specialist had gone home for the day. I spoke to someone else who told me they were out of the Asus 4g prepaid model, but had it if I wanted a 2 year contract. This is nonsense; it is the same physical computer. I wound up using the floor model to show him this fact on the website. Then there was some delay/confusion in finding it. I could tell he tried to hand me the wrong machine from the price being too low.

See part 3 for setting it up.

chromebook 4g – part 1 – verizon’s 4g plan

Two years ago, I bought a Chromebook for my mother. She has been very happy with it. The 3g plan met all her needs other than getting updates for the Chromebook itself. I had predicted in 2011 that a Chromebook is good for senior citizens because:

Senior citizens who use a computer to check e-mail, view pictures of the grandkids, research vacations, maybe watch some videos on youtube and some other random surfing. People in this group do not want anything to do with taking care of their computer; they just want it to work.

This turned out to be accurate. My mother didn’t need an ISP (everything over 3g) and it was great for her not to have deal with virus scan/a firewall. Since nothing can be installed, it isn’t possible to get a virus.

The only problem was that we didn’t realize that the Chromebook pushes wouldn’t occur over 3g. My mother went to a wifi connection to patch, but it quite far behind at this point. She requested starting over with a new machine. I was thinking I would just patch when I visit, but then I saw there are now models out with built in 4g. I’ll take her old Chromebook in case I want to see what something looks like for support and she can have a 4g one.

Researching how much the 4G plan costs

I wasn’t able to determine how much the 4G plan cost before buying the Chromebook. I currently pay for the 3G plan for the old Chromebook. I was expecting the 4G plan to cost more. (It didn’t. I was pleasantly surprised.) However, this information is apparently secret. I couldn’t find it on Verizon’s website. I did find the Jetpack hotspot price, but that is expensive ($60/month for 3GB.) I also found the prepaid tablet price list which turned out to be what I wanted. I wasn’t clear if the Chromebook was considered a tablet. I even called Verizon and they couldn’t tell me the price for 4G on a Chromebook.

I did find a PCWorld article from a year ago quoting $50/month for 5GB. That’s a lot given my mother uses less than 1GB/month.  I decided to buy the 4G model and hope for the best. If the only plan was the $50 one, I’d get a separate hotspot from T-Mobile or AT&T whose prices were easier to discern.

How much the Verizon 4G plan costs

I pay $20/month (no line charge) for 1GB on 3G. I was pleasantly surprised to see that 4G will cost me the same.

The pre-paid rates for 4G are:

300MB for one day $5
1 GB/month $20
2 GB/month $30
4 GB/month $40
6 GB/month $50
10 GB/month $80

The contract “more everything” plans are:

4 GB/month $30
6 GB/month $40
8 GB/month $50
10 GB/month $60
12 GB/month $70

For “more everything”, this price includes a $10/month line charge. There’s also a $35 initial set up fee and $15/GB for overages.

It isn’t clear from the website if the $35 setup and $10 line charge apply to pre-paid. They don’t.

The rates are competitive with AT&T and T-Mobile. Who both post their rates online more clearly.

Usability issue  #1 – Getting to the activation page

After buying the Chromebook, I went to settings and clicked “Verizon Wireless”. The name of my access point is listed as “4G LTE Contract (vzwinternet). When clicking “View account”, it said “Please Come Back Later” and “The Verizon Wireless Portal will be available after you restart your device”. I got this after restarting too though.

This article says there is no 3G support, only 4G. I was worried I was mysteriously not getting 4G, which wasn’t the problem. Per the support article, I did ctrl-alt-t and “modem status”. My signal strength which was -43dbm and better than their example. I would expect my home wifi to be strong so this isn’t a surprise.

After updating to the latest Chrome OS and restarting, “mobile data” was disabled in settings instead of thinking I am on a Verizon contract. Rebooted a third time and now I see “not connected” and “Verizon wireless” as a choice instead of “disabled”. Finally, I can start signing up.

Settings > Mobile data > Verizon wireless > Activate

This time it loaded. I choose “create new account” since I want the prepaid route. And finally. I clicked “show pre-paid plans” since that is hidden by default to see these choices.

Usability issue  #2 – Timeouts

I was doing this while doing the laundry so had the page with the rates on it open a while before paying. After letting me enter all my information, I got a session expired message. It’d have been nice to get that message before entering anything. After all, that’s when my session expired.

Usability issue  #3 – Validations

Verizon didn’t like my address. I thought it was the “#” sign (for apartment number.) Nope. Must be the dash. Each attempt at this requires me to re-enter virtually all the info. It would be nice to remember some of this information and just make me re-enter the parts that actually failed validation.

Usability issue  #4 – How much does it cost.

Prior to paying, I couldn’t figure out if I was going to get charged $20 or $30 per month. The payment page says on top that there is a $10 line fee. But at the bottom, it says I’ll be billed $20 per month. I found out it was $20/month when I got the email confirmation.

What went well

Finally, it tells me that I’ll be activated in 15 minutes and to call 800-786-8419 if can’t connect. I was able to connect significantly faster than 15 minutes.

Another improvement from 2 years ago is that  I can now go on My Verizon online and see how much data is used in the plan. It used to be that you had to do this from the device itself or call.

See part 2 for which model I picked.