Affinity Consulting Blog

Lawyers should always be concerned about the security of their mobile devices. The most secure laptop-style device is a Google Chromebook. It is more secure than either a Windows laptop or a MacBook. And it is essentially impervious to viruses and other malware. But Chromebooks have limitations, right? Not for long.

Most of us depend upon Microsoft Word and the other Microsoft Office applications to be productive in our law practices. Until now, if you had a Chromebook and an internet connection, you could use Word Online. But you couldn't use it if you were offline. Offline, you had to use Google Docs, which is good, but still not exactly Word.

Google announced yesterday that, starting next month, over a million Android apps available for phones and tablets will also be able to run on a Chromebook, whether online or offline.

Lawyers using iPads know how good Microsoft Word is on that platform. Word is similarly good on Android phones and tablets. However, despite its efforts to become a content creation rather than consumption device with the addition of keyboard portfolios and improved styli, the iPad's tablet-first form factor is not ideal for creating or editing Word documents. The same concern applies to most Android tablets (although the Pixel C comes close to bridging that gap).

A Chromebook is a laptop-first format, although many newer Chromebooks are "convertible" devices with 360 degree hinges. The keyboard can fold back behind the screen for tablet-style use. A Chromebook is ideally suited to take advantage of the features in Word for Android and the other MS Office applications such as Excel for Android and PowerPoint for Android.

Initially, the apps in the Google Play Store will only be available on three Chromebook models. Only one of those models is expensive, the Chromebook Pixel. Starting in June, owners of these three models, if they set their Chromebooks to the Developer channel, will be able access the Android apps in the Play Store. That capability with spread to most other recent model Chromebooks this fall.

The other two, the Asus Chromebook Flip (street price $269), which I have, and the Acer R11 (street price $254), are inexpensive despite being convertible models with touch screens. Each costs about half of what a low-end iPad costs, but promises greater productivity because of the keyboard-centric laptop form factor.

The coming ability of Chromebooks to run Android apps is a significant development for lawyers. For mobile use, we can now get by with a $200 to $300 laptop device that is highly secure, instead of paying two or three (or seven, when compared with my Microsoft Surface Book) times as much for a Windows machine that is not going to be nearly as secure or trouble free as a Chromebook.

UPDATE: The list of Chromebooks that will run Android apps starting this fall has been released. It inclukdes some ultra-affordable models such as this Hisense C11 that is currently on sale (refurbished) on Woot for just $89.99. It may be wise to pick one up now, enjoy the secure and speedy ChromeOS operating system for a few months during summer travel season, then expand its capabilities with Android apps such as MS Word and Excel this fall.

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