A comprehensive guide to Chromebooks

I mentioned the other day that since January 2014 I’ve been using a Chromebook as my iPad replacement. Originally I was just looking for a low-cost note-taking solution, but it turned out to be a lot more. Not only is my HP Chromebook 14 my go-to machine for note-taking, emailing and web browsing, but it is also my mobile office, thanks to the ability to access my home PC via Chrome Remote Desktop.

Considering that Chromebooks have only been around since mid-2011, it’s not all that easy to come across comprehensive and unbiased comparisons of the various models on the market. One exception is Zipso’s Chromebook specs & performance comparison chart, which also serves as an excellent introduction to the world of Chromebooks and Chrome OS. It is well worth a look, if you are Chrome-curious :)

ConnectedText as replacement for Blackwell Idealist

Lawrence Osborne’s thoughts on why he replaced Blackwell Idealist with ConnectedText:

For me, the main advantages of CT are its support for Unicode, its ability to display rich text formatting (via Markdown), its support for LaTeX commands (which makes it possible to include equations in notes), and the fact that it is supported by a very active developer and an enthusiastic community of users. Most importantly, with a bit of tweaking, it is possible to make CT import Idealist records from one of Idealist’s export formats and treat them as CT topics with the same name.

I should add that CT does not currently support Markdown (although it’s a feature that has been requested), so Lawrence probably meant CT’s own wiki markup (which nonetheless is not that terribly different from Markdown).

Notable PDF is getting there

I’m not sure if I mentioned it here before, but last year I got myself a Chromebook (a 1st gen. HP Chromebook 14), to replace my aging and increasingly decrepit (or should I say decrapit) iPad 1 as my main portable note-taking and web-surfing machine. I quickly became a Chromebook convert, especially after I discovered how easy and convenient it is to use Chrome Remote Desktop to access my Windows 7 PC, thus always having my office with me.

The only area where my Chromebook and Chrome OS were lacking and where my iPad 1 (with the GoodReader app, for instance) was still superior was PDF annotation. It was certainly possible to read a PDF on a Chromebook but there was no satisfactory solution to annotate a book-sized PDF, both online and offline, and then be able to export the annotated PDF file or the annotations themselves. Not until Notable PDF appeared on the scene that is. I have been using Notable since its beta days on and off, but until recently I kept running into problems that made me return to annotating on the PC or on my old iPad.

However, in recent weeks I checked back again and I was very pleasantly surprised that Notable have ironed out some of the obstacles that kept me from adopting it permanently. Finally I was able to download my annotated PDF file and open it in PDF XChange Editor on the PC, and I saw all my highlights and annotations in place. It is still not perfect, as the highlights in XChange Editor show up as some kind of colour overlay rather than XChange’s own native highlights, but hey, I can live with that. What is more important is that I am now able to read and manipulate my Notable annotations in XChange Editor.

Moreover, Notable has some tricks up its sleave that give it a distinct advantage over some other PDF annotating options. Notable PDF is a Chrome browser extension, which makes it cross-platform on desktops, as long as you have Chrome installed on your other machines.* It appears to save the annotations in the cloud, which means that it doesn’t matter where you keep your file, and how many copies of your file you have, it will sync the annotations to that file (and its copies) across all the browsers. You can even have two different copies of the same PDF file open in different machines in Chrome, and the annotations will sync live and automatically, in front of your eyes. This feature of course would be very useful for collaborations, as you can see instantly what others are commenting on that file.

To me, this feature means more flexibility. For example, the copy of  the PDF file I’m reading is saved on the hard drive of the Chromebook. When I’m offline, the annotations are saved offline, and then synced when I’m back online. However, I also have a copy of the same file on my Google Drive account in the cloud, and if I’m on another machine, let’s say a PC at work and I do not have my Chromebook with me with the original file, I can just open the copy from Google Drive, and Notable recognises it as a copy of the annotated file and it populates it with the annotations saved on their server. I find this rather clever and very useful.

In any case, I just wanted to say that I’m happy now to include Notable PDF among my favourite apps and recommend it to others, especially Chromebook users. While it’s not entirely perfect for my needs (I wish the yellow highlights could be converted to native highlights in PDF XChange Editor, so they can be extracted from there), it is probably the best option for PDF reading and annotating on Chromebook today. Also, I have been following them for the past year, and development has been on-going, so I am hopeful that Notable will continue to be improving.

Update:

* Having just looked at their website more closely, it turns out now they also have a web app, so in fact you can use their service on any browser, not just Chrome.

ConnectedText .CSS files

Dr Andus:

And here is the link where some of Paul’s CSS files can be downloaded from. Thanks, Paul! http://connectedtext.com/forum/index.php/topic,3169.msg15041.html#msg15041

Originally posted on I used to be undecided, but now I'm not so sure.:

When I first used ConnectedText (CT) I was a little put off by the aesthetics of the program.  I am a visual person and how a program looks is almost as important to me as how it functions.  In particular the rendition of tables was not good, I use tables a lot and the default rendering of tables in CT was such that the text was crammed together and the borders of the cells were too close to the text.  The whole thing looked very claustrophobicand to me this is very oppressive.

I have been using the program now for several years without realising that how much those aesthetics could be changed.  I have known for some time that the page rendering was controlled by a CSS file but all the CSS files which are included in the installation package had the same shortcomings to a greater or lesser degree.

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Long Term Usage review of ConnectedText

Dr Andus:

A considered and balanced review of ConnectedText that especially first-time users will find very useful.

Originally posted on I used to be undecided, but now I'm not so sure.:

You might be aware if you have been following my posts on note taking software that I have been searching for the ideal (ideal for me) solution for capturing and developing ideas and organising notes.

During this time I have spent a lot of time using various programs and a lot of money on acquiring the programs I thought were satisfactory.

Now I have decided to standardise on just one program. ConnectedText.

Overview

I have now been using ConnectedText on and off since 2012. I have been using it more extensively since the advent of version 6 which introduced some significant improvements. During this time I have looked at many alternative note taking programs, the best of which were MyInfo and Ultra Recall.

My overall impression is much more favourable than in my previous review, now that I have been using it for a while and have learned…

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