Responding to Jays Tech Vault – These Chromebook Ads Are Horrendously Misleading
I watch a lot of tech YouTubers for education and entertainment and the quality of the content is normally far above other genres of videos. I have been watching a up-and-coming YouTuber for a while, Jays Tech Vault and love his videos of him putting knockoffs from wish.com to the test and his videos are well produced and entertaining. Jay published a new video targeting Chromebooks and while I agree with many of his talking points, I do have some disagreements with several other talking points. Normally I would respond in a YouTube Comment however there is so much I want to say so I figured I would post them here. This is not to bash Jay or his videos and I strongly encourage everyone subscribe and support smaller creates like him.
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Disclaimer : I am a bit of a Chromebook fan who does take full advantage of the platform, I am not a typical Chromebook user by any means but I am saying this because I will have some bias. Putting my bias aside, I will be reporting on the facts as stated. I also feel that several of the Chromebook ads are misleading so he is not completely wrong on some things but there are others he is very wrong. Please DO NOT attack this creator.
Lets start by looking at the video in question:
Lets take a apart some of his claims and determine if they are true or not
You Cannot Game on A Chromebook : Mostly False
Let me say this up front, if the primary purpose you wish to get a Laptop is to play games, you should look at a PC – Specifically something with a decent GPU. Chromebooks excel at productivity and entertainment tasks.
Chromebooks can be used for gaming with several caveats; they excel at cloud based gaming systems (Stadia, Microsoft XCloud, etc) but many of the current generations of Chromebooks are pretty limited to Android games. Android games are great and some are even console quality however they are no substitution for steam and Blizzard games.
It is important to remember that expectations matter when choosing computer hardware, just as you would not buy a HP Stream for gaming, you also should not buy a Chromebook if you plan to install a lot of games. Google was definitely not the most honest when it comes to this claim as many users will assume you can simply install steam on a Chromebook and it will work (you can) but it is not the best. With this said, the specific Game that was in the ad that Jay used as a example was for “Vain Glory” which has a specific Android build of Vain Glory optimized for Chromebooks which means the video footage is technically accurate. The term “Screen Images Simulated” is common on all ads involving computers including ads involving iPhones, Android Phones and other high end machines.
Android games have come a long way for casual games and I am sure most people will be perfectly happy playing Android games on a Chromebook.
Furthermore the processor choice does not necessarily impact the quality of games that one may play on a device. The first XBox used a Pentium 4, Many game Consoles use ARM based processors and even Power PC processors. There are no consoles running a i7 with a RTX 2080.
A Chromebook that Updates Automatically : Mostly False
Chromebooks do update automatically and only require a quick reboot to access the new updated version of ChromeOS. There are no lengthy “please wait” installation screens that a person needs to go through or a requirement to update hardware drivers. You can be sitting on the “Please Wait” screen for over a hour on a MacOS or Windows installation but on a Chromebook, you can be back at your desktop in about 15 seconds.
The only reason I gave this a mostly false is that the reboot must be done by the user.
5 Years Software Support : Partially True
For the record, this was recently expanded to 7 years from the date that the device was initially launched for 2019 models and above. I am not a huge fan of this policy but it makes sense from a economics standpoint as there are very few financial incentives for a manufacturer to test and support models that have been off the shelf for so long. Even after this support period stops, this does not mean your devices will stop working and you will still continue to get updates for Android Applications and Linux applications for several years after.
Viruses On Chromebooks : False
I agree with the opening statement that common sense is the best form of virus protection, this holds true for Mac, Windows, PC and also ChromeOS. In most cases, many users get infected by visiting shady websites however there are also several instances where legitimate web pages
It is true that it is easier to install a virus on Linux if the user runs a command as root without the full understanding of what it does and once a piece of code is executed as root, it is almost impossible to contain the damage. ChromeOS is very resistant to viruses but nothing is completely immune but with that said, Chromebooks are definitely the safest option on the market for those who want to avoid a virus.
There are several false statements however such as him saying that Linux is not a desirable target for malware because very few people run Linux, this is incorrect statement as most people run Linux every day on multiple devices. In fact you likely own more Linux devices at home then you do Windows and MacOS devices. Android Phones, ATMS, Televisions, routers, modems, networking equipment, smart house equipment, cars and even most web servers all run Linux. Linux is a perfect target for a malware maker as a specially crafted attack can break into bank servers or social media network servers and do a lot of damage.
Jay also makes a statement implying that writing malicious code for ChromeOS is not worth it because there is nothing to gain out of breaking into a Chromebook but I will completely disagree here. Chromebooks are seeing a spike in adoption in the enterprise environments with several businesses employing Chromebooks along with GSuite to manage their business. Schools are also rapidly turning to Chromebooks due to the remote learning requirements thanks to COVID-19. Breaking into a educational GSuite account has very limited potential for max exploitation however breaking into a device that is part of a enterprise pool is a completely different story as there could be a large amount of sensitive information just a few clicks away.
As far as ChromeOS not having a Anti-Virus, this is technically true but this does not mean that a Chromebook does not have any malware protection. Chromebooks actually have several layers of protection that make it resilient to tampering which makes running malware a challenge. There are 4 potential avenues for infection and Google has addressed each in its own way.
- Malicious Web Page – Theoretically it may be possible to craft a special web page that could attempt to harvest contents from other browser tabs or monitor keystrokes. ChromeOS uses a system to isolate each tab in its own private namespace which mitigates this risk.
- Malicious Chrome Extension – Extensions are routinely checked in the Chrome Web Store and removed if a malicious extension is discovered. Sadly there are a few that are uploaded but they are rendered pretty useless after a while. In order to mitigate the potential damage of a malicious Chrome Extension, the user would need to accept the permissions of the extension before the extension is allowed to run. These permissions need to be re-accepted if a future update to the extension tries to seek something nasty in there.
- Malicious Android Applications – Many Android Applications include the Google Play Store which automatically scans installed applications via the SafetyNet and PlayProtect services, as with ChromeOS extensions, Android applications must request permissions to perform actions and additional permissions must be requested if a update to the application attempts to introduce something dangerous.
- Linux Support – This would be the easiest place to deploy malware as actions in Linux do fly under the radar of the other security measures put into ChromeOS, there is no SafetyNet or application scanning, in fact the entire Linux container is completely sandboxed from the rest of the ChromeOS machine. The Linux container cannot access things outside of the container such as the ChromeOS file-system, screen or other hardware. ChromeOS will allow some devices to be passed through but this is a explicit permission that the user will need to do. The container runs in a very restricted mode (LXC unprivileged container) and that container is confined to its own virtual machine (termina) to wall it off. Linux applications cannot listen to Network traffic or make any modifications to /proc/ and the kernel. As a final measure of protection, background services cannot be setup on Linux as they are on other Linux setups.
I will agree that this is not a “Anti-Virus” but Google does not actually use the term “Anti-Virus” in the video, rather the more generic term “Virus Protection”. I will admit that many people who see this ad will assume some sort of real time anti-virus is installed.
6 Second Boot : True
I completely agree with Jay on this one. There was a time where Chromebooks booted significantly faster than a PC but as many PCs started to move over to SSDs in favor of HDDs, this gap has narrowed. I can honestly say that my top of the line Chromebook (Pixelbook with 512 GB NVME) does take around 15 seconds to boot up and another 7 seconds to get to the desktop. At first I thought that Jay was pulling up a old video but this video was only 11 months old and I can say that even 11 months ago, my Pixelbook took at least 12 seconds to boot.
You Can Plugin A Flash Drive and Factory Reset A Stolen Chromebook : Partially True
Jay makes the claim that you can simply plug in a flash drive with a recovery image to factory reset a Chromebook – technically you don’t need a flash drive but I will let that slide. It is very easy to also do the same thing on a Windows laptop, even with bitlocker and a BIOS password so this is a non-issue but this also overlooks the fact that most consumers do not have a BIOS password or any form of disk encryption on by default on Windows machines. Even with Secure Boot turned on and a BIOS password in use, Windows can still boot to a USB key with a official Windows image which can be used to reformat the disk and even launch a WinPE recovery tool to potentially export data by using the computers one-time-boot menu.
With all of this said, Managed Chromebooks such as those enrolled in GSuite’s MDM management solution are a different story as even a factory reset will not allow it to be used without a proper account, rendering the device completely useless if stolen. Chromebooks do the most important thing and protect your Data to ensure that if a Chromebook is stolen, the sensitive data contained on the machine is never accessible without the proper password. If a laptop is stolen and thief cannot break into the laptop to allow it to be put in a state it can be re-sold, it is often parted out anyway.
Only Poorly Educated Computer Buyers Buy Chromebooks : False
I have been using a Chromebook as my primary laptop for over 2 years, it is my daily driver while I am on the road and at my desk. I am not a “poorly educated computer buyer”, in fact I am the antithesis of a poorly educated computer buyer, I am a enthusiast who spends way too much on computer hardware and have amassed a collection of machines that will make most people drool. I am a senior level software engineer by profession and get to experiment with a lot of products. There are a few reasons why I choose to reach for a Chromebook instead of a PC when I am on the road :
- Lightweight and Compact
- Reliable (Sometimes I want something that just works)
A quick read on my website will show that Chromebooks can be quite powerful machines when used properly and many of my readers have shared progress on very impressive projects they are doing involving machine learning, software development and more on a Chromebook.
Quick Note to Jay : It is best not to insult your viewers who choose to buy a Chromebook, this does not mean I am going to be hitting the unsubscribe button or stop watching your content, just a note.