March 17, 2013

Chrome Game Review: From Dust

From DustFor the Chrome-Gamers out there. "From Dust" by Ubisoft is a high-end graphics-heavy game (really breathtaking visuals) that is available in the Chrome Web Store. This goes to show the potential for larger apps doing bigger things right in your browser thanks to Chrome’s Native Client.

However, here's the kick to the front of my pants, my Chromebook doesn't have the graphical power to play it, which is uber disappointing because I bought it with the hope it would be better tuned for Chrome games.

What a let down, because when I played this on Playstation 3, I was mesmerized  The gameplay is both challenging, unique, and fun-as-hell, but the story and setting are what hooked me.

You basically play a benevolent spirit-god in an origin myth of some primordial people, assisting them as they exit the underworld and enter the land of the living using your god-like powers. To me, that is a vindication of video games as an expressive medium, it gives us a creative narrative in which we interact and take a direct role in advancing. Oh the possibilities...

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March 14, 2013

5 "Polite" Suggestions for the Chromebook

It's been a couple weeks and change since my previous article on my Chromebook, and after rereading what I posted, I feel as if I was too harsh. I've gotten more used to the little guy and now I'm proud to say that, despite issues (which all gadgets suffer from in some way), I think the Chromebook is an awesome invention with devastating potential. Most of it's failings can be easily ignored, because it makes up for it with it's innovative strengths. So here are some of the ideas I came up with to improve the experience. I don't know no technical jibber-jabber, so I have no idea if these are even feasible ideas, but there's nothing here too fantastic, and hopefully the men and women of Google are already hard at work implementing these basic ideas.

1. Let the Chromebook run Android Apps

If this topic were a horse, it would be dead and I'd be beating it, but whatever. It's still the most sensible and desperately needed upgrade that could fling the Chromebook quite easily into super-stardom.

The official online color is: #A4C639 . 한국어: 공...
Android OS has consistently proven itself through mainly one saving grace, the Google Play Store. With the vast sea of Apps at your disposal, any limitations of the hardware can generally be overcome. Chromebook should be able to rock some sweet Play Store apps. Chrome OS and Android OS are comparable in scope, 2 GB of Ram is more than enough to run your average Android app and a 16 GB hard drive can be stuffed to the gills with all the smartphone classics. Some time ago I owned a BlackBerry Playbook tablet which featured an Android Player, allowing it to utilize selected Android apps. It's the same principle with the CB. There will no doubt be complications with touch-screen involved, but anything that can be done with a finger can be done with a mouse cursor, more or less.

2. More Touchpad Gestures

Dolphin Browser
Dolphin Browser (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The touchpad is really starting to grow on me, it's becoming eerily comfortable. The problem is it doesn't really go beyond scroll and context menu (unless you wanna gamble with those flag things). I want to see all important functions for browsing be elegant scribble-gestures on the touch pad (like a figure skater on the ice). Split the fingers to X out a page, slide them together again to open a new tab, glide them in an up and down direction at once and you open an incognito page or whatever. It's all a delicate dance. This seems to me to be a task less suited for a simple touchpad and better for a full 10-finger capacities touchscreen that's being used as a touchpad. Cause that would be awesome, like having Dolphin Browser-style gestures. Think about it...

3. More Native Apps

It's time to bust this myth that we shouldn't have any native software on Chrome OS, it's backward forward-thinking. Just because Chrome OS began as an internet browser doesn't mean it has to be JUST an internet browser anymore. It's an OS now, it needs to act like it. Chrome OS needs some better native applications to access data stored on the computer and use it. The video player wonks, the music player wonks, the "Files" app is mediocre. Since I finally got Google Drive to work Offline, document editing has been great, but still, Scratchpad wonks, and now that I have GDocs offline, it serves no function whatsoever. I can also list a bunch of functions I would rather do natively than in browser window. Give us a real media player, with playlists and libraries, no more searching through Files, give us a real interface to play with our stuff.
Google Chrome OS on VMWare
Google Chrome OS on VMWare (Photo credit: berrytokyo)

If 'El Goog' is dead set on us going straight to the cloud and nowhere else, the very least they could do is give us some richer web apps, ones that can go offline and interact with data and files on the SSD. Google Play Music on Android plays MP3s that are natively stored, why couldn't they do the same for the Chromebook?

4. More Free Stuff

The 100 GB of Google Drive space was an amazing sweetener for the new Chromebooks, an offer that was well worth it for choosing a Chromebook as your next mobile computer. Not to mention the ballin' 1 TB for Chromebook Pixel users. Why not do more stuff like that? I mean Google has their entire cloud-service empire at it's disposal, surely it could spare a good deal or two. Why not gives us some credit to buy music or a couple of movie rentals on the Play Store? Why not cross promote and give us some tokens for buying apps for Android? How about just a rebate, sent right into our brand new (mandatory) Google Wallet accounts? This could actually up the competitiveness against Windows and Mac, because they don't give you crap (who else hates only getting the trial version of Office). The Chromebook remains most attractive because it's a cloud surfer designed to command Google's pre-existing internet menagerie anyway, so why not use exclusive deals from said menagerie to hock more Chromebooks. Everybody wins!

5. Do something with the Desktop

I realize this is a petty complaint, but bear with me. It serves literally no purpose. The only option when you click up the context menu is to 'change wallpaper'. It exists solely to exist, it seems, and that's fine for a lot of things but not in an OS, no sir. The shame is there is so much you could do with it. Take Android's cue here and fill it with apps and widgets (yes, Chrome Widgets!), make us want to go back to the desktop from time to time. However, make sure it looks like Chrome and not Android. Clean and simplified, like a kitted-up version of the New Tab screen in desktop Chrome.

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January 26, 2013

My Month with Chromebook

English: Picture of the new release of Google ...
English: Picture of the new release of Google Chrome OS Русский: Картинка, снятая с ноутбука, запускающего новый релиз Google Chrome OS (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
So it's been a roughly a month or so since I bit the bullet and bought that Chromebook. Gone are the days where I pined over the specs and jpegs, wondering if I was seeing the next phase in computer evolution or if it was just another gimmicky electronic soon to go the way of Ngage or MIDs or that $100 Indian tablet everyone was excited about. I have it in my hands as we speak, I'm writing this post on it right this moment. Are you curious about it? Do you WANT to know more? Do you NEED to know more? Well then, let's continue, shall we...

The thing is, all the other reviews out there say the same things I could say, and my opinion... "optimistically meh!" I like my Chromebook, I like it a lot, but it frustrates me to no end. It's like managing a boxer who refuses to meet his potential because of his childhood issues. However this is not a human boxer, there's no personal growth here. It's an electronic gadget, so it will only advance as far as it's human-designed programming will let it. Which makes me wonder if the Chromebook and Chrome OS aren't just flawed to begin with.

The Chromebook is gimped. That's the best way to describe it. Because of it's physical and mental limitations, it cannot compete in the same market as Windows PCs or Macs. It does not posses the capability to do this, however, it can still excel in the territory it was created for, namely: internet browsing.

The Chrome Web Store as seen from Google Chrome OS
The Chrome Web Store as seen from Google Chrome OS (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
To begin with, I love the hardware. This thing is a solid little netbook. The size is perfect, the weight is perfect. Though it's made out of plastic, it comes out as more solidly constructed than  bigger laptops. Sometimes I walk around with it in one palm and typing on it with another (I have big hands).

One thing about it's hardware set up that is both a breath-taking innovation and frustrating personality quirk is the unique Chrome OS specific touch pad. Instead of the standard two button, you get just a thick black rectangle. I suppose this might invite Mac users more, but as a PC Veteran it was just too radical for my old bones. However, I manned up and got use to it, and now I cautiously appreciate it. It allows navigation through more of a gesture UI rather than a point and click UI. Tapping two fingers gives you the context menu, and dragging two fingers up and down allows super-easy scrolling. It feels weird at times, sometimes even unresponsive and overly complicated, but you get used to it. In fact, I occasionally find myself trying to two-finger scroll on my old PC only to be instantly disappointed.

Now we get to the sad part. As no human, no matter how strong or pretty, isn't much use without it's brain, no computer is worth much without it's software. Unfortunately, Chrome OS is still a little underdeveloped or perhaps the very premise is a bit autistic. Everything people criticize about Chrome OS is true. It gives you a robust and speedy internet experience, but without a WiFi connection there is next to nothing you can do on it. Oh sure, you can read files, watch movies, listen to music, and type out poorly formatted things in Scratchpad, the only native word processor, however, without internet this thing becomes essentially a brick, a power-consuming brick.

Let me clear up something; YES, you CANNOT install programs on a Chromebook or on a Chrome OS device. Instead, you install Chrome Web Apps that you download from the Chrome Web Store. What's the difference? Well, these are apps that can substitute the functions that you needed a PC before to run, they are usually much smaller, in fact a lot are just dedicated bookmarks that take you to sites on the web that can handle those functions in the cloud. The problem is, as you guessed it, they do not equal the power of a regular PC program and it's all a scavenger hunt to find the right app that works for what you want. However, finding the right web app can also make you realize you didn't need to buy that $100 program to do that minor thing when there was an internet service which could do it better and for free. It's all in how you wanna look at it.
Chromebook Test
Chromebook Test (Photo credit: slgckgc)

I reassure myself by telling the world this isn't a computer, it's a Chromebook. It has a different purpose, a different design, it was born to a different destiny, but all that culminates to is the fact that it WILL NOT replace anyone's PC or Mac anytime soon. I use it as a sort of mobile internet device, a speedy little internet note-taker for life at school or just on the go, and it's great for that, but it will not revolutionize the industry, at least not yet...

I'm still looking forward to updates, to see what the Googlenauts can tweak and add to make this thing the new flagship for the cloud that we all hoped it could be. Until then, I will put up with the crap.

Next article, instead of dissecting the hardware and commenting on specs just like every other tech site on the web, I want to get into some suggestions for how it could improve. I've always been an idea guy, my head in the cloud so to speak (get it?!?!), and honestly people have always liked me better for the ideas I came up with rather than anything I could accomplish with my hands. The curse of the writer I suppose. Until then, peace.

FINAL SCORE: 7 out of 10 (some clear problems, but not terrible, has some growing-up to do)

FINAL CRITIQUE: Buy this if you like to experiment with new styles of computing, or you just need the internet in your life, but other than that, stick to the old school.
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