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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