Chrome OS

Gordon Kelly

By Gordon Kelly

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

6

Of course the primary reason for Chrome OS’s simplicity is it is a simple concept. It is just a full screen Chrome web browser with time, WiFi manager and battery life added to the top right corner. Nothing more. This actually makes excellent use of the available screen real estate as there is no space given up to a taskbar or even window controls since there are no windows. The obvious downside to this is the lack of a split screen, but Chrome OS tackles this with multiple homescreens that slide left or right much like Android on a smartphone. It doesn’t solve the problem entirely, but it is an elegant workaround.

So far so good and Samsung has worked hard with Google to optimise this browser-exclusive environment. Gone are the keyboard's F keys, replaced with back/forward, reload, full screen, switch homescreen, brightness and volume controls. Bizarrely the delete key has also been sacrificed, but it can be accessed by combining backspace with alt. A final cherry on top is such single minded focus results in great battery life. You’ll get an incredible eight hours of real world usage before the battery gives out, which again places the Chromebook within touching distance of many tablets.

So what are the problems? Unfortunately they are numerous. Some were avoidable, others inherent, but they fall both at the feet of Samsung and Google as well as the state of the mobile networking in general.

As touched upon, Samsung’s faults lie in its choice of CPU and, more pertinently, GPU. You may only want to surf the web, but pages render slowly and scrolling on complex sites is jerky. Video playback on YouTube or iPlayer results in skipped frames and even 720p struggles with more than a few tabs open. Quite frankly, for a better surfing experience just install the Chrome browser on your existing laptop and utilise its greater power.

keyboard

This wouldn’t matter so much if Samsung had made the Chromebook dirt cheap, but £350 is netbook territory and adding in 3G takes it to £400, a price for which you’ll find many fully fledged laptops and, critically, Android tablets and the iPad 2. To compete Chrome OS machines need to be closer to the £200/250 mark.

If Samsung got its internal hardware and pricing wrong, however, Google also plays a major factor in our overall frustration. The overhaul of Google services and premature cancellation of Google Gears while the company moves to HTML5 means offline support is nonexistent. So take an Internet connection away from Chrome OS and it becomes essentially useless. No good on a train, no good on a plane. Why Google did not choose to overlap the demise of Gears with the switch to HTML5 is a mystery and it forces users to pay out for the more expensive 3G option.

ffrankmccaffery

July 9, 2011, 6:12 pm

My X61s Thinkpad weighs almost the and does the a whole lot more - and all without being beholden to Google too.

PoisonJam

July 10, 2011, 6:56 pm

I have an x40 ThinkPad, and while it's a joy to use it's really slow now and takes so long to boot. Since I only use it for browsing the web while I'm watching TV I'd like something that boots up a lot quicker. Unfortunately the price of these combined with the slow browsing performance ruins the appeal. Surely they should be cheaper since they don't need a Windows licence??

TR- you have "Chrome OS impractical outside the home" listed in the Pros column in the reviw summary.

Gordon394

July 11, 2011, 6:53 am

Thanks for that spot PoisonJam, the error was quickly corrected but the site is cached for long periods over the weekend. Hopefully it should show up soon.

Circa £250 with better graphics and Chrome OS has potential, but it is impossible to escape the feeling we have seen a glimpse at the future of computing ahead of its time.

Gordon394

July 11, 2011, 6:54 am

And your X61s cost a lot more new too ;)
The Chrome OS model is the future of computing, just not yet and likely not for a while.

Pbryanw

July 11, 2011, 7:34 am

@Gordon - I expect the price of future Chromebooks will come down to £250 if they prove popular, but I wonder if there's any idealogical reason why Google has decided everything must by stored in the Cloud, with no offline mode, or it's something that will change with future revisions of Chrome OS?

Although in the present, I think I prefer Apple's use of the Cloud, whereby documents/emails etc. are stored on your computer, with the cloud being used to push them to your devices. At least this way you're not as inconvenienced if the Cloud goes down, or you have no internet connection. Still, it's early days, and as you say this laptop may be a glimpse of a Cloud-dominated future.

ffrankmccaffery

July 11, 2011, 10:18 am

@Gordon: It certainly is although I like many I bought mine refurbished for a lot less. That said still no way should a limited notebook such as this weigh as much as a fully featured one.
@PoisonJam: Just close the lid of your Thinkpad and send it to sleep. I've been doing it for years.

simon jackson

July 11, 2011, 8:18 pm

I wouldn't go that far, Gordon. The future is likely somewhere between the "Chrome OS model" (which philosophically is no different to the old unix model of dumb terminals) and the conventional OS model. There will always be applications which it is simply more practical to install and run locally. Whilst wide area network bandwidth is getting better all the time, so applications are getting larger, more process intensive, and more demanding on memory. Applications which are several gigabyte installs will require that much data to be transfered between client and server if they are to run in a browser and effectively streamed over the wire. Either that or employ the sort of compression used to create installers which will gobble cpu cycles at either end. For small applications on high bandwidth networks it makes sense to run over the wire, because whilst it's still inefficient to download the same program data over and over again, every time you use the software, the absolute time-cost each time is low. For applications which are large w.r.t. available bandwidth, the opposite will always be true.

I hope that the tide of "everything on line" is stemmed at some point, because whilst it's convenient to be able to access your data on whatever computer you like, wherever you are, it also means you relinquish practically all control over your electronic life. To give a trivial example, if one of the many on-line software providers like googledocs or onLive experience server downtime, all of a sudden my online laptop is about as useful as a lump of coal. Obviously, the same is true if i lose network connectivity. And that's not a black/white issue - it's a sliding scale of usefulness against bandwidth.

betelgeus

July 11, 2011, 8:29 pm

seems like samsung would have been better off putting the a5 chip in.
also better i think to have the chrome os in a dual boot system.

Bill Brock

December 9, 2013, 12:17 am

won't turn on what to do ?

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