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.
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.
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