Two new computers running Google's Chrome operating system are looking
to lure people to a browser-based environment. Both target light-duty
computer users who don't need the full range of capabilities that
traditional Windows and Mac computers provide.
The first thing to know
about these machines is they lack regular hard drives for storage.
There's a small amount of flash memory available, the kind you'd find on
a camera memory card, but Chrome OS machines are designed for the
cloud. That means documents are stored over the Internet, and programs
are run over the Internet through a Web browser.
and discretely the Internet services you use claim to keep your data,
your content is one step removed from your tight-fisted control. Cloud
computing also limits what you can do during those times you may not
have an Internet connection.
In addition, because the machines
emphasize not just cloud storage but cloud services as well, you won't
be able to install full-blown programs such as Microsoft's Office.
You're limited to the selection of apps written for Chrome.
you get instead is speed. The Chrome OS machines boot up quickly because
they don't have to load a lot of software - all that is run over the
Internet. The machines also don't need the most expensive and fastest
parts because they aren't doing a whole lot.
If you're OK with
that approach to personal computing, the Chromebook laptop and the
Chromebox desktop computer hit the mark. Both are made by Samsung
Electronics Co. and represent the second-generation of Chrome OS
machines, following the models out last summer.
Here's a closer look at the two:
called the Samsung Series 5 550, the $449 Chromebook laptop is an
updated version of last year's debut Chromebook model.
notebooks go, the Chromebook is sleek and simple by appearance. It
sports a 12.1-inch display, weighs a tidy 3.3 lbs and has built-in
Wi-Fi. The model I tested also came with a 3G cellular modem and two
years of free online connection to Verizon's network. That model costs
Under the hood is an Intel Celeron processor and four
gigabytes of RAM, which is plenty for most Web-based activities. There's
a paltry 16 gigabytes of flash storage, which can quickly get eaten up
if you store a lot of songs or photos - forget about lengthy video.
Again, the idea is for you to keep all that on the Internet instead.
Chrome Web store has plenty of useful, free applications to run on the
machine. These are the same apps that you can add to Chrome Web browsers
running on Windows or Mac computers. The selection includes accounting
software, Amazon.com wish list management and "Angry Birds" (Yes,
they're still angry).
But if all of that can also be installed for
Chrome on a Mac or Windows machine, why have a whole computer with the
entire functionality dedicated to one browser? Isn't that severely
Some will find it is, but others will soon determine
that the vast majority of their activities in front of a computer screen
are Web-based anyway. There are Chrome apps for Netflix, Facebook,
Twitter, Flickr and other services that represent the bulk of the casual
user's computer time.
The frustrations I had with Chromebook were
related to its hardware. First, there is no caps lock key. I had to
simultaneously press the shift key and a key with a magnifying glass
right above it. That may seem like a small inconvenience, but Chrome
just made it more cumbersome for me to yell at someone in ALL CAPS on
Also, the touchpad's right-click sensitivity was poorly
calibrated and dominated a good two-thirds of the surface. Hence, a
right-click dropdown window of options kept popping up when I merely
meant to left click on text fields and other objects. These are small
things, of course, but they were annoying.
The $329 Chromebox Series 3 desktop computer, by comparison, a real gem.
diminutive unit sports lots of crucial connections, including six USB
2.0 ports, a DVI output and two DisplayPort outputs for the transmission
of high-resolution video to an external display. Like the Chromebook,
it comes with 16 gigabytes of storage.
The first thing I noticed
when powering up the Chromebox was, well, nothing. It was the quietest
electrical device in my home office, thanks to a flash drive that
doesn't need to spin, unlike magnetic hard drives found in most
traditional computers. The unit generates very little heat and therefore
doesn't need a roar of fans to move that heat away from the 1.9 GHz
The desktop experience is identical to the Chromebook, of course. They run the same OS and operate in the same fashion.
was able to use the quietness to my advantage. The Chromebook is quiet,
too, but the Chromebox is more inviting because you're more likely to
leave it in one place. That makes it easier to use the device for
entertainment, as I wouldn't need to reconnect wires to the TV each
It's much nicer to stream high-definition Netflix movies to
the TV from the mouse-quiet Chrome device than from my PlayStation 3,
Xbox 360 or a regular desktop PC, all of which get warm and loud.
I'd get a proper browser and online apps on the television, instead of
apps repurposed for the game console experience. For instance, the
Twitter app for Xbox is cartoonish, whereas reading a few tweets from
TweetDeck via Chrome (with a Bluetooth keyboard attached) is pretty
That said, I see neither Chromebook nor the Chromebox as
replacements for traditional computers, as cloud computing isn't fully
robust yet. Instead, Chrome OS machines are likely to be additions, the
way you might buy an iPad to supplement your main desktop or laptop.
you're comfortable with cloud computing, the Chromebook and the
Chromebox deliver a clean networked experience and give you a full
keyboard than touch-screen tablets lack.
But the new Chrome OS
machines, while improved over previous models, don't offer many
advantages over traditional computers that can do much more. So if
you're not comfortable yet with cloud storage, there's no reason to
force yourself to embrace Chrome OS. You can get by with the Chrome
browser on a regular machine.