With the latest Chromebook laptop, Google’s Chrome OS appears to have finally hit its stride. But is the world really ready for a cloud-dedicated computer?
Though the wow factor of the Chromebox release was usurped by an eager gadget geek getting hold of the device before its official release, the new Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook is at least fresh enough to demand attention.
For the unfamiliar, Chromebooks are a new brand of laptop computer running on Google’s Chrome OS. This operating system is a pared-down, cloud-dedicated platform that only allows you to perform tasks using apps that can be loaded in the browser. Offline use is possible, but limited.
Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook
The first Chromebooks, the Samsung Series 5 and Acer AC700 were released last year to little acclaim, but the latest device carrying Chrome OS appears to have nipped previous performance and interface issues in the bud.
Owing to its minimalist operating system, the new Series 5 550 powers up in about seven seconds and loads web pages in Chrome’s typically speedy fashion. It also wastes less power and its battery life claims to give you a full day (up to eight hours) of work and play.
The silver laptop has a responsive oversized trackpad, HD-capable screen, as well as a custom Chrome OS keyboard that replaces the usual function buttons with controls used in web browsing, like the search magnifying glass, back and forward browser buttons and the reload icon.
All Chromebooks come with dual-band Wi-Fi and are 3G-enabled so connecting on the go or at home shouldn’t be a problem – and users will want to be connected as working in a browser-based OS from a web-focused company means offline access is simply not up to much.
Thousands of apps, but no programmes
Chrome OS basically runs like a browser, aligning all of Google’s web-based services and thousands of apps available through the Chrome Web Store. Considering how much we all use the web while we work, this is not such a renegade idea, but operating completely online and in the cloud will be understandably difficult and unappealing for some users.
Apps in a browser simply don’t perform the same way as distinctive full programmes. For example, clicking on an app that’s already open won’t bring you to the current tab, but will open a new one instead, which can leave you with a cluttered desktop as you work.
Also, the lack of full programmes limits what users can do on Series 5 550, as photo editing web apps have only achieved so much and while Google Docs can let you edit documents, they have to be uploaded to this service first, so offline editing isn’t really an option.
Google Drive integration is on the way, which will mean all of your computer’s files will automatically be backed up, but even that doesn’t compensate for the Chromebook’s word processing blindspots.
With the introduction of Chrome Remote Desktop, Chromebook users will be able access and run software on another computer in their browser – but if this is necessary more often than not, it begs the question: why use the Chromebook at all?
The Samsung Chromebox made its Siliconrepublic.com debut last week when one lucky customer managed to get his hands on the device before its release. This desktop computer comes without any peripherals, but what it lacks in hardware it makes up for with six USB ports and two display ports (compatible with HDMI, DVI, VGA), powered by and Intel Core processor and 4GB RAM. Connectivity-wise, you’ve got a port for Gigabit Ethernet, built-in dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth compatibility.
Shipping in this way means the device is adaptable and can be used either for desktop computing or to power a home entertainment system. And, of course, all of this runs on the Google Chrome OS, which seamlessly scales up to 30-inch display.
Low-maintenance computing for low-level work
Focusing on simplicity, Chrome devices update themselves automatically and so don’t require manual installations and patches and with layers of security built-in (like sandboxing, data encryption and verified boot), buying and installing anti-virus software is also unnecessary.
Dedicated users of Google’s services – sending all mail via Gmail, saving all files to Google Drive and working on all projects using Google Docs – might find Chromebooks a welcome resource. It’s fast and simple and what it does, it does well. But this low-maintenance computer is only really suited to a low level of work, as anything more demanding will demand more than what a browser-based OS can offer.