Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Google Chrome OS Review: Almost There, Ultrabook of the Future?

When I reviewed the Cr-48 and Google's Chrome OS back in December of 2010, I was disappointed. It was a fantastic idea with endless potential. Google, the company that made Android and Docs, had finally come up with an operating system and a computing platform to compete with the big boys. And when Google made the OS cloud-based and an exclusive web browser, expectations on software and hardware reliance and price, at least for myself, sky rocketed.

Fastforward to now. The computing landscape, as it constantly does, has shifted again. Sure, tablets are popular- but Apple's introduced this new thing called an ultrabook. Long battery life, speed, efficiency and reliance on the internet are just some of it's features. Unfortunately, so is a high price. To acquire what is effectively a netbook with beefy-notebook specs will run you just a few cents short of a thousand dollars.

Google's solution found in Chrome OS is far cheaper. The similar but not as powerful specs cost anywhere from $350 to $450 dollars. And guess what, it's still cheaper than an iPad or a MacBook Pro. But for the price, what exactly do you get? Can Chrome OS fulfill my needs as a user? How costly is it to maintain or replace one of these devices? Is it worth it?

The hardware used for this review is the Cr-48 and the Samsung Series 5. The software is the latest and greatest build of Chrome OS. And obviously, all applications are always up to date. Other courses of testing, such as for durability are not needed- it's an electronic device, and therefore fragile.

I think one thing that's always stood out for me as a Chrome OS user, was the downright simplicity. We're talking simpler than Apple. The product itself also incorporates a clean cut design without all of those little visual quirks that use up so much space and RAM. Essentially, it's got the beauty and simplicity of a mobile operating system and takes many cues from both iOS and Google's own Android. This downright simplicity is also visible in the product hardware. Luckily, both Acer and Samsung have taken the obvious cues from the Cr-48, and incorporated the same level of hardware simplicity.

In terms of offline support, it' still incredibly lacking- making this thing a useless brick when there's no Wi-Fi around. The built-in 3G really helps to make things easier, and the prices make it sensible. It's not often you'll be stranded without Wi-Fi these days. For myself, I've been able to use my own mobile hotspot functionality on my Droid- but that simply isn't an option for the majority of users out there. Thankfully however, Google has recently unveiled to the world the offline version of Gmail, Docs and Calendar- which makes life on the Chromebook a HELL of a lot simpler.

For a moment, let's talk Google's most flaunted capability of the product- and that's speed. When we first tested the OS on the Cr-48, it was usable. There were just too many quirks with the OS to call it snappy or speedy. Now, thanks to the inclusion of a duel-core Intel Atom, the product is super speedy and helps to load web pages faster- which is really our main focus with this device. Performance on the Cr-48, surprisingly, has improved very well. Finally, the device feels the way it should of back in December. It really proves the true power of software updates.

There's one thing we found while using this product however- and that's usability in the real world. Although we had some doubts back in December, times have changed. Google's powerful web application platform, along with the web apps today, make this a very pleasant to use device. But if I haven't said it before, it has to be said. This simply isn't a product for power users. You'll find yourself craving more power and speed, and for some of the time, you'll wish you had a PC or a Mac to turn to. For myself, it only finds itself useful for working on this website hassle-free. And, lately- it's proved to be a very nice Netflix device.

Thanks to the solid state storage, everything is fast and battery life is able to be kept to high standards. I mean, this thing lasts longer than any Mac or PC we've ever seen- but that's likely due to it's blatant lack of processer-intensive application requirements. Don't expect to work on Photoshop, AutoCad or any graphics intensive program here. Even in Citrix, we found a few problems that we simply couldn't stand.

But where does this stand as an ultrabook? The idea of an ultrabook is great battery life, a decent processor to get through the day, thinness and a light form factor to carry anywhere. Everything minus the processor fits in here. It's just too damn slow on the Cr-48, and decent on the Samsung notebook. In fact, we've found that most netbooks with the same specs or lower outperform these. But then again, they fill their purpose and they do it well. We've yet to find a similar product.

We really don't understand why Google decided not to blend the OS with Android. There's just such a large app market, and so much more potential in that than there is in a blatant web browser. Because of this, we're going to recommend that you carefully choose this product. It serves its purpose well, but it's probably not what everybody is looking for.



Great Battery Life

Beautiful Form Factor

Snappy Operating System


Not much developer enthusiasm

No Android integration

Processor leaves something to be desired

Arrived too late in the marketplace

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