Should We Pay Attention to Chromebooks?

Updated on 17 June 2018 by

Should we, in the ultra-mobile computing sector, take any notice of Chromebooks? Of course we should. We should pay attention to Android, to IOS, Sailfish and Windows Phone too. Simple.

Here’s the long answer about why we need to pay attention to Chromebooks but first let me admit that I’ve only recently been inspired to take a closer look after MyDigitalSSD sent me an M.2 SATA drive and a Chromebook to do an upgrade on. I’ve done that upgrade and I’ll be dropping the Super Cache 2 into an Ultrabook to give it a performance test after writing this article. Thanks, MyDigitalSSD, for the opportunity, and the ‘heads-up’ on Chromebooks.

Acer C720 Chromebook Upgrde (10)

In terms of Ultra Mobile Computing, Chromebooks don’t fit-in. They require a constant connection to the Internet just to have access to personal files, for example and yet most don’t have 3G/4G/LTE. The Chrome OS is dull and limited. In terms of local applications and network flexibility there’s zero to get excited about. Ultra Mobile PCs are about having total computing flexibility with you 100% of the time and Chromebooks just don’t fit.

I don’t cover Chromebooks here and yet I watch the segment, just as I watch the IOS and Android space, very carefully. From day 1 actually (here’s the failed blog I started!) I listen to the GigaOm Chrome Show too. All of those OS segments have the potential to fill a particular mobile computing role.

Yeah, Chromebooks are dull. The UI is plain and simple, they don’t look good on the outside and they don’t look good on the inside. Most Chromebooks use cheap processors and cheap plastics to keep the price down. There’s an exception, yes, and that’s a good start.

Here’s something I wrote on Google Plus recently:

No NFC (I’m working in very different ways with my smartphone using tap and send), no always-connected standby (messaging notifications, reminders, low power music streaming), no way to access all my NAS content (a huge problem.) no DLNA (I often push to the living room big screen) and having used touch on Windows 8 for a year I miss that a lot. Having a Google-first experience like this is also somewhat worrying.

Changes are needed and luckily Google and others are putting their toes in the water. Touch and style is now being offered in some models and there’s no technical challenge for manufacturers in making a laptop thin, light, stylish and powerful;  We see that with Ultrabooks all the time.  Many of us use browsers, with touch, on 4,5,7,8, 9 and 10-inch screens too so there’s no reason to think that there’s a problem with the UI either. Chrometabs, anyone?

Chrombook Pixel

Chromebooks are quick to start, efficient, use a free operating system and don’t nag you with updates and patches every day. They have some security advantages. Chromebooks can be used in a two-screen desktop scenario and the ability to just move to another Chromebook (or Chrome browser instance) log-in and get to work is refreshing.  The Acer C720 has the fastest browser and web-apps, per dollar, that I’ve ever experienced. It’s also nice to think about the future of ChromeOS. Android app integration? Better HTML5 apps? Touch user interfaces? Always-On?

Smart hardware, built-in cellular connectivity, great designs, always-on, touch user interface and showcase software would certainly make me consider changing my working methods and that could happen, as long as we are prepared to pay more than $200 for it. Let’s watch this space carefully.

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18 Comments For This Post

  1. CheapMonk says:

    I’ve looked recently to those ChromeBooks, in search of a low cost machine to switch it to a Linux distrib and do some hacking. But i’ve discovered that these machines are very closed hardware wise et very limited. For example, the SSD is soldered on the motherboard and it’s intentionnaly not upgradable. But for the price, you can’t complain i agree. Just look to how you print something with CrOS, it’s a big big joke. You need another machine with Windows or Mac connected to Google Print and to your printer !!!! Ok, it’s cheap, but if you need another machine with full Windows to print that’s not such a big deal. Speaking about ChromeOS, i will never use it for privacy reasons (i don’t want Google making money with my data and my personal life). So my next laptop will be an ultrabook on which i will make some room for a Linux Distrib. And there’s Virtualbox too.

    Only Microsoft should pay attention to ChromeBooks ; lower the license fees and steel some ideas in it.

  2. Joe says:

    How about Ubuntu Touch? It has a mobile UI and a desktop UI. The underlying core is the same for both the mobile and desktop UIs. You could technically run a desktop app while mobile and a mobile app while on the desktop. I’m not sure if Canonical will make this easy to do out of the box though.

    I’m a fan of Windows 8’s dual UI when it comes to UMPCs. However, I use Linux more on my desktops and notebooks so I’m very interested in Ubuntu Touch especially for a powerful phone/UMPC.

  3. luis says:

    From a UMPC perspective, I think Ubuntu Touch would be a better comparison. Chromebooks are more competing with notebooks and desktops. However, who knows, maybe an OEM will come out with a sub-10″ Chrome OS device. I wouldn’t buy a Chrome OS mini device but I’d get an Ubuntu phone though. It’ll be the phone + UMPC that I’ve been searching for.

    Maybe next year Ubuntu Touch will be stable enough for everyday use but I might pick up one of this years’ first Ubuntu phones.

  4. Huju says:

    As a Linux user and a UMPC fan, I really hope Ubuntu Touch succeeds. I’d really want a terminal friendly slider though.

  5. takethree says:

    “No NFC (I’m working in very different ways with my smartphone using tap and send), no always-connected standby (messaging notifications, reminders, low power music streaming), no way to access all my NAS content (a huge problem.) no DLNA (I often push to the living room big screen) and having used touch on Windows 8 for a year I miss that a lot. Having a Google-first experience like this is also somewhat worrying.”

    No NFC. Most notebooks don’t have this either. You are thinking more of smartphones and tablets.

    No always-connected standby (messaging,reminders etc). Again you are thinking Android, IOS, basically smartphones and tablets. Notebooks don’t have these either.

    No access to NAS content. Well, they are pushing everything to the cloud but I’ll give you this. It’s actually possible but it is more of a hassle than most people will put up with. My gut feeling says that this is more of a licensing issue.

    No DLNA. ChromeCast anyone?

    No Touch. Acer has a cheap model with one and there is the Chromebook Pixel which I’m sure you are aware of. They are coming for sure. But there needs to be some changes to the UI. There is a reason why the Pixel has touch.

    Google-first experience. As opposed to a Microsoft or Apple-centric one? I don’t see how Google is any different compared to the others.

    No 3G/4G/LTE. Again you are thinking smartphones and tablets. Most notebooks don’t come with these as default either. Even the 8 inch Windows 8.1 tablets don’t come default with one.

    Need to be always connected. Most stuff you do needs you to be connected anyway. Contrary to popular believe, there are quite a few standalone apps. Its called Chrome Apps. Even Google Docs can run offline not to mention capable image editors etc etc. The problem is there are currently not that many and those which do are not the popular ones. Same problem that Microsoft is having with Windows 8.1. The popular ones are not there. But I give it to you that Microsoft has a major head start. But they are definitely coming. They do have one major advantage. Unlike Windows, IOS or what have you, they only require the Chrome browser as a requirement. So basically you write once but can run them on any platform which can run the Chrome browser. Once again these run outside the browser like you would any normal apps and not within it. A trojan horse if ever there was one. I think this gets Microsoft awake at night.

    Everything runs on the browser. Not anymore. They are called Chrome Apps. These are standalone apps that you can run independent of the browser. It comes on its own window. Already explained on the point above.

    My thoughts on this. The problem that Chromebook has right now are two-fold. First is the problem of perception. It is gimped when in reality it is not. Second is volume. Chromebooks are only just starting to penetrate the public consciousness. The capability like standalone apps etc is already there. Once they have enough volume, developers will start developing for them. Especially the popular ones. Like they say, “Build it. And they will come.”

    Now, how about smartphones and tablets? You could just connect a keyboard to them right? Personally I find the experience to be very clunky and not worth the hassle. Another major advantage the Chromebook has is that it runs a full browser with full flash capability and all that. Smartphones and tablet browsers are very gimped in comparison.

  6. Chippy says:

    You should check out the stuff that’s going on in the Ultrabook world where NFC, Connected Standby and Touch are making a big difference. Of course I work in that area so i’m privileged but my latest Ultrabook has NFC, touch, Connected Standby and 3G, oh and full disk encryption!

    Interestingly, the things you mentioned about perception and ‘build it and they will come’ also apply to Windows 8.1 touch and small-screen tablets!

    I have some ‘insider’ on what’s possible with the PC architecture and you have some ‘insider’ on the apps. Together we can work out what’s best for Chromebooks. (But that NAS / Windows Share discovery issue needs to be sorted out ASAP!)

    P.S. Chromecast doesn’t help in a heterogeneous environment.

  7. me says:

    What does Chrome OS provide that is not available in Windows, Mac OS or even some other Linux distro? For these, how big of a deal are they to people so that they’re willing to even bother switching?

    Also, when Google started their Chrome app initiative, didn’t they also update the Chrome browser to be able to run these same apps at least on Windows?

    Right now, I don’t see much reason to switch to Chrome OS from any other desktop OS.

  8. Chippy says:

    From my perspective, Chrome is good at offering simplicity and peace of mind for the basic user. I don’t see a desktop user ‘switching’ unless they’re an adventurer (of which there are many, but not enough to make a big market opportunity IMO)

  9. me says:

    Even if Chrome OS can do 100% of some people’s PC tasks, I think there needs to be some sort of disruptive events for them to bother switching. I don’t know what that would be. Maybe Google could ask and copy Apple on how they got people to switch from Windows. Even though I’m a Linux user myself, Google probably shouldn’t ask Linux distros since they’re probably not much more, if at all, as popular as Chrome OS.

  10. you says:

    The disruptive part is that they are selling laptops with it at $200 (with some very decent hardware).

  11. takethree says:

    Windows and Mac OS or even IOS and Android have a major head start. At the end of the day it is really all about the apps. Currently Windows has the most apps for obvious reason. For entertainment and convenience (immediate use upon startup), IOS and Android but at the end of the day they are still gimped by the limited OS. I see Chromebook at the level of Windows and MacOS. Productivity is possible. Problem is volume. You need to have the mass before people start developing productive applications for it. It’s like a chicken and egg problem. But it’s getting there. The fact that Chippy is writing about it shows that Chromebook is now on the radar.

    There is a reason why Chromebooks starts cheap. They need the volume. Once it’s there you will start seeing things happening.

  12. Luke McCarthy says:

    Chrome OS is a good example of Googlers living in a bubble. I’m sure they make perfect sense for people who spend all their life on the Google campus!

    The thinking went that since most people spend most of their computing in the browser, why not just have the browser and do everything else with web apps? But in practice this doesn’t really pan out and even if I need to run another application 1% of the time, Chrome OS prevents that from happening. Google’s web-only ideology is blinding them.

    They missed an opportunity with Chromebooks to make a full Google-supported Linux distribution. Instead it is limited to running a single application. They could have also supported running Android apps, that would make them much more viable. Also their Coreboot based BIOS could have been made open so you can install your own OS. Instead you have to resort to “developer mode” hacks to get another Linux running on it. Replacing with vanilla Coreboot requires advanced hacking wizardry that even I don’t want to attempt.

  13. takethree says:

    Your post illustrates perfectly the perception problem that Chromebooks have. People keep regurgitating the same old thing. That you can only run web apps and are not able to run standalone apps outside the browser and without an Internet connection. Well yes you can. They are called Chrome Apps.

    Think of ChromeOS as a container to launch your apps regardless of the underlying OS. Technically Microsoft can just create the whole Microsoft Office suite to run as a Chrome App with little to no performance issues and have it run on any OS capable of running a Chrome browser. Basically write once and run on many. Will they do it? Hell no. Even though it will solve the problem of having Microsoft Office running on any OS platform and reaching a much bigger userbase. Look at Microsoft Office on the MacOS. It is a gimped version of the one running on Microsoft Windows. At the end of the day, Microsoft wants Office to be tied to Windows. I don’t blame them for that. It helps to sell Windows and creates another revenue stream for them.

    Secondly, why would Google open up the hardware for other OSes? That does not make any sense. Chromebooks are meant for ChromeOS. Google is not a hardware manufacturer for other OSes. Its not their responsibility. How many of the masses would like to tinker with their notebooks? Chromebooks are not meant for tinkerers. There are many other notebooks with better upgradable hardware for tinkerers. You just have to pay for it.

  14. sophocha says:

    no…

  15. Kyle Muehl says:

    As cool as android app integration would be, it would just fragment android even further. Why not just make an android laptop at that point?

  16. Pascal says:

    The OS is one thing. But a Chromebook like the Acer C720 is just the perfect successor of a notebook: cheap, small, and with Linux or a good future version of chromeOS, it can handle almost all tasks we may need with a decent cpu, a battery time which is correct.
    For me, chromebooks can fit the space between ultrabooks and tablets: all these 10-11-13 inches devices. They have a keybord, and most important, are cheap: Perfect as a second computer to put in a bag when we need something more than a smartphone.
    I hope to see more devices like the C720

  17. Kevin C. Tofel says:

    “They require a constant connection to the Internet just to have access to personal files…”

    Nope.

    Every Chromebook comes with at least 16 GB of local flash storage. You can keep files there and/or you can sync Google Drive files for offline access and use with apps that also work offline. Yes, there are limitations if you don’t have a connection but let’s not overlook how Google is working towards reducing those limitations.

    Just one clarification to an otherwise spot-on article. ;)

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