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Google Chromebook Pixel is an expensive curiosity

Jason Snell | March 15, 2013
As an idea sprung from Google’s view of the future of technology, the Chromebook Pixel is intriguing, even intoxicating. But it’s hard to fathom how it works as a real-world product.

The idea here is that, for a lot of people, the Web is all that's really necessary. If you've traded Word for Google Docs and Outlook for Gmail, you may find that the experience of using your computer has narrowed into one that's almost entirely in a browser. Why not dump the rest of that junk and just embrace the browser?

I love the sentiment, but I don't think most prospective laptop buyers--especially prospective purchasers of a laptop as pricey as the Chromebook Pixel--will find that their lives are Web-centric enough to make the shift. If all Web apps were as good as Google's, there would be a stronger case. Spending a couple of days using Twitter's website rather than a native Twitter client made me want to pull my hair out.

The Chrome Web Store is a melange of truly impressive native Web apps and glorified bookmarks.

Google's Chrome Web Store doesn't help matters any. It's a melange of truly impressive native Web apps and glorified bookmarks, and it's often hard to tell which is which. I installed the Kingdom Rush "app" only to discover that it was just a shortcut to the Flash version of the Kingdom Rush game on the Kingdom Rush website. (My son sometimes commandeers my MacBook Air to play Minecraft, but since that game requires Java and doesn't run in a browser, he'd be out of luck on the Chromebook Pixel.)

This is not to say that Chrome OS can't run truly offline apps. Though the Web was originally intended for online work, Google has done a great job of making its apps work offline. I'm writing this paragraph offline, in Google Docs, at 40,000 feet. (Granted, it took me quite a while to figure out how to enable offline access for Google Docs, since it's turned on for all Google Apps for Domains users by default.)

Chrome is a great browser, but Chrome OS shows a lot of gaps when it leaves its comfort zone.

The problem is that some stuff just doesn't work offline. If you're never offline--never in a wireless dead spot or on an airplane or in a foreign country with incompatible wireless service--that won't matter. Again, I'd wager that for most people this will be an issue, at least for a while.

Chrome is a great browser, but Chrome OS shows a lot of gaps when it leaves its comfort zone. Usability would be improved by better window management. Chrome OS has a nice dock where you can pin frequently used apps, but it doesn't really work right. If I've got a Gmail tab open and I click the Gmail button on the dock, it opens a duplicate tab. Chrome OS supports separate full-screen workspaces for different apps, but it's got to be managed manually. I felt like I was doing a lot of unnecessary work moving tabs around to where I wanted them to go.


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