I’m on a Virgin America flight from Boston to San Francisco right now. Google has a promotion where they are lending people Chromebooks to try on the 6+ hour flight. (If you’re really curious, you can read more about this brilliant marketing.) The hook is that you get free in-flight wi-fi if you use the Chromebook. So I figured I’d save $15, and try it out.
So here’s the thing. A Chromebook is a laptop, but just with Google Chrome installed. Well, that’s what it feels like. It’s actually called Chrome OS. But all that’s there is the web browser. You turn on the computer, and you are greeted with the Chrome Browser interface. But try to close it, and you find you can’t.
That’s actually the point: You log in, and BOOM, you’re online, no need to launch a web browser. Alright, great, that’s actually pretty cool. But that’s also the problem: the whole operating system of the computer is the web browser. Yes, the operating system (like Windows 7 or Mac OS X) is a web browser. You can’t install local files. No iTunes. No Microsoft Office. Yes, you can download files like pictures to a small 16GB hard drive. I also found that, inexplicably, pictures were downloaded at a really crappy resolution, even though I downloaded them full size (such as the ones in this post).
There is also an web-based app store but it doesn’t seem very impressive (though I may be biased). Plus, I can access this same app store on my MacBook Air or any other computer’s Chrome web browser. So it’s not exactly a closed ecosystem that would drive sales, like Apple’s.
I’m all for simplicity, but it seems a bit of a waste of the decent (if plastic-feeling) Samsung laptop, which this is installed on. I could maybe see the idea of an “internet only device” being more interesting as a tablet. But man, I think that this a super-niche market (right now) that wants to rely on a computer which puts everything in the cloud. When the GoGo In-Flight Internet drops, I’m limited to doing….. pretty much nothing. No internet means the computer essentially becomes a very large paperweight. Google says they are “working on” adding more offline features, but then,doesn’t the Chromebook become just another laptop?
Oh, and did I mention that Chromebooks run for $300-$500? Yeah, no thanks Google. Psychologically, I don’t think many people can justify dropping that kind of money for web access. Yes, we’re moving towards the cloud as a society, but we’re not quite there yet. For now, I’ll stick to being able to have my computers support local files.