Chromebook improves, but still doesn't beat PC's speed
Google has done a good job of improving its Chrome OS software. But the flagship Chromebook doesn't fulfill the software's potential.
Chrome OS is a PC operating system that competes with Microsoft's Windows and Apple's OS X. It's based on Linux and built around Google's Chrome browser. Everything you do on a Chromebook — the moniker given to laptops running Chrome OS — is done through the Chrome browser, including sending email, changing settings and playing games.
I've been testing the Samsung Chromebook, which is the first Chrome computer to feature a chip based on technology from ARM, rather than an Intel processor. That change helps make the Chromebook cheaper, lighter and thinner, and its battery lasts longer than its predecessors.
Those are all good things, but I found the Chromebook to be a disappointing device. It performs OK if all you want to do is view a Web page or two. But if you try to use it like a regular office PC, with multiple applications or browser windows running at once, it's sluggish and frustrating.
The Chromebook is unremarkable in its appearance. Its silver-colored plastic shell is thin, but not as slim as the new Windows-based ultrabooks. But it's lightweight: At less than 21⁄2 pounds, it's almost as light as Apple's featherweight MacBook Air.
What sets it apart is its operating system.
When Google launched Chrome OS more than two years ago, it was buggy, lacked many features and sported a radical new interface that included neither windowed applications nor a traditional desktop. But Google has updated the software repeatedly since then, making it more reliable and satisfying to use. Because it's simpler than a traditional operating system, Chrome starts up, shuts down and resumes from sleep quickly.
Chromebooks don't run traditional programs and don't have access to many popular PC apps, such as Apple's iTunes or Microsoft Office. Instead, they run Web-based applications, which number in the thousands and can, in many cases, replace traditional PC programs. You can't yet run many sophisticated PC games, but you can edit photos, write letters and even design 3-D objects in a browser window.
The other big distinction of the new Chromebook is its Samsung-built ARM chip. ARM processors, which are known for being extremely power-efficient, dominate the world of smartphones and tablets, but are just starting to show up in PCs.
Google says the new Chromebook should run for more than 6 hours on a single charge and that's about what I experienced. ARM chips also can run without fans, which makes the Chromebook exceptionally quiet.
But I found the new Chromebook to be underpowered. Just going through my Gmail inbox seemed to tax the device. Loading each message took noticeably longer than it did on my Windows-based laptop, which is by no means a power machine.
And when I tried to do my regular work on it, the Chromebook felt even more inadequate. I frequently have a dozen or more browser tabs open, displaying my inbox, my Facebook news feed, my Twitter stream, my calendar, articles I've looked up in my research, and more.
My office laptop balances all these tabs well enough. I can usually flip from tab to tab quickly.
The Chromebook, by contrast, struggled to keep up with even half the tabs I typically have open. As I flipped from tab to tab, it frequently would have to reload the nominally open Web pages. That was frustrating when I flipped to pages of news articles, not only because I had to wait for the pages to reload, but because I typically would lose my place on the page.
Troy Wolverton is a technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Mylan CEO Bresch sets sights on growth
- Tobacco growers forced to find profits as buyout checks end in October
- Envelopes in Marriott hotels invite tips for maids
- American Airlines agents vote to join union
- UPS expects to hire up to 95K seasonal workers
- Congress: Safety agency mishandled GM recall
- U.S. Steel to restructure Canadian subsidiary, halt 2 U.S. expansion projects
- UPMC buying New Castle-based Jameson Health System
- 2 top executives at Dick’s Sporting Goods to retire
- Fed speculation fuels stock gains; Dow rises 100 points
- Experts say economic edge at stake with R&D tax credits