/ Technology

Are Google’s Chromebooks too much, too soon?

Google's Chrome logo cropped

Google’s new Chromebooks – netbook-style laptops based on its Chrome operating system – will go on sale soon. The idea of an online-only netbook is a great idea, but has it all come a bit too soon?

Google’s ambition knows no bounds.

It has conquered search engines, made billions from online advertising, taken mobile phones by storm with Android, and now it’s taking on Microsoft with its Chrome OS and Chromebooks. Could Google possibly succeed again?

What is a Chromebook?

In essence Chromebooks are netbooks. They use similar hardware, and they’ll be affordable at £350, albeit not as cheap as many netbooks. However, instead of Windows or similar traditional operating systems (e.g. Linux), Chromebooks will come with Google’s Chrome OS.

As this video explains, Chrome OS is a browser-based ‘stateless’ operating system. You can’t install traditional applications, instead you use ‘web apps’ from the Chrome Web Store – yes, there’s Angry Birds. Plus, your files aren’t stored on your netbook, but online in ‘The Cloud’.

This might sound daunting and complicated, but this addresses many of the issues I have with netbooks. Thanks to clever coding and the lack of applications to load, Chromebooks will boot in around 8 seconds – most netbooks take 60 to 90 seconds, sometimes longer. Google says you don’t need antivirus, either – a massive drain on netbooks.

You’ll be surprised by the amount you can do with Web Apps, too. You can create documents, tweak images, edit video, and plenty more besides using just a web browser. You can even listen to large libraries of music online. I do most of these things everyday, albeit using the Google Chrome browser on my Windows PC

In principal, then, I love the inherent simplicity and innovation of Chromebooks. But it’s a concept with numerous pitfalls to navigate.

Too much, too soon?

Pitfall number 1? Security. Google makes much of Chrome OS’s security credentials, particularly the lack of antivirus. Good news yes, but Chrome OS has a single point of failure: your log-in details. Get that and a hacker has access to everything: email, documents, passwords, perhaps even payment accounts if you use Google Checkout. As a security expert at Kaspersky said recently: ‘It’s better, but much worse’.

Another problem is compatibility. For instance, while Google Docs and similar online apps can open Word documents and the like, they don’t always work without errors. Microsoft’s own web apps, meanwhile, are rather limited in scope, making them a poor alternative.

Then there’s the simple issue of accessing your files. Imagine sitting at home and finding your internet is down, or your router has given up. Besides switching to a more reliable provider, you’re stuck at home with a computer and no access to your files. Ho hum.

The price isn’t right

Mainly, though, it’s a cost problem. The cheapest Chromebooks seem likely to sell for £350. That’s too expensive – £300 is the tipping point for a product that, like a netbook, has substantial limitations.

Therefore, while I look forward to trying a Chromebook when they go on sale in June, Google has a lot to prove before its radical ideas are accepted.

Comments
Profile photo of wavechange
Member

“Google says you don’t need antivirus…”. Unless Google is planning to remain as a remain a small player in the market they could regret this statement. Andrew’s heading seems about right.

But Google has provided so much innovation that I wish them luck, even though they are involved in too many ventures for my liking.

Member
motormouth says:
21 May 2011

I like the idea of cloud services but there’s a long way to go with the supporting infrastructure before I could consider using it as my core platform.
Storing everything on the cloud doesn’t make sense to me though – I can get access to my NAS drive over the internet from anywhere in the world without risking loss of data or hackers getting passwords etc.
There’s no doubt in my mind that low power, fast devices with long battery life are the way forward and welcome innovative solutions such as this, but won’t be an early adopter.
Here’s to an interesting 12 months as a new segment develops around cloud and tablets / chromebook / whatever’s next

Profile photo of Andy Vandervell
Member

Even for those without NAS storage, keeping a local copy of files seems essential to me; for convenience if nothing else.

I’ll be intrigued to find out what they’re like to use, though.

Profile photo of chris
Member

It has a use – however as demonstrated by Sony this month – I would need to see proof of HIGH security, which is does not currently provide, again thanks Sony for showing consumer held data security is pants.

Member
Fred says:
25 May 2011

Why buy this when you could have an iPad?

Member
Landguy1 says:
27 May 2011

I agree, just buy an ipad2! I starts instantly and has local storage. Why buy a google pc? I just ditched my laptop about 6 weeks ago for an ipad2. NO REGRETS!!!!

Member
Indecided says:
23 June 2011

I personally like the idea of the chromebook, especially in the security department. It alleviates having to install and manage software that cost money or has to remind you of a Scan. Just booting up my windows machine was a bad experience with constant updates popping up in the corner and most of the applications i installed did not work right. Symantec had to be re installed 4 times before it would stop giving threatening messages about how my computer was not protected which can be a little unnerving. I agree the Chrome OS, is not ideal right now but it seems like it is growing. Using Photoshop on a windows machine just doesn’t flow as nicely as apple, so i rarely use PSE on my computer. I was able to find an awesome web alternative to it and it even worked offline. All i am saying is Chromebooks are not for power users, gamers or people that love having a desktop. However, I think it has promise once online applications advance and Google gives users a better idea of which ones can run offline through caching I will definitely jump on-board.

Member
Danny Tuppeny says:
31 December 2011

I’ve had a Chromebook for a few weeks now, and I’m really impressed. First impressions posted to my blog:

http://blog.dantup.com/2011/12/google-chromebook-first-weeks-impressions

One note about security – the issue you raise isn’t really related to Chromebooks, but rather just the Google Account (or using lots of Google services). There is a reasonable solution in two-factor authentication, where you’re required to enter a code that is texted to you when you login. You can “remember” this for 30 days (by storing a cookie) so it doesn’t become annoying, but it secures you against hackers logging in to your account remotely without your phone.

IMO, everyone should turn it on 🙂

Member
John Jamieson says:
27 October 2013

Roughly 30 months on from this rather negative article I have been looking at the Samsung Chromebook 3 and the new HP Chromebook 11 and I have been quite impressed with both. I am attracted by the portability of the Chromebooks, the simplicity and low overheads of the ChromeOS environment, the efficiency of the browsing function and the sheer freedom from the drag imposed on internet use by internet security software.

I think the Chromebook occupies a niche as an adjunct to rather than as a replacement for a Windows-based PC. At around £230 in late 2013 it offers me a very cost-effective way to browse the internet, send and receive emails and watch TV and video while away from my workstation PC.

Specifications for 2013 appear to have settled at around 2GB memory and 16GB on-board solid state storage capacity, with the availability of cloud storage offered for longer term data retention.

At the moment I think the older (2012) Samsung 3 still has the edge over the new HP 11, despite the latter having a better quality screen. The Samsung, for example, has USB 3.0, which should make for faster loading of movie files. I understand that the HP Chromebook 11 is the first of a number of new products being released in late 2013 and I would be very interested in seeing a Which review of the market.

Member
Mary Christmas says:
23 December 2014

Which started with this negative report was very slow to provide information about Chromebooks. Even now there seems to be reluctance to promote or to praise. Chromebooks offer many home users everything they need including instant “start up”, auto back up of files and photographs and access to these from anywhere in the world. Simple to use, YES it is.

Sounds good. It is good subject only to the owner understanding that most software is beamed down into the Chromebook when required, rather than individual copies of everything being held internally. This removes the need for frequent updates to application software and denies the pc security manufacturers the option to pre-install unwanted software which then bombard the owner with messages advising this unwanted software must be paid for. Like parasites, their removal is designed to be anything but straightforward.

I have requested Which make more effort to promote Chromebooks but even now, there is only limited information available. Perhaps Which will see the light in 2015.

Profile photo of Alex Toplis
Member

Hi Mary, thanks for your comment. I’ve never used a Chromebook but I do like the sound of them – maybe I should give one a try. Just so you know, our Chromebook testing occurs on a rolling basis so we test models as they are released. In fact, we’ve just recently tested another four models which we’ll be uploading to our website in the next week. If you’re interested to see the results, you’ll be able to see the reviews here: http://www.which.co.uk/technology/computing/reviews/laptops/

Profile photo of RobertMaddison
Member

I totally agree.
Look at Chrome Unboxed – total enthusiasts

Member
John Jamieson says:
8 January 2015

Chromebooks have certainly come down in price since this article was written and I welcome the prospect of a fresh review by the Which team.

I paid £200 for an Acer C720 in November 2013 and it has been in daily use since then for internet browsing and emailing. It has proven very robust and completely reliable during this period. Startup is very fast and the battery life is particularly impressive.

In common with other commentators I regard the Chromebook as an adjunct to my main PC rather than as a replacement. I do not use Cloud storage. Instead I transfer files to and from a USB storage device. The C720 has 2 x USB 2.0 sockets and 1 x USB 3.0 socket, an SD socket and an HDMI socket.

Member
Robert Maddison says:
18 June 2017

I’ve used only Chromebooks for more than 3 years.
The operating system just keeps getting better and I wouldn’t go back to Windows.
They simply just work.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
Member

With you on – “never go back to Windows ” Robert- latest (last week ) -100 security failures corrected . Hope you dont have Flash even more security vulnerabilities.

Profile photo of RobertMaddison
Member

Just look at windows