Google Chrome OS
CNET Editors' Rating: 3.0 / 5
The good: Chrome OS continues to mature, as regular updates bring rapid improvement to the browser-based operating system. New changes we like include Google Play integration and 100GB of Google Drive storage for free.
The bad: Chrome OS continues to be hamstrung by familiar limitations: popular cross-platform programs like Skype don't work, Chrome is terrible with large numbers of tabs, and non-Google sites can't be easily integrated as apps.
The bottom line: Chrome OS struggles with the delineation between apps and Web sites, even though they are fast growing together. Great for students and casual home use, the day is coming when it'll be competitive, but it's not yet a replacement for a more mature OS.
Design, Features & Performance (out of 10)
Welcome to the Chrome channel. Google's operating system started off in December 2010 as being little more than all Chrome, all the time. Updates made since then have given Chrome OS users better file format support, faster navigation, revised menus, dramatically improved offline abilities, and a traditional-looking desktop.
But if you loathe the Chrome browser, it's still highly unlikely that you'll enjoy this operating system. On the other hand, if you love Chrome, then Chrome OS is a big heaping helping of Chrome with some extra Chrome on the side and more Chrome for dessert.
Like Chrome the browser, Chrome-the-OS has a freely available open-source sibling, called Chromium OS. If you like coding and developing, this is likely going to be your best bet for exploring what makes Chrome OS tick.
Please note that because of the similarities between the Chrome-the-browser and the Chrome OS, parts of the Chrome review have been reproduced here where applicable.
Installation is not an issue for the Chrome OS since it comes preinstalled. There is a simple setup procedure, however. When you start up your system, it's recommended that you sign in using a Google account. You're not required to, and if you'd prefer, you can opt for the Guest mode.
Guest mode in Chrome OS cleverly uses the Chrome browser's trackless browsing mode, called Incognito. Incognito prevents guest users from leaving any traces of their session, as well as keeping them from making any changes to your apps and other settings.
After choosing your log-in method, you're asked to read through and accept the EULA. This will only appear for the initial log-in; it won't show up for subsequent uses and users. Next, you can take a photo of yourself with the Webcam, use a provided icon, or use your current Google account avatar. Gone from previous versions is the mandated Webcam photo. It took our avatar about 30 seconds to synchronize our existing account avatar from the cloud.
Chrome then takes anywhere from 30 to 60 seconds to synchronize your Google settings, if any, and then the computer is ready to be used. There's no doubt that the EULA is annoying, but we've never seen another new, unused operating system start so quickly.
Google has clearly spent some serious time developing the new interface. It looks and feels like a personal computer, finally, where before it was little more than a full-screen browser. There's an actual desktop that looks a bit cribbed from Windows 7, with Chrome-the-browser pinned to the far left of the Launcher, and other apps pinned right next to it.
The desktop itself shows only your background by default, but a Tic-Tac-Toe-style icon on the Launcher reveals all your installed apps over the desktop background. When you install an app, it'll appear here. The lower-right corner shows the time, Internet connection status, battery status, and shows your Google account avatar to indicate who's logged in. Click the avatar to show shutdown options and reveal more information and settings.
You can customize the background with one of several dozen options, or upload your own image. However, it must be either locally stored or in your Google Drive -- it won't pull in an image from a service like Facebook.
All the Settings have been moved to open in their own tabs, but you probably knew this from using Chrome-the-browser. Changes made in the browser tend to be reflected in Chrome OS about a month or so later.
The look of Chrome has changed remarkably little since its surprise debut in September 2008. Tabs are on top, the location bar -- which Google likes to call the Omnibar -- dominates the minimalist design, and the browser has few visible control buttons besides Back, Forward, and a combined Stop/Reload button.
On Chrome OS, the upper-right corner of the browser hosts a square icon and an X. The X is to close the browser window. Drag the box down to minimize the browser, drag it to the edges to "snap" it to the side and make it half the width of your screen, or click it to switch from windowed mode to full-screen mode. The window snap is another cue taken from Windows 7, but it's a clever and intuitive one, and works well in Chrome.
The interface's strongest point is also its weakness. What works well in the browser works well here, but the faults of one are reflected in the other, too. Some controls, such as page zoom, are readily available from the "wrench" options menu. Others, such as the extension manager, are hidden away under a Tools submenu. Hiding essentials like that remains an odd design choice to make. As is true about every aspect of this operating system, updates are much more likely to tweak the layout and design of the interface.
Chrome's extensions are fairly limited in how they can alter the browser's interface. Unlike Firefox, which gives add-on makers a lot of leeway to change the browser's look, Chrome mandates that extensions appear only as icons to the right of the location bar. The benefit maintains a uniform look in the browser, but it definitely restricts how much the browser can be customized.
Even with its limitations, the browser interface design has remained a contemporary exemplar of how to minimize the browser's screen footprint while remaining easy to use and versatile. The new desktop, on the other hand, finally brings to Chrome OS a sense of familiarity that is essential for any new PC experience.
Chrome OS isn't quite as reliant on the Internet as it was before, but it's still reasonably crippled without it. This is a vehicle, first and foremost, for leading a Web-based existence. As such, what Chrome OS does is create a space where Web-based applications can function and thrive. The operating system itself doesn't do much -- it's a browser.
However, it's a heavily modded browser, and it achieves its main goal of getting you on the Web as fast as possible. This comes from both the solid-state drive (SSD) on your Chromebook or Chromebox, and the various optimizations that Google has been building into Chrome. This is where the second bit of genius in the Chrome OS comes in: because everything is Web-based, you can log in to any installation of the operating system and instantly have all of your apps, settings, and other personalizations at your fingertips. That's still an incredible feat.
It's an important one, too, as Chrome OS improves with each regular iteration of the operating system. In Chrome OS's first year, it updated eight times. Things that were buggy originally, such as touch pad support on the demo hardware Cr-48, started to work properly. Many Chrome-safe extensions that wouldn't install on the Chrome OS beta, but would on the browser, now work in Chrome OS. It's currently on a six-week update cycle.
Google has also leveraged its successes in other departments to benefit the Chrome OS. Google+ Hangouts, for example, come as a preinstalled app so you have video conferencing as an option right off the bat. Google's notorious for not always having good integration between its services, so this -- and solid Google Play integration for Books, Movies, and Music -- are welcome improvements.
Also welcome is Google's decision to expand everybody's Google Drive to 100GB when it detects a Chromebook associated with your account. The $250 price for the latest Samsung Chromebooks is nearly worth it for that upgrade alone.
The Chrome OS has a usable file-browsing system, accessible via Control-M or under the Tools submenu of the Options wrench. When you take a screenshot using the Ctrl-Next Window button, for example, you'll find it saved locally via the File Browser. It now supports a wide range of popular file formats, including PDF, PPT, DOC, ZIP, XLS and RAR, and the newer Microsoft proprietary versions of those formats like PPTX.
Famously, Google has killed the Caps Lock key and replaced it with a dedicated Search key. Tap it and a new tab will open, with the cursor ready in the location bar. What's less well-known is that you can remap the Search key to Caps Lock, and that Google makes it easy to do through the Settings menu under System, then Modifier keys. Here you can modify the bindings of the Control and Alt keys as well. But also missing is a dedicated Delete key to remove characters to the right of the cursor.
The default settings for the hot keys are among the best things about the Chrome OS. Hold down Ctrl and Alt with the question mark key to bring up a color-coded map of combinations that you can use. The map and colors change depending on which key -- Shift, Control, or Alt -- you're pressing.
Google is to be commended for building an operating system that goes from sleep to fully functional in what feels like a second. There's simply no lag time, and the updates have fixed previous lagginess in logging in and out. Your Chromebook or Chromebox may just be the fastest PC you've used when it comes to booting, shutting down, and logging in and out.
Two other low-profile but well-executed features in Chrome are autoupdating and translation. Chrome automatically updates when a new version comes out. This makes it harder to revert back to an older version, but it's highly unlikely that you'll want to downgrade this build of Chrome since this is the stable build and not the beta or developer's version. You can toggle the build among the three under About Chrome. The second feature, automatic translation of Web pages, is available to other browsers as a Google add-on, but because it comes from Google, it's baked directly into Chrome.
Already mentioned a little bit, the biggest OS hang-up in the operating system is offline support despite the improvements. Chrome OS will support the core Google apps of Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs offline, but for most of your other apps, you'll be left in the dark. That might not be an issue on the Chromebox, Google's answer to the Mac Mini, but for the portable Chromebooks, prepare for a severely hamstrung experience. Anyone outside of the cloud crowd likely won't be comfortable with it.
You can print with Google Cloud Print, accessible via the common printing hot-key combo of Control-P. Google has anticipated the problems that still plague cloud printing, and so it offers instructions on how to do it. Still, most people will probably find the process way too fiddly because what's simple to print off a basic Windows 7 Netbook will take effort to set up properly from a Chromebook. Cloud Print does now come with access to FedEx stores in the United States, which is a nice improvement for remote printing.
Google is basing most of its claim of a secure operating system on a new feature in Chrome OS called "verified boot." Chrome OS will check its own integrity when booting, and if it detects any changes, it will allow you to restore a last-known good configuration.
The following benchmarks are of the original version of the Chrome OS that shipped on the Cr-48. There have been significant improvements since then, and CNET will update the results below as soon as possible.
Benchmarking the first beta of the Chrome OS proved to be a bit tricky. It's hard to measure the impact of various essential programs, such as a productivity suite or media player, on the operating system because they exist largely in the cloud. However, because the operating system is also the browser, we were able to run browser benchmark tests against it and compare them against the same version of Google Chrome, but running on a Windows 7 laptop.
These tests are admittedly not a direct apples-with-apples comparison. Google has not yet released the specifications of the Cr-48, saying only that it's running an Intel Atom processor. The Windows 7 x86 laptop we used is a high-powered Lenovo T400 laptop, running on an Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 at 2.53GHz, with 3GB of RAM. However, they do provide a snapshot of what the Cr-48 with Chrome OS is capable of at this time, and we can expect these numbers to improve as Google continues to upgrade both the Chrome OS and Chrome browser. The two laptops were running nearly identical versions of the Chrome browser. Tested in December 2010, the Cr-48 was running Chrome v8.0.552.341, whereas the Lenovo was running Chrome v8.0.552.215. (By comparison, the version of Chrome OS available in early June 2012 is 12.0.742.77.)
What we can see from these tests is that the hardware will have a massive impact on the performance of both the browser and the operating system. This isn't news, but the fact that the Cr-48's version of the Chrome browser was so dramatically affected in all three tests tells us that what hardware future computer makers choose to support Chrome OS on will almost definitely change how well the public receives it.
We were also a bit surprised that the full cold-boot and log-on procedure, not counting the time it took to type in the log-on password, averaged to nearly 30 seconds. Some Windows 7 computers have, anecdotally, been found to boot up cold in similar times. As mentioned earlier, this time had been cut in half by early June 2011.
Of course, the real time-saving feature of the Chrome OS is the resume from wake, which is practically instantaneous. As long as the computer isn't shut down, it will wake extremely quickly.
Although Chrome OS does update regularly, the current iteration is more usable than where the operating system was even six months ago. The quirkiness of a PC without the traditional touches of a PC desktop have been replaced by something recognizable and usable. As long as Google continues to support the project, Chrome OS will keep improving. One day, and perhaps sooner rather than later, it might even be ready for all.
Average User Rating: 3.0 / 5
User Rating Breakdown
5 Star: 2
4 Star: 2
3 Star: 1
2 Star: 2
1 Star: 1
Good. But a little overpriced for what they are.
Rating: 3 / 5
on October 19, 2012
1 out of 1 users found this review helpful
Pros: When they say 8hr battery they mean it.
Nice display quality.
Enterprise setting can be remotely controlled.
Total replacement warranty.
No virus worries.
Software seems pretty robust.
Cons: Touchy about wireless settings.
Enterprise setup has some undocumented pitfalls.
Get quite difficult if they don't have a constant good internet connection.
Summary: We purchased 46 of these for a school. The first time we turned them all on they stopped functioning. Turns out the first thing they each wanted to do was run a 700mb update. Downloaded fresh system on 2 usb sticks and did it manualy. Good news it it only takes 11mins per machine to update and configure to the network from out of the box. After 2 months 1 machine needed to be refreshed (11mins) and one machine had to be replaced. Not bad.
Chromebooks are very limited with what they do but if thats all you want them for then its no a problem. Although they require very little maintenance and are nealry impossible to stuff up which is a saving I still think they cost too much.
Um...it kinda worked?
Rating: 2 / 5
on October 19, 2012
3 out of 7 users found this review helpful
Pros: It's simple, kinda, but it also resembles a slight ripoff of Windows 7 taskbar had a baby with the iOS home screen with an Android launcher.
Cons: Grossly underpowered, a traditional laptop could use the internet faster.
Summary: One of my instructors brought some of these in for us to work on writing assignments, so that we could access our Google Docs accounts created for us to give her assignments. Once we were assigned one, we proceeded to log into our accounts to learn how to use the devices. It wasn't hard to use, but at the same time, half of my classmates couldn't even figure out how to change the time, customize the chromebook, and various things such as that that should be...well, simple, as the Chromebook is advertized as. Yes, it's pretty, until you put some sort of Bob Marley theme on top of Chrome. It's also not totally usable for the average user. If a high school/college student didn't want to try and figure out a new OS, what makes Google think an elderly woman would? Eventually, most of us gave up and brought out our own laptops. We noticed that the internet connection suddenly became significantly faster once we did that. Also, being forced to stick with Google services isn't the greatest thing. Yes, Chrome is a great browser, but what if I want Firefox? What if I want to add Office Web Apps instead of Google Docs? Note: We were actually given the 'higher-end' Samsung Chromebooks, not the cheaper Acer ones, either. I don't think I'd ever switch to something like that; it's not a terrible user experience, but it's not a terribly good experience, either. It's got a good way to go. Until then, I'd much prefer a Full OS such as Windows 8 or OSX Mountain Lion.
Does the web and does it extremely well!
Rating: 4 / 5
on January 29, 2014
0 out of 0 users found this review helpful
Pros: Very long battery life
Highly polished interface
K.I.S.S - Keep It Simple St#pid
Cons: Limited to the web and web based apps
16 GB SSD is not conducive to installing other Linux Distros
Many apps still lacking
Summary: Most people these days use their computer for 1 thing and 1 thing only - they live in their browser. Ask your aunt, neighbor, mother, brother, etc. what they use their computer for and they will tell you it is primarily for internet usage. They open a browser and everything they do is done from there.
If this describes you, then this may be the laptop for you. It's extremely simple to use, lightning fast load times and optimized to the point of absurdity. That said, if you want more than just a web browser, this is NOT the laptop you want to buy.
I knew what this device was long before I bought it so I wasn't surprised by it's function. What surprised me was how quickly a device optimized for the web would actually function. 7 second load times from power on to surfing the web is not an exaggeration, rather it is a fact! Using the web on this device FEELS faster than my i5 core laptop with 4x the hardware.
Sure there are things I can't do on my Chromebook but that's not the point of a Chrome OS device. It is built for the web and it does that extremely well!
Fantastic as a work laptop!
Rating: 5 / 5
on September 8, 2013
0 out of 0 users found this review helpful
Pros: - Incredibly fast boot times
- Good wifi range (Better signal than my i7 quad core, anyhow)
- Sexy interface (Seriously, I find windows kinda boring)
- Limited to work (No installable games)
- Google docs (Free!)
Cons: - Can't run the full skype app, none of my contacts really use google hangouts
- Not a lot of apps available for the device
- Missing ability to 'pin' other folders to file browser, currently limited to "Google Drive" & "Downloads"
Summary: I am currently using ChromeOS on the $250-$269 (If you're in Canada) Samsung laptop, with a 16 GB SSD, and 2GB RAM - so my review will reflect my experience with these specifications! Don't get me wrong, ChromeOS will probably function a lot better if you're on one of the higher end machines (Not that there are many).
After using it for about a week, the price and it's ability to carry out what it was designed for is great!
I am very glad that I got my ChromeBook, because now I am limited (yes, limited) to mainly using it for work, without the distractions of tempting programs like video games, skype, antiviruses, ect. I feel that the chromebook has brought back a lot of simplicity to using a computer, to a time when there weren't many bells or whistles. The chromebook has an excellent battery life, and due to the lack of applications (Which is also a plus), you are less tempted to get distracted by having skype open in the background, which also lets your battery last longer!
ChromeOS has very wicked startup (From pressing the on button, to being able to run google docs lagg free) and shut down times, which are greatly appreciated since I need it for school, and the professor does not wait for me to start up my laptop so that I can take notes. All of the apps possibly needed for basic work are available in some form of the other, with google docs being able to replace Microsoft office. I am very glad that there is also a 'offline' mode app for google docs among other apps, which allows me to take notes, even if there is no internet for whatever reason.
I love how you can choose how you want an app to be run, by right clicking it. There are 4 modes of launching apps.
- Open as normal tab
- Open as pinned tab (Stuck to the left of screen, only favicon displayed)
- Open as window (Really slick window type thing - pretty much your app with no tab bar or omni box)
- Open as full screen (Similar deal to "Open as window", but almost as if you've pressed the "F11" button to fullscreen it, like on windows)
There are a few frustrations, like the lack of some programs, and the computer's inability to have a ton (and I mean at 10 or more) of tabs open and still retain the extreme smoothness, but for only having 2GB's of RAM, I think ChromeOS does an excellent job managing the RAM and power consumption. The low amount of RAM and processor inside my laptop are the main reason for this, and my inability to watch HD videos as flawlessly as a normal computer.
Although, I do try to keep in mind that similar windows computers wont function anywhere nearly as good as ones running ChromeOS, most in part because windows is designed to be used in computers with a bit of power in them. In a sense... if you have $900, go get that fancy windows computer instead - it'll perform better, and have more programs available, but if you only have $300 or $400, get a ChromeBook - in my opinion it will quite easily rival another laptop $100 or $200 more expensive than it. That being said, I have a Samsung Chromebook (around $270 sale price with no taxes) and a Samsung gaming laptop (around $1200~ a year ago, around $900 now) - this laptop pretty much beats my older one in DPI (How close the pixels are in the screen, although the other one does have an overall higher resolution), weight, startup AND shutdown times (Seriously, windows 7, mine freeses on shutting down - what the fudge?), and battery life (to be expected, vs. a 17.3" behemoth.)
If not having much functionality when you have no internet is a problem for you, then just remember that the functionality of other computers is limited as well. Chromebook does have certain ways of letting you work on googledocs/slides/ect. while offline. The main file storage may go out the window, but there is an SD card and a 16GB SSD in the machine for a reason.
My final verdict would be to say, if you are on a budget and need something reliable, that will travel with you, get a ChromeBook.
If you're looking to game, or run fancy 3D software, there is no way ChromeOS or most of the models that do have ChromeOS are going to fullfill your thirst for raw power & cross-platform compatability.
Finally under $250.00 to purchase!
Rating: 5 / 5
on October 29, 2012
0 out of 0 users found this review helpful
Pros: 1. Drop dead simple
2. Google and go
3. Sync all settings
4. Remote Desktop to Windows based machines
5. Modern UI (most people are used to using)
Cons: 1. Remote desktop app requires local installation of files on Windows
2. Remote desktop app doesn't sync across browsers.
3. No VMware View VDI App in the Google Chrome webstore.
Summary: Great second laptop for students, college students, educators or people that don't like to have to worry about IT and "fixing" their laptop.