User Experience & Usability

Similar to our performance analysis in the Surface review, there are really two sides to the performance of a Chromebook. There's the user experience as well as what the underlying hardware is capable of. I'll start with the user experience.

Chromebooks have never been all that robust when it comes to user experience. When Google first announced them they didn't even support mounting USB storage, although that has since been rectified. Although Google may have grand visions for where Chrome OS could go, today it serves one real purpose: to provide an affordable platform for a good web experience free of viruses and malware. To that end, the new Chromebook accomplishes its goal fairly well - as did the devices that came before it.

Chrome tends to be my favorite browser, and the experience maps fairly well the Chromebook platform. Web pages render properly and quickly (given the hardware that is). Compatibility isn't an issue. Everything just seems to work.

Obviously a major selling point of Chrome OS is that the web now allows for many content rich applications to be delivered directly in the browser rather than through a standalone executable. Google helps give access to these applications through the Chrome Web Store, although it's important to note that not all of them will run on the ARM based Chromebook (nor is there a good listing of those that will/won't run). The apps themselves vary in type from simple games to productivity tools. Many are quite functional, but the performance just isn't very good compared to a $500 tablet or even a $500 PC.

Technically the Chromebook can do a lot, but for anything other than browsing, YouTube and Google docs use I wouldn't get my hopes up. The heavier apps just don't run smoothly on the platform. Even web browsing isn't what I'd consider fast, but it's still acceptable. To put things in perspective, I got a performance warning trying to play Cut the Rope on the new Chromebook. Stability can also be a problem. Try to deviate too much from normal web browsing and you'll be greeted with long pauses and even system locks. For example, while testing WebGL performance on the new Chromebook I had to power cycle the machine after the browser became unresponsive. Normal web browsing is fine though.

There are other annoyances that aren't strictly performance related. For example, Netflix streaming won't work on the new Chromebook. Although image browsing support is native to the OS, there's no support for RAW camera files from a DSLR.

For the basic necessities however, the Chromebook does embody the fast enough computing concept. I researched, wrote and did almost all of my work while preparing this review on the Chromebook and generally found the experience acceptable. Other features like Pandora worked just fine (although I'd occasionally get hiccups in music playback if I loaded a particularly complex page). Whenever I'd switch back to my Ivy Bridge notebook I'd really appreciate the extra speed, but for writing and web browsing duties the Chromebook got the job done. Had Chrome OS been built around a lesser browser I don't think I would be as positive about the experience.

Display Quality, Keyboard & Trackpad Performance: Atom vs. ARM's Cortex A15
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  • zappb - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - link

    looks awesome - between this and the Nexus 10 Reply
  • Flunk - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - link

    I recommend the Nexus 10, better screen and OS. ChromeOS is a real turkey. Reply
  • quiksilvr - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - link

    It really boils down to what you need. If you can live without a keyboard, get the Nexus 10. If you are on a budget, get this. If you want a keyboard and are willing to shell extra dough, get the Nexus 10 and a bluetooth keyboard. Reply
  • B3an - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - link

    He wasn't talking about keyboards and form factors. Chrome OS is almost completely useless for anything more than browsing the net. It's about equivalent to a basic feature phone in capability. It's for such a small niche, about the only people i could see buying Chrome OS notebooks are extremely poor students, and even then it probably wont do everything they want. Reply
  • jeffkro - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - link

    Another niche market is for people that do online investing and banking with significant assets. The added security of chrome OS is well worth having for $250 you won't find much cheaper insurance. Windows is just not safe for online financial transactions, which of course the poor student doesn't have to worry about. Reply
  • jeffkro - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - link

    By the way I find google docs to be pretty useful for productivity. I used to use open office and since I made the switch I haven't looked back. Netflix not being supported on the ARM version is kind of a bummer though. I think Google should make sure that Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon streaming all work as this definitely fits under the umbrella of cloud computing. Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Thursday, November 01, 2012 - link

    Windows is safe... Don't run as full admin and maybe the user might have some common sense not to visit porn sites Reply
  • klmccaughey - Thursday, November 01, 2012 - link

    No, they can use a Chromebook to visit porn sites or any other activity (long list) that might get them on trouble in Windows.

    I maintain the computers (just) in my house and home office, and for one user I really wish he had a Chromebook and not a Windows laptop - I keep having to restore it from image.

    Oh and I use Windows 7 x64 as my main machine, with Ubuntu VM for development.
    Reply
  • Wolfpup - Friday, November 02, 2012 - link

    Nothing wrong with porn sites...like any other business they're not especially wanting to screw over their customers. Reply
  • Sabresiberian - Friday, November 02, 2012 - link

    ChromeOS is NOT more secure than Windows. You are putting too much stock in anti-Microsoft blather from Google. Might as well listen to Apple's opinion of Windows.

    Does this SoC even have the hardware security features built into Intel and AMD x86 chips (AES, Intel Secure Key, OS Guard)? I don't think it does. ChromeOS might require different methods to crack, but it is not more secure, and the hardware of the Chromebook is less secure.

    Besides, I'd imagine any successful investor is going to be using something a lot more satisfying than a tiny, cheap netbook variation with a so-so screen.
    Reply

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