Google’s Chrome OS: expanding beyond web apps

Article By : Brian Dipert

Professional obligation and personal curiosity motivate this engineer to regularly test-drive alternatives to the Windows-plus-MacOS hegemony as they emerge.

Call me stubborn (or Ishmael, if you wish, although that’s not germane to this particular conversation), but over the past near-decade I’ve evaluated Google’s Chrome OS on numerous occasions; both as the operating system has evolved and on several hardware platforms: the initial CR-48 development system (a pristine unopened example of which still resides in my tech storage closet) and its successor, a Toshiba Chromebook 2.

Source: Adam Brewer

The Chrome OS platform has gained some notable feature set additions over the years and continues to benefit from several advantages that it has exhibited since day 1; near-instantaneous boot-up, for example, along with cloud-based ease of recovery from system damage or loss (which explains its dominance in the education market). However, as I wrote in my most recent October 2016 post on Chrome OS:

Bottom line: at the end of the day, once I try to expand beyond the core Google apps experience, I’m left feeling empty.

So why am I try, trying again? To some degree I’m motivated by professional obligation to regularly test-drive alternatives to the Windows-plus-MacOS hegemony as they emerge. I’m also motivated by personal curiosity, specifically of what the addition of Android application support will bring to the Chrome OS experience. Back in August 2016, I’d written that Google had announced such pending support at the then-recent iteration of the yearly I/O developer conference, a development that had prompted my purchase of the Chromebook 2 in the first place. Unfortunately, however, although the 2015 model year iteration of the Chromebook 2 finally gained Android support in the Chrome OS Beta channel last December (with Stable channel support following this May), my 2014 model is still listed only as “Planned” more than two years after initial program unveiling. And I’m not holding my breath (no matter that I still regularly check for updates).

What I’m moving to instead is Google’s own Pixelbook, for which Android app support is already in place:

The Pixelbook was released in October of last year; until recently, the only things I’d heard about it were that it was high quality but also very high priced (characteristics it shared with its Chromebook Pixel predecessor). However, as part of a Father’s Day promotion, Google dropped the price of the entry-level variant, containing 8 GB of SDRAM and a 128 GB SSD, and based on an Intel “Kaby Lake” Core i5 -7Y57 dual-core (physical…quad-core virtual via HyperThreading) CPU, from $999 to $749. I pondered but ultimately didn’t pull the trigger on that offer, and regretted my inaction afterwards.

But more recently, I saw the entry-level Pixelbook for sale brand new on Ebay (I’m guessing the merchant had bought a bunch of them from Google or Best Buy during the Father’s Day promotion and was now reselling them at a slight profit). Although it was now offered for $800+, an active Ebay promotion knocked $100 off the price tag; even with a Square Trade two-year warranty added, it ended up being a few hundred dollars less than it would have been had I bought it comparably equipped on Father’s Day, and ~$500 less than the normal price with warranty. No sales tax and free shipping were added upsides.

It’s newly arrived and sitting in my office unopened as I type these words. Even if the Toshiba Chromebook 2 ends up getting Android app support, too, I suspect it’ll be functionally deficient due to its dearth of memory (4 GB), storage (16 GB), and processing (dual-core Intel Bay Trail Atom-based SoC) resources. I also picked up the Pen accessory to try out that additional interface option. The Pixelbook is USB-C-based, which will enable me to test the transfer bandwidth and power distribution capabilities of this newest interface standard both in an absolute sense and relative to USB generational precursors and Thunderbolt alternatives. And planned hardware platform support for Linux (along with rumored pending support for Windows 10) are intriguing, as well.

Stay tuned for more posts in this series in the coming months. Until then, I as-always welcome your thoughts in the comments.

Brian Dipert is Editor-in-Chief of the Embedded Vision Alliance, and a Senior Analyst at BDTI and Editor-in-Chief of InsideDSP, the company’s online newsletter.

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