Chromebook Pixel? Beautiful and wrong

Very nice hardware and an improved Chrome OS don't overcome the fact the Web is a weak computer

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Web apps are inferior to "real" native apps. Yes, Chrome apps have gotten better, even supporting drag and drop in some cases. But they're too limited for everyday usage. I can carry a lighter, smaller iPad or Galaxy Note with me and do more with it, both online and offline.

The laptop era is over
That brings me to the other issue in the Chromebook Pixel: Why bother with a laptop container for the Chrome browser appliance? Yes, it's a very nice laptop and with a price to match ($1,299 for the Wi-Fi-only model and $1,449 for the cellular-capable model). That's the price of a nice MacBook Air model, which weighs less and is smaller and does a helluva lot more both online and offline. Yes, the Chromebook Pixel's high-res display is gorgeous and crisp, but I can get the same display quality on a much smaller iPad or on a same-size 13-inch MacBook Pro.

A Chromebook Pixel is heavy and large. Sure, it's in a nice package, but it's still the kind of laptop design that was king in the 1990s and 2000s. Today, people are buying (and the tech industry is copying) MacBook Airs and iPads -- smaller, lighter, more capable. Although the Chromebook Pixel shares only some of the innards of a PC laptop, its battery life is barely better than most Windows laptops: three to four hours. In heavy use, iPads easily exceed nine hours, the 2012-model MacBook Airs approach seven, and the new MacBook Airs approach 12. They all cost the same as or less than a Chromebook Pixel.

A Chrome tablet would have made a bit more sense than a Chrome laptop. The Chromebook Pixel even has a touch-capable display, although I can't get the zoom gesture to work. And using it reaffirmed that touchscreens on laptops and PCs are an ergonomic danger zone, not to mention uncomfortable to work with. Thankfully, the Chromebook Pixel also has a nice trackpad and cursor keys.

Even a Chrome tablet suffers from the Web app problem, so it'd be a more modern way to package the disappointment that is the Chromebook Pixel. I know, I know: Some people love it. I honestly don't know why, given that a MacBook Air or one of the better Windows Ultrabooks has all of its advantages and none of its disadvantages. Its handsome enclosure certainly can't explain it.

Some organizations see Chrome OS as a way to deliver virtual desktops that require little or no setup. It might work well for some education and training scenarios, and of course for call centers. But plenty of thin clients out there do the same. It's not very hard to convert a Windows PC or Mac into a mindless client, either. Dell and Apple have server tools just for that purpose, for example.

The bottom line is that the laptop era is over, and Web apps can't function in place of native apps. Old-style PCs and laptops still have a use as modern workstations, Web apps are great as part of a greater computing environment, and tablets and smartphones are on their way to becoming the new style of computing, augmented with smart peripherals. The Chromebook Pixel is none of these, and it fits poorly in both the traditional and modern notions of computing.

This article, "Chromebook Pixel? Beautiful and wrong," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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