Test drive: Nexus 7, Chromebox, Google Play as your PC and TV service

Our intrepid tester tries life in the 'Googleplex' of Google's mobile and cloud hardware and services

Google's vision of computing involves tossing your PC or Mac and moving to a cloud-centric, all-Google ecosystem. Call it the Googleplex: a mix of the Chrome OS-based Chromebox PC or Chromebook laptop, one or more Android tablets -- perhaps a 10-inch model for work and a 7-inch Nexus 7 for entertainment on the go -- and a Nexus Q home entertainment system that you control via an Android device. (Scratch the Q for now; just a few days before the first units were to ship, Google pulled the Q due to reviewers' complaints and said it would redesign the device at a future date.)

I decided to test the Googleplex to see if it could replace my PC and traditional entertainment offerings, meaning my cable TV provider's content offerings; I still needed the provider for Internet access. Apple has a similar strategy with its iTunes- and AirPlay-connected Mac, iPad, iPhone, and Apple TV that seems to be popular. So can Google pull off the same feat using Google Drive (what used to be called Google Docs), its Google Play app and entertainment store, Android, and Chrome OS?

[ InfoWorld's Galen Gruman assesses Apple's entertainment-centered iPad Mini. | Understand how to both manage and benefit from the consumerization of IT with InfoWorld's "Consumerization Digital Spotlight" PDF special report. | Subscribe to InfoWorld's Consumerization of IT newsletter today. ]

The short answer: partially. I really liked the 7-inch Asus Nexus 7 tablet and its Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean" operating system. I've long liked my Motorola Mobility Droid smartphone and its physical keyboard, though I've been hankering for an "Ice Cream Sandwich" device, so I used the Samsung Galaxy S III in these tests. But I was less impressed with the Chromebox, a Mac Mini-like headless PC that can't do much. I was decidedly unimpressed with the Q and can see exactly why Google was too embarrassed to sell it.

But the Googleplex is about more than the components. The bigger matter is how well they work together to access, share, and manipulate information and entertainment. The Google environment struggled with some basics of content access and streaming, falling short as my prime media environment.

What follows are the highlights and lowlights of each device, and then of the connective services that transform them from a collection of devices into an ecosystem -- or at least wants to.

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