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

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To play media, I went to the Chrome Web Store and installed Google Play, Google Play Music, and Google Play Video. That allowed access to the same videos I purchased on the Nexus 7, as well as to the music library I uploaded to the Nexus 7 via Google Music Manager. I did not experience any sync or stutter issues as I did with the never-shipped Nexus Q.But Google Play did a poor job of importing my music, incorrectly identifying many songs -- it'll take a lot of work to fix these errors, and I'm not sure it's worth the time.

The only spooling problems I encountered I can attribute to being a DSL subscriber who is too far from the phone company's central office to get decent bandwidth. I'm not unique in that situation, so it would be nice if Chrome OS could detect my bandwidth limitation and offer me the choice to spool and wait.

I hooked up my 1TB external hard drive to one of the six USB ports. Instantly a screen popped up showing contents of the drive, giving me access to my archives of stored photos, documents, videos, and music. I was able to play both music and MPEG video files on a basic player -- without having to upload them first.

With a DisplayPort-to-HDMI connection, the picture was in full, glorious HD -- but the display ratio was off. The task bar at the bottom of the screen was cut off, the image cropped on both the right and left edges. I could not find any display configuration settings on the Chromebox, and I wasn't willing to change them on the HDTV, given I have other devices connected to it that don't need such an adjustment.

Also, the video relay was not reliable. Twice while using the DisplayPort-to-HDMI cable, the playback halted on the HDTV. But I could still hear the audio coming out of the Chromebox speaker. It was as though the Chromebox suddenly decided the display port was not being used. Power-cycling the HDTV fixes the problem. (For the record, Apple TV users also report occasional drop-offs of their wireless AirPlay connections via an Apple TV when streaming from an iPad or iPhone.)

As for computing outside of entertainment, Chrome OS and the whole notion of Web-only apps can work for everyday personal use such as email, social networking, basic photo editing and album creation, and (via Google Docs) light editing. But Chrome OS and Web apps aren't usable as a tool if you need to run client software such as Microsoft Office (a requirement in most jobs, and Google Docs is not a sufficient replacement for many users), Dreamweaver, Second Life Viewer, and Adobe Acrobat (as opposed to the limited Adobe Reader). The Web apps available simply don't have the powerful features of their client-based cousins.

And on a Chromebox or Chromebook, forget about using peripherals like scanners, webcams, and USB audio devices such as headsets.

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