Google Chromebook lacks luster -- and purpose

Samsung Chromebook Series 5 3G brings ho-hum hardware to the half-baked Chrome OS

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Chrome OS also ships with the Flash plug-in pre-installed, and unlike the lackluster implementation for Android, it works the way you expect. I had no trouble accessing the Flash sites I tried, including complex Flex applications. Unfortunately, however, the version shipped is Flash 10.2, which lags behind the current plug-in version. (The current desktop Chrome browser also bundles an outdated version of Flash.)

As befits a browser-only device, the Chromebook keyboard includes hotkeys for common browser functions, including Forward, Back, Refresh, and switching windows. The Caps Lock key has also been replaced by a button to open a new browser tab. Disappointingly, the touchpad doesn't support gestures; pinch-to-zoom would have been particularly nice.

Chromebook: Web or bust
As attractive as Google's vision of a Web-centric world may seem, most of us don't really spend all day in our browsers. It's once you stray outside the realm of mature, full-blown Web applications that the Chromebook usage model starts to break down.

Google has given a nod to the idea that not everything needs a full-screen browser window by allowing developers to write mini apps as Chrome extensions (coded in HTML and JavaScript). But if the examples Google bundles with the Chromebook are anything to go by, this is a poor compromise.

The Chromebook's media player is perhaps the most glaring example. Its UI is ugly, it has no media management capabilities, and you can't even rearrange a playlist without reopening the app and starting over. It can play MP3, MP4, and OGG files, but not AVIs. In short, it's a cute hack but nothing more -- and the in-browser versions of Google Talk and the Scratchpad note-taking app are similarly unimpressive.

The Chrome OS file manager and Media Player demonstrate what Chrome OS is good for: browsing the Web.
The Chrome OS file manager and Media Player demonstrate what Chrome OS is good for: browsing the Web.

The file browser is particularly telling as to how poorly Chrome OS handles traditional computing modes. It's completely perfunctory, acting as little more than a means to play media files and display saved images. Double-clicking a .doc, .xls, or .ppt file does not launch Google Docs, for example; it just says "unknown file type." It can't handle Zip files, either. In fact, most file types display as blank gray icons.

The message, clearly, is that your files belong on the network; never mind whatever else you were thinking. And for "network," read "Internet/cloud," because while Chrome OS supports FTP, it can't browse Mac or Windows file shares.

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