Chromebook Pixel? Beautiful and wrong

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

Google's Chromebook Pixel is a handsome laptop, with an attractive metal case, a beautiful high-resolution display, and solid keys. It exhibits none of the cheap PC feel all too common in laptops, yet is also clearly not a MacBook clone despite its strong quality build. Its Chrome OS now permits some local storage, and it runs some apps that can continue to function when you're not connected to Wi-Fi.

Oh yeah -- Wi-Fi. A Chromebook may look like a PC laptop, but it's really a Chrome browser appliance. The Web is its operating system, and it needs a live Internet connection to run most functions. That's the weakness of the Chromebook Pixel -- well, and the fact it's essentially 1990s technology being sold in 2013.

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Web apps are inferior apps
Let me start with the notion of the Web as operating system. There's no question that the Web, the Internet, the cloud -- call it what you prefer -- is a godsend for computing. I use Dropbox and iCloud continually to access the same files and information across my various computers, tablets, and smartphones. As a technology writer, I use more devices than most, but even regular people these days have multiple devices and get huge benefits from a common repository accessible almost anywhere. Of course, tons of useful websites and Internet services out there all live in the cloud.

You might start thinking that all you need is the cloud. Google has certainly improved its Web apps over the last couple of years. Google Drive -- the company's combination of cloud storage service and basic office productivity tools -- finally allows offline usage, such as when you can't get a Wi-Fi signal or can't afford to pay for hotspot access at each leg of your journey while traveling. Also, the Chromebook Pixel comes with 32GB of flash storage to store files and images locally, for access when offline.

Chrome OS in the Chromebook Pixel is a big improvement over the first incarnation, but it doesn't compare with the rich apps you get on a Windows PC, Mac, iPad, or even Android tablet. If you want full-featured office productivity, you need a Mac or PC. If you're willing to forgo the use of style sheets but still want strong layout capabilities, you can get by with iWork Pages in iOS. If layout is less critical, then you can use Quickoffice in iOS or Android. It's a similar cascade for spreadsheets and slideshows. In Chrome OS, Drive's apps aren't bad, but they're less capable than Quickoffice, lacking core features such as revisions tracking and user-defined styles. Drive is even less capable on a tablet's browser, with fewer capabilities on an iPad than, say, Microsoft Office 365 for Web. No wonder Google has reworked Quickoffice on Android to work with Drive, to combine native and Web capabilities.

It's not just office productivity suites. Basic image editing in Chrome OS is possible via Picasa's Creative Kit, but it's awkward to use and can't do anything creative. For that, you need the likes of Snapseed, iPhoto, or PhotoForge in iOS; Snapseed in Android; or Photoshop in OS X or Windows.

And don't forget email. I have multiple email accounts: one for work, one for my side projects, one for junkmail, one for e-commerce and banking, and one each forced on me by a platform provider (Google's Gmail and Apple's iCloud). On a computer or mobile device, I can use one mail client to manage them all. In Chrome OS, I need to use the Webmail client for each service; the Gmail Web app only accesses Google email. Hopping around all those browser tabs and different-interface Webmail clients is a huge pain.

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