Google’s first Chromebook sought to do a couple of things really well – and largely succeeded.
But because laptops need to do more than a couple of things, the Chromebook didn’t sell. Ultimately, it represented too much of a break with the PC. That makes the compromises built into the new Chromebook, which goes on sale in the US on Tuesday and the UK on Wednesday, an important step towards making it a more practical machine.
The original Chromebook always felt more like a statement of intent than a finished product. It was a demonstration of the long-term direction Google was heading in: towards a fully browser-based world.
Its lightning-fast browser, rapid start-up and wake-up times, long battery life and built-in anti-virus protection proved the point that Google was trying to make: a stripped down, Web-centric laptop really shows up how kludgy the traditional laptop experience has become, with its software bloat.
The trouble with the original Chromebook was that it didn’t make any concessions for the offline world in which virtually all users keep at least one foot. Though it had some limited level of offline support, once disconnected from the internet it wasn’t useful for anything much beyond acting as a doorstop.
Hence the new version. It feels more like being on a PC, for start. Along the bottom left of the browser window are a series of logos for freqently used apps, just like the logos that appear along the bottom of a taskbar on a PC. It is also easier to create – and shrink or move around – multiple windows.
Importantly, it has now become possible with Chromebooks to view files produced with Microsoft’s Office software, either online or off. Google also says that, “over the next several weeks”, it will give all Google Docs users the ability to work on their files offline. And with Google Drive, the cloud storage and synching service announced earlier this year, it is easier to access and use files stored on other machines.
These and other new features of the latest Chromebook will certainly make the device far more practical for the average user. The price also look attractive: from $449 for the latest laptop and only $329 for a new Chromebox, a simple PC-type box without screen, keyboard or mouse.
But has Google managed yet to fully bridge the gulf between the offline and online experiences? My colleague Chris Nuttall has been putting the machine through its paces: look out for his full review later in the week.