I just went to have a look at the Chromebook in the “Chrome Zone” at Tottenham Court Road’s PC World / Curry’s. I’ve resisted buying a tablet for more than a year, despite my gadgety inclinations, because of the general lack of keyboard, 3G and access to the software I use to do my job. Of course, since the original iPad, these limitations are being chipped away at by the increasing variety of netbooks, tablets and, now the hybrid Chromebook (padtop anyone?).
To handle, the Chromebook (the UK gets the Samsung Series 5) is chunky, lightweight and quite a bit slimmer than my 11″ MacBook. To browse upon, things move along smoothly (until you hit 1080p HD video or Angry Birds) and the little keyboard changes, such as a search key that opens a new tab, are kinda fun. Sadly, the whole thing feels experimental, since several of the Chrome extensions I tried don’t work properly, nor do some websites. As examples, the LoveFilm website wouldn’t stream films; the Chrome store let me install IETab, but then it wouldn’t run (no IE, right? For a moment, I thought they had conjured some magic).
I do try to keep all my documents, code, email and the rest on the web, so I figured I’d be in a good place to adopt a web-only computer as a lightweight, portable all-purpose machine. And I would be willing to give the Chromebook a go. But not for £400. And here’s the big problem – £400 buys you a lot of laptop these days. I figured I’d pick up a Chromebook for a couple of weeks and try it out – if it bombed, I could always return it. However, true to form, PC World’s legendary customer service team were unable to give me a straight answer about their returns policy. So I’m still on the fence.
Incidentally, since the Chromebook has 3G built-in, this makes it, in a connectivity sense, awesome. It actually has a SIM slot, so you can stick in whatever SIM you like. This is a part of the future Apple are most definitely not making a big noise about. I don’t think a hardware manufacturer is going to overcome all the necessary hurdles to make a machine that can roam on 3G, and roam affordably. However, mobile operators and specialist firms (WorldSIM, abroadband) probably can, so letting people put their own SIM in your device makes a lot of sense.