Chrome OS review

Google announced Chrome OS in mid-2009, selling it as the future of operating systems. That is more than five years ago and the truth is that little has changed since then. Some manufacturers have been launching their own laptops equipped with this system since 2011, which has not yet gained strength among consumers. Perhaps due to ignorance or because those of us who show interest need more than what it offers.

Despite everything, and as we will see below, this Google operating system is not a bad option and has its advantages, especially if the main use you make of your computer is to navigate. Also, be aware of the change that we could experience at the end of this year when, supposedly, we will be able to run Android applications on Chrome OS. But let's not run as much and let's focus on what Chrome OS is like today.

Chrome as operating system

From the moment you open a Chromebook laptop you know that you are not in front of a computer anymore. Before you even turn it on, function-specific keys appear at the top of the keyboard that draw quite a bit of attention. There is no place for F1, F2 and company, but there are keys for specific browser functions: forward, back, reload ...

Don't expect to be able to install software like other operating systems: with Chrome OS you can only do what you do with Chrome

This, together with the name, already gives us a clue: with a Chromebook you can do everything that can be done with Chrome, no more and no less. Everything revolves around the popular browser. Do you want to play? You can, but by installing some of the games found in the Chrome Web Store. And edit photos? With the system's own tools or with an extension, yes, but don't think about installing Photoshop because you won't be able to.

Chrome OS is a limited system. If you are looking for an operating system to read the mail and check your accounts on social networks, Chrome OS is undoubtedly a good option. It is fast and fluid (it is striking for example how little time it takes to turn on, thanks also in part to the SSD storage included in these laptops). But, as soon as you get out of there, you will have difficulties.

Google for everything

As soon as you turn on a laptop with Chrome OS, the first thing it will ask you to start the configuration is that you enter your Google account. For this process, as explained by the operating system itself, you need the Internet. Logical, after all, since they need to check your credentials. The account you configure will be the one used by default in all the system tools (Gmail, Drive, etc.).

I know what you are thinking: what if someone else is going to use the same laptop? How to avoid having access to your email and all your data? The session system is similar to that of other operating systems: you can configure multiple users and there is even a special account for guests. From this account you can browse and even download files or extensions, but nothing more.

Chrome OS in guest mode

Chrome OS, video analysis

What can a Chromebook do without the Internet?

Another concern that may arise is precisely the need for the Internet for this operating system to work. Although to configure it initially, as we said, it is necessary to have a connection, for later use it is not mandatory although it is recommended. With Drive, for example, you can edit documents offline, and then they'll sync once you connect to the network.

In general, almost all Google applications have some offline mode (more or less complete, that depends). Calendar, to name one, has a query read mode for when you don't have connectivity. The same with Gmail: you can read the mail, archive it, reply, search ... Then, once you connect, your account will be synchronized and they will carry out all the actions that you had pending. Editing photos and listening to music from the laptop's hard drive is also possible.

Some extensions, like Chrome OS, support offline mode, but it is not usual

The problem appears when we talk about third-party applications. Most of these, by definition, need the Internet to function. However, Google has a dedicated section in its store that offers applications that work without being connected to the network. Yes, you can play Angry Birds as much as you want without worrying about getting a signal, but the truth is that the offline offer of the Chrome Web Store is quite poor today.

Chrome OS applications

We have already gone over a little the basics of Chrome OS, but what is this operating system really like? The desktop is nothing different from what we are used to seeing on other systems. The controls are at the bottom, although by right-clicking on the desktop they can change positions towards the sides if desired.

At the bottom left, Chrome OS has the shortcuts to the applications. By clicking on the square button (the closest thing to the Windows start button), a panel will be displayed that shows all the applications that we have installed. We can drag them to sort them as we like. In addition, and for the most commonly used, they can be fixed at the bottom of the screen for quick access.

As for the applications themselves, no surprise: they are the same ones that we can use from any Chrome browser. If we open YouTube, for example, it is a simple new tab that accesses the website. The same with Gmail, Google Play, Drive, Maps, etc. The only ones that could be considered native and do not work in the browser are Camera (to use the webcam), Calculator and Google Keep. Even Remote Desktop works through Chrome as it is an extension.

Drive, Gmail, Youtube ... Most Chrome OS applications run on a Chrome window and not as an individual app

Chrome OS also includes a file explorer, which in turn is divided into two sections. On the one hand we can choose to show us the documents that we have stored in Google Drive and, on the other hand, the contents that we download or that we enter through a USB and that are stored inside the computer.

The Google Now icon also appears in the application panel. Sure enough, you can activate this wizard and tell it which application you want to open. It works like it does on other devices, so you can ask, for example, what the weather is today. The answer will be shown to you in a new Chrome tab.

Configuration possibilities

We now move to the lower right area, where the notifications icon, the clock, the current state of the battery and access to the operating system settings are located. From a menu that appears when you click on that area, you can quickly configure Internet access, Bluetooth and volume. Everything else is managed from Settings.

The configuration panel is very similar to Chrome, only modified to include other options. For example, there it gives us the possibility of managing the Wi-Fi networks to which we are connected or modifying everything related to the screen or the keyboard. Interesting are also the accessibility options that it includes, such as increasing the size of the cursor, magnifying glass, high contrast mode or showing the on-screen keyboard.

Obviously, there are not many configuration possibilities beyond the classic ones: resolution, screen orientation, configuration of the usual key functions, orientation of the touchpad scroll and little else.In normal use you will not miss great things, but advanced users will surely miss some features.

What can't you do with Chrome OS?

Okay, you can surf the Internet or connect pens via USB, but what can't you do with Chrome OS? You cannot install software, we have already discussed that. In an attempt to see if I could survive day to day with this operating system, I set myself an interesting goal: to connect my printer. Consulting Google help, I realized that it would not be so simple: "Do not try to connect the printer to the Chromebook, as it will not work", they warn you. So forget about connecting the USB and you're ready to print.

Printing is not as easy as connecting the printer via USB, but you have to configure it before

One possibility is, if the printer manufacturer allows it, to print from the cloud, but setting this up can be time consuming. In my case I solved the problem by adding the printer to my Google account through Google Cloud Print, but you have to do it from a Windows or Mac computer. Once added to your account, you can use it from the Chromebook, but with that step intermediate.

What if you want to connect something via Bluetooth? Chrome OS only accepts certain devices (keyboards, mice, speakers, headphones or microphones), so if it is something else, it will not work directly.

Not all peripherals are compatible, one of the great disadvantages of Chrome OS

Regarding other devices that can be connected by USB, not all are compatible. There will be no problem with memory pens, mice, keyboards and others that do not need special drivers, but with other peripherals you may not be as lucky. For example, if you want to connect a CD or DVD player, it won't work. You will have to pass the data through an external storage unit, for example.

Let's go a little further: what if you work with shared folders on the network or on different servers? Unfortunately you will not be able to access them from Chrome OS unless you have FTP access to them, in which case you will be able to enter them from the browser. In my case, I have a folder where I store multimedia content to be able to see, through DLNA, from any device in my house. From Chrome OS, unfortunately, I can't get into it.

Forget about working with network folders, the file manager is too simple for that

Finally, I did one last test. Google claims that Chrome OS is compatible with the most popular extensions (listed here). Where more problems can exist is in the codecs section, with a specific list of those that are compatible. What we have tried has been to reproduce a * .mp4 file with * .srt subtitles and the same with a * .mkv with the same * .srt subtitles.

With the * .mp4 there were no problems, but the * .mkv, not including the sound in MP3, was not heard. Of course, the integrated player that includes Chrome OS does not show subtitles, so either edit the video to integrate them or opt for some other application from the Chrome Web Store (such as Subtitle Videoplayer) that does support them.

The great advantages of Chrome OS

Autonomy, fluidity and simplicity, the great advantages

Sacrificing some functionality also has its benefits for Chrome OS. As we said, it is remarkably fluid. Despite the fact that the hardware on which it works is nothing out of the ordinary (an Acer Chromebook C720 that we will talk about specifically on Monday), you can open several tabs even with videos and it will not jerk.

To this we must add its great autonomy (more than 9 hours with normal use and without saving battery), how easy it is to use (as it is so limited, there are not really many options) and how cheap the equipment tends to be. who use it.

Finally, a brief note on security. Chrome OS has automatic updates and, like the browser, alerts you if you enter a dangerous or suspicious web page. It also includes process isolation (Sandboxing), something that Chrome also implements. Due to its limitations and not being able to install anything, it is a priori quite safe. This does not mean that it is invulnerable, since in fact problems have been detected in the past, as it happens with almost all operating systems.

Now, is it worth sacrificing the functionality of the computer for all this? There it already depends on the use that will be given.

Good to navigate, bad for the rest

After several weeks of use, the conclusion would come to be the one we discussed in the video. A person who is aware of what they can do (and what they cannot) with Chrome OS will surely be delighted with the performance of both the operating system and the laptops that use it.

However, what you have to be clear about is that a Chromebook is not just another laptop. It presents important limitations that will surely back down more than one (in fact, after its launch, there was talk and much of the numerous returns made by customers who had bought it thinking that it would be like other computers). For those who want to simply navigate, yes, with fluidity and autonomy or simply as a second laptop, it is undoubtedly an option to consider.

In Xataka | Chromebooks in Spain

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