The portable computing market today, and Chrome OS

Currently, there are four distinct ways to do desktop-ish computing on the go, and soon there will be a fifth way too. I was wondering this morning which one best suits me.

– Laptop (Mac or Windows, average price $500)
Pros: Optical drive, large hard drive, larger resolutions, lots of RAM/speed, able to run most heavy apps.
Cons: Big and heavy.

– Hybrid laptop/netbook (Macbook Air, MSI, few others, avg price $800)
Pros: Thin and small, like netbooks. Large resolutions.
Cons: Not as fast for heavy apps like full laptops are. Mac variant is expensive.

– Netbook (usually running Ubuntu, average price $300)
Pros: Small and light, while still having a real keyboard.
Cons: RAM capped by Intel at 2 GB, slow CPUs for the kind of OSes it must run.

– Tablet (iPad or Android, average price $500)
Pros: Lightest/thinnest. Best user interface.
Cons: Not all the kind of apps exist for tablets, input method is a bitch.

– Chrome OS (Chromium OS, average price possibly less than a netbook(?))
Pros: Small and light, while still having a real keyboard (according to Engadget)
Cons: Only good for browsing, and select few simple apps.

So it all comes down to what kind of apps you want to run. At the end, it’s about the apps. If you want to run a video editor on the go, then you need a real laptop. If you want to just do some browsing, plus some simple office work, and if you travel a lot for work, then a netbook is best. If you just want to browse, then Chrome OS might be the best choice, since it might also be the cheapest. And if you want to do some specific actions in a more natural way, e.g. book/magazine-reading, maps, sky-gazing and other exotic stuff, in the smallest package possible, the tablet is the answer.

Personally, I’m thinking that either an MSI hybrid, or an iPad tablet are closest of what I would want to do with a portable device. But tablets are still not quite there yet for me. I’d need a real user filesystem in iOS (without it, certain apps can’t exist properly as they can on Android). But then again, Android is not ready for tablets either (both Lenovo and LG made a point about this). So I’m thinking that next year, when the new iPad comes out, if it has the additions I need (e.g. user filesystem, web cam, an internal SDHC reader), I’ll go for that.

We were discussing with JBQ the other day what his needs would be for a new portable device (he currently uses a 4 year old 14.1″ DELL laptop running Ubuntu), and we established that he doesn’t use any kind of app or feature on that laptop that couldn’t be done with Chrome OS (e.g. text editor, calculator). Originally, I felt that Chrome OS is a bit too thin in features, but apparently there are people who need no more than what it already offers. In fact, my mother wouldn’t need more than that either! Chrome OS should be able to do GTalk video chat too (via the Linux gtalk-video plugin), which is the only “advanced” thing she would need anyway! And that should be at a price she could afford, compared to a tablet (since Chrome OS shouldn’t need more than 4 GB of internal storage).

If I was to make a prediction, I’d say that netbooks are going the way of the dodo. There will only be laptops, few hybrids, tablets. In my opinion, the only thing Chrome OS has for it, is its potential lower price. The “login to your personalized desktop from any Chrome OS computer” is a commendable goal, but by going clean slate it also means hard times for users that might want to extend their desktop experience. Also, as tablets will become cheaper too, and will already have thousands of real, powerful apps, I don’t personally see Chrome OS going anywhere in the long run. In fact, I could easier imagine a future where Android extends its already existing “personalized saved data” to Google’s servers and essentially providing a similar experience from within any Android handset/tablet, rather than seeing Chrome OS getting thousands of apps — written in JavaScript — that are not complete jokes (I still can’t get over the mental shock of the original iPhone JavaScript apps — remember those? Yuck.).

I guess, what Chrome OS needed, was to be released in late 2007, just before the netbook boom. Then, it could possibly stand a chance, as it would be seen as an innovative novelty.


Glenn wrote on October 20th, 2010 at 8:37 PM PST:

There’s one kind of computer you’ve missed here, the tablet PC. These can’t be compared to iPads or Android devices because they mostly use pressure sensitive Wacom style tablet surfaces that can be used with a digitizer pen. Some with multi touch as well. They also feature CPUs fast enough to be used for video editing. The only downside is usually the screen resolution of only 1280×800. Which is pretty standard anyway I guess.

My next laptop will be one of these. Most probably a Fujitsu Lifebook TH700 which aren’t too pricey and include a decent i5 CPU with RAM expandable to 8GB. Although I’ll mostly be using it for painting. It does the multi touch thing also, which I’m not interested in.

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Eugenia wrote on October 20th, 2010 at 9:56 PM PST:

Problem with tablet PC’s is that they’re already deemed failed in the market.

Yanni wrote on October 20th, 2010 at 11:25 PM PST:

I keep fantasizing about my ideal tablet: take the ipad and add full 1920 resolution, flash and hdmi input so I can use it as a monitor for my Rebel T2i.

Ivan wrote on October 21st, 2010 at 12:25 AM PST:

Does a typical Atom cpu 1GB ram netbook play 720p mp4 files? Does it have enough cpu power and memory to do this? Just curious to know.

Glenn wrote on October 21st, 2010 at 2:05 AM PST:

They might not be popular, but are still very useful. There’s a guy in Waikiki with a Toshiba tablet PC with a portable setup who paints faces. He’s set up there on the footpath with an umbrella, and even a printer. I’ve seen people produce some nice looking artwork on iPads, but a pressure sensitive surface makes a lot more sense to artists and animators than the touch only devices. Matte painters also use them, as well as comic book artists, illustrators and so on.

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Eugenia wrote on October 21st, 2010 at 2:22 AM PST:

Ivan: An Atom CPU is barely enough for 720/30p, but with a very optimized codec, like the CoreAVC one, which costs $10. Quicktime drops frames like crazy. VLC is near its limits too.

Things get worse when we’re talking about Flash performance for 720p on Vimeo/Youtube. Unless your graphics chipset is supported by Flash v10.1+ for h.264 hardware acceleration, it will be very slow.

It’s interesting you ask me this btw, because for me this is also the BASE measure of “how fast something is”, regarding the things I care on a netbook. I have 3 such netbooks, and I have to run CoreAVC on them. Flash doesn’t support my gfx chipsets for extra acceleration, so I have to run Vimeo on its non-HD mode. This is why I was looking for either a faster hybrid, or a tablet without Flash in the first place…

Michael C. wrote on October 21st, 2010 at 10:20 AM PST:

If I want to watch 720p video from YouTube, I download it as MP4 and watch with MPC+CoreAVC. Works for me, because if it is anything worth watching, it is usually worth keeping. Watching 720p Flash directly from browser is murder, 480p is so-so, 360p is fine. If YouTube enables 50p/60p at some point, 720p may become unwatchable even from MP4 container.

My main reason for buying a netbook was ability to read PDF, HTML and other common formats, I did not want to be constrained by a particular book reader.

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Eugenia wrote on October 21st, 2010 at 11:04 AM PST:

Exactly. You have to have an optimized decoder on the desktop, and either run Flash on 360p, or have HW acceleration. Since almost no netbook comes with an nvidia GPU (so both CoreAVC and Flash get accelerated), a hybrid is a better idea, like that MSI one, with the nVidia GPU, Core Duo 2.2 Ghz CPU and 12.1″ HD display. You pay about $150 more, but you get what you pay for.

Michael C. wrote on October 21st, 2010 at 11:34 AM PST:

Actually, there are some models with Ion 2 chip, but they are priced well above $300. The cheapest I can find now is $400 plus tax and shipping. I got my netbook for $280 including shipping.

Also, I wanted to have a netbook that can last more than 3 hours on batteries. The one I have now has beefed-up battery and can work up to 6 hours if I turn WLAN off, switch to energy-saving mode and dim the screen (I don’t like bright screen anyway).

Another very important thing for me: I HATE GLOSSY SCREENS. The netbook that I bought is one of the very few on the market that has traditional matte screen. This works great for reading books. A non-glossy screen was one of the most decisive features that swayed me to get the netbook that I have.

zima wrote on October 28th, 2010 at 7:22 AM PST:

I don’t think it’s very likely for iPad to have an internal SD slot…

A tablet with ChromeOS seems to be a possibility – and one of those concept renders even has a keyboard that you want.
Though it will probably get merged with Android and GoogleTV, eventually. BTW, isn’t Android modular enough / with a capability to swap default keyboard / doesn’t JBQ work on Android / can’t you push him to make Android more useful to you, by having that keyboard option? 😉

Too bad the netbooks got successfully derailed. The idea of inexpensive but good enough hardware, light software and tech advances going to a much bigger degree towards lowering costs – not followed after the first generation.

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