Steve Kovach/Business Insider
For the past two weeks, I've been working 100% in the cloud, giving up my MacBook Pro to use a Google Pixel Chromebook.
I loved it. Until it had an epic fail.
For the first 13 days, I was so happy that I was ready to recommend it instead of a Mac (with some caveats). But last weekend, I took it Starbucks and experienced such a disaster that I changed my mind.
Before I get into the Starbucks fail, I want to talk about the 13 days where things went well. With the Chromebook operating system, all work is done via cloud apps over the Web. Instead of using applications installed on your PC, you open cloud apps in Chrome tabs or new Chrome windows.
You can save some files to your PC, too, though that's not the default. Mostly your files will be automatically saved in your Google Drive.
That was fine for my job because a t Business Insider, we rely almost entirely on cloud apps. We use Gmail and Google Apps. Our main application, the "content management system" where we write stories, is accessed through a browser. Editors chat to each other through an online chat program called Campfire, or through Google Chat. I use Hootsuite for Twitter, etc.
I opened the ChromeBook, signed into my Business Insider account and all my bookmarks to cloud apps and saved passwords were there. No downloading. No installing anything. It was great!
I had one problem: I also use my personal Gmail account for work. For instance, I use RSS reader Feedly and the only way to access it is to be signed in with my personal Gmail account. But I found a way to rig ChromeBook to sign into multiple Google accounts at the same time. (From Gmail, click on the user account icon and then "add account"). It wasn't hard, but it wasn't intuitive. That "add account" is a little hard to find.
Pixel and Chrome OS are fast and responsive, even when I have a lot of tabs open. No beach balls. No fan coming on, mysteriously heating up the device for hours at a time like my Mac loves to do. No bugging me to update my software.
I was a happy camper.
One bad thing: Many Chrome add-on apps are still immature. For instance, the calculator doesn't support copy/paste. I had to manually type in numbers.
Also, the Mac blows the Pixel out of the water when it comes to image editing.
ChromeBook's default Photo viewing app is really weak. It won't even resize a photo (except to crop). I found a Chrome OS app called Pixr, which worked OK. But the Mac's apps, iPhoto and Preview, are far better.
The Pixel Chromebook does have a beautiful touchscreen, which worked great. I didn't need an external mouse.
For non-work things, like watching movies, it's also great, like the Mac. And because the screen has such high resolution, it took great screen shots, even when cropping and resizing photos to be bigger.
For instance, here's a screenshot from the Pixel screen:
Google Pixel Screenshot
So, for 13 days, I was delighted. I even wanted to buy a new HP Chromebook for my daughter, who is in college.
Then I took the Pixel to Starbucks. And the Pixel wouldn't let me log on to the Internet.
This particular Pixel has 4G, but it told me that the 4G/3G network wasn't available. That was crazy. I was right in the middle of town, across the street from the college and 3G worked on my phone.
At Starbucks, AT&T requires you to sign an agreement before accessing the network. The AT&T sign-up page wouldn't load, no matter what (logging in and out, rebooting, going straight to the Starbucks AT&T page ...). Since that didn't happen, I got an error message that told me I couldn't use the network:
Business Insider/Julie Bort
Without being able to use the Internet, I couldn't access ANY apps. The file I needed was actually stored on the Pixel's hard drive, not in the cloud. But because I couldn't get to the cloud app Google docs, the file wouldn't open.
Business Insider/Julie Bort
The Pixel was a brick. I couldn't even take screen shots. (I took these fail pictures with my phone.)
This would never have happened with a Mac or a PC. Even if I couldn't access WiFi, I could open a file and work offline.
The upshot is, at under $300, like for an HP ChromeBook ($279, no touchscreen) a ChromeBook is fine for home, or school, where WiFi is reliable.
But the Pixel costs $1,300 and for $1,100 you can get a new 13-inch MacBook Air. For $1,200, a new MacBook Pro. (Not to mention a countless variety of Windows 8 machines.)
So I don't recommend the expensive Pixel instead of a Mac.
That said, I'm going to miss this Pixel after I send it back. For working at home on stable WiFi, I've learned to prefer it.
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