10 things Google should fix on the Chromebook
21st Jul 2013 | 09:00
Chromebooks might be fast, but Google seems slow to fix their problems
Chromebook converts already know one thing about Google's computers: they are incredibly fast. There's no OS overhead to slow things down, few drivers, and a powerful browser. Yet sales have been slow, and the lack of user interest is justified, because while Chromebooks get speed right, a lot of things remain glaringly wrong.
For example, there is no easy way to check disk space on current models, no direct USB printing, and no Bluetooth audio streaming. In fact, we came up with this list of 10 things that Google needs to change to make the Chromebook work.
We also checked with Google to see if it had any workarounds or plans to fix these problems. Because until they're fixed, it doesn't matter how fast Chromebooks are - they're not going to take off.
1. Any easy way to check disk space
You might already know the trick to check disk space on a Chromebook. You type "chrome://quota-internals" and can see the space used. However, for Chromebooks to gain mass-market traction, there needs to be a much easier way to see when you are running low on space.
A simple taskbar pop-up could show a percentage of space used. Google says it plans to include a pop-up disk monitor in an upcoming point release.
2. Uploading to Google Music
This one is probably the most appalling of all, because it is a problem related to Google's own music service. Using a Chromebook, there is no way to upload music to the Google Music service. In fact, there doesn't even seem to be a workaround (say, uploading to Google drive first and copying the files over to the music portal).
Yes, you can also use the Chrome Remote Desktop app in Chrome to tap into your Windows or Mac box, but that's not handy. If you download a music file, you have to them copy the file over to the other computer.
3. Google Now in the browser
Google Now is a groundbreaking service. It is included on newer Android phones out of the box, including the Samsung Galaxy S4 (just hold down the menu button).
In an instant, the service will pop up a bus route when you are near one or show you flight info as you drive by an airport. It's also one of the best ways to access voice search.
But it's not available on a Chromebook, even though it could easily run in the browser. Google says it has no announcements about making Google Now work on Chromebooks in the near future.
4. Better use of the built-in camera
The HD camera built into Chromebooks like the Acer C7 are handy for holding a quick Google Hangout with friends and co-workers. And, there's a bevy of online video chats tools. The Chromebook doesn't make the best use of this camera, though.
For example, you can't run Google Sky and point the webcam to the night sky and see an overlay of star call-outs. You can't do any augmented reality with a site like Yelp (using the Monocle feature). Of course, Google says this is a problem you can resolve on your own using an API.
5. Direct Printing
Here's the oddest missing feature of all. A Chromebook does not really support printing. Granted, you can always use Google Cloud Print and send your print job to a holding bin, and then have that print job routed to a printer like the HP Envy 120.
In many ways, that's a better approach, because you can "print" when you are away from the office. (link) Yet, not being able to just plug in a printer to a USB port and print seems dubious. It locks out non-technical users -- say, those in an office who just need to browse and print.
For instructions on how to print from a Chromebook, watch this video:
6. More USB thumbdrive support
Most recent models like the Chromebook Pixzel have a camera card slot, which makes it easy to move files around, offload camera shots, and (using an SD card adapter) load files onto the card you use with your smartphone.
But a standard USB thumbdrive? Most of them do not work at all, and neither do USB portable drive and larger NAS drives with a USB connection. A Google rep says most USb drives should work, but that was not our experience.
7. Check GoGo credits
Chromebooks usually come with 12 credits to use on airplanes over the GoGo inflight wireless service. That's great, but there doesn't seem to be any way to know how many credits you've used. The service essentially tracks this for you so when you connect, it recognizes the Chromebook and away you go.
Since this is a feature related to the Chromebook itself, there should be a way to see how many logins you have left. You can find out when you are on a flight, but not before or after. (Google plans to fix this issue.)
8. Control the laptop by voice
Google Now is missing on a Chromebook. And, in a way, so is voice search. You can go to Google.com and do a search by voice, and this works reliably using the laptop's built-in microphone. But, as with several other features, the voice search is blissfully unaware that you are on a Chromebook.
That means you can't control the notebook itself by speaking - asking to open settings dim, the screen, or restart the computer will all have absolutely no effect. This is another problem you can address on your own using an API, but not directly into the Chrome OS.
9. Better Bluetooth streaming
Bluetooth is available on the Chromebook Pixel, and it's a handy way to connect an external mouse or keyboard. Unfortunately, after trying a few Bluetooth wireless speakers, there is no way to connect and stream audio from your laptop.
This feature would be ideal since the speakers on most Chromebook models, especially the Acer C7, are not that great. Google says an upcoming release will make Bluetooth audio streaming possible to speakers.
10. Fewer crashes
In tech circles, we know that nothing is fully error-free, but you would expect a nimble, light operating system - one that does not run desktop apps - to be almost crash proof. That's unfortunately not true for Chromebooks.
Fortunately, you can sometimes just reboot the browser and start over (after all, the browser essentially is the OS). In other cases, the only remedy is to reboot the computer itself. It just happens too often. (You can press CTRL-SHIFT-I to report bugs, and the chrome://crashes command in the browser shows the crash ID.)