The Chromebook Pixel project: day-to-day
So far through this project, we’ve gone over the hardware and Chrome OS. Those are two major factors contributing to the overall functionality of any Chromebook, much less the Pixel. After two weeks with the device, it’s time to get down to the real issue. Is the Chromebook a day-to-day, standalone, full-fledged machine?
If we’re going to consider this as a solo machine, we’ll have to tackle the issue of work productivity. If there is one compromise that simply can’t be made, it’s here. You can’t very well stop doing something just because a Chromebook won’t, but you may also be surprised at what is possible.
The first thing to address is our perception of how and what we do. I’ll use myself as a case example, since I know me pretty well. I use Google Drive exclusively, and have for some time. This, in one major regard, is very advantageous. When I switched to Drive, it was willfully and actively done. It definitely took a few days to get used to Drive, but I found it a bit more intuitive than Office when I compared the two.
The first thing to accept is that you’ll have to want to switch to Drive. If you’re not a fan of paying for Microsoft Office, Google Drive is awesome because it’s free. Drive also comes with 5GB of storage, which is a good start and probably adequate for most. It has a full-functioning suite of applications such as Docs or Sheets (an Excel-type spreadsheet creator), and a plethora of apps are available as add-ons to aide you with just about everything. The Drawing function is surprisingly good, and Slides is a really decent Powerpoint challenger.
If you’re an MS Office all-star, you’re not going to want to be on Drive. For most people, Drive is more than adequate. If, however, you’re the one creating those ridiculous spreadsheets everyone else in the office stares at blankly due to the amount of awesome you compressed into it, Google Drive Sheets will just make you laugh. Docs is really nice and functional, but definitely not for those MS Word power users.
The good part is that before you decide to cannonball into Google Drive, you can dip a toe in. Try it out, see how it fits. If you can do what you need to do, I feel good in suggesting it to you. I find it much more approachable and easy to use than MS Office, which is strange considering Microsoft has been doing this so long.
Microsoft Office is the go-to option for productivity, there is no doubt about that. Hell, it’s called Office! What about Office 365, though? Is it a good substitute for Office, and will it beat Google Drive out for functionality? We would all assume so, but that may need to be re-visited.
Some people just like and are accustomed to Office, and that’s fine. If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Office fan, Office 365 will suit you. In terms of functionality, it is on par with Google Drive, so don’t expect what you’re getting in the standalone software version. Excel is limited in Office 365, as is Word. The “survey” function is nice, but the same function on Drive has more to offer. The layout is familiar, so the learning curve is minimized, but you won’t gain anything over Google Drive.
The $10/monthly price tag is unnecessary when comparing the functionality, as Drive is free. Everything starts in SkyDrive, so in many ways Microsoft has copied Google. I found the method for creating documents in SkyDrive/Office 365 a bit clandestine, suggesting the service is best used as cloud storage. If you use Office on another machine, and need to have functionality away from the Office, this is probably a good option. If you’re looking for a standalone option, Google Drive is going to win the day for most users.
There are often better options outside of our narrow Google scope, and they should be identified. For a simple cloud storage solution, many people prefer Dropbox or Evernote. Both are good for file storage, and Evernote allows for note taking and simple file creation. Each has Android/iOS and Chrome apps, so once again, a true solution anywhere.
The amount of business tools available in Chrome is staggering. While it may seem a bit daunting, some consider it a blessing. It’s a bit like a “make your own” office suite of solutions, and you’re free to use what works best for you. Prezi, for instance, is great alternative to boring slideshow presentations. Everything from CRM to accounting tools are available, making running your business a bit more palatable in the cloud.
The touch screen on the Pixel is a bit of a quagmire. On one hand, having a touchscreen is awesome, but the Pixel seems a bit wobbly on its new legs. Aside from some simple scrolling and selection, the usability of it seems lacking at first. There is a flag you can enable to add zoom functionality, but it’s still crude and experimental.
I find the touchscreen to be excellent for multitasking. I can work on a document in Drive, and when I get a Google+ notification, I can just highlight that extension with my finger. There is no fussing with the cursor, and where it is on the page. Select the extension, check your messages, and your cursor stays put on the page. If anything, the touchscreen increases productivity, which is enough for now.
When considering the touchscreen of the Pixel, it’s worth noting that it shares very little of the same functionality we’ve grown fond of. With our mobile devices, we’re able and encouraged to do a variety of things, from playing games to selecting text. The Pixel simply isn’t able to do those things yet, and that’s where the issue of perception becomes problematic. Rather than expect it to do what other devices can, it’s best to understand what the Pixel is capable of. More importantly, it’s best to look forward for what it will be able to do in the near future.
We should also keep in mind that Chrome OS isn’t Android, so we’re maybe expecting too much of the touchscreen right now. With an OS like Windows 8, you have relatively the same interface across all devices, and that’s convenient. The appointment of Sundar Pichai to head both Android and Chrome should probably yield some quick results in this department.
Power users need not apply. There is no cloud functionality that will sufficiently satisfy those of us who need a powerhouse suite of apps to get through our day. The addition of QuickOffice to the Google family is going to be a big step forward, and may be a tipping point in terms of cloud productivity and functionality, but we’re still a bit far from seeing the same functionality we do in a software product like Office.
Microsoft Office 365 may not be the copycat of Office we had all hoped for, but it’s significant. The migration to the cloud by Microsoft suggests the industry understands what Google has been getting at the past two years. We may not have everything we want right now with Drive or Office 365, but both products are evolving every day.
Of course, if you have software you need for work, there may not be a web app available for it. In those scenarios, a Chromebook simply won’t do for you. Web apps are the next step in “software”, but not everyone has jumped aboard the sailing ship just yet. Make sure you’re not cheating yourself out of needed software before making the decision to go all-in with a Chromebook.
As always, you should assess your needs and wants before making the decision to move forward with a Chromebook. The movement to the cloud is significant, and perhaps interesting to the “Chromebooks are just web browser” comments. If everything is in the cloud, wouldn’t you want something to get you there more efficiently? A Chromebook Pixel may be “for what’s next”, but it’s still pretty great for what’s now.