I love my Chromebook but worry about its future

April 01, 2013 5:06 PM EDT

Within weeks of getting a Chromebook Samsung Series 5 550, I was checking eBay to see what it could fetch.

You may like the Chrome browser and Google Docs on a full featured machine, but moving to a Chromebook is like stepping from the simulator into the cockpit.    

Absolutely everything in a browser? No note pad? No delete key? No native apps?

The problem wasn’t the Chromebook. It was me. The concept needs to be embraced to work. Once the frustrations are let go, the advantages stand out.

The system boots and shutdowns in seven seconds or less. There is seamless integration across Google accounts. Backups are virtually instantaneous. Security and system updates are automatic.

The only thing that can be truly lost is the hardware, and for now there's not much to lose.

Manufacturers are building mostly low-end machines, mobile thin clients aimed at schools and semi-impulse buyers. They include HP's Pavilion, at $329, the updated Acer C7 at $279 (there's a $200 version), and the $249 Samsung. Lenovo's new ThinkPad X131e Chromebook, at $429, is the only one, outside of the Pixel, to ship with 4 GB RAM. HP has the largest screen at 14".

These systems have modest processors good enough for running the ChromeOS. But if it wasn't for Google's Pixel, the Chromebook market would be worrisome.

Google's Pixel tells us that the Chromebook deserves serious hardware. Reviewers gush over the Pixel's hardware, its retina-plus display, but think at $1,299 it's too pricy. But when the Samsung 550 arrived nearly a year ago with a Wifi version at $449, Engadget, for one, said it seemed like a "lofty" figure. No one is happy.

The apps are the hang-up, but they are rapidly improving. Compare Tweetdeck's HTML5 version with its native app. Can you tell the difference? It might be a year or two before Adobe delivers Web-only versions of its products, but if it doesn't it will be surrendering larger portions of its mindshare to users of Pixlr, Pixel Mixer, PicMonkey and many other interesting and increasingly capable tools.

Most reviewers believe Pixel is too much of a machine and too soon. If you are using a Chromebook, you may think differently. But clearly, Chromebook makers need to offer more choices, custom configuration options in areas such as SSD size, screen quality, RAM and battery life.

The Chromebook is not a tablet with a keyboard. The Chromebook is a threat to everything, especially PC makers. It upsets the entire hardware/software industrial complex of pre-installed systems.

What  makes me worried is that PC makers may try to corral Chromebook, much like Netbooks, by setting frustratingly low hardware expectations. By producing Pixel, Google is challenging this way of thinking.