Google's Nexus S and Cr-48 laptop, reviewed. 

Innovation, the Internet, gadgets, and more.
Dec. 15 2010 5:09 PM

I Want Chromedroid

Google's new Android phone and cloud-based Chrome computer would work better together.

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The Cr-48 Chrome OS prototype laptop.
The Cr-48 Chrome OS prototype laptop

Sure, I understand the point Google is trying to make with the Chrome OS. The cloud is coming fast—we're all doing more and more of our computing online rather than in desktop or mobile apps, and over time this trend is sure to continue. What I don't understand is why Google thinks we need a computer that works in the cloud exclusively. The Chrome OS can't run anything outside of a Web browser. It can't support printers that aren't connected to the Internet. It can't run photo editors or music players that aren't on the Web (i.e., it can't run iTunes or anything like it). It can't use third-party VPN software or PDF readers or non-Web games or alternate browsers or … pretty much anything that's possible on any other PC. To address this shortcoming, Google has opened up the Chrome Web Store, which is filled with third-party apps for the Chrome OS. But these apps aren't like apps on your phone or your computer. Instead, they're just Web sites—they'll work in Chrome or in any modern browser, and they can't do anything that you can't currently do in a browser.

I don't mean to suggest that these limitations render the Chrome OS unusable; for a lot of tasks, the Web is enough, and I found that I could get through most of what I had to do each day on the Cr-48. Still, using the Chrome OS feels like sleeping in your backyard instead of your comfy bed or like riding a unicycle to prove that one wheel is all you really need. The more you use the Chrome OS, the sillier you feel. I've got several computers in my house that can do everything that the Chrome OS can do (in other words, they all run Chrome) and more. What's the point of using this computer that does less? One wheel may be all you need, but aren't two wheels usually better?

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There are a couple features in Chrome OS that I think are quite innovative. It is the only operating system I know with "session continuity," or what Engadget editor Joshua Topolsky calls the Continuous Client. Much of what you do on Chrome OS is replicated in all other instances of Chrome—when you add or change your bookmarks, passwords, autofill information, and color scheme in one Chrome machine, the changes show up everywhere else, too. There's also instant-on capability—the Cr-48 goes into deep battery-saving sleep when you shut its lid, but it recovers nearly instantly when you open it up.

But these features are destined to be underappreciated if they're stuck in an OS like Chrome. That's why I'm wishing for Chromedroid, a single Google operating systems that works on all computing form factors. Chromedroid would borrow session continuity and other cloudy goodness from the Chrome OS team—everything you do on the OS would be replicated automatically to the Web, so you would never lose anything, and you'd be able to recover all your data and computing preferences on any other machine. But in its overall look and feel, Chromedroid would work more like Android than Chrome. Although it would include a Web browser, it would let you do things outside of your Web browser if you wanted to. And trust me: You will want to.

Watch Slate's Farhad Manjoo and Harry McCracken of Technologizer discuss the future of smartphones:

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Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.

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