Chromebook vs Android Tablet: Does Touch UI Matter?

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A few days ago Chrome Story shared some screenshots of a Chrome touch UI compiled by François Beaufort.  I made a follow-up report, introducing another touch implementation for Chrome created by a Taiwanese programmer, penk.

Chromebook & Android Tablet - A Comparison

Since the announcement of the Chromebook project, people have been asking why Google produced two operation systems with (possibly) overlapping markets?  If Android is so wonderful and mature, then why Chrome OS (or vice versa)?  If Android tablets are designed to be a convenient mobile computing device, would Chromebooks running Chrome OS ever have the chance to win (or survive)?

For customers, all we want to know is which of them is better.  I want to find out the answer, so I carried out a 7-day experiment of comparing a Chromebook and an Android tablets, side by side.  I tried using both to do my ordinary computing tasks on the go, in the office and at home.  We’ll see if anyone could beat the other, and how customers should choose among them.

The Chromebook I used is my Cr-48.  At the time of writing, only a limited number of users have got their Samsung Series 5 Chromebooks through pre-sale campaigns.  I’m not one of these lucky people so I’ll base my test of Chrome OS on this Cr-48.  The primary Android tablet I used was a 7″ tablet running Android 2.2.

During the 7-day testing period, I carried both devices around and did the same things with both of them.  The comparison was mainly based on functionality, not speed, because different devices have varying specifications.  I think a direct performance comparison is pointless.  I also particularly examined the need of a touch UI.


I’m an office employee who spend around 1 hour a day on traveling to and from my office.  I usually check emails and read tweets and RSS feeds in the subway.  For this specific task, I think you could easily tell that a tablet is better.  Despite it’s small form factor, Cr-48 is simply not good for using in a train compartment.  I could barely flip open the screen, but holding and using it was not easy at all.  Don’t even need to consider using the keyboard.  Unless there’s a Chrome OS device as small as a Kindle e-reader, which has a screen + a keyboard underneath, tablets with touch interface is the preferred choice.

A side note about iPad:  I also tested iPad in the subway.  Holding it is better than holding a Chromebook, but (in my opinion) it’s still too heavy and too large.  A 7″ tablet is easier to carry around.  But I agree that this is a kind of personal feeling, some people may think iPad is as light as feather.  You should use your own judgement to decide.

Android Apps

Android Apps

About apps.  For common tasks that people do on the train (Twitter, Facebook, Reading…) both Chromebooks and Android tablets have many apps to choose from (Android 2.2 tablets are more resourceful than Honeycomb tablets, for the latter needs time to build up a collection of dedicated apps).  I could not see much difference until I tried to play music and video.  My tablet completely knocked down the Cr-48.  Currently Chrome OS only has a weak media player to play local media files.  On the other hand Android has many great apps.  Besides, player control is another problem (and this is where the Touch UI won).  I have seen other people listening to music on the netbook while traveling on a train, it works but I don’t think I would enjoy playing music that way.


Office Work with Chromebook Cr-48

Office Work with Chromebook

I have regular meetings with clients.  With a Chromebook joting down notes and checking information has been very convenient.  Wherever WiFi is available Chromebook is just like ordinary notebooks.  The keyboard was very very helpful.  Unless you are specially trained to type on a sheet of glass (the touch screen), I think using a physical keyboard should be faster.  I would say a touch UI would not be more useful than keyboard and mouse in a business meeting.  And since my tablet does not have card slots, reading storage cards that clients handed over to me could be done with my Chromebook only.

Managing Files with Android Tablet

Managing Files with Android Tablet

I tried different input methods on my tablet, like the old Palm Griffiti input that could be found on Android Market.  I got much improved typing speed but still not or bar with the physical keyboard. On the other hand, when I needed to sketch the tablet was quite helpful.  Although the 7″ screen was not big, it’s enough to draw out simple graphics, particularly since I bought a stylus that works on touch screens.  However this kind of stylus cannot be used for precise drawing since the rubber tip is too thick.

Chromebook is at its best when used for preparation of office documents like reports, spreadsheets and presentation slides.  Not only keyboard and mouse gave me a smooth experience, the use of web apps brought extra convenience.  A few days ago the IT staff in my company came to replace all computers with new ones.  I got around 5 hours blacked-out from my desktop PC.  Fortunately, I could continue with my half-done paper online.  Besides, it’s so easy to share documents with colleagues.

While I’m off from business duties I use the Chromebook to work on my own blog.  My first e-book, Chrome OS 101 – Beginner’s Guide to Chromebooks, was mostly created on Google Docs with my Cr-48.  Sometimes I had to stop writing and later resume on other computers.  Thanks to the cloud I had this Chromebook powered by cloud storage and web apps, working anywhere was made possible.

Certainly I could also run web apps and apps with synchronization function on my tablet to do the same.  But when it comes to writing, a touch UI is certainly worse than a keyboard and a mouse.


Web Browsing on Chromebook Cr-48

Web Browsing on Chromebook

It’s a draw when I came home.  I enjoy using the Chromebook in the living room as much as I like laying on bed using the tablet before sleep.  Some people suggested that tablets are better since there are more games.  But hey I’ve got Angry Birds on Chrome as well, and for users (like me) who do not play games that much, this isn’t a serious drawback of Chromebooks.

Web Browsing on Android Tablet

Web Browsing on Android Tablet

For use at home a Chromebook and an Android tablet have their respective edges.  Not all tablets support outputting to TV via HDMI or VGA ports.  On the other hand tablets are lighter to hold in hands for reading books, listening to music and playing games.  And the choice of apps is certainly wider.


There are certainly other things to test and comment on, like battery life, look, price, etc.  but as I said these varies from one machine to another, I don’t think a direct comparison is possible.  My conclusion is both Chromebook and Android tablet are great products.  Both of them redefined the meaning of computing.  It all depends on how you usually use your computers.

For touch UI, I could not see a critical need for it to land on Chrome OS.  It’s a nice to have add-on, but not necessary.  It may be quite useful (and eye-catching) to control the Chrome OS with fingers, e.g. flip opened web pages like cover-flow in Mac, but it doesn’t add much value.

To me Chromebook is a “minus” product – that takes away certain functionality of a traditional computer to obtain higher efficiency.  It cannot do everything but it’s best at doing simple things.  It’s a computer with less features.  On the other hand Android tablet is a “plus” product – as much functions as possible are added to a PDA/phone.  With so many features added to it, one could not expect it works perfectly in all aspects.  For example, word processing is a bonus on a tablet, not the purpose a tablet is made for.

But the boundary between keyboard-oriented device and touch device is fading out.  Attempts are made by manufacturers to improve their products.  For example, there are iPhone cases with embedded bluetooth keyboard to improve the input.  Motorola even released Atrix, an Android 2.2 smartphone that has a proprietary keyboard and trackpad lapdock separately sold.

Perhaps one day Android and Chrome OS may merge into one almighty platform?  May be.  But until the time comes, I suggest customers choose their devices according to their computing needs.  If you take your device here and there and your text input demand is not high, a tablet is quite good for you.  Of course, if you are that resourceful, get both and choose the one that suits you the most in different contexts.

What do you think?  A vote for Chromebook or tablet?  Share you views here!

Enjoy this article?  This blog regularly updates on Chromebook news and reviews.  SUBSCRIBE to RSS feed or email updates to get more!
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16 Responses

  • I find myself staying on the Chromebook side of things, and let me explain why: I don’t make purchases on impulse and I studied up the pros and cons of both. In the end I chose the chromebook primarily as a educational expense, I can read e-books just as well, if not better on the Chromebook, and yes, there were some entertainment benefits as well, but also, I tried a $100 7″ android tablet, and it was too small and cramped to really do anything with, plus it was only compatible with the Amazon Appstore, so I sold it for less than I paid. My other argument, is that if I want Android quality games, I’ll just fire up the Roku that I also paid $100 for.

  • My personal view is the Chromebook exists as a thin client for Google Apps for business and similar SAAS business models (Netsuite, etc.), where multiple users per device, no O/S to maintain, no Apps to install and update and a standard user interface are really good things. The Android devices are intended as personal devices for productivity and entertainment. There is some cross-over, but the line is clear to me.

  • What I was missing in the review is the possibility for multiple users. Chromebook has as far as I know, tablets not. This is especially needed for quick and comfortable webmail access.

  • Peter, excellent review and comparison. I think there is room for both form factors and see no need to have one converged OS run on both. I do see benefit for an Android version of the Chrome browser with its syncing features. Then users can seamlessly use whichever device best fits the task at hand.

    • Thanks Gabe. I agree that a Chrome browser for Android is much needed. While Firefox already works on Android with sync function, Google shouldn’t be left behind.

      • I see that most of these were posted about 3 years ago, and a lot has changed since then. If you get the most recent version of android (4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or higher) it comes with the Chrome browser by default.

    • Good review. I have just bought an Asus Eee Pad transformer with the keyboard option. I am a Mac user but love the flexibility of Android in tablet form (the only one I’ve tried). The detachable keyboard is awesome and the fact I plug the tablet into the keyboard at night and then find a fully charged tablet (table charges from keyboard even when not plugged in) is great. To the point of my reply – Bookmarks do sync between Crome on my Mac and the native Android browser very nicely and in fact I have switched to Chrome as my default browser on Mac because of this. You just set up syncing in the prefs of both browsers and provide google account info etc.

  • Only heard about Chromebooks last week but reading your report the one thing that kept going through my mind as the Asus transformer – Android powered tablet with “netbook/Chromebook” 10″ screen, keyboard and trackpad – make an offline version of Google docs for Android and I think you might have the best of both worlds.

  • Thanks for the insight. I have an Android phone so I think the Chromebook will be great for school. Also worthy of noting that all Chromebooks will ship with offline versions of Google Docs, Gmail, and Calender so work can be done away from a wifi hotspot or 3G network. These apps will sync and send/receive once within range of a network.

    • Thanks for comment, Russell. Yep you are right, I hope google could deliver offline function as promised ASAP. I’m quite cloud-ready but at times still not feel good about “online only” apps.

  • awesome job buddy !

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