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A closer look at LG’s all-in-one Chromebase PC

In a weird and not entirely pleasant twist of fate, LG has announced a Chrome OS… kiosk. Well, technically it’s an all-in-one PC, but given the minimal feature set of Chrome OS, it is essentially a kiosk. Called the Chromebase, there’s no word on pricing or availability yet, but given its chunky appearance and circa-2005 rounded bezels we’re probably looking at somewhere in the region of $300 (£180) to $400 (£250).

LG’s Chromebase, which will be shown off at CES 2014, is an all-in-one (AIO) with a 21.5in 1920 x 1080 IPS display, Intel Celeron CPU, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of solid-state storage. A fairly wimpy spec, but it sits firmly within the minimum hardware requirements of Chrome OS. The paltry supply of RAM may be an issue if you like to keep more than a few tabs open, but LG will probably offer a 4GB model for an extra $50 (£30) if you think you’ll need it. With a Celeron CPU, the Chromebase won’t exactly blitz through page loads, and you can expect a fair bit of slowdown if you try to do more than one non-basic task at the same time.

LG envisions the Chromebase as a secure kiosk-style computer for schools, hotels, call centres, and other settings that don’t require the feature set provided by a full Windows PC. Chrome OS is very secure, and cloud-based profiles – all of your bookmarks, add-ons, and apps are automatically synced when you log in – make it ideal for situations where dozens or hundreds of people might use the same computer. The Chromebase might also make sense as a family computer, though given the wimpy processor and lack of apps and games, your kids probably wouldn’t be too happy to receive a Chromebase for Christmas.

There are some other important questions about the Chromebase’s hardware spec, too. The LG press release doesn’t mention if the display is a touchscreen or not – a significant point if the Chromebase is destined for kiosk use. Chrome OS has received a few touchscreen tweaks over the last year, which I assumed were for touchscreen Chromebooks – or perhaps, at long last, a Chrome OS tablet – but maybe they were in preparation for the Chromebase. The Chromebase will come with a mouse and keyboard, two USB 2.0 sockets, a single USB 3.0 socket, and an RJ45 LAN socket (probably Gigabit).

Curiously, the Chromebase has an HDMI input socket, meaning you can use it as a standalone screen – say, as a second display for your Windows PC, perhaps. It’s hard to come up with a valid usage scenario for such a setup, though. Maybe you use Chrome OS when you just want to bring up a website quickly, but boot your real PC when you want to do some gaming or Photoshop work? Given how quickly Windows 8 and OS X come out of standby, though, such a scenario seems tenuous at best. Still, having an HDMI input is better than not having an HDMI input.

The fact remains that Chrome OS occupies a weird mid-ground between a fully-fledged mobile OS like Android, and a desktop OS like Windows. Chrome OS, which was initially conceived by Google as a mobile, browser-based, always-connected-to-the-cloud operating system, always seemed a bit ahead of its time. Browsers still don’t have native-level performance (and they churn through battery life), and mobile connectivity is still nowhere near good enough or cheap enough. As a result, Chrome OS has been forced to adapt, and the end result is essentially a secure but featureless OS that’s usually strapped onto cheap, weak hardware – because, let’s face it, no one would buy a Chromebook if it cost more than £300.