Google CR-48 mini-review, Pt. 1
Typical busy week. I didn't get home Friday evening until almost 9 pm. That's when my wife told me that UPS had dropped off a package for me. I get packages all the time, so it's not that big a deal, but I didn't remember ordering anything. I looked at the packaging and didn't recognize the name of the sender. Inside was another box that looked like a new laptop box. But, I just got a new HP laptop 2 months ago. Curiouser and curiouser.
I opened the inner box, and sure enough, it was a laptop. Or more precisely, a netbook. There were no markings on the outside of the netbook, but the one-page note in the box indicated that the netbook was Google's new CR-48 ChromeOS netbook. Oh yeah, I forgot that I had replied to an early-adopter program while I was in California on Tuesday. The days just ran together and this completely slipped my mind.
I'll let you read about the CR-48 at Googles' site or use your favorite search engine and you'll get plenty of hits.
ChromeOS is a different beast from other OSes, but I'm evaluating this from the perspective of the average consumer and not the average computer nerd. I'm really interested in whether this thing could be used by my sisters or even my 7 year old.
Construction: The device feels pretty solid. It doesn't feel plasticky and toy-like. Compared to my Asus EEE netbook, this has a much more solid feel. There is no hard drive–it's all solid state memory, so it should resist light impacts quite well.
Weight: Definitely lighter than my HP laptop. I'd say around 2 pounds (~1 kg). I wouldn't have any problems tossing this thing into a bag and hauling it around.
Keyboard: The keyboard isn't the standard PC keyboard. They've rearranged things a bit and removed the shift-lock key altogether, replacing it with a search button (this is configurable, BTW). The keys are similar to those on a Macbook, not your typical HP or Dell laptop. They offer some resistance, but not so much that you find yourself pounding them to get an effect. There are no pgUp, pgDn, home, or end keys. Nor is there a delete key, but there is a backspace key.
The keyboard is not backlit nor are the key markings reflective, so typing in a dark place may require some other light source or else you will find yourself occasionally pulling the display down to illuminate the keys for a moment. The one complaint I have about the keys are the arrangement of the arrows in the lower right, which have the up and down at half-size to accommodate the layout. Not terribly inconvenient, but requires getting used to.
Trackpad: The trackpad operates a bit differently from a Mac or PC. There are multi-touch gestures for handling scrolling. The double tap gesture as "select+open" is familiar to most. The trackpad is very large, like a Macbook, and I find that it's a little too large. I end up bringing my hands in at 45 degree angles so that my thumbs don't accidentally drag the trackpad and do something. Unlike my HP, where my hands come in closer to 30 degrees. I've typed all this article on the CR-48 and I've found myself typing into strange places a couple of times because my thumb or palm lightly touched the trackpad and moved my mouse cursor without me realizing it.
I was able to connect my Logitech external wireless mouse that uses a RF dongle without any complaints. I plugged it in and it worked within 3 seconds. The sensitivity is very high by default and I'm sure there is a preference setting somewhere. Even the scroll wheel works without any modification.
Display: The screen is bright and crisp. I'm not exactly sure of the dimensions but it seems to be 16×9 and about 1440×800 pixels. There are controls to decrease brightness by steps to give some relief on the battery.
Setup: I powered the thing up and was pleasantly surprised to find the battery had 60% charge on it. I found myself at a setup screen within 15 seconds. The wireless identified my home wifi and worked with the WPA key the first time. At this point, it realized that it needed some updates and spent the next 5-10 minutes downloading the latest OS. Then it rebooted. It let me know what it was doing throughout this process. Then, it asked me for a Google login and password and after verifying my credentials, it brought me to a very nicely designed setup and welcome screen.
Software: The base software has just enough to get you started. Up to this point, the out of the box experience has been very good. The idea that the whole experience is the browser is going to take some getting used to for people. Even though the ChromeOS marketplace is available from the startup screen, the description of it is vague. I think some re-imagining of the "store" concept needs to be done. Those of us who are accustomed to getting apps for our phones or even using Chrome on the desktop understand what the store/market is for–it's where we get digital goods. Software, music, services, etc. But, this concept is going to be lost on people who aren't fully aware of what <i>the cloud</i> does for them.
I haven't gone through all the software in the market yet, but most of the popular online services are available. I feel like I could manage my life for a few days on the road with nothing more than this netbook. I don't use Google services for all my online world, but they don't appear to lock out competing services from being in the market.
Battery life: I haven't used the notebook long enough to properly gauge this, but I was able to run for several hours after getting it last night and still had life in the battery. It appears quite small, so I'd say it's a 4 or 6 cell battery at most. I see no markings of how many milli-amp hours it has. One nice thing is that I was able to put it on the AC adapter and remove the battery without the device powering down. The power supply is a standard AC/DC brick with a removable power cord so they can sell one unit in multiple regions of the world.
Browser: I'm not a fan of the Chrome browser on my Macbook or under Windows but I'll admit that I haven't given it much of a chance. I'm familiar with Firefox and have had no reason to change. Obviously, I will spend time with it. I've run some content on popular sites and it appears that Flash and Java both work properly. YouTube videos work fine and the audio quality is decent for a netbook. Netflix streaming with Silverlight does not work.
That's the first impression after having it for less than a day. I'll post a followup after I've had more opportunity to properly evaluate it.