On Tuesday, Google announced its CR-48 notebook–the for-testing-purposes-only Chrome OS machine it’s distributing via a pilot program. Yesterday, I received one for review.
My first impressions are–well, I’m still figuring them out. But here are some initial notes.
- The CR-48 may be a laptop you can’t buy–I don’t know whether the Chrome OS systems due next year from Acer and Samsung will resemble it in the least–but I dig its industrial design. It looks like the unexpected offspring of the late, lamented black MacBook. It’s extremely simple (no stickers!) and has a comfy, full-size keyboard, and the soft finish feels good. The 12.1″ screen makes for a machine that feels more like a small notebook than a netbook.
- Setting up the system is a cinch–not radically different from setting up an Android phone. You provide your Google Account info and snap a photo of yourself with the Webcam. that’s about it.
- Chrome OS feels..like Chrome! It’s run every site and service I’ve thrown at at it. Chrome Extensions are supported, too.
- There’s no desktop or floating windows, but you can create multiple full-screen Chrome windows and zip between them using a dedicated key (or by using <Alt><Tab>–handy for those of us who tend to forget what operating system we’re in.)
- As Google promised, Chrome OS does spring back to life from suspend mode so quickly that it’s ready to go by the time you’ve lifted the lid all the way. (I wonder if that’ll degrade over time, in the way that it does with Windows PCs and–to a lesser extent–Macs.)
- The built-in Verizon 3G broadband works as advertised, and you get 100MB a month for free for two years. (You do need to provide credit-card details even if you only plan on using the freebie service.)
- The touchpad is roomy and has a built-in button, like a MacBook or an HP Envy. But it’s very, very fussy–the cursor sometimes lurches offscreen, two-fingered scrolling is jerky, and while I’m told it’s possible, I can’t figure out how to click and drag. I assume/hope that these are CR-48 problems rather than Chrome OS ones.
- There’s only one USB port. And when I plugged my iPhone into it, the phone didn’t charge.
- The AC adapter is nowhere near as slick as the laptop itself–and has a three-pronged plug. Looks like an off-the-shelf model.
- The moment the CR-48 arrived, I needed to tackle a job which it can’t handle (I’m not even sure if there are any suitable workarounds): I have to make tweaks to Technologizer’s WordPress templates using all kinds of fancy software such as Apache, MySQL, PHP, and Subversion. So I worked on my MacBook Air last night rather than playing with the CR-48.
For most folks, there are two main questions about Chrome OS:
- Just how possible is it to get stuff done using only Web apps rather than desktop software? (Is it inadquate? Barely tolerable? Better?)
- Is a browser really a satisfactory substitute for a full-blown OS like Windows or OS X?
I plan to dig into these questions starting this afternoon. I’m going on a weekend trip and will be working remotely on Monday, and I’m going to take the CR-48 with me as my only computer. Stay tuned for more notes from the road. And if you’ve got any questions about the device, shoot them my way.