Hands On: With Google's CR-48 Notebook
From the day I first heard about the Google Chrome CR-48 notebook computer, I instantly wanted to get my hands on what Google promised to be a very revolutionary device. Now, after nearly two months of waiting, I finally received my CR-48 notebook via UPS Ground this last Friday. After nearly hugging my UPS driver and giddily tearing the packaging open like a child on Christmas morning, I finally had a CR-48 of my very own.
Being that I got the device on Friday afternoon, I have been using it on and off for the extent of the weekend. This has given me a great deal of time to find various ups and downs with the notebook, and ultimate has allowed me to develop an opinion based on my own experiences.
Upon opening the box, the first thing I noticed about the device was the size. Not only does the device sport a small width, but it is somewhat thin as well. While I definitely like the sleekness of the design and can see where it would be wonderful for travel, the fact of the matter is that it is almost too small to use (reasonably) as a primary computer. Being used to working on my dual-monitor desktop setup and full-sized (15.6″) laptop, the screen on this 12″ device – just barely large enough to classify as a laptop instead of a netbook – was naturally somewhat difficult to get used to. However, I will admit that the fact that there is no launch bar or system panels except for the browser tabs offsets this issue quite a bit.
As far as the keyboard goes, the size is actually not that difficult to get used to. Sure, it was a bit of a challenge at first, but that is something to be expected with every single device out there regardless of size or layout. Personally, I was able to get accustomed to the keyboard (for the most part) within a couple of hours, and can now type on it at speeds close to what I do on my “normal” computers. One of the things I like most about this device is the “chicklet” style keyboard that leaves a gap between the individual keys, as this layout seems a lot “roomier” and makes the device easier to type on.
Size aside, this keyboard is really different. On Saturday night I first came across the need to use the “Insert” button on the keyboard, only to find out that it was non-existent on the CR-48. I’m not entirely sure why Google left out this button – probably to save room or to eliminate the trouble that can come from accidentally hitting it – but it honestly makes the device a bit more difficult to use. Interestingly enough, the keyboard also leaves out the “Delete” key, which I have found to be one of my more commonly used keys when typing up blog posts. In its place sits the devices power button. Needless to say, I have nearly powered down the device a number of times whist writing this post alone, however have yet to hold it down long enough to actually do so. Last off, the keyboard is missing the “Caps Lock” key, which has been replaced by a search button that simply opens up a new browser tab and moves the focus onto the address bar. This is probably one of the least important changes to me, because I never used the caps-lock key and will likely never make great use f the search key either.
The touchpad mouse on the CR-48 – much like the keyboard – was actually nice once I got used to it. Having said this, the mouse itself is significantly larger than the one on my laptop. This “oversized” mouse takes on the traits of the mouse seen in the newer MacBook and MacBook Pro notebooks in the sense that it utilizes a two-finger scroll system instead of the right-hand scroll bar seen on your regular old laptops, as well as the one-button touchpad click instead of your traditional left/right buttons. Admittedly there was a bit of a learning curve with this, but I have gotten to the point where I am more comfortable with the mouse now.
Booting up the device for the first time, I was immediately asked to connect to my Google Account, download updates, and take a profile picture. This, I later found out, allowed Chrome OS to back-up my settings (addons, etc.) so that I could have everything just as I left it in the event that I had to wipe the OS or replace the machine.
Using the device for the first time is very surreal. Sure, we all talk about how much we use our web browsers and how far we’ve drifted from our desktop-based applications, but being face to face with nothing but a web browser hits you like a ton of bricks. Suddenly your entire computing experience is limited to a single browser. For me, I immediately came to miss Thunderbird (my email client) as well as Irssi (the IRC client that I normally use). While using webmail was a simple enough solution, less commonly used applications have yet to see worthy alternatives in the means of Chrome extensions or applications.
I will say though that browsing the Internet is actually really easy on the CR-48. But of course that isn’t a big surprise. I’ve connected my CR-48 to the WiFi in my house, and have yet to have any major problems. At first, I found the device to be really laggy, however there must be some explanation for it because the device soon began to become more responsive after about twenty minutes of use. My guess is that the device was updating or doing something else resource-intensive.
As far as the complementary 100mb/month Verizon service goes, I signed up for it and have yet to be able to use it because of the fact that my home is in the hills and gets a less than adequate signal. This is one feature that I’m really interested in taking advantage of, but have yet to be able to make use of.
So far I have played around with “developer mode”, which allows access to a root terminal on the device. In the last couple of days I have broken the OS several times simply by messing around with it as such. However, Google does have a recovery utility that has saved me a good dozen or so times.
Overall, I think the CR-48 is perfect and very promising for your normal Internet-focused consumer. However, for “power users” – as cliché of a term as it is, the device simply seems too restricted. Maybe I’m just not cut-out for life in the cloud. As for the possibilities for the device, I honestly would rather see Google working to expand Android to notebook computers, as it would be better for those of us who are transitioning from full-on OS’s to web-based environments. When all is said and done, I think the CR-48 and Chrome OS are two great ideas tat have great potential, but Google is definitely going to have their work out in making it worthy of switching to full-time.