Thursday, January 27, 2011

First Look: Chrome OS Netbook

This past Monday I was surprised to find a square box on my doorstep. Inside was a gift from Google-- a brand new CR48 Netbook.

If you are unfamiliar with the CR48 I would recommend reading about the netbook and Chrome OS directly from Google.

I've been using the CR48 off and on for the past few days and am ready to put down my first impressions. First, what I like:

1. Amazingly fast boot-up time. 
This was the video that I attached to my application for the Chrome OS pilot program:

This is how fast Chrome OS boots up:

2. Chrome Sync
The first time I logged into Chrome OS with my Google account I was asked if I wished to enable Chrome sync. As soon as I clicked "yes" Chrome OS synced all of my book marks, themes, history, and web apps with my other installations of Chrome (on my laptop and my desktop).

Because Chrome OS is completely cloud based (no local storage), I can't lose any data. If my computer is lost, stolen, or destroyed, all I need to do is log into another Chrome OS computer and everything is right where I left it. Computers are now disposable. Hardware is irrelevant.

3. Track Pad Gestures
The nice, large trackpad on the CR48 netbook recognizes classic "Apple" gestures such as the pinch, two finger scroll, and two finger click (right click). I will admit that I am still getting used to the placement and sensitivity of the trackpad (I seem to regularly swipe the trackpad with my palm while typing), but I'm getting better at it.

4. 3g Integration
I haven't needed to use it yet, but each CR48 comes with integrated 3g wireless service provided by Verizon. Users receive 100mb/month free for two years. That's not much-- enough to check your email on the road a few times a month, but hey, it's free! Additional data can be purchased without a contract. I like the idea that this machine can constantly be connected to the web. Something that is essential considering without the web you can't even log into it!

5. Integrated Browser Controls
There are a few new keys on the CR48 keyboard including a "search" button that opens up a search window as well as back and forward browser controls, refresh, and window toggling.

What I don't like

1. The Chrome Apps Store
The Chrome App store is a joke. Many of the "apps" are simply book marks. Tweetdeck is the only Chrome App that I have installed that is actually an app. The app store is what made Apple's mobile devices so compelling. If Google expects Chrome OS to take off, they will need a more compelling marketplace.

2. Media Transfer
My CR48 came with one USB port and an SD card slot. I plugged a flash drive, my ipod, and my digital camera into the USB drive and nothing happened. It appears that there is currently no way to upload media onto the web via Chrome OS. This is likely a driver compatibility issue that will (hopefully) be resolved in the future.

3. Printing
Because my printer is connected to a Mac, I currently have no way of printing from my CR48. Google Cloud print looks like a great solution, but it currently only works on PC with Windows XP, Vista, or 7 installed.

4. Audio
This is probably a little picky, but the speakers on the CR48 are horrible! The audio is intermittently completely garbled and indistinguishable.  When this happens I have to reboot (fortunately that doesn't take long!) to fix it. When the audio is "working" the sound quality is poor.

Those are my initial thoughts. If you have any questions about the CR48 let me know and I'll do my best to answer them!


  1. Thanks for your thoughts. I received my Cr48 in the first wave and so have been using it almost exclusively since then. I decided early on to overlook the shortcomings of the hardware and focus on the overall experience of "Living on the Web" (to snag a Google marketing phrase)... I agree with the primary importance of a robust app store, well-stocked with genuine packaged Web apps. I wish Google would raise the bar a bit by demanding full offline mode for any app (any paid app at least) -- there are a few gems out there, but it's obviously got a long way to go. I've had very positive experiences, though, being all cloudy and such -- including great collab sessions on Google Docs, graphics and audio production with Aviary, and catching up on the news with the New York Times and NPR apps, to name just a few. I'm looking forward to seeing where the ChromeOS experience is a year from now, given some snappy hardware and a serious App Store...

  2. Great post John. I too was surprised at the "Apps" store. I assume that they'll address the transfer, print, and audio issues in their official hardware release. It will be interesting if the general public buys into these machines.

  3. My guess is that the launch of Chrome OS will model that of Android. Google manufactured the Nexus 1 when Android launched because no other hardware manufacturer was willing to develop a phone for an OS that was brand new. Once it was apparent that there was a demand for Android, Google stopped making the Nexus 1 and other [real] hardware manufacturers started making Android-optimized hardware.

    I expect that as soon as some computer manufactures see the benefits of Chrome OS they will begin developing hardware for it. Once this happens Google will cancel the CR48 program.

    Google is a software engineering company, not a hardware company. They know that and will get out of the market as quickly as they can.

  4. Great post. I agree that the Cr-48 is definitely an early test item, and the issues that you mentioned not liking will probably be resolved before they go to market.

    I love what you said about hardware now being irrelevant. I think that as you see HTML5 come into its own and more and more applications move into the cloud (Aviary, JayCut, and Picnik are examples of some that already have), you'll see a new line of personal computers that function as dumb terminals that connect to these services, opening computing to a wider range of people.

    As far as the Chrome Web Store goes, I was a bit disappointed, too. There are some neat HTML5 apps built by third parties (TweetDeck, NPR, Planetarium), but most are just links to pre-existing web apps like Google Docs and Calendar. I would love to see custom HTML5 apps of Google products that run more like Android/iOS apps.

    Again, thanks for the post!


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