Google Chrome CR-48 Notebook First Impressions Dreamed 2328 days ago | | 1320 words

The moment Google’s announcement about Chrome OS and the Chrome Notebooks was over I raced to the site and signed up in hopes of receiving one of the elusive beasts. I figured the coveted CR-48 laptops were going to be handed out to tech bloggers and tech journalists. I assumed from the start that lowly me, a nobody in Internet Land would never have a chance at landing one of the units.

Much to my shock and delight, Google proved me wrong.

I came home last night to a strange box from a man named Brian in St. Louis on my doorstep. I picked it up, at first assuming it was just another in the line of Christmas presents my wife and I had purchased from one of many retailers but upon checking the label and feeling the weight, I was optimistic. I wanted to believe it was a Chrome OS test machine but I didn’t think I’d be that lucky.

Enough with the shock and awe, it was a Chrome OS Notebook. I had the CR-48 unit unwrapped and sitting on my desk in no time. I took some pictures of it because I am a nerd like that. Being an avid Chrome user, I was really excited to crack it open and start syncing and using the Browser as Operating System.

So far I really like it. The keyboard is just like the original MacBook which I was skeptical of at first, until I tried it and instantly fell in love with its wide, fat clicky keys. They feel nice under my fingers and I can fly across them with greater speed than the current Lenovo machine I’ve been primarily using at home.

The track-pad is another story. While it is a generous size, again taking a cue from Apple, it feels like my original First Generation MacBook track-pad after three solid years of use. It is not very clicky and the two finger scrolling and two finger tap for right click has some accuracy and stuttering issues. The tracking itself works like a charm as you would expect. However, the track-pad/button just isn’t as clicky as you’d like it to be. The tap to click option is a must, though it must be enabled.

The screen is plenty bright with and crisp. While there is no brightness level indicator when using the brightness button in the keyboard, it goes plenty dark for that late night surfing and brightens up nicely for the daytime. The killer addition to this machine would have been a back-lit keyboard, though being as this is a demo unit, I can see why it is not included.

I love the way new windows is handled in Chrome OS. If you are familiar with Spaces on the Mac or Virtual Desktops of any kind you should feel right at home. Each Ctrl+N gives you new window to the right of your current window. You can Alt+Tab between them though in sequence which can be confusing if you have multiple open windows (or as I just found out, two identical sets of tabs open from when I rebooted last night).

The MacBook Air seems to be the heralded king of light computers across the Internet but not having one of those, I can’t get over the lightness of this machine. The whole machine is very slim and light. I want to tuck it under my shoulder like a newspaper and take it everywhere with me.

I also really like the smooth rubbery feel of the case. It feels soft to the touch. Unlike how most laptops feel cold and hard in your hand. The rubber gives it a warm feeling when you hold it, or as your wrists rest upon it, like they are doing as I type this.

The lack of Caps Lock has been mentioned all over the place. Across the top of the keyboard, where the Function keys would be on any other laptop, the CR-48 features the following from left to right: Esc, Back, Forward, Refresh, Full Screen, Switch Window, Lower Brightness, Raise Brightness, Mute, Lower Volume, Raise Volume and finally Power, which I have yet to hit.

When I first took the laptop out of the box and inserted the battery it powered on immediately, no need to press the power button. The OS has been updated once since I had the unit, it happens identically to how the browser updates. You get the dot on the wrench and you click Upgrade. Seconds later, you’re back up and running right where you left off. The Chrome browser was updated today so I imagine they’re both in sync or close to it.

The volume is plenty loud out of the speakers for casual use and the headphone jack is nothing special. I have not used the SD Card slot or USB port yet. I’m sort of at a loss for what you’d need either for. The Eye-Fi card in my camera eliminates the need to use the SD card and I’m not even sure what I could use the USB port for, plugging my thumb drive into it last night yielded nothing.

I have seen some random slowdown in the OS as I’ve been scrolling down pages or waiting for things to load. From what I’ve read the machine is powered by a 1.66GHz processor and 2GB of RAM. I have no idea what the hard drive is on the machine and I’ve seen no mention or need for it. Perhaps that’s where the USB and SD Card slots come into play.

I’ve also had problems getting certain wireless networks to work with the machine. I tried tethering from my rooted Droid earlier and while the iPod Touch picked it up just fine Chrome OS reported there was an error trying to connect to it. Similarly, on initial setup, I had to remove the Mac Address filtering on my home network to allow it to connect so I could login and get the Mac Address, but that is to be expected.

I have not yet signed up for the free 100MB of cellular data from Verizon yet because I haven’t had the need and it requires entering a credit card number which I am reluctant to give. I am going to work on the Droid tethering option some more and see if I can figure out what the issue is there.

I watched a lip of the Daily Show from YouTube last night full screen and had minimal issues of minor slowdown with it. It was still plenty watchable though since it does not support Silverlight I cannot use Netflix. My test of Hulu worked fine at the default resolution on the page However, when I tried to make it full screen it ran a bit slow. In this case, I was watching American Dad and the mouths were slightly behind the voices. It was still perfectly watchable but if you were watching something with a lot of fast action, it would be more noticeable.

I’ve not had it long enough to give the battery a proper test. However, I am at 55% and Chrome OS claims to have 3 hours and 27 minutes of life left. I have the cellular disabled, the wifi on and the brightness maxed out. I have not used the VGA port for anything yet.

All in all I really like the unit and the typing feels as good as typing on my original MacBook. The trackpad, despite its deficiencies is passable. Seeing as how I got this computer shipped to me free of charge with no mention of return, I am very pleased with it and I hope the hardware that will ship with Chrome OS when it gets a commercial release will be even better. This is a very good start to the Chrome OS and I am optimistic to see where it goes and what the first wave of hardware looks and runs like.

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