Back in December, I applied for a Google Chrome OS notebook. I figured that if I got one I could use it for testing and checking out Google’s ideas about a web-enabled OS. I then promptly forgot about it. Guess what showed up on Monday?
I am now the proud possessor of a Google CR-48 Chrome OS laptop. It’s a pretty utilitarian thing, which suits me just fine. The finish is matte all over. No fancy aluminium or gloss plastic. Likewise, the connection ports are equally spartan. An SD card slot, headphone jack, single USB port, and a power connector adorn the right side. The VGA out occupies the left side. No Firewire, no Ethernet, no optical drive. This thing is designed to use wireless to connect to the network and pretty much run on it’s own without many (if any) peripherals.
The hardware is very netbook-ish. An Atom processor with 2GB of RAM, along with a 16 GB SSD. The latter allows the machine to wake from sleep almost instantly, much like a certain Air-y demo from the Fruit Company Not-A-Netbook press conference last year. There’s even an integrated Verizon 3G modem for connectivity outside of Wi-Fi areas. All in all, the looks combined with the hardware specs would most likely not even get a second glance from a buyer. It’s what’s under the hood that is so very different.
For those of you out there that are fans of the Google Chrome web browser like I am, you’ll find the interface to be identical on the CR-48. Here’s the catch, though. That web browser is the ENTIRE OS. No start menu. No dock. The whole OS concept revolves around the browser, and by extension, the web itself. The user account for the system is a Google account. It pulls your information from GMail, Google Docs, and even your Chrome favorites if you’ve set them to sync. All of my Google information was pulled down the first time I logged into the laptop. The 16GB drive is enough to handle a few downloads, but most of your file manipulation will occur in the “cloud”. Google Docs for an office suite, for instance. Any other apps you might need can be downloaded from the Google Apps Web Store. Twitter clients, note taking apps, remote access apps, and so on. They can all be “installed” into the browser OS for access to the things you use the most. The more I used the system, though, the more I found myself thinking in terms of web-based content and less in terms of document storage and programs like I think of on my work laptop. For a child or a spouse the spend 85-95% of their time doing online-related content creation and consumption (like Facebook or webmail), this would be the perfect laptop.
That’s not to say that the CR-48 is a perfect laptop. There are some issues, even taking into account this early beta type OS/Platform. Bluetooth doesn’t work. Neither does connecting to a Wi-Fi network that uses certificate authentication. The trackpad is a little tough to get used to. I’ve heard some people compare it to the type found on the latest Macbook. It takes some getting used to, and the gesture support isn’t quite intuitive for me just yet. The other bug I ran into was with the Verizon 3G modem. There’s a quick link for activating the Verizon account that Google has graciously provided. However, I hit a geographical snag. It appears that the Verizon towers in my area code (405) used to belong to Alltel Communications before they were purchased by Verizon last year. So, when the activation signal was sent, it wouldn’t register correctly. I was only able to activate it correctly when I went out of state. To Google’s credit, they Chrome Netbook Ninja (support person) I talked to diagnosed the problem inside of 5 minutes after the Verizon pre-paid tech fought with it for 30 minutes. Kudos to Google for having competent support people. And even more kudos for allowing them to call themselves ninjas.
I plan on using the Chrome netbook to take notes during Tech Field Day this week to give it a good run and see how well it performs. I may even let my kids start using it to see how well it holds up to the gentle caresses of a 5 year old and a 2 year old. Stay tuned for further reports.