First Impressions: Google Chrome Cr-48 Notebook

Google Chrome Notebook (Cr-48)

Google has been working on a computer operating system, Chrome OS. The Cr-48 notebook is the first available notebook that runs on Chrome OS. I recently received one of these laptops. In this post I’ll discuss how I got one and my initial impressions.

The Pilot

On December 7, I applied to the Google Chrome Notebook Pilot Program. Successful applicants receive the first Google Chrome Notebook, the Cr-48, to test. At this time, this is the only way one can get a Chrome Notebook.

As part of the application process, you’re asked to provide some information, like your name, address, Gmail address, and your usage of different programs and applications on your computer. They probably take a look at your Google Account to see what services you’ve activated with it. Since Chrome OS relies on the internet, they probably want pilot users who spend a lot of time online, using online services. You’re also asked to submit a 140-character statement on why you should be selected. I imagine that Google has received thousands of applications from many thousands of people who use computers and the internet in similar ways, so I suspect that the 140-character statement is a way for applicants to differentiate themselves from the thousands of other people who want to try Chrome OS. Given my thoughts about this 140-character statement, I tried to make mine as unique as possible.

Two days after I applied to the programme, after I got home from work, I discovered a note from UPS on my front door, saying that I had to be present to sign for a package. I had no idea what this was or who it was from, as UPS was unclear as to the sender, but I stayed home on the morning of December 10 to receive this mysterious package. Much to my surprise, it was a box containing the Cr-48 Chrome OS Notebook. Sweet!

Getting Started

I brought it to work because I wanted to spend my free moments of the work day messing around with it. The first thing I did after opening the box was to read the minimal instructions and turn it on. The next thing I did was to talk to one of the folks in IT so I could get connected to our wireless network. The notebook connected to the network with no problems. All I had to do next was sign into the computer with my Google Account (skipping the bit where it takes a photo of you with the built-in web cam to create your Chrome OS account picture), and I was ready to rock.

As I mentioned, very little documentation came with the laptop. Four pieces of paper: welcome note, quick start guide, safety/regulatory documentation (a particularly funny and witty read), and a small card stating that the notebook runs on an Intel processor. There was nothing about returning the laptop or about keeping anything about one’s experience with the laptop confidential.

You can look at more pictures of the Cr-48, read about all the features of Chrome OS, and detailed impressions of the Cr-48 elsewhere, so I’ll just talk about my experiences with this laptop for the day or so I’ve had it.

It’s a pretty slick-looking machine, as you can see from the picture above and from the posts to which I linked earlier. It’s pretty stealth; there are no logos or branding anywhere on it. The surfaces are a nice matte black in appearance. The 12.1-inch screen is also matte, not glossy. The touchpad is a big, single button affair, which I’m not used to yet because all the laptops I’ve owned have two buttons at the bottom. The button is kind of stiff when pressed towards the top of the touchpad, and I have difficulty clicking and dragging. The full-sized keyboard is a comfortable, chiclet style keyboard that one sees on Macbooks.

Using Chrome OS

The browser is the operating system. There is no desktop to navigate. At first, this felt weird, but given that I don’t spend much time outside of a browser when I’m using a computer at home (unless I’m gaming), I got used to it.

You don’t have free run to look at the system files and such whenever you want, given that there is no desktop or Start Menu to navigate, but there is a file system. There is no way to look at hard disk space (that I’ve discovered, anyway). Having said that, you can download files and save them, but I tend to delete files after using them. Any applications you use, such as for word processing (Google Docs), are all online, though you can download extensions for Chrome, which will allow you to expand the functionality of the browser itself.

I haven’t experienced too many problems using the Chrome notebook, but when I have, I’ve dutifully submitted bug reports and feedback using the handy little bug icon in the upper right corner of the browser.

How I Use the Web and Chrome

I’m going to talk about how I use the web and computers, and how my usage is or isn’t impacted by Chrome OS and this laptop in particular.

I’ve been using Meebo, the multi-platform, web-based instant messaging service for over five years, so using Chrome OS doesn’t change my habits at all when it comes to instant messenger. Again, since the browser is the OS, it won’t run Skype, so that’s something I’d miss.

Like my instant messaging client, my Twitter client of choice is also web-based. Seesmic Web works perfectly fine.

When I listen to music on the computer, I’m usually listening to music with Pandora. I’ve been using Pandora for five years, and I love it. I haven’t experienced any problems listening to Pandora on Chrome OS. The speakers on the Cr-48 aren’t great, but they get the job done.

I don’t have cable television service. I only pay for cable internet, and I stream television shows from the internet. Recently, I’ve been watching all of Babylon 5 through Netflix on my PS3. However, since Netflix runs on Microsoft Silverlight for streaming on the computer, you can’t use the Cr-48 for Netflix streaming. YouTube and Hulu work just fine though. I watched five episodes of Desperate Housewives (don’t judge!) on Hulu on my Chrome Notebook. Hulu is a little choppy at times, has to be said, but I’m sure they’ll try to improve performance.

As I discussed recently, I use Dropbox with KeePass as my online-enabled password management system. Because my password management system relies upon being able to access the KeePass database stored in Dropbox, and it is is in a file format specific to the KeePass program, I’m SOL in terms of being able to access this through an installed program in Chrome OS. However, I have found a work-around, which is serviceable, but not ideal. LastPass, a proprietary web-based password management system, has the advantage here, as LastPass has a Chrome extension and it’s natively web-enabled without using another tool, like Dropbox, to assist it in working.

I blog, and sometimes I use photos in my posts. This means that I often need to use a photo editing tool like GIMP to crop or resize images. There are web-based photo editing tools like Picnik that can accomplish the same basic resizing and cropping that I use GIMP for. I haven’t used Picnik yet, but for really easy photo editing needs, I’m sure it or another online photo editor will do the job.

I also often take pictures using a digital camera, and store all of them online on my Flickr account. There is no SD card slot in the Cr-48, so I can’t directly transfer photos from my camera to Flickr using this notebook. This is kind of inconvenient. However, there is one USB port, so I could use that to transfer files from a flash drive. For the purposes of this post, I took a picture of the Chrome laptop using my Android phone, uploaded it from my phone to the internet, put it on my Flickr account, and embedded the photo into this post.

This isn’t a gaming laptop, but I knew that, so no huge disappointments here.

Everything else has been a breeze: email, blogging (I wrote this post on the Chrome notebook), and other basic web tasks.

Early Conclusions

In general Chrome OS is really user-friendly. The main hiccups happen when you need to get used to doing things online that you would normally do offline, like edit photos. This isn’t a laptop one would use as a main computer, particularly for a gamer who doesn’t play all her games in a browser. I feel like this is a laptop I’d take to a cafe to write or browse the web. I’m totally cool with that. I’ll continue to use this test notebook heavily at home (unless I’m gaming), and I think it should be fine because it serves most of my computing needs so far. I’ll post again about this when I have more thoughts to share about Chrome OS.

ETA: Commenter Jono points out that the slot thingy next to the headphone port is, in fact, an SD card slot. I tried to get the cover to pop out when I received it, but wasn’t successful in doing so as I wasn’t pressing it hard enough. Thanks, Jono!