I am not the luckiest person in the world, and when I came home today to a mysterious package I figured it was a bomb or something that would bring pain and disdain to my household. Little did I know inside of the box was one of the most wanted piece of free technology around. Yes, I had received the Chrome Notebook from Google. After having spent a few hours with it, I am going to give you a first-look at the Chrome Notebook (Despite its web centric OS, Google refuses to call this a netbook).
Codenamed the CR-48, the notebook features a 12-inch screen, 1.66 Ghz Atom processor, full-sized keyboard with multi touch trackpad, Wireless N as well as CDMA networking that allows access to Verizon's 3G network for free (Max 100MB per month for two years). All of that is irrelevant though, as the notebook is loaded with a beta of Chrome OS. This new operating system has been the most buzzed about software as of late for the fact it is online, literately. You must be connected to the Internet to use the computer as it basically is encapsulated in Chrome Web Browser.
The CR-48 comes in a box covered in doodles. To be exact, a doodle of a crazy device that looks like a weapon of mass destruction (Perhaps to Microsoft's stock price?). When you open you box you are greeted with a no-frills notebook, with a large, thin battery and a power adapter. The notebook itself is beautiful, simply because of its minimalistic design . No logos, brands or stickers. The laptop is made out of a soft black material that feels rock solid, if not a little heavy. If anything, it bears an extreme resemblance to the Black Apple Macbook of a few years ago, with a latch-less display, chicklet keyboard, a button-less trackpad like the current gen Macbook and an all black finish. In all, it's actually quite striking. You would never be able to tell by looking at this that someone didn't spend $700-$1000 on the device.
Initial Boot Up
Upon inserting the battery, my CR-48 turned on automatically. In about five seconds you are greeted with a Google login. There is an option to login as a guest, but who doesn't have a Google login?
Upon boot up, you launch into what looks like Chrome web browser. Actually, it is Chrome Browser. If you were to be a novice user, you would think that's all it is. Hidden away under a new tab is an area that lists Apps. There are but a few apps installed by default like GMail, YouTube and Maps. Don't fret though, as there is the Chrome Web Store, which seems to have many useful apps in it like TweetDeck and Google Docs.
The software is simple, Chrome Web Browser plus the apps of the web store. There is a setting menu that has very little options. You can change trackpad sensitivity, time zone and Wi-Fi setting and that is about it. There is a battery indicator, clock and W-iFi icon in the top right of the screen, the only GUI difference from a vanilla Chrome browser. The concept is simple, yet very useable as most mobile computing is web dependent. The OS is very speedy, but does get bogged down like any other system if too many tabs are opened. Tabs for the most part are locked into a single window, but the occasional window comes undone into its own window. There is no file manager that I can see, which means don't expect to hook a hard drive to this. You can upload things to Gmail, but the file browser is very basic and "linuxy".
In terms of your favorite websites, they will almost all work, with the exception of one. Can you guess which one? If you guessed Netflix, you're right. No Netflix support right now, but Hulu works so there are some videos. Overall the software experience is simple, fast and effective for everyday tasks. It will be hard for a lot of people to break away from things like dedicated apps and desktop file management, but it can and will be done.
The CR-48 is supposed to have the user focus on the Software, which is hard to do as the hardware is very nice. The notebook is extremely responsive under Chrome OS, and physically it's pretty light. With over an hour of web browsing, and typing this article, the battery percentage dropped about 12 percent, which is right on target for the eight hour promised battery life. The screen is bright and easy to read, and has a webcam which worked great with Skype. The only hardware downside is the trackpad, which is extremely clunky and hard to use. In terms of ports, don't expect much. You have a VGA port, a single USB port, a headphone jack, an SD card slot and an AC plug. The keyboard on the unit is similar to an Apple keyboard, and is easy to use. Google nixed the Caps Lock key for a search button, which actually just opens a new tab, which is handy as all you're doing is in separate tabs. Don't be mistaken, there is a 16GB flash module inside this unit, but It seems data management is not really there. The hardware is really irrelevant however, as most people will experience Chrome OS on a brand name unit.
So far, Chrome OS seems like everything a basic user may want. I can tell already it will never be anyone's main operating system, but for basic netbooks and laptops it's perfect. I will go more in-depth in a week or so to give you a full review, but so far let me say that the CR-48 so far is the best deal running. Simply go to http://www.google.com/chromeos/pilot-program.html and tell them about yourself. If selected, you get one sent to your door without warning. Who knows, you might get lucky.
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