The Daily Ping

There were rumors of a Ping book, but those were started on the internet.

February 3rd, 2011

Living with Chrome OS

Back in December, on a whim, I filled out a form to be a beta tester for the Google Chrome OS-based Cr-48 laptop. I didn’t think I’d be chosen, but two weeks after dropping my name in the hat, a mysterious box arrived with my nifty tester laptop. I didn’t want to be like everybody else and spit out a bunch of rushed thoughts after only using it for a week, so it’s only now, after a little less than two months of using it, that I’m finally putting some thoughts together.

The Hardware: The Good

I should start by saying that anything regarding the Cr-48’s hardware should be taken with a grain of salt. When Chrome OS machines start hitting the market, I’m sure they’ll have beefed up hardware, etc. But, I’m still putting it all out there since I don’t know for sure what they’re planning on changing and what they aren’t.

The Cr-48 is completely brand-less, which is a little unusual feeling, but also kind of nice. It’s neat having a machine that looks completely generic without a single logo to be found.

The keyboard is comfortable to use and has a Mac-like style with the letters printed on the center of the keys (though they went with the interesting design decision of using lower-case letters). I like that they got rid of the CAPS LOCK key and replaced it with a “search” key (which really just opens up a new tab).

They’ve replaced the function keys with, well, different functions. Instead of F1 and F2, there are browser forward and backwards buttons, for instance. This is mostly fine, except for a few function keys I’d like to have access to.

The screen is fine. Resolution is appropriate and the contrast is OK.

Battery life is quite good. The machine can reportedly go 8 hours.

Boot-up is quite fast. From a full-off state, you’re logging in 10 seconds later. If you just close the laptop up and let it go into standby mode, it restarts almost instantaneously. It just takes a few seconds for the wireless to reconnect.

You can get online via wireless or 3G.

Perhaps my favorite hardware feature is that the machine runs very cool and quiet. No crotch-burning or loud fans to worry about here.

The Hardware: The Not-So-Good

From the missing function keys, I kind of miss F5, which I use for page reloads. There is a “reload” function key, but it sits closer to where F3/F4 normally sit, making it a bit awkward. Moreso, though, I miss F3, which I miss for “find next.”

I also miss the PgUp, PgDn keys for scrolling. You can use ALT-Up and ALT-Down to simulate it, but it’s kind of annoying. Del is another key I find myself missing.

There’s only one USB port, so if you use a mouse, that’s pretty much it. That’s probably OK for now, though, since USB drive support is supposedly quite sketchy.

The power port is on the side of the laptop. I prefer it behind the screen.

The webcam? Absolutely awful. Check out this horrendous test video I shot:

Watching videos is OK, but the processor’s not super powerful, so it can get herky-jerky. It can also be a little painful coming back up from full sleep mode with a lot of browser tabs open.

The touchpad can be hella annoying. There absolutely needs to be a way to disable it when typing because there will be moments where I’m not even touching it and the focus jumps somewhere else on the screen. Other times, you can tap the touchpad to click and it won’t do anything. Sensitive when you don’t want it to be, unresponsive when you want it to respond. (Stick with a USB mouse as much as possible, in other words.)

Other thoughts about living with Chrome

The whole idea behind a Chrome OS laptop is to do as much as possible “in the cloud.” And, really, for most stuff that’s just fine. I don’t miss storing things locally much at all. It’s kind of nice having all your software automatically be up-to-date and your data stored elsewhere. If your laptop gets stolen, you can change your password and you should be good to go (assuming they build good enough security into the final product).

However, I did find myself missing local storage for one major thing: music. Yes, something like MOG is made for the Chrome OS, but if you want to do something like buy music from the Amazon store and then transfer it to your MP3 player, you’re out of luck.

There is a 16 gig solid state drive, which performs well, especially for the simple caching it’s meant to handle, but man oh man, the file management is just terrible. You can save files to the drive, but browsing the drive is awkward at best and a mess at worst. Want to unzip a file? Forget it.

Other than those minor issues, though, I’ve really enjoyed working on the Cr-48. While I can’t use this in a work environment (no VPN client), it’s perfectly sufficient for 85% of my personal use. Checking e-mail, browsing the web, checking the weather, reading blogs, writing Pings… stuff you spend most of your time doing, it’s all good.

If you’re having trouble conceptualizing what it’s like using your browser as your OS, here’s what you can do: close all your applications, except for Google chrome. Get rid of your taskbar and maximize your Chrome window. There’s your OS. (There are different setup options available under Chrome OS, but you get the idea.)

User accounts are tied directly to your Google account. Switching between logged in users is no problem, though you technically need to sign out for someone else to login (you can restore your tabs easily enough). Chrome’s “incognito mode” allows people to sign on as a guest, which is pretty clever. If your parents come and visit and want to check their e-mail, they can do so without leaving any trace behind or dirtying up your machine with extra account files.

I think ultimately, for Chrome OS to be successful, a few things will need to happen:

  • The hardware will need to be improved. It’s not bad now, but beef up the webcam and the processor, and you’re in good shape.
  • People might not go for a purely cloud-based machine, but if they can manage to make it a hybrid unit where all apps and most data is in the cloud, but there’s solid file management capability and the ability to attach and use external drives, then you’re talking. And I don’t think they necessarily need to offer more internal storage. If they can integrate something like Dropbox or the long-awaited Google Drive in such a way that it feels like a local drive, that should be fine.
  • The price will need to be right. They won’t be able to sell these for $500, but if these start at lower-end netbook prices, they might move some units.

So, all in all, I’m digging my Cr-48 and am thankful that I get to keep it (I think… they never really made it clear). It’s a great machine for everyday use, even for someone that does lots of stuff online. Sure, I probably won’t be using Aviary to do heavy audio editing and if you need to do anything on a website beyond update pages in WordPress, you’ll be hurting, but for the majority of my recreational online time, the Cr-48 does a nice job.

(And, yes, this entry was written on my Cr-48.)

Posted in Technology

Paul February 3, 2011, 11:02 am

Nice writeup, sir. I’ve been curious about the horribly-named CR-48 since the program was announced, and it sounds like it’s a good half-year or year away from being a realistic option. Close, though!

Ryan February 3, 2011, 11:12 am

The Cr-48 is a distant cousin of the 2XL.

What is this then?

The Daily Ping is the web's finest compendium of toilet information and Oreo™® research. Too much? Okay, okay, it's a daily opinion column written by two friends. Did we mention we've been doing this for over ten years? Tell me more!

Most Popular Pings