I applied to join the Google Chrome OS Pilot Program on Tuesday, December 7 during Google’s Chrome keynote. I am one of the few lucky ones to get the Cr-48. In fact, I’ve written this entire post on it. I used Google Docs for the writing/organization, Picasa for the photo storage, and Picnik for the photo editing.
The Cr-48 is a slick device. Its looks are very reminiscent of the black Macbooks, which, frankly, is a very good thing. The keyboard is surprisingly easy to type on for the notebook’s overall small profile. This is due to its full size and easy-to-tap separated keys.
The whole notebook has a high-quality soft touch feel (it reminds me of the G1 or the back of the EVO) which doesn’t attract fingerprints and wipes of nicely. The touchpad is huge and flush. The display is matte and pretty high-res for its size, its hinge is extremely sturdy, and the lack of branding anywhere on the notebook is absolutely beautiful. Physically, this is a high-end notebook.
The Cr-48’s overall size is small; it’s almost a netbook. Almost. Google was sure to always refer to it as a notebook during their keynote and in the documentation and I think that’s accurate. It’s bigger than a typical netbook, but nearly just as portable due to it’s sleek design and light weight. The screen is a 12.1 inch matte display with a resolution of 1280 by 800 pixels; a resolution that is very sharp on the smaller screen, making text nicely readable. The keyboard and screen are high enough quality that I was often surprised that I was on a smaller device and not on my 16 inch notebook (which actually sports the same resolution).
The operating system itself, Chrome OS, is really just Chrome. Well, it’s more than that of course, but the idea is that to the end-user, it’s just Chrome. That’s it. In reality, it is a customized Linux-based OS similar to something like Ubuntu or Debian. As far as I can tell, GNOME, or at least GTK, is running along somewhere in the background but is hardly ever seen by the user. Instead, all settings and interaction is done through Chrome and its tabs (after the initial setup and login). The one time the user does see “Linux” is when a file is uploaded or saved. A nice familiar (but not very pretty) file dialog comes up, revealing the entire Linux file structure. This is something I’m sure the Google engineers will beautify (and simplify) in due time.
Using the Cr-48 and Chrome OS is a breeze, especially since I essentially live in Chrome on my other computers. I did find myself wanting to minimize the window on occasion, but just out of habit (and for no good reason). The New Tab screen is a great place to see where you spend your time and to get back there, as well as a nice web app launcher. The idea behind web apps is still a little fuzzy (they’re mostly just bookmarks to nicely-designed websites), but I think it will become more clear when they utilize the advanced technologies present in HTML5 a little bit more.
One question that popped up in the office a lot when coworkers were ogling the Cr-48 was “What happens when you don’t have an Internet connection?” All I could say was that there’s a free 2-year deal with Verizon where Cr-48 users get (a measly) 100 MB per month, and that sites (should) take advantage of HTML5’s offline storage capabilities. Unfortunately (at this time) neither Gmail’s nor Google Docs’ offline modes work with the Cr-48, rendering an offline notebook pretty useless.
Google is reworking Google Docs’ offline mode and expects it to be back up and working early next year, but I’ve not heard anything about Gmail. Currently it requires Google Gears (Google’s now-dead attempt at implementing some HTML5 features before HTML5 was around) which is not compatible with the Cr-48 (or Chrome OS). The Verizon deal seems promising, but I’m holding off on activation until I really need it; you have to sign up for a “contract-free” contract and will get charged if you go over the small limit.
I’ll be using the Cr-48 as my primary on-the-go device and will likely use it a lot at home, as well. My old (but more powerful) laptop will serve as a desktop computer, plugged into my Internet connection and monitor as long as I can stand not using a full OS on the go. I’ve already found that it’s easier to pop open my Cr-48 to check the news than to try and read it on my Android phone’s screen (even if the phone has a large screen).
It really seems as if Google’s main purpose in launching Chrome OS is to sideswipe the current netbook market. The Cr-48 (and hopefully the retail devices to come) is a beautiful device that is made for the web. Its slick design is something not seen in ordinary netbooks on the market and its size is somewhere in limbo between a small Macbook and a large netbook.
It’s as if Google wants to redefine netbooks as notebooks made for the web, which is really what netbooks were originally intended to be. Unfortunately, many current netbooks are sold running a stripped-down and slow version of Microsoft Windows, even if they were designed to run Linux. Google is taking the Linux-based netbook a step farther and showing how, if done right, a traditional operating system is not needed for a web-connected, on-the-go notebook.