By: Vaishaal Shankar
Disclaimer: Both the CR-48 and Google’s Chrome OS are essentially prototypes of future products, so the opinions expressed in this preview are of the current state of the machine and operating system, and are no formal indication of what actual Google Chrome may be like.
At first glance the CR-48 is a plain machine, a jet black matte finish wraps the machine from edge to edge. There is a definite Apple-esque quality to the design, it seems like somebody pulled the Apple logo off an old Macbook. Included in the box is an eye catching sticker that can cover the entire front side of the laptop, so plain black isn’t the only option.
Once you open up the laptop, the gorgeous 1280 x 800 twelve inch display immediately turns on, allowing the user to sign in to his or her Google Account. Right above the screen is a small web cam (which is surprisingly useless in most of Chrome OS). Below the screen is one of the most spacious keyboards I’ve used in a really long time, and Google’s engineers must have definitely taken a cue from Apple here because this keyboard seems almost identical to the one in the old black Macbook’s. A notable change is that there is no Windows key (after all, there is no Windows) and the caps lock key has been replaced by a “search” key.
This isn’t meant to be anybody’s primary laptop for any reason. It is essentially a literal “Netbook”, and is meant for nothing more than surfing the web. Under the hood we find a 1.66 ghz Intel Atom Processor under-clocked to 1.00 ghz, 2 gb of RAM, 16 gb of Solid State Storage, a 3G modem for wireless connectivity, GPS, and Bluetooth. Unfortunately not everything found in the laptop is actually utilized by the operating system, both Bluetooth and GPS functionality are currently missing. The somewhat minimalistic processor leads to some sluggish performance when surfing the web. For example, flash video content is extremely sluggish and often crashes forcing the user to refresh the page. Aside from the somewhat slow processor, general performance is great. The battery life is simply phenomenal; it can go for days without being charged at all. This is probably due to the under clocked processor, and the super light weight operating system. Boot times are also amazing; it literally goes from shut down to the browser in fifteen seconds. It also awakes almost instantly from sleep.
The operating system is where this laptop differentiates itself from the hundreds of other Netbooks already out on the market. This is the ultimate Netbook, in that everything is stored on the “cloud”, which just means online. The entire operating system is built ground up for that purpose, for starters there is no desktop, it boots right into the browser. Thats it. There are no bells and whistles. There is a limited settings window, and a space for “web apps” which is nothing but links to websites that run these “apps”. A handy sync function synchronizes all your bookmarks and history between your different chrome browsers. There are no drivers actually on the machine, instead Google created a neat work around with a new chrome feature called “cloud print” which just involves signing in to your Google account on your computer that is connected to your printer, and then when you print from your CR-48 it sends the job to the other computer and prints from there. Moreover, there are no native applications, office documents must be edited with Google docs (which promises offline use within a year), pictures can be viewed and edited in Picassa, and other files can be accessed from Dropbox (or any other cloud based storage solution). The lack of offline applications can be a hindrance at first, but not having to store anything on the laptop itself is a definite plus; it is extremely handy to access your data anywhere via a browser.
For those who live and breathe in the browser, this is a natural transition, but for those casual users who dwell both offline and online, this operating system is a hard sell. It’s definitely a new concept to throw at the public, and Google is doing a good job with the pilot program. They’ll have a good year of feedback before they decide where to take this product. Going to the cloud is probably where all computing is headed, but the question is if this is too soon.