I recently received Google’s Chrome OS computer, the CR-48. In one sentence, this is the future BUT we are already there (and just don’t know it).
Many of the reviews of the CR-48 discuss the hardware and the software’s shortcoming but from the perspective of a hardcore computer user. I’ll do something groundbreakingly different (joke) – write a review for the rest of us. By the “rest of us,” I mean people who spend 99% of their computing time already in the cloud. They are likely using massively overpowered computers to check their email, Facebook page, and shop on Amazon. It is likely that the only non-Internet apps you currently use are Microsoft office-type products. Of course, via Google, Microsoft and others, you can do that in the “Cloud,” as well.
Since I have established that the large majority of users already spend most of their computer time within a web browser, I can commence with the review.
The CR-48 runs a special version of Google’s Chrome web browser. That is it. While a somewhat jarring experience at first (since there is no “start” bar or application bar, Google, via a simple and professional intro FAQ shows you how to start using the computer. At its very basic, you just open up your normal websites. This is exactly the same as you would do when using any other computer. You can open new tabs or new windows. Right now, as an example, I have Gmail, Facebook, Pandora, Google Reader, Hotmail, Twitter, a search page, and WordPress open. Were I open my home computer (Macbook Pro), I would frankly have all the same pages open and I would be doing the same thing in those pages.
The pages run well albeit a bit more slowly than on more powerful computers. However, I have to assume that is because the processor is fairly weak (Atom). I had some trouble with Hulu but YouTube (at least the HTML-5 videos) worked fine. Flash is obviously an issue but I have read that is being worked on. The apps that you can use are, in most cases, just a quick link to a webpage. Not much there, sadly. Install an app from the Chromse store on your home computer Chrome browser and you will know what I mean.
Because the software is only a web browser, the computer is very fast to startup – essentially instant. Of course, I do not think this is so special since I almost never shut down my MacPro and whenever I open back up the screen the computer is ready to go. However, since the “hard drive” is actually flash memory drive, everything on that front is speedy.
A few issues: if you want to download things, that will be challenging. You can download items but you don’t really have control over where they are stored or how they are used. If you cannot open the file you downloaded within a browser, then you are out of luck. As an example, I downloaded a Gmail produced zip of a number of .pdf files – Chrome would not open that file. However, if I downloaded each pdf separately, I could open and view them. The same would go for just about any file. Probably the largest issue that the Web/Cloud generation (who most of us are now) by living within Chrome would have to do with photos and other self-produced media. You can connect your camera to the computer via USB but then save your files where? Picasa (from Google) works but is not ideal if you want to save all of your photos (since they only provide a relatively small amount of free storage space). You would also have trouble with Chrome if you wanted to manage the content of your Apple produced products, which, sadly (and I believe for not much longer) need iTunes.
A few benefits: since you are already living in the Cloud, the CR-48 is just another way to embrace this more fully. No more viruses!!! Since you essentially cannot download anything, you cannot have a virus (until they start infecting the browser directly). However, since Chrome is constantly updated by Google, I assume (and hope) that any viri or other dangerous issues will be fixed almost immediately. Again – you already live in the Cloud. Why do you need all of your old files? I dont touch any of them anymore except for my photos. I still have not found a great, cheap way to view all my media online and therefore need a large hard drive. However, once a good solution comes out (and there are some already), I could probably ditch the regular computer altogether. A few more things you already do in the cloud – gaming (Cityville anyone), listening to music (I have gigs upon gigs of music but only listen to Pandora), movie watching (streaming from Netflix, Amazon and so forth…which do not fully work with the CR-48 but probably will in short order). I even do my reading online – Instapaper, Kindle and multiple websites.
In other words, if you are anything like me, you need a keyboard, a screen, and a wifi connection to do 99% of your daily electronic tasks. End of story. In that respect, CR-48 is ideal. It takes out the clutter that you pay a ton for in any other computer and gives you just what you need. In fact, I would say that the CR-48 is a taste of the future albeit one that is already here since you are already spending your electronic life within a browser anyways. Within the next few years, I predict we will see many many more “computers that are simply dumb terminals/gateways to the Internet.” In fact, what is most likely to happen is that you will connect your smartphone to a larger screen and keyboard and go from there via wifi or 4G.
I think this is very very secondary to the idea of the CR-48 and what it shows for the future. However, since the reading public loves to know about the hardware, below is a brief overview.
The matte black (with no markings) and slightly rubberized feel works well. It is functional and seems like a high-quality build. Mainly, you do not notice the computer itself – which is precisely the point. This is about the Chrome software, not the computer technology. The screen is decent and very usable. The webcam doesnt seem great but what do you expect?! The speaker is the same – usable, not great.
The keyboard is just like one of the new Macs — i.e. Chicle keys. I like it a lot (and in fact wrote this entire review using the CR-48. The layout is very different (i.e. no CAPS) lock key but instead a search key. I could easily get used to that although I do sometimes like responding to long emails in-line via CAPS. The biggest issue is the mousepad. It is large. It does not handle two different touches well. As an example, when I am typing this, if my palm hits the mousepad, it moves the mouse and clicks somewhere else. Then, if I try to move it back using my finger but my palm is still touching it, there is major interference and confusion. You also use the mousepad for clicking (the entire area is clickable) – I like the idea but that is a lot of finger touches that the software has difficulty separating out.
A few other notes: the battery life seems great. It is rated at 8 hours and I feel confident it will hit that mark. The computer is insanely quiet. I hate noisy computer (i.e. loud fans) – this thing is silent. Of course, it has no running parts, is running a low-power processor, and only runs one program so it should be quiet. It is pretty light and not overly warm on my lap (I have been sitting on the couch for this writeup). My iPad is a bit annoying to hold up for long reading. I could see myself using the CR-48 instead plus I can actually do my emails or IMs on it while reading.
Anyways – time for dinner and I think this covers things pretty well. Enjoyable. Great start Google and a great view of the future when we are all using our mobile phones to connect larger screens and keyboards to the Internet. I’m looking forward to it. The cloud is easier, safer (in my view), and always updated.