Tuesday, December 21, 2010

ChromeOS Notebook - Do I need more than just a browser?

I came downstairs this morning, headed out the door to work, only to find a box waiting downstairs with my name on it.  I knew for a fact that I hadn't ordered anything recently, with the exception of a power cable for my mother's Dell laptop - and that had arrived already.  Running late, I hurredly sliced open the packing box to reveal schematics for a rodent powered rocket scrawled hastily on the side of a box.  Wanting to play with my new rocket propelled rodent toy, I tucked the box under my arm as I dashed out to catch the bus.  Imagine my shock and disappointment when I opened the box on the bus, only to find some kind of silly laptop device....OH WAIT!  SWEET
I never get picked for anything, so this came as a complete shock.  The Cr-48, Google's unstable isotope, in my hands.  And after all the unkind things I've said about Google in the past.....

Being that I was on a septa bus, when the laptop's glowing screen asked me for a wireless access point to associate with, I was unable to do so.  Once I arrived at King Of Prussia mall, my midpoint 1 hour layover in my nightly commute, I fired up the little unit and after a few quick steps, was logged in and browsing.

This little unit really shines in this kind of a mobile environment.  Unlike with my trusty Thinkpad, which has to wake from hibernation, resume my virtual machines, and finally chug to life, the Cr-48 powers on seemingly by thought.  No, really, I still haven't used the power button on the unit.  The attractive interface immediately loads a browser, which I felt would limit the experience greatly.  In the few hours I've had with the unit, I have "Installed" a half dozen apps from the ChromeOS App Store which, aside from a few very specific power user type functions, have made this quite a functional unit.  I am resisting the urge to play with the device in developer mode yet, but the shell may yet draw me to flip that Dev mode switch.

As of right now, I do have a few gripes.  The touchpad is horrible.  I think that all mobile mousing devices aside from the venerable Thinkpad Trackpoint are horrible, though, so this is hardly a valid concern.  I have also seen some instability when dealing with Pandora, my workplace lifeline.  I need my music, and occasionally, due to flash's nature within Linux, Pandora will freeze, become choppy, etc.  This has happened twice in the 2 hours I've been using the unit, and a refresh takes care of it and gets the tunes flowing again so I'm not too bent out of shape on this point either.  Finally, just for the sake of convenience, the lack of a network jack bugs me a little bit.  A very, very little bit.  Less now that I've found sufficient wifi.

The form factor of the unit is perfect.  Unlike with the HP Mini and the original eeePC, the system does not feel cramped or compromised.  The screen is similar in size to my X41's 12 inch 4x3 screen, and matte, which improves usability greatly.  The resolution is far better than my aging IBM, with a 1280x800 resolution.  Text is crisp and readable, far moreso than on most larger screened laptops sporting a similar resolution, in my opinion.  Pages respond quickly, and without the overhead of running apps on the local machine, the responsiveness is never dulled by a memory hogging application running in the background.  The keyboard takes some adjusting to, coming from the best mobile keyboard in the business on my Thinkpads, but still outclasses the keyboards on most consumer grade systems.  There are no F keys at the top of the board, Google has instead opted for a slew of function keys.  (These keys can be made to operate as F keys if the user so wishes when in Developer mode, from what I understand.)  The "Caps Lock" key, hated by your reviewer, has been replaced with a search function key, which I found odd at first.  I've found more function in this key as time goes on, so I do approve of this switch in the end.  Caps lock functionality can be turned back on.......but why?  There's a perfectly good shift key just south.  But I digress.

There are still many functions that this system will not be able to accomplish.  A netbook, regardless of how limited it is, always leaves me with the temptation to try to perform such tasks, with dismal results.   ChromeOS leaves no question about what it is there to do - it provides functionality, without unnecessary overhead.  Google's push for innovation behind this unit has resulted in some very slick offerings in the app store - which isn't really a store in my mind, seeing as all of the useful applications I've come across thus far have been free.  The fact that Google is throwing in 100mb of free 3g web access per month with the unit for the first two years of ownership (A function I have not activated yet, but expect to make great use of during my commute) is a very, very nice perk.  None of these functions will deter me from purchasing an actual laptop computer, as I do have needs that can only be met by that type of hardware.  However, its a 90/10% split in usefulness.  I am not in power user mode 100% of the time.  90% of the time, I guarantee, the ChromeOS notebook will fit my needs without question.

When I return home, my X41 will go into its docking station.  It will remain there until I find some sufficiently compelling reason to return it to my bag.  I'm willing to bet that the need will arise later, rather than sooner.


  1. First of all, awesome. Wow, you got a freaking new computer.

    Thanks for the great start of a review. I have always wanted to know more about these netbooks. How's the battery on the thing? Also, how is the actual interface? Like, when you boot up, do you only see a google chrome browser? And that's like all? Or do you have a desktop, and a file system, and programs you double click on, etc. How similar to Windows is it?

    I will say that I would have kind of expected it to look a little "sexier" than it does in that picture. Does it have that sleek feel that Apple has? I mean, does it feel more like a thinkpad or a macbook?

  2. Your reviewer is cursed with a merely so-so camera - I'll get better pictures of the hardware in the future. The machine feels like a high end netbook - nowhere near the fit and finish of a Thinkpad, but still far better than the Asus or HP netbooks I've used in the past. It evokes a bit of a "trying to be a black Macbook" look, but its thinner, lighter, and matte all over. I'll try to get some better photographs this weekend. If you follow me on twitter or facebook, you should see my updates tweeted there.