A Month with Chrome OS and CR-48

Chrome CR48While I certainly appreciate Google sending me a new CR 48 laptop/netbook/notebook/whatever, I find that it’s quite possibly an answer to a question no one asked. It’s crammed somewhere between a netbook, a full-featured notebook, and a tablet. And it doesn’t perform as any of these things particularly well.

While the computer itself is nice — it’s attractive, it’s quiet, has a nice texture — the Google Chrome OS is a bit hard to figure out. I don’t mean it’s hard to figure out from the standpoint of I can figure out what to do with it, that’s easy enough, I mean I can’t figure out why I’d ever want to use it (or more specifically, pay to use it).

That said, I think it accomplishes its goal fairly well. Unfortunately, that goal is nothing more than having a inexpensive box with a web browser on it and nothing more. I know that some people live entirely “in the cloud,” but I’m not sure who those people really are. I use Dropbox faithfully, I use a handful of Google apps, and I sync my browser settings across multiple computers. However, I have a hard time taking the leap with things like e-mail, Office documents, text editors for coding, picture editing/Photoshop, etc. I think that for most real-world users, living in 100% inside the cloud is not entirely practical.

When you turn on the CR 48, you see a fairly fast boot screen and then are asked for your login and password. Unfortunately if you’re not connected to a Wi-Fi at the time, you continually get an error when you try to submit your password. This is a real pain when you’re at a coffee shop or some place that requires you to login through a browser before you can get out over their Wi-Fi. As a side note, the trick here is is not to shut down your CR 48, just put it to sleep between uses.

After you login you simply see a Chrome browser window. If you sync Chrome across multiple computers, like I do, you’ll see all of your bookmarks, extensions, web apps, themes etc. In additional to plain old browsing duties, you also have the ability to launch pages or web apps in a separate window, either with a tabbed browser or a standalone window. You can tab through the screens just like you can on almost any operating system.

As a web browser the CR 48 does exactly what it’s supposed to do. Although, I find it a little slow and many people have had problems with loading large videos, flash files, etc. For me the hiccup comes when I’m forced to use webmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, etc. These are all fine web apps, don’t get me wrong, however the experience simply doesn’t compare to using good desktop apps on either a Mac or a PC. Mac mail, iCal, Microsoft Office (my usual apps) can’t be replicated, at least not yet, in a web environment.

In addition, although I sync my entire documents folder through Dropbox, actually downloading a file via the Dropbox web interface, uploading and opening the file in Google Docs (which first requires converting the file to the proper format), editing said file, retrieving, and then sending back to Dropbox takes entirely too much effort.

Although I don’t own a tablet, the headache of dealing these tasks on a tablet somewhat makes up because of the tablet’s size and other qualities. However, the CR 48 is about the same size as a small notebook computer… So why not just carry around a small notebook computer? Even my 15 inch MacBook Pro doesn’t require that much more effort to lug around and doesn’t force me to make any compromises.

This doesn’t even touch on the question of where Google plans to position its chrome OS against its Android OS. Having a netbook, like the CR 48, with Google’s Android platform sounds pretty nice actually. But I just can’t figure out how the Chrome OS fits into all of this.

I guess time will tell if this thing ever takes off but I have my doubts. In the meantime, thanks Google for the CR 48! It sits on my bedside table and gives me something to do when I can’t sleep/keeps me awake at night. I don’t mind having it, but I wouldn’t pay for the privilege.

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