It’s been just about a week since I received my CR-48 Chrome OS netbook. In that time I’ve turned on my Toshiba netbook (running Windows 7) twice, and only used my Macbook to check my email a few times. Otherwise all my home computer use has been on Chrome, including writing posts for Gear Diary. While it is still quite early in my Chrome experience, and the OS is very, very young, I thought I’d share my likes and dislikes thus far…think of it as a mini-review…a miniview!
- Getting started is dead easy. Once I did the initial setup (and activated the built-in Verizon Wireless 3G) every time I lifted the lid I was ready to roll. If there was a known WiFi connection nearby it jumped right on, and if not the Verizon 3G kicked in automatically. One nice touch: when connected to Verizon, it lists how much of your allotment remains. Since I’m cheap, I opted to start with the free 100MB, and just hitting the internet drop down shows how many megabytes I have left.
- So far it’s been remarkably stable. I’ve encountered a few bugs, but nothing that’s a show stopper. Most importantly for me, every time I close and open the lid everything is exactly as I left it. Whether I leave tabs open for four days or close it all out, everything still runs quickly and smoothly. I sometimes notice slowdowns on the PC version of Chrome if I leave too many tabs open for too long, so it’s nice to see this doesn’t happen here.
- I know it’s only demo/beta hardware, but if it’s indicative of how Chrome OS netbooks are going to work in the future I’m impressed. It took me a few days to get used to the keyboard shortcuts, but now that I’m learning them they are super useful. Back, forward and reload are all across the top of the keyboard, along with full screen, brightness, volume, and a tab switching button. And caps lock has been replaced by a search key, which annoyed the heck out of me (I kept accidentally opening new tabs with it) until I discovered hitting it a second time closed the inadvertent tab. It’s nice to see that Google realized keystroke memory is tough to brek, and made it relatively easy to fix the issue without mousing around and closing extra tabs manually.
- The floating, collapsible windows for GTalk and Scratchpad are great. Open up a GTalk conversation, for example, and you can shrink it by hitting the top bar. Then just mousing along the bottom brings up the hidden windows (like hiding the dock in OS X or the toolbar in Windows). It’s a clever way to put something you want universally available (like chat) in a place where it’s accessible but still follows the simplicity of the OS.
- Scratchpad, the notes program with Chrome OS, is awesome. It’s basically a stripped down notes program that syncs to Google Docs. Since GDocs doesn’t work offline in Chrome OS yet, Scratchpad is key (especially if you’re working on writing something and you don’t want to suck down your precious 100MB of free data!) Like GTalk, Scratchpad can also be hidden along the bottom. This is great for times when you’re writing, but also need to reference sites along the way. Pull Scratchpad up and start writing, minimize or work around it to check out a site, and go right back to work. It’s a great workflow tool/feature.
- Chrome to phone+Verizon 3G+Droid=happiness. I was able to use the CR-48 to look up an address in Google Maps, send it to my Droid, and navigate to the location…all in less time than it would have taken to look up the address in Maps on my Droid or look it up, email the link, and then pull it up on the Droid. Really, really seamless.
- There are definitely some bugs. GTalk’s buddy window, for example, is finicky about updating. If I’m chatting with someone and they sign off, GTalk on my GMail tab notices, but the standalone buddy list doesn’t. And there isn’t a way to reboot just the app; as far as I can tell, I can only fix that with a full reboot. Luckily GTalk on GMail hands off IM conversations to the Chrome OS GTalk, so I don’t NEED the buddy list working, but it’s an annoyance. Also, after the last OS update, the “move between tabs” button stopped working. It’s a beta, and these issues will get ironed out, but they’re enough to note.
- I don’t know if this is a bug, an OS issue or a hardware one, but right-click is extremely finicky. You can right-click using both fingers on the mousepad, but sometimes it works and sometimes it just….doesn’t. Hopefully, it’s not a permanent issue.
- Living in the cloud is great, and overall I don’t mind it…but I do think Chrome OS needs a few features tweaked or changed. For one, there needs to be a user-friendly file system. I can upload pictures to WordPress, I can even download pictures to the device. But the file system it presents is user-unfriendly Linux. If I didn’t have a small amount of experience with it, I would have no idea where my newly downloaded file landed, and it would be terribly intimidating to try to figure it out. This may be something we’ll see in closer to a final release, but even just showing the “user” file by default instead of the system ones would make this much less intimidating.
- There needs to be a media player built into the OS. If you receive a video file, currently you can download it but nothing happens. There needs to be a way to at least access and play these files.
- It’s a big, beautiful screen, and I can’t watch movies from an SD card…so sad. 🙁
Chrome OS is excellent for a beta. If this were the final release I’d be much harsher, but it’s tough to come down too hard on something that’s meant to be dynamic and a work in progress. Most of my issues are with clear, glaring bugs, or features that are currently missing. From what I’ve read the timeline is to have Chrome OS laptops out this summer, and a lot can be changed and added in 6 months.
As it stands now, and especially with a bit of polish, Chrome OS is a real winner if you need a simple way to work online. In many ways it’s the opposite end of what tablets hope to accomplish; tablets are all about consumption of information on the go, and Chrome OS is more about creating and managing information on the go. With the right combination and balance, I think Chrome OS will find a home in the mobile market. It’s not Android, but it isn’t intending to be Android. In many ways, it’s far simpler, and as long as it continues on the path it is on now with development that simplicity is going to lead to real strength.
My goal is to update with more thoughts on Chrome OS as it updates and matures. If you have any questions or want me to test anything out, just leave a comment!