Chrome OS and Cr-48: Initial Impressions

Four days in, here are some random initial impressions of both Chrome OS and the Cr-48 box itself. And before I start dumping opinions, I’ll state that I recognize that any sort of whinging about something Google has given me for free is going to seem incredibly ungrateful — that’s certainly not my intent in touching on things that feel less than ideal. It’s more a matter of providing some constructive criticism, as I still feel incredibly blessed to have received one of these…

Laptop stack, for comparison (from the top): Asus Eee PC, Cr-48, old MacBook Air, Dell Latitude E6410, and my 15" MacBook Pro from work (2011/02/05)

So, in no particular order, some impressions on the hardware side of this equation:

  • Keyboard: good feel, nice sized keys, good layout. I do wish it was backlit, as I tend to use my various laptops in low light situations quite frequently, and have come to really like that. (For fairness, I have the same complaint about my Asus Eee PC.) Overall, I’d say this keyboard falls somewhere between my Macs (top of the heap) and my Eee PC.
  • Screen: pretty decent overall. Good brightness and fairly sharp. I still like matte-finish better than the Mac’s recent glossy finishes, and this one doesn’t disappoint.
  • Processor: it feels underpowered, even for a netbook. Scrolling even on Facebook is not smooth and can even be a little laggy. Overall, the UI is much more responsive and smoother on my Eee PC. Still, this is more than just barely usable. I’d love to see this with some bigger horses under the hood.
  • Trackpad: great size, good level of sensitivity. No real complaints or wishes here.
  • Ports: I haven’t really used them yet, other than plugging my headphones into the corresponding ports for a bit of Pandora music goodness this morning. (Yes, Jeff, Pandora — life in the cloud is going to involve some paradigm shifting for me.)
  • Connectivity: WiFi seems solid and reliable. I’ve had no problems connecting to my home wireless or maintaining a solid connection. I’ve not yet played with the 3G side yet.
  • Finish: I really like the matte black, sort of rubberized feel of the finish of the box. Definitely a win on this.

Shifting gears to the software side:

  • Browser as UI: if you’re already using Chrome as a browser on other platforms and like it, you’ll feel right at home from the outset. Further, if you’re a Google tools user (Gmail, Docs, Notebook, Calendar, Voice, etc.), it’s like getting a computer already set up with all your stuff.
  • Browser as OS: This one is taking me a bit to get used to. I’m very used to dropping to a terminal for doing stuff and exploring on other OS’s, and the absence of any sort of real terminal/command-line or file browser here feels like a gaping hole for me. This is one area where living strictly in the cloud is going to require some relearning of how to do things.
  • Browser as application platform: this is probably the other area where I have some learning and some re-tooling to do. As part of giving this a real test, my intent is to try live as completely in the cloud as possible, with the notable exception of the few things I simply cannot do there (e.g., working on my Komodo-CFML project) — and in doing that, I recognize that I’m going to have to find new ways to do stuff and new tools to do them. For example, while I wrote this on the Cr-48, it was still way easier for me to deal with the picture on my Linux box.

Overall, the experience has been quite positive. The packaging and the hardware both are quite good in all aspects. There have been (or are) some papercuts that I’d like to see Google address:

  • Feedback, even if minimal, to bugs and issues submitted via what appears to be their preferred feedback mechanism (the “bug” button on the browser toolbar) is completely absent. I’ve submitted feedback on several different items and have received nothing. Not even an automated response noting the submission. That makes me wonder right off the bat whether the feedback was even received, whether Google really wants feedback, and whether it is worth my time to provide it.
  • I’ve bumped into one really annoying bug that there does not really seem to be a good fix for: the system appears to be completely ignoring the timezone setting on the box, resulting in the time/date being off by 8 hours, manifesting itself in several different ways: timestamps on Twitter (completely) and Facebook (partially) are completely skewed. And every time I look at the system time in status bar, I have to do the math to figure out what time it really is. Supposedly, this (or something similar — it’s tough to tell) has been resolved in the “dev” channel of the OS, but I’m reluctant to jump into the dev channel at this point… which takes me to…
  • Lack of information about OS updates: Google seems to be quite slow in pushing out updates to the “beta” channel we’re on by default (it being the only choice other than dev). As far as I can tell, they’ve only pushed two updates on the beta channel since the initial December release of the Cr-48 and there are clearly some fairly important bugs that have been raised and addressed on the dev channel releases, but there is nothing indicating when those same fixes will make their way out to the rest of us in beta-land.

All in all, very positive, with the single biggest area I see for improvement is on the communication side: acknowledgement of feedback from users and better push of information from Google as to what to expect on the update/bug-fix side.

Stay tuned; more to come. If you have specific questions, dump them in the “comments” channel below and I will do my best to answer them either here or in a follow-up post.

2 thoughts on “Chrome OS and Cr-48: Initial Impressions”

  1. @Mike: I’m curious about the “dev” mode, particularly if you are running there, what sort of instabilities, etc., it might introduce. I’ve run the dev channel of the Chrome browser itself on every box I own since the first day they made it available and while I’ve not had many /major/ issues with it (and have appreciated the regular updates and the early access to both speed and functionality improvements), I have bumped up against stuff occasionally and that has a different feel to me than running an OS on a dev channel. And I always had at least a couple other browsers to fall back on until the next update when I did run into the occasional glitch in the browser’s dev channel — clearly that’s not the case here; hence my current reluctance to take that particular plunge. I’m definitely OK running alpha or beta software on a stable OS as long as I have fallbacks — I do that all the time. Maybe I just need to go ahead and take the red pill here, too…

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