Wednesday, March 16, 2011

CR-48 Impressions

(Writer’s note:  These impressions are based on my experiences at the time of writing.  The device and its OS are in-progress.  The hardware is non-release, and there is no guarantee that the OS itself will ever see an actual public consumer release.)

Okay, so I wanted to have this up sooner, but while writing I ended up getting sidetracked by various things that I would prefer not to get into.  But ohwell, here it is.

So a few months back, Google opened up applications for one of their pilot programs.  This one was a little different because it wasn’t simply a “Hey, download our new program!”  Instead, it was a “Hey, we’re doing a test market of a netbook OS that may not ever make it to public use.  Sign up and you might get a free netbook running said OS!”  The pitch was made that they wanted these devices to go, primarily, to students and businessmen, with a few lucky public users being put into the mix.  Well, I’m not a student or a businessman, so that makes me one of the lucky public users.

And so here before me I have the Google Chrome OS netbook, codenamed the Cr-48.  Now, I’m not a professional technology user or reviewer, and only actually built one PC, and that was several years ago.  So yeah, I’m an amateur at best.  The specifics of device are well documented on other, better sites.  Instead, what I’m here to do is talk about my first one or two weeks with this device.

The Cr48 is intended for people that live on the internet.  While offline modes for certain applications are supposed to be forthcoming, right now an internet connection is needed for this thing to be something other than a paperweight.  But that’s okay, as my wifi router is less than 10 feet from the thing.  Now, I already have a netbook, an MSI Wind12 U-230 running Windows7, that I bought for sitting on the table for TV browsing and when travelling.  While I haven’t had any significant travel time, beyond the standard day-to-day where I wouldn’t even be able to use it anyways, it has effectively usurped it for TV browsing.

As a device for web browsing, this thing is basically running a version of the Chrome browser.  And that’s a good thing.  While not without its problems, Chrome has been my favorite browser since finding out about it almost 2 years ago.  Google has always made Chrome about open web standards and javascript rendering, and render javascript it does.  Alot of pages use javascript and Chrome renders it faster than most other things.  Web pages continue to pop up quickly, though not nearly as quickly as on a full power PC.  This is more noticeable on sites with alot of Flash.

The downside is still Flash.  While Google has removed native support, the Adobe Flash plug-ins still exist, but they’re not that good.  On my regular PC, Flash runs alot better, but Chrome’s biggest problem has always been that the Flash plug-in crashes, not regularly, but often enough to be annoying with the number of tabs I usually keep open.  Most of the websites I use that have videos typically use Flashplayer, though one of them does have an option for HTML5 video.  That’s a good thing, since HTML5 video is one of those open web standards that Google seems to be choosing to support natively.  So the HTML5 versions of the videos on that site run very well on the Cr48.  Well, I guess it helps that HTML5 videos are progressive instead of streaming.  One thing that I noticed about Flash is not only that it doesn’t run well, but that moving into and out of full screen on Flashplayer seems to completely crash the video playback and player controls.  Audio plays back as normal though.  And it doesn’t help that Flash has always been one of Chrome’s issues anyways.

This thing doesn’t, at current, support MS Silverlight, so Netflix streaming is out too.  But that’s what the XBox, PS3, Wii, desktop PC, and netbook PC are for, so oh well.  And if I do take a trip, I doubt that I’ll be thinking about using instant streaming anyways.

What I really like about this unit though, is the design.  Matte finish that has a simulated rubberized finish.  Its simple and unadorned, and looks rather stylish in its simplicity.  The screen is anti-glare, and while that lowers the brightness a little, it helps because I have one of my primary lights right behind my futon, and my netbook’s screen is that shiny, reflective kind seen on most laptops.  Regardless of anything, I really wish the case on the MSI netbook was like this one.  If I could, which I won’t (I’m not that kind of tech geek or anything), I’d rip the guts out of it and put them in the Cr48 case.  The touchpad and chiklet style keyboard are nice, if a little unresponsive at times, though that’s probably as much to do with software as the hardware.

All in all, this an interesting choice for an OS.  It has some potential for people that just want to go online, but at the same time is up against some steep opposition.  Tablets are, and have become a big thing rather quickly.  If Google is smart, I think they should try selling this OS as an alternative to the basic webtop, quickboot OSes that some motherboard manufacturers build into them.  Or, they should try to merge it with Android in the future, and try to make a MacBook Air sized notebook that can flip into a tablet and make a dual-booting system.

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