Early Cr-48 Impressions

I’ve had the Chrome laptop for six whole hours now. What do I think of it so far? Well:

* The black, matte “no distinguishing marks” look of the computer really appeals to my baser nerderati impulses, i.e., “oh, you have a Mac Air, do you? How nice for you. Excuse me while I pull out my Cr-48, whose very blackness will consume your pathetic hipster soul.”

* That said, in low light the keys are hard to read; more difficult to read than the keys on my Acer One, which are the same color. I guess the matte black really does suck in all available light to it; either that or the screen is really bright, which means there are contrast issues for my feeble 41-year-old eyes.

* The keyboard is of the chiclet type which I have generally not liked on other computers but which seems to be working fine for me here. This may be an effect of the “you just got a free computer, don’t complain” phenomenon.

* But allow me to complain anyway about the trackpad, which is twitchy and also requires you to use two fingers to right click, which I apparently do wrong all the time. I will have to practice more and/or look through the settings to see if I can change it and/or say “screw it” and use a mouse.

* The CAPS LOCK button being replaced with a search button? Awesome. I never used the Caps Lock button, ever, so now the button is assigned to something that’s functional. In real world terms the search button opens up a new tab, from which you may do a search; the search aspect of that is fine but in fact it’s the “opening a new tab” function which is useful for me. All the function buttons are gone, replaced with buttons that address specific computer functions. Oh, look, here’s the “lower brightness” button. Aaaand now I can see my keyboard better. Excellent.

* Speaking of the screen, it’s fine. Nice and bright, except when I use that button to make it less bright. On another note entirely, it’s amazing how much more comfortable a 12-inch screen is than a 10-inch screen, which is what my Acer has. I think I’ve found my laptop sweet spot in terms of screen size.

*Other small build notes: The screen doesn’t go back quite as far as I’d like it to, hinge-wise, but that’s not a dealbreaker. The battery is not quite flush with the bottom of the computer, but again, like I care. The slightly rubberized plastic of the Cr-48, which makes it feel like my Droid X has been experimenting with growth hormones? Excellent. Fan is mostly quiet.

* I know the Cr-48 is not going to be a computer that’s going to sell on the general market, so in some sense all the above is just neepery. But you know what? I would buy a laptop like this. I like the form factor and design a lot. And I love not having branding on it. Love it love it love it.

* On the software side, the thing boots up as quickly as advertised. From off to totally up and running definitely in less than half a minute (I didn’t have a stopwatch on it). Additionally the initial setup took almost no time at all; I turned it on, signed into my Google account, and whoomp, there it was. Close-to-instant power on is a good thing.

* And other than that? Well, someone said to me that if you want to experience what the Chrome OS is like without having to use the Chrome OS, all you have to do is open the Chrome browser and run it full screen. This is in fact a pretty accurate assessment. Basically, the experiencing of using Chrome OS is like having the browser up all the time. The good news here is that I already use the Chrome browser on a frequent basis, so there’s not too much of a learning curve. The bad news is all the annoying things about the Chrome browser are here too. I’ll have to go through and fiddle with the settings until they are to my liking.

* I used the Cr-48 to update the blog and also to write a movie column via Google Docs. Verdict? Again, like updating the blog and writing a column via Google Docs on the other computer. Mostly. I did have to do a couple of workflow workarounds, including using a slightly alternate means to get pictures onto the blog. We’ll see in the future how much this has to do with me, and how much it has to do with the Chrome OS dictating a different workflow.

So in all, not a bad first six hours with the new toy.

41 Comments on “Early Cr-48 Impressions

  1. I’ve always thought that keyboards should come standard with glow in the dark keys. Or some kind of LED back glow. Would make night browsing much easier….

  2. Can you make the search/caps lock key be a control key?

    Have you tried their app store thingy?

  3. Beau:

    I can mostly touch type so it’s not too much of a problem.

    Sean Eric Fagan:

    I did look through the app store. Didn’t do too much with it yet, although I did download the TweetDeck Chrome App. I don’t like the implementation of it, though, so I’m using the Twitter Web page for now.

  4. Ever since I got my PowerMac G3 back in 2004, I’ve decided backlit keyboards rule, and that was before my eyes got to be older than 40 like they are now.

    I don’t understand chiclet keyboards. They first appeared with the IBM PCjr (I think…) and were rightly ridiculed at the time. Why do we keep seeing them, now on all of the Mac laptops as well as PCs???? Do non-touch-type-trained folks find them more usable? I do not.

    I’ve always wondered why the OS hasn’t been stored on some type of non-volatile memory that wasn’t disk based. I’m not talking about a solid-state drive (my netbook with a solid-state drive doesn’t seem to boot much faster than my laptop with a hard disk). As is shown by USB drives, non-volatile memory is getting really cheap, so why doesn’t someone just come out with an “instant on” computer, laptop or desktop?

  5. I’ve seen several people mention the lack of branding as a positive. People really, really hate all the stickers put on PCs, but usually don’t have a choice.

    I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts in the coming days and weeks. Your initial reservations were similar to mine and I’m still unconvinced that I want to give up a local OS for exclusively using the web.

  6. Jack:

    To be fair, the chiclet keyboard on the PCjr had rubbery, mushy keys that were hard to press; these keys are hard plastic and easy to use. It’s more about their aesthetic at this point.

  7. John:

    You are entirely correct, I think I had blocked the horror of the PCjr keyboard from my memory…

    Man, I miss those old IBM keyboards, though, (can’t recall the model number, but the ones that came with mainframe terminals and the original IBM PC) the ones with the firm feedback that clicked when you fully depressed the keys. Gah, I’m showing my age!!!!!

    To each their own, though, I still don’t really like using any of the chiclet keyboards I have encountered in the past few years, but I won’t deny others their preference. I do wonder beyond aesthetics if there is some positive usability difference that I don’t get since I find them less useful than a more conventional keyboard.

  8. Jack@5: Storing an OS in nonvolatile memory is a great idea until you have to update it. (And you will update it – a piece of software that big is guaranteed to have bugs that will need to be fixed.) Flash is the memory of choice for that sort of task, but the mechanics of rewriting flash aren’t trivial. If the process gets interrupted at the wrong time you’ve just bricked the computer. The easiest way to prevent that is to have enough storage for 2 or 3 copies of the OS; you install the update into an unused area until it’s complete, then tell the computer to start using it after the next restart. If it gets interrupted, the old copy is still in place as a fallback.

    It’s only been recently that flash has been available cheaply enough, in large enough capacities, to make that process feasible for a PC-class computer. (We’ve been doing it for years in embedded systems, but those have much smaller software loads.)

    I’m curious how much space Chrome OS takes. I’m pretty sure Windows or OS X would still be too expensive to store in flash, except for specialized systems.

  9. the RadioShack color computer had chiclet keys. the early versions anyway. i bought one of the later versions that had a real keyboard and a whole 64k of ram. operating system resided in a 32k rom and was written byMicrosoft. and it never bluescreened.

    as far as a computer that absorbs light, sounds menacingly evil. roll 3-d6 for insanity. join cthulhu cult if rolll fails.

    as far as cloud computing goes, resistance is futile. you will be assimilated.

  10. Speaking of a couple of other topics brought up in the post (and not meaning to monopolize the comments here, sorry), I have some thoughts about the concept I think underlies the ChromeOS and how it is both similar to and different from the “thin-client” that failed some 15 or so years ago (I think that’s the time frame). I’ll post those thoughts on my weblog linking back here rather than consume way too many column inches in the comments of John’s weblog.

    Another topic, though, is trackpads, mice, and other ways of manipulating the cursor. Personally, I use a trackball with my laptop unless I am only going to be on for a very short time when I am traveling. The trackball doesn’t require as much flat surface area a mouse does, but I find it more useful than a trackpad especially when clicking and dragging. I actually do not have any mice connected to any of my desktop computers, they all have trackballs because I prefer them and because of the amount of time I spend on computers. I get repetitive stress pains in my shoulder if I use a mouse that does not occur when I use a trackball. The trackball drives people crazy when they try to use it if they are not familiar with it. Perhaps all that time I spent playing Missile Command is showing….

  11. you can get media servers now that are minimal linux machines that boot off usb drives.

    as far as flash being problematic, i am working on a flash controller right now and am amazed how friggen complicated it is. a lot of the edge cases are specifucally for recovering from a bad progam in a critical area so as not to brick the machine.

    if i was doing a linux box from a usb drive i would probably have two copies at all times.

  12. Google just released an update that fixes syncing, so I have all my bookmarks here now. Getting updates like this is nice; it’s like a mini Christmas. :P Touchpad feels a little less twitchy now, but that could be placebo from me getting more used to it.

    @Jack: You may be thinking of the IBM Model M, aka God’s Own Keyboard. I have several and won’t use anything else on desktop computers. Unicomp makes a variant that’s USB and has 104 keys, which I have at work.

    @Sean Eric Fagan: Yes, you can remap the search, control, and alt keys.

  13. Dude, I am all about the sound. How’s the sound, is there any?

  14. Santa Google just visited my house as well. I am typing this comment on my own Cr-48.

    I agree that the trackpad is a bit weird, but once I fixed the “tap enabled” glitch (by turning the setting off and on, as documented on the support website), it felt better. The keyboard is like that on my “real” laptop, an Asus, so it feels fine to me.

    Since I’ve standardized on Chrome across my other machines and operating systems, the UI is no big surprise. It basically “does what I expect” for the moment. My bookmarks and extensions synced up OK when I first logged in.

    We just got my fiancee a netbook of her own, a Hewlett-Packard model. That machine is slick, but this machine is every bit as slick in its own way.

  15. blainesgirl @15: There is sound. It’s kind of tinny “netbook” sound, but it works. I ran YouTube and Pandora and the sound worked just fine in both.

  16. Erbo @ 17 – do you know what using the word ‘tinny’ does to a Monty Python fan? :)

    If not, check for a certain tinny and woody sketch by them on YouTube.

  17. Even though they look very similar, as someone who used the PCjr, TRS-80 CoCo, and ZX Spectrum (the original chiclet keyboards), I really really hesitate to call the current gen ‘chiclet’ – they are just completely different and work in different ways.

    The PCjr and ZX keyboards were basically a single-piece rubberized sheet-with-bumps, which activated membrane flat-film switches when you pressed the bumps; a slight improvement over the pure membrane keyboards like the Atari 400 and Timex/Sinclair 1000, but not much. The CoCo had actual keyswitches, but it still wasn’t anything you could remotely touch-type on.

    The current batch of keyboards, I like quite a bit – at least the Apple variants I’ve spent a lot of time with, and the Sony ones I’ve played a bit with weren’t bad either. They use real keyswitches, quality ones, and do very well for me after I got used to them. The advantages as I see them, over a traditional keyboard with equally-good keyswitches:

    * One of the original advantages/reasons for the design, having the keys as separate items sticking up through holes in a solid plate greatly reduces the opportunities for dust, hair, etc. to get between and underneath the keys.

    * The solid plate also adds a great deal of structural rigidity to the keyboard, if the keyboard is mounted appropriately. That means the desktop versions can be very thin and light and take up a lot less space on the desktop, while still having a solid, stable typing platform; the same holds true for the laptop version, where a lot of laptops have a lot of flex in the keyboard backing.

    * When the keyswitches are good, the short throw of the keys can be a considerable advantage, at least once you get used to it; you can type quickly and with a light touch, as compared to one of the buckling-spring keyboards, which I’ve never really liked. [My favorite full-travel keyboards were the Extended Keyboard II and the keyboard on the original Macintosh (which was set up pretty high, but the keyswitches were divine; nice travel, very smooth movement, no binding.)]

    * Speaking of binding… the combination of the rigid plate/keyholes and short throw means the keys travel straight up and down, no wobbling and no binding. Again, I like.

  18. For those who want the classic Model M, there is, in order of fidelity, ClickyKeyboards, who sell refurbed and never-used Model Ms, Unicomp, who licensed the design from Lexmark (who got the design rights as part of their graduation present from IBM) way back when, and the infamous Das Keyboard, who take their inspiration from the classic Model M.

    One of my favorite elements in the later model Thinkpads was the tiny LED spotlight at the top of the screen that could be toggled to give you some keyboard lighting in the dark.

  19. Total removal of the caps lock key. Google geeks taking a minute step toward bringing a sense of civility to the web in a truly epicly nerdy, passive aggressive sort of way. :-)

  20. I use Chrome when I’m on Windows, but I don’t know if I’d want to use that type of thing exclusively. Oh well, I’ll just be over here without a free new computer, my nose pressed up to the LCD monitor. Boohoo, Christmas.

  21. When I first started using a two finger right click it felt awkward, but I really like it now. In fact I like using the track pad enough on my laptop that I bought the Apple trackpad for my computer that uses our TV for a screen. Much easier to use from the couch than a mouse!

  22. A “Chrome laptop” is matte black? This disappoints me. Such a thing should shine like the top of the Chrysler building.

  23. Tumbleweed @18, I <3 U! I am a Huge Monty Python fan and I cracked up when Erbo said Tinny, especially when i just watched Heartless The Tin Many story, and this morning my son watched his birthday present The Wizard of OZ. What Crazy Coincidences.

    Erbo @ 17, Thank you so much. I've gone to the stores lately and I haven't been able to get a rep to show me the CR-48 out of the glass case. I am Huge on sound cause I listen to everything from bagpipe, hard rock, classic rock, classical, folk, etc… I gotta have good sound…or at least have the ability to plug up external good sound… and thanks for saying "Tinny".

  24. You neglected to answer the question on everyone’s mind:

    How many strips of bacon can be taped onto it at once?

  25. “You neglected to answer the question on everyone’s mind:

    How many strips of bacon can be taped onto it at once?


    Three sir


  26. Hey Scalzi; when did you apply for the wee beastie? I’ll guess for your one hundred forty word essay you wrote something like, “Hi I’m John Scalzi, a published author of science fiction novels, and the one responsible for the Bacon Cat meme.”

  27. MaryL @21: If you mean this one, I’m sure that John did, though it probably looked somewhat different to an observer in Ohio.

  28. Don’t feel bad, John. My 26 year old eyes also have a hard time seeing those keys in a dark setting and I have 20/20 (at least I thought so) vision. For such a dark computer they really should have lit up the keys or at least make them glow in the dark. I’m also really happy about the minimalistic look of the device with a total flat matte black finish and zero labels. If the Men in Black had a netbook I imagine this is how it would look.

  29. jack@5
    Adesso Compact Mechanical Keyboard MKB-125B
    Mfg. Part: MKB-125B | CDW Part: 2175024 | UNSPSC: 43211706

  30. everyone else:
    Kensington FlyLight 2.0 – notebook light
    Mfg. Part: 33120 | CDW Part: 634292 | UNSPSC: 43211612

  31. blainesgirl @26: Not being familiar with the Monty Python sketch in question (and not being able to look it up right this minute, being at work and all), I was using “tinny” in the old sense of “sounding a bit like an old transistor radio” (if anyone remembers what those were), with very little low end. You also have to crank the volume up pretty high to get decent volume out of those speakers.

    That’s not necessarily an issue specific to the Cr-48; lots of small computers have speakers that could be said to sound like that. Heck, my iPhone 3GS’ speaker could be said to sound “tinny”…though it’s more impressive coming out of a speaker aperture the size of the moon on your fingernail.

    However, the Cr-48 does include a headphone jack, so you could plug in headphones or better speakers, if you so desire.

    Incidentally, nowhere on the machine does it even say “Cr-48″…not even on the FCC label under the battery. However, it does say “Mario,” that being the machine’s code name, and one of the two machine designs Google was testing Chrome OS with internally before they announced the Cr-48 program. The other was code-named “Andretti,” and remains a mystery.

  32. Hey, what happened to the Manger story? That was hilarious!

  33. My writer got one and I haven’t had a chance to play with it yet! So I tumblr’d your post and sent it to him with a note suggesting he should really let his editor play with the toy, HINT HINT HINT … Tumblr

  34. Erbo…If you get this…don’t worry, I know exactly what kind of sound your talking about. I worked at Radio Shack when it was cool and learned all about old time radios and such. I even have a shortwave radio that has tubes, Tubes,,,as in,,,glass light bulbs as a part of the innards. I actually love that sound, kind of irreplaceable, like a person liking how an old phono player sounds instead of a cd (which I do). I’m just so picky cause I don’t work and trying to find something worth spending the money available on is something I try to be very careful about. I miss the old days when I bought a radio and kept it for ten years before it started to go wonky.

  35. MaryL @21: If you mean this one, I’m sure that John did, though it probably looked somewhat different to an observer in Ohio.