Today I recieved a new prototype netbook from Google - the Chrome Netbook. I’m not sure why I was lucky enough to be selected to be a part of the pilot program but I think it might be because I have always, well for as long as I’ve been able to, run the dev build of the Chrome web browser. Two or Three days ago I received an update to the browser and when it restarted there was a little green bubble on the top of a new tab asking me if I wanted to sign up for the Chrome OS Pilot program. I was a little suspicious at first but followed the link and saw that it was legit so I filled out the short form and figured nothing would ever happen. Today the netbook showed up in the mail. Pretty cool.
THis isn’t Engadget so you won’t be seeing a series of photos detailing the “unboxing” instead I’ll try to describe the overall experience. At first I was confused. I didn’t know why I was getting a box from some guy in Kentucky. It didn’t have anything on it to suggest Google at all. THen, when I opened the shipping box there was another cardboard box inside it. The box is decorated with a sort of blue-print type diagram for a hamster powered rocket ship. I thought that, perhaps, it was a gift from my Reddit secret santa. However, when I removed the hamster box from the shipping box I saw a sticker on the bottom warning about a lithium-ion battery. Suddenly I though, could this be a Chrome Netbook? No way.
I opened the box and sure enough, sitting before me was a very plain looking purely black netbook. No labels, no stickers, no badges, nothing but a soft touch matte black notebook. Heck it isn’t even small like I think of netbooks, it is closer to a 13” mac book or something. It’s also very thin; but it weighs a surprising amount. I’m not sure how much it weighs but it is deceptively heavy for it’s size.
In side the box was a battery which is fills about half of the bottom of the netbook. THere as also a power cord and a getting started card. That’s it. THe card was super simple and it said to put the battery in, turn it on gently, and follow the welcome wizard. So I did. I put the battery in, opened the lid (which, in this case, woke the machine up - I didn’t need to hit the power button) and I walked through the setup. I think the setup was 3 things. First, accept a user agreement. Second, pick a wireless network - there is no RJ 45 plug.
At first I couldn’t connect to a wireless network because my office uses enterprise WEP - which requires a username and a password. The network settings only take a password and uses standard wep (as well as wpa and something else, I can’t remember). However, there is an insecure network near my office which I was able to connect to. Immediately after connecting the netbook began to update itself to the latest version and then it rebooted. At that point I could either login with my google account info OR as a guest.
If you login as a guest it starts a session using, effectively, incognito mode on Chrome. I opted to start up using my login information and it instantly imported my bookmarks, extensions, and history, etc to the chrome browser in the OS.
The OS is just about what you might imagine. It is the chrome web browser; except there are a few small differences. First off it supports alt-tab between different chrome windows, each chrome window is full screen so the alt-tab feels like you’re switching between desktops (imagine a desktop manager with virtual desktops off the screen). The settings panel of this instance of the browser has a network page which lets you pick the wireless network you want to join to OR if you want to connect to the verizon 3G network.
Yep, it has a 3G antenna built in. However, so far, I haven’t had much luck with getting that to work. Supposedly, once I successfully activate it I’ll get 100MB of data transfer a month for free for 24 months. I can also sign up for some kind of account for as little as $10/mo. Since I haven’t gotten that part to work yet I can’t say much about it.
I honestly don’t know much more about the hardware inside the box. There was a small card in the hamster box that told me it uses an intel processor but that’s all I know. I suspect it might have an SSD harddrive but that’s only because it boots up so fast.
It’s not instant, at least not doing a cold boot. It takes about 7-8 seconds to get to the login screen but, once at the login screen, everything else happens instantly. There are none of the annoyingly slow startup services or auto-run programs going on that I deal with on my work machine. Instead, I login and instantly I’m on the web. Plus, when I am done I don’t have to wait for the machine to sleep before closing the lid. I just close the lid and it is asleep. That fast. Then, when I open it later it is awake as soon as I open it. The machine doesn’t take a few moments to get its’ bearings. It just works. That’s pretty cool. Other things like the iPad might work like that - I don’t know, I don’t have one - but this is the first computer I’ve had that is this responsive in a way that just lets me get stuff done.
There is a small camera built in above the monitor - but I don’t know what resolution. It also has a microphone built in right beside it. Plus there are speakers on the back/bottom area. On the side are three ports; a power port, a usb port, and a headphone jack. That’s it. No CF card slots, no external monitor ports, no network cable slots, nothing. Nothing on the back at all because, once you open it the top swivels down behind the keyboard a little and completely obscures the back of the computer.
The keyboard is a bit different too. Many have already heard that Google is killing the caps-lock key and the rumor is not an exaggeration. It is also killing the function keys. In their place are iconified keys that do most of what you need. One goes back, one forward, one for refresh, one for “full screen browser” mode, one is alt-tab, one is brightness, another anti- brightness, then one each for mute, volume up, and volume down and finally a power button in the top right of the keyboard.
The rest of the keyboard is pretty traditional except the directional arrows are a little crammed. Right and left are normal but up and down are both half- height and together fit in one keys space. In place of the caps-lock key is a magnifying glass key. That actually just opens a new tab (same as ctrl+t). For those who want you can use all the normal keyboard shortcuts so ctrl+alt+n opens an incognito window.
Another difference between chrome the os and chrome the browser is that there is a settings panel for changing mouse sensitivity and the date/time. Each of the things that make it separate are completely unobtrusive though so as soon as you boot up you feel like you’re just in a webbrowser so it is pretty easy to get your bearings and start doing things. From my perspective of nighttime computer use; checking email, browsing the web, youtube videos, facebook and twitter it is perfect. Obviously it wouldn’t work very well for my job (software development) but I think for most normal home computer users it will work for the vast majority of things they would want to do. Especially considering how many websites are the equivalent to desktop applications now a days.
With that being said I am not sure if I could use it to upload photos from my camera. I don’t know if the machine will communicate via USB with it. Plus, since there is no cf slot I’m not sure how I’d transfer photos to it and then to the web.
Overall I really like the machine itself. I love the non-descript blackness of it. I love the feel of the weird material the cover is made out of. I also really like the keyboard. However, I am having trouble adjusting to the unusual, to me, track pad. There is no scroll area, no buttons to right click with, it is just a track pad area. However, if you want to right click you have to click with two fingers. I’m not very good at that yet though so most of the time my right clicks don’t seem to register. I’m not sure if my fingers are too close together or if I am not clicking hard enough. I think, maybe, I am supposed to put both fingers down then press and the whole pad kind of clicks; it’s weird. You can also scroll by swiping two fingers up or down the pad. That works much better for me than the right click but it just isn’t normal for me yet so I tend to move my mouse around a lot because I just swipe one finger down the right side of the track pad like I can at work.
I couldn’t find any reference that said I’m not allowed to talk about the book so hopefully I’m not breaking the rules. Overall I’m pretty psyched about it; though I have reported 3 different things so far for the engineers at Google to consider. If you have any questions just ask and if I can answer them I’ll do what I can.
Hi Bill, thanks for your post! Haha, so far all I’ve done is posted “unboxing” photos, but haven’t had a chance to write a whole lot about my experience with the Cr-48. I experienced a similar confusion initially about what could possibly be inside the box, since there was nothing to indicate it was from Google!
Interesting that you found it heavier than expected. My primary machine is a 13.3-inch Macbook Pro, so by comparison, the Chrome OS Notebook feels quite light to me! Anyway, I will post more on my blog as I continue to use the device. Hope you enjoy yours!