Google Chrome OS Notebook: So Far, So OK

Wow, that was fast. Just two days after Google introduced its Chrome OS operating system, the reference-design Chrome OS notebook that Google is sending out to journalists, developers, and select consumers showed up on my doorstep. I’m going to spare you a full unboxing and review, partly because Techmeme is full of people who have already done this and partly because a proper review means using it for at least a few days for a large variety of tasks.

That said, so far I weigh in in the middle of the reviews, which range from Danny Sullivan’s fairly negative take to more positive previews such as Engadget’s. Bottom line, it’s fast–both in bootup and Web browsing–and the nondescript hardware feels pretty solid. But there are many glitches and omissions that will make it tough to fulfill the promise I made when I applied to beta-test it–to use it as my main computer for awhile.

What I like:

* It’s fast, like I said. After a setup that took only a couple minutes, including a software update, the notebook started up in seconds. And the Web browsing on my reasonably good wireless network was, if not as fast as my MacBook Pro on Ethernet, surprisingly close.

* It’s simple, starting with the keyboard, which dispenses with the function keys that always seem like more hassle than they’re worth. Like Google said, it’s nothing but the Web. Shutdown? Close the lid.

* The hardware feels solid, especially the keyboard, whose keys have a nice feel and are spaced like my MacBook keys. Although it feels heavier than you’d expect from the fairly small size, it’s thin and doesn’t feel as clunky as even my little Netbook.

* I haven’t fully tested the battery, but judging from how little it has run down in a couple of hours, it looks like it will last an eight-hour day, as promised.

What I don’t like:

* The cursor sometimes jumps around for no apparent reason. The trackpad, while better than others I’ve tried on notebooks, doesn’t come close to matching the Macbook’s smooth multitouch interface. And right-clicking, which involves two fingers on the trackpad, is maddeningly inconsistent.

* Flash doesn’t work so great, as even Adobe has admitted, though a fix is promised. That makes YouTube and most video for that matter hit-and-miss. Also, Netflix streaming isn’t supported–that’s going to be a biggie unless an app or browser support is added quickly.

* This is the flipside of a computer that stores everything in the cloud so it never (so we can hope) gets lost, but there’s no method of storing local files, if you’re used to doing that or just want insurance against the still-common problem of not being able to get a connection. Google promises offline support for Google Apps but it’s not here yet.

* There’s only one USB port, and it doesn’t seem to recognize very much so far, including my camera and the card in it. This is another biggie–you need easy ways to get photos into the computer that don’t involve playing hot potato with online services.

But hey, it worked well enough for me to write this post on it. I’ll be trying the Cr-48, as Google cutely calls the notebook, over coming weeks and days and will report back on my experience periodically. It’s far too soon to tell whether Chrome OS represents the sea change in computing that Google clearly hopes it will–and that folks such as Google CEO Eric Schmidt have been saying is coming for almost a couple of decades. But the interesting thing is we’ll soon find out.


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