Friday, December 10, 2010

Chrome Notebook: Initial Boot and Reaction

Eight seconds. That's how long this little beauty takes to power up (to fully functional computer). A little over a second to resume from standby.

My initial reaction is that the Chrome notebook does not disappoint.


When you first power on the Chrome notebook, you're taken through the initial setup. The first thing you see is the Let's Get Started page:
I would have preferred it if the notebook played the Universal Greeting through the speakers, but this works too.

Once you select your language and connect to a wifi network (yes, that's the only way to get online), you get to accept the terms of service (which is not nearly as fun to read as the literature included in the box. Then you get the inevitable updates. 
Although the screen says that the computer will restart, I don't remember it doing so. Then again, I may have still been hyperventilating so I shouldn't be relied on for that level of detail.

While it's downloading updates, which really don't take that long, you can geek out on the Chrome OS version number at the bottom left of the screen:
My Google Chrome OS started at version 0.9.110.9, and after updates was at 0.9.128.8.

Then you can look at the top right of the screen, which shows the time, wifi signal strength, and battery life:
The battery was a little under 50% charged for me, and after about 3 hours of playing around with it, the battery had decreased to 18%. 

Once the updates are done, you get to sign in with your Google account (yes, you have to have one) and then take your picture with the integrated camera!

After greeting you in a suitably Google manner, the notebook then gracefully moves you along to the Get Started tour:

This tour is very well done. It provides just enough basic information for a user to get started using the Chrome notebook, without boring them to death with all of the details. The nice thing is that the tour is very easily accessible at a later time, if you decide to skip the instructions and just dive in. Which you can. I do advise reading this as it gives some time saving tips.

Since the Touchpad is pictured in the Get Started screen shot above, it's a good time to talk about it. It is a single clickable button. You can press it to get a satisfying click, or just tap it gently for the same effect. It is a multi-touch pad, which means you can use two fingers to right-click and to scroll.

Scrolling, for me, seems to be a tad challenging, though hopefully I will get used to it. (Thankfully, you can still move the scrollbar down the old-fashioned way.) The touchpad is not as slick as the ones I'm used to. Also, the matte black surface looked mighty fine for about ten minutes, until my greasy fingers (which had recently been washed, I'll have you know) encountered the touchpad; now there's a blemish already.

I mentioned the keyboard in a previous post, so I won't repeat that here. 

The 10.25" screen seems decently bright indoors. I haven't had a chance to try it in the sunlight because, well, there has been no sunlight since I opened the box. The resolution of the screen is likewise very nice. 

Connectivity is interesting. Wifi is of course enabled by default, and 3G is an option. 3G is only available with Verizon. Costs are vague in the documentation -- I haven't signed up so the costs are surely presented during the sign up process. It does mention "pay-as-you-go rates that are easy to understand and don't require any long-term contracts", and a limitless day pass option for $9.99. It's unclear whether Verizon customers can use existing contracts. (I'm not a Verizon customer.)

One thing that is lacking, in my opinion, is a wired ethernet connection on the notebook. Yes, they might be passé, but sometimes they are the fastest and most reliable connection in the area. (The online help does mention that you can plug in a USB Ethernet adapter to connect to a wired network, but this is not as universal as a straight ethernet connection.)

I don't yet see a way to access a USB flash drive. The USB port seems to be for "mice and keyboards, headsets, and microphones" for now. According to the help, they are "working hard on adding support for more devices." Likewise, the SD slot on the side doesn't seem to recognize (or do anything with) the SD card I put in. And why just one USB port, by the way?


Using the Software

Anyone who has used the Chrome browser on a PC will be on familiar ground here. With minor exceptions, it looks and behaves just like Chrome. It even syncs with your Google account settings, and keeps consistent bookmarks between different computers (so long as you're using Chrome on all computers.) 
The Settings menu -- slightly different than the Chrome browser

There is no "start menu" or "desktop". There is just the browser. Each new tab is like a different program (app), or web page. You can open a new window or a new tab. If you just keep opening new tabs, the titles of all of your tabs are visible at once on the screen, which is handy. If you open a new window, you can press Alt-Tab to cycle between windows. (Which, by the way, is lightning fast compared to a PC.)

There is also a Chrome Web Store where you can download web apps that are optimized for the Chrome OS. Most are free at this point, from what I have seen. Once you've downloaded an app it appears on your New Tab page.

The New Tab page.
The default apps that come with Chrome OS are "Get Started", "Entanglement" (a highly addictive game), "Gmail", "Poppit" (another game), "Web Store", "Youtube", "Scratchpad", "Google Maps" and "Google Talk". 

Google Talk is implemented very well. Talk (chat) sessions overlay whatever the active tab is, so you don't lose conversations. This is a nice feature. Talk sessions can be minimized to conserve screen space.

Different users can sign in on different accounts on the computer. It's just one user at a time, unfortunately -- one user has to sign off before another user can sign on. There is a Guest Mode to allow your friends (or children, or children of friends) to sign on: They will have no access to your personal data (and vice versa), and all traces of the guest's browsing are erased from the system. 

All this cloud stuff is great, but what about printing? Well, you have two options. You can get a "Google Cloud Ready" printer or you can print to existing printers as long as they're shared on a network from Windows. (Mac and Linux, it claims, will be supported in the future.)

Overall Impressions

The Chrome notebook, using the Google Chrome OS, is a very solid, versatile machine. I'm impressed with the stability of the software and hardware -- so far I have not seen any clear software bugs, and the few design choices I have quibbles with are very minor. 

I haven't come close to maxing out the notebook's memory or processor. I opened 10 tabs with web sites, had the two game apps running, opened my Google Doc with my 51k word novel in it, streamed a video in Youtube, along with some ajax-heavy apps like Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Maps. This machine had no problems keeping all of that going at once. (I should note that watching Youtube videos in HD does not seem to be an option on the Chrome notebook.)

I do not think the Chrome notebook will be able to entirely replace a traditional notebook, and certainly not a desktop PC. The lack of file storage is one huge problem. Yes, much of what we do can live on the cloud, but not everything.

I am looking forward to using this notebook and putting it through its paces. So is my family, let me tell you! I am especially curious to see how using this notebook compares with using my Android phone.

1 comment:

  1. I forgot to put this in, thinking everyone interested had already seen this, but have been asked about it. Here are the published specs of the Chrome notebook:

    ‎12.1 inch LCD display
    Wi-Fi 802.11n
    Built-in 3G (Qualcomm)
    Flash based storage
    Webcam
    Full-sized keyboard
    Oversized touchpad
    3.8 pounds
    8 hours of run time with 8 days of standby time
    8 second boot time (from my experience)
    1 second resume from sleep (from my experience)

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