In depth: Google's Cr-48 Chrome notebook

Google sent notebooks loaded with Chrome OS to beta testers. Our reviewer took a deep dive into the new operating system.

My holiday gift season started early Thursday morning when the UPS guy pounded on my door and handed me a package. Inside was a notebook -- Google's much-discussed cloud-based Cr-48 Chrome OS laptop. The company announced the new laptop on Tuesday; it's available free of charge to test users selected for its pilot program.

Chrome notebook

Google's Cr-48 Chrome notebook.

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What follows are my snap impressions of the Cr-48. I'll discuss the hardware of the actual computer itself, and then go into Chrome OS, and wrap up with my overall impressions of the user experience of the hardware and software working together. (For another viewpoint, check out JR Raphael's blog entry "Google's Chrome OS notebook: My first impressions".)

In the box

Inside the small briefcase-size cardboard box was the computer itself, its battery, a power cord and a power brick. The only documentation was a cardboard flyer informing you about safe-use practices for the computer and a second one with a quick rundown of the Cr-48's keyboard and basic features, and information about how to start it up for the first time.

A business card with Intel's logo was included in the package, so presumably the laptop comes with an Intel processor, but there was no indication about what kind. Similarly, the size of its memory and flash storage memory weren't indicated anywhere in the documentation. Presumably, if this actually goes on sale, customers shelling out real money for it will be greeted with a bit more documentation.

The Cr-48 is a matte black, anonymous-looking notebook that seems purposely designed to not draw attention to itself. The computer weighs 3.8 lbs.; it was light and comfortable on my lap (and remained cool as well). The case is a rubberized matte material; only the keyboard, touchpad surface, and webcam are slick and shiny. There's no branding anywhere on the Cr-48, and no stickers. Even the bottom of the computer is absolutely devoid of all labels and markings -- a look Google may well change in the production versions.

The overall design and build of the Cr-48 feels solid. This isn't a rugged "toughbook" by any means, but it certainly doesn't feel flimsy.

The display isn't glossy, and once I'd set the brightness at its highest setting, the screen seemed to feel "just right" to my eyes, even in a bright, sunny environment.

The screen is 12.1-in. diagonally. The system has a VGA output that lets you display on the notebook and an external monitor simultaneously, a webcam, built-in speakers and a sound output connector for headphones. A microphone is built in to the left to the webcam, but there's no sound input connector to connect an external mic.

The laptop has an SD memory card slot and a single USB port -- both of which have issues. Initially, I couldn't get the memory card slot to work, and when I plugged in a USB flash memory stick, I found there was apparently no way to access the contents of a USB drive through Chrome OS. At one point, I tried attaching a file to an e-mail by searching for the memory stick's directory under Gmail's "Attach a file" function. Nothing could be found.

There is, however, a work-around. I went to my profile in Facebook, clicked "Upload Photos" and then "Select Photos." The screen switched over to a basic Linux file navigator. I found my SD memory card listed under the "Media" folder and could access a JPEG image from it. I was able to access files from the USB drive this way as well. PC World's reviewer was able to achieve the same results using the online photo editing site Picnik.

The USB port did recognize a mouse when I plugged it in, and the mouse worked normally.

The Cr-48 does not have an Ethernet connection. The only way to get online is via Wi-Fi or its 3G modem (which runs on the Verizon 3G network).

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