Thoughts on the Cr-48

I’ve found it to be a mixed bag, which really, as beta software and limited hardware shouldn’t be unexpected.

The good:

First, it helps if you were already a big user of the Google services. After losing all my work when my laptop got soaked in college I was prepared for the next go round. I’ve taken all my notes in Evernote (not the greatest writing interface – fabulous for other things and importing docs) or Google Docs. I exclusively use the Cr-48 for school except for writing papers because footnotes and legal writing guidelines are just easier in Word.

All of my extensions synced over upon signing in, like on an Android phone. LastPass worked right away without any hassles. Ditto for bookmarks. It’s the full Chrome experience from your desktop synced over the Internet. The Cr-48 instantly becomes the browser you have used on other computers.

There are a number of extensions/applications/webapps that can duplicate the traditional desktop experience. Some, like the New York Times are really nice. Simplenote in Chrome is just like any other browser. Some “webapps” are just bookmarks. Like Mint. TweetDeck is nice and runs well but I never was a big fan of it in general.

The 100mb of free 3G data courtesy of Verizon has been a lifesaver because honestly, either the software or hardware will drop WiFi and require turning the machine off and on to get it back. And without the Internet, the experience isn’t so hot.

The mediocre:

Having been spoiled with a Macbook, the trackpad on the Cr-48 isn’t very responsive and doesn’t even handle two fingered scroll well. I don’t fault Google on that – it’s a free laptop with minimal hardware, it’s just a frustration, not a ChromeOS issue. (likewise the screen isn’t the best, but again, hardware not software. the real devices should be better)

Sometimes I really want to have an application separate and even opening a new window doesn’t make it feel that way. You have to remember it’s just a browser. The clock app is a large box that pops up similar to a Gmail notification. I think a little more start menu/taskbar like behavior as part of the Chrome interface would be nice.

The filesystem is a pain. You don’t usually need to access it, but when you do it feels like you are in the wrong place. Integrating say, Dropbox would be fantastic. Sync a few files to the SSD but most stay in the cloud. And the user wouldn’t ever have to see Unix style folder structures.

The bad:

The Cr-48 looks like a laptop. It has a webcam, a full keyboard, USB and even VGA. But unless rooted it is not a laptop. It is just a web browser.

Trying to keep in mind that the Cr-48 is not the hardware ChromeOS will always use is tricky. Had I loaded it onto my laptop I probably would have quit using it after a day or so. I honestly really like having a small, light, fast browser in that form factor that can also do serious typing.

I don’t consider, even after months of use, the iPad to be good for long periods of typing. Even with a bluetooth keyboard it is an awkward experience. The Cr-48 doesn’t have that issue. It feels like any other laptop while typing.

The problem with the Cr-48 is that I can’t imagine when I would purchase a device similar to it. Not as a second laptop. And I wouldn’t make it my primary machine supported by an iPad or other tablet and a smartphone to divide my computing time.

The why not:

Google TV is running Android right? And it has Chrome in top of that. Why not do the same thing here? Why have ChromeOS and not just Android running Chrome with the webapp store? People will get used to webapps without having a cloud-only computer.

If every build of Android had Chrome instead of the standard Android browser I don’t see why Google couldn’t load Android onto something with a keyboard that looked like a laptop but was really just tablet/smartphone guts without a touchscreen. Even dualcore capable Gingerbread would be more than enough to replace the Cr-48 in execution. Maybe the floundering Google TV and Ice Cream Sandwich will answer these questions.

 

The Daily Is the Best of the Worst

Congratulations to Rupert Murdoch: The Daily has launched. After the [ahem] mixed performance of paywalls on Murdoch’s other journalistic endeavors, The Daily is everything a newspaper could be were it faithfully translated from print to electronic. Some articles can be shared, ensuring pretty much everyone pays their way (at $0.99 per week) and the experience of waiting for the paperboy to travel down the information suburban backroad on a Tron bicycle is preserved. As a former paperboy, am I nostalgic for the ability to wait for my news to be delivered once a day? Not really.

This is not to say that The Daily will certainly fail but it is a product of another age trying to shoehorn itself into the digital age. Even with every other requirement and restriction (I think people are willing to pay for good content in a usable format) the idea that a staff of reporters has been assembled to create a mostly static news application seems downright silly.

 

I actually like the interface quite a bit. It doesn’t really feel like a printed magazine like Flipboard but it has a hybrid, almost “magical” intelligent sort of ability to respond to the user. For instance, there is an article about the Super Bowl with a map. Like a traditional newspaper, magazine or website the map is a small graphic. Unlike the web, clicking on the map does nothing. Pinch and zoom? No go. Turn the iPad into landscape and bingo, full sized map. That’s pretty cool. But at the price of abandoning standard touch controls AND standard web controls? Not exactly the best sign.

 

That said, it’s still by the makers of Fox News. Nice for a trial. Possibly a glimpse into the future. But a short stay on my iPad. The Wall Street Journal might work as a special case for paid, locked down content, but The Daily? Likely a stepping-stone.