Google Cr-48 Chrome Netbook Full Review

Though the official release of its cloud-based Chrome OS is months away, Google has begun a massive pilot program, offering specially-chosen end users, Google employees, and journalists their own prototype Chrome netbooks. Known as the Cr-48 (for the element Chromium 48), these particular 12.1-inch laptops will never be sold commercially, but they offer a very detailed preview of what we can expect from the first Chrome systems when they launch by mid-2011. So what’s it like living in a browser-only PC?

Editor’s Note: Because the Cr-48 netbook is a test product that is not for sale commercially (and never will be), we’re not giving it a star rating.

Design of the Cr-48

The Cr-48 won’t be available to consumers and Google has already stated the systems its partners launch in mid-2011 will not use this exact design or hardware. However, there are several things about this test system we found interesting, because they may inspire the final products.

First, we were amazed at how MacBook-like the Cr-48 is in its design. The chassis is rounded and shaped like a last-generation plastic MacBook, its keyboard has the same size, shape, and nearly identical layout to a MacBook’s, and even the hinge, which sites in the middle of the chassis, takes its cues from a MacBook.

We love the black, soft-touch rubberized material that is used throughout the chassis and wish more products were made out of it. Laying your wrists on the soft touch palmrest is a pleasant experience.

At 11.8 x 8.6 x 0.9 inches the Cr-48 is a very comfortable size for your bag or holding on your lap, but its 3.8-pound weight seems a bit heavy for a system this size.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The very isolated keyboard layout provided good tactile feedback and key placement that makes typing on it a breeze. However, you will notice that the keyboard has no function keys, but instead has dedicated keys for forward, back, refresh, full screen mode, change windows, brightness up, brightness down, mute, audio up, audio down, and power on/off. The caps lock key has been replaced a search button, because Google says it wants to discourage all-caps typing.

There are numerous keyboard shortcuts which match those you would find in the Windows version of Chrome. These include such as CTRL + H to see the history, CTRL + W to close a tab, and CTRL +/- to zoom in and out. You can see a complete list of these by hitting CTRL + ALT + ?.

The touchpad does not have built-in buttons, but like many notebooks these days, is itself a button. In our experience most clickpad designs, apart from the MacBooks, are unpleasant to use particularly if you like to navigate with one finger and click with another. The Cr-48’s clickpad alternated between making our cursor jump and stopping it mid-movement. Pinch-to-zoom didn’t work either. As we expected, right-clicking doesn’t do anything. To finish the review, we had to plug-in an external mouse.

Screen

The 12.1-inch screen has a 1280 x 800 resolution, which is extremely rare on notebooks these days but a welcome improvement over the nearly-ubiquitous 1366 x 768 panels we see every day, because it allows plenty of vertical screen real estate for viewing web pages. The screen’s matte surface allowed it to provide really strong viewing angles to the left and right.

Ports

There are very few ports on the device. On the right side is an SD card reader, an audio-out jack, and a USB port. On the left is a VGA port. As stated above, storage devices and memory cards work for uploading files to the cloud, but do nothing else. We were able to attach both a wired and a wireless mouse to the USB port and both worked pretty well.

Set Up

True to Google’s word, initial set up takes only a minute or so. After you power on the Cr-48 for the first time, you’re asked to configure your Internet connection by selecting a Wi-Fi network, then you’re asked to agree to the Google EULA, and finally asked to login with a Google account and given the option to take your picture with the webcam so the picture can accompany your login.

When it came to logging in, we noticed two interesting flaws. First, the system did not recognize any Google account we used with a username that did not end in @gmail.com. When we tried to login with our laptopmag.com address, which is a registered Google Apps user account, or with another Yahoo address that’s registered with Google, the system said our account could not be located.

If you don’t have a valid Gmail account already, you hit a bit of a wall at the login prompt, because there’s no way to create one during setup. If you don’t already have a valid Google account, your best bet is to walk over to your nearest non-Chrome OS device, visit Google.com, and create your account there before continuing.

Google Cr-48 Chrome Netbook Full Review

AUTHOR BIO
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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  1. Maurice Says:

    Nice review. Just playing with my own Chrome notebook received yesterday.
    You mention that you don’t kow what Atom CPU is in the device. I found the information by accident whilst submitting a bug report. It is a N455 @ 1.66GHz.

    I fact a lot of interesting system and debug information can be found by pointing the browser to chrome://system/

  2. tcn Says:

    It’s definately going to be interesting as to whether Chrome OS is going to be a threat to the other currently operating systems (particularly Windows 7)… personally I think Windows will prevail, but who knows.

  3. Robert Says:

    Just an update about the webcam that I learned from using my own cr-48. You have to go to adobe flash settings manager page and set allow always exceptions to get the webcam to work for apps like picmequick and facebook.

  4. Evan Says:

    Instead of going to “walk over to your nearest non-Chrome OS device, visit Google.com…”, you can simply sign into guest mode and do it through there. That’s part of the reason its there, after all.

  5. Ezequiel Gonzalez Says:

    Eventually a Windows PC will be one among many computing devices, and one among many Internet access devices. There will be plenty of choices and plenty of devices. Most of them will be powered by a variation of linux/bsd/freeUnix operating system. It is cheaper for the developers and manufacturers that way, less paperwork and less restrictions on what they can do. Microsoft will not die away, but will no longer dominate the market like they did during the desktop era.

  6. Aj Says:

    Its too bad that the CR-48 is not being offered in India. I am ready to go for it even if a thousand people say that it makes no sense. There is something about the Chrome OS philosophy that makes sense. We are sitting with expensive bricks without the internet anyways…

    What ive read in many reviews already is the fact that using the Cr-48 feels like using a maximized Chrome browser window on *any* OS. Maybe google should consider turning the experience into a typical desktop experience? Take the feeling away from a user that he/she is being *confined* to a window and that there is something *outside* of that window that he/she is being stopped from accessing…..

    maybe we should see the chrome as a a two part system, a borderless mother tab that acts as a desktop and any number of windowed sibling tabs that would let it work like a traditional desktop OS.

  7. David Soh Says:

    Actually, you can use chronos account in terminal. (You can open terminal by press Ctrl + Alt + t, after that enter “shell”)
    The account can help you organize your file, copy file from the Downloas folder to your pendrive and vice versa. But you must have root permission, I dont have cr 48 so I dont how to get it, but in chromium os, you can use “sudo su”to switch to root account. Chrome OS/Chromium OS is a Linux distribution and the GUI is base on gtk (I guess). If you have used Ubuntu before, and you will know how to “hack”(just mean advanced tips ) chrome os.

    P.S. Sorry for my poor english, My mother tongue is Chinese.

  8. smee Says:

    Google has directions on how to install an alternate OS here:

    https://sites.google.com/a/chromium.org/dev/chromium-os/developer-information-for-chrome-os-devices/cr-48-chrome-notebook-developer-information/how-to-boot-ubuntu-on-a-cr-48

    You can use the same directions to install any linux distribution onto the cr-48. I have Arch Linux installed on mine and it runs very well. I installed flash player 10.2 beta, and youtube videos play smoother than on chrome os.

  9. gary Says:

    how do i turn on camera to do video chat with a friend?

  10. Justin Reed Says:

    Well, I have loved it so far, and it is built well.
    First of all, mine is pretty beaten up because my jacka** dad and I got in a fight and he threw it. The hinges are starting to come apart, and it doesn’t close quite right, but it still works just fine now. Also, when it is open, the screen is just as sturdy as it was before and looks fine when I am using it. It really is a little bit heavy for its size, but it is also very durable.

    So far so good!

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