Chrome OS offers very few configuration options right now for the Cr-48. Among the many things you can’t do is view the system properties to see exactly what hardware the computer has, so if you need to know how much free space is left on the system’s internal storage or what type of CPU you have, you’re out of luck. Nor can you control the power settings. On battery, the screen dims after 2 minutes and goes black after 3 minutes–and there’s nothing you can do about it. You can adjust the brightness in broad strokes by hitting the up and down brightness buttons at the top of the keyboard, but there’s no way to fine tune the level in the control panel.
By clicking on the clock, you can change the time and date. Clicking on the wireless bars launches a pulldown menu with a list of available wireless networks and the option to disable / enable Wi-FI and cellular connections. Clicking on the battery shows you the percentage and estimated time remaining, but doesn’t give you any options.
The main settings menu is available by selecting Settings from the pulldown that appears under the wrench icon or simply typing chrome://settings into the address bar. The settings menu has six tabs: System, Internet, Basics, Personal Stuff, Under the Hood, and Users. The System section allows you to change the time, touchpad sensitivity and language.
The Internet settings tab allows you to configure your Wi-Fi settings. The Basics tab lets you set your default home page for new tabs and, interestingly enough, you can also change your default search engine here from Google to Yahoo or Bing! The Personal Stuff menu lets you change your password and gives you a menu for getting themes. Under the hood lets you change privacy and network settings; it also has a Content button that allows you to control notifications, pop-ups, plug-ins, and alerts. The Users tab allows you to turn on or off guest access and restrict which user accounts can log into the system.
The webcam, which is of unknown megapixels, shot sharp, clear images , even in our dimly-lit livingroom. However, the only way we found to shoot a still with it was to create a user profile and let it ask us for our picture. We tried installing the picmequick extension, which is supposed to take webcam pictures, but the app said it needed us to grant permission to use the webcam and we couldn’t find a way to do that.
Because there’s no web-based version of Skype or FaceTime, Google chat is your only video chat option. Using the Google Talk extension we were able to initiate a call with a friend who was also using a Cr-48 netbook. While the small box showing our picture looked clear enough, the image we saw of our friend was rather blurry and pixilated. The audio in the chat was bearable when the tab with the chat window was on top. However, when we changed tabs, the quality noticeably degraded with the chatbox operating in the background.
One of the most frustrating things about the Chrome OS is the way it deliberately hides the file system from users. There’s no equivalent to the Windows Explorer or Mac Finder in Chrome OS, so there’s no way to browse the folders on the local storage or move files around. Even when you attach a USB storage drive or pop an SD Card reader into the card slot no dialog box appears to let you do something with the content on those devices. There’s also no way to surf the local storage drive by typing local folder paths into the address bar; it just doesn’t work
There are, however, a couple of very limited ways to see the storage system. If you hit CTRL+O at any time, a small overlay window will appear in the lower left corner of the screen and allow you to browse through the contents of the downloads folder. It starts out empty and the only way files end up there is if you download them, something you have little reason to do since you can’t install programs, manipulate local files, or even copy something you downloaded to external media. You can’t actually create subfolders under the downloads folder either. However, if you take any screen shots (CTRL + window changing button), there will be a screen shots subfolder underneath Downloads that will contain your PNGs.
One thing you can do with local files, if they are images, is view them in the browser by double clicking on them. Of course, you can delete files by clicking the arrow that appears next to each and selecting Delete (the only option). The other thing you can do with local files is upload them, provided you’re using a web app or visiting a site that has an upload button. Depending on which site you visit or extension you use, you will get a different type of upload dialog box. On Google services, such as Google Docs and Gmail, this box is a very stripped down white box that looks like the downloads box and just shows your files and folders from Downloads. In this box, you can’t hit CTRL + A to select all files for a batch upload, but you can SHIFT + click to select multiple files.
However, if you are on another site or app, you will get a much richer file dialog box that has two panes, one on the right that shows the contents of the current folder and one on the left that shows a list of “Places” allows you to see any external media (SD card, USB drive) you have connected and has an icon for recently used files. Above the two panes is a a series of buttons corresponding to your location in the file tree so you can easily go back up a folder. However, this dialog box is confusing because it starts you in the root of the file system, not in your Downloads folder. You can drag files and folders from the main pane to the Places pane, but you cannot drag them to another drive, which means you can’t copy files from one device to another. The only real purpose of this dialog box is to allow you to upload files. The good news here is that you can rename files and you can select all files by hitting CTRL + A.
Just like PC and Mac-based Chrome users, you can visit the Chome web store to see a huge list of thousands of available web apps and extensions. However, what Google calls web apps, some call interactive web sites. Since you can’t install software locally, these apps are really just bookmarks that show their icons on the tab when you “install” them. In fact, we were able to visit apps we hadn’t installed simply by typing their URLs (ex: nytimes.com/chrome) into the address bar.
Most of the apps we saw in the web store are free, but a few titles do charge a fee to access them, which is charged by Google checkout. Currently, the top paid apps in the Chrome Web store are all casual games like Real Solitaire and Toddler Jukebox, a musical game for kids.
To learn more about the Chrome Web Store, check out our in-depth hands-on.