Google Cr-48 Chrome Netbook Full Review

Performance and Media Playback

Though we have no way of benchmarking the Cr-48, our experience shows that performance was adequate for surfing the web and switch tabs, but weak when doing anything that involved a little bit more power, like playing video. As stated above, the webcam video was choppy and audio degraded a great deal just from putting the chat window in a background tab.

At present, the Cr-48 does not cut it as a media machine. The Flash plug-in crashed frequently throughout our use, YouTube wouldn’t let us even attempt to play video at higher than 480p, and even standard def videos were extremely jerky on both YouTube and Hulu. Netflix watch instantly doesn’t even work, because it needs the Microsoft Silverlight plug-in.

Though we don’t know exactly what Atom CPU is inside the Cr-48, we can’t blame the hardware. No Atom-based netbook has ever played video this poorly. We have heard that Adobe is coming out with a new version of Flash for Chrome OS that is designed to improve performance.

However, we were able to play music that we streamed from Napster.com and sound quality on the internal speakers was decent.

Battery Life

Because you can’t stop the Cr-48 from going to sleep after only 3 minutes of inactivity, there was no way for us to conduct an automated battery test. However, in our use, the netbook lasted a very long time on a charge. We used the system for about 6 hours, with a few minutes here and there of letting it sleep, and watched the battery percentage drop from about 90 percent to 28 percent. So we have every reason to believe Google’s estimated endurance of 8 hours.

Verizon 3G

One of the most highly-touted features of Chrome OS netbooks like the Cr-48 is their built-in 3G cards that come with some free data, courtesy of Verizon. The cards are Qualcomm Gobi devices so they support all kinds of networks including GSM-based systems in Europe and Asia, along with AT&T or T-Mobile here in the U.S; a SIM card slot sits underneath the battery. Verizon Wireless, uses HSPA technology so its account is tied to the Gobi card itself, not a SIM. The carrier is offering Cr-48 users a special contract-free plan where they get 100MB of data free each month (with no obligation to spend a dime at all), one day of unlimited access for $9.99, 1GB for a month for $20, 3GB for $35, and 5GB for $50.

Verizon doesn’t specify an overage fee for these prepaid plans so we imagine that, once you reach your cap, the device just stops transferring data. One great thing about Chrome OS’s Wi-Fi bar is that, while you are connected to Verizon, you can always see the amount of megabytes you have left for the month by clicking on the 3G bars in the upper right corner of the screen.

The first time you try to enable the 3G service, Chrome transports you to Verizon’s site for a sign-up. There you must select one of these plans (including the free one) and enter your contact information and a credit card number. Even if you select the free plan, Verizon requires your card number and e-mails you a receipt for $0.00.

Oddly, right now there’s no way to change your plan until you run out of data. So, if you’re on the 100MB plan and you know you’re going to need a $9.99 unlimited day, you must wait until you’ve used up your first 100MB.

Certainly, Verizon’s 3G service is worth what you pay for it. We saw speeds up to 2.9 Mbps on the download and .9 Mbps uploads using speedtest.net. That said, by the time OEMs ship real Google netbooks in mid-2011, they will be remiss if they don’t include a way to access Verizon’s 4G LTE service.

Cloud Print

If you hit CTRL + P in Chrome OS, you will be prompted to access Cloud Print, a new Google service that allows you to send print requests over the Internet to another computer that has a printer attached. That other computer must be running Chrome 9 browser, which is currently in developer preview mode which means that it’s not even at beta level. We installed Chrome 9 on a PC and enabled Cloud Printing and saw that indeed we could send commands over the Internet to our printer.

However, Chrome 9 browser was so buggy that it wouldn’t work with our scroll wheel and we quickly uninstalled it. We’re sure that Google will soon rectify this problem. That said, the Cloud Print feature seems a bit strange, because it requires a Windows PC to work; there’s no way to print from a Chrome OS netbook directly. So it’s unclear what would happen if someone’s only computer ran Chrome.

Jailbreak Mode

Underneath the battery, tucked away in a crevice is a tiny white switch that enables “jailbreak mode.” In theory, this mode is supposed to allow developers to go in and make modifications to the OS. If you position the switch in jailbreak mode, then reboot you’re prompted to insert a recovery USB stick that will reinstall Chrome. If you insert anything but a recovery USB (that you can create with help from Google.com), the system won’t boot so there doesn’t appear to be a way to load alternate OSes onto the Cr-48 or even to boot off the USB port.

A Google rep, however, told us that by hitting CTRL + D on the recovery screen, you could launch a developer mode of Chrome OS that would “blow away your current [OS] image.” We haven’t tried it yet.

Verdict

While the Cr-48 is a fascinating device, it’s clear that both this system and the Chrome OS are not yet ready for primetime. However, we have no doubt that obvious problems like the sluggish Flash performance, the inability to create a Google account from the sign-in screen, and the odd way it handles minimized windows will probably be resolved by launch. What we are left to wonder is whether Google will relent at all in its attempts to hide the file system and other inner workings of the computer from the user.

After using Chrome OS for several hours, we’re struck by how many things we simply cannot do in it right now. We can’t do anything offline, even edit Google docs. We can’t place two windows next to each other to compare their contents. We can’t copy files to or from external devices; we can’t use Skype.

All of that said, Chrome OS netbooks have the potential to be good content consumption devices, provided you’re comfortable with all your content living in the cloud. Google’s vision is to replace all local software with web apps, but they have a long way to go before the world is ready, if ever, to do anything and everything in a giant browser.

Pros Cons
  • Sturdy, comfortable design
  • Fast boot
  • Easy setup
  • Long battery life


  • Jumpy touchpad
  • Sluggish Flash performance
  • Cloud print requires Windows PC
  • Dearth of settings and limited file access




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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