Google's Chrome operating system Cr-48 notebook is a newfangled mobile Web computing device that does a lot of what a netbook does, serving Web applications via a browser.
It's how users access those Web apps that is different than a netbook. Not better, but definitely different.
Cr-48 is the test machine Google is giving to media, business partners and some lucky consumers as the lynchpin of its Chrome OS pilot program.
The program is the search engine's consolation offering for missing its own holiday 2010 deadline for getting Chrome OS machines into the hands of consumers via computer makers. Samsung and Acer are expected to ship Chrome OS notebooks in mid-2011.
The CR-48 has a black matte finish that feels chalky to me. I prefer the feel of the sleek, black plastic encasing my Asus Eee PC netbook to the Cr-48 shell.
However, the Cr-48's 12.1-inch screen size is full bodied and pretty crisp for a test gadget. The device has a VGA port on one side and a single USB port on the other.
When you flip open the lid, Chrome OS boots within 6 seconds because Google has effectively removed the BIOS boot layer. It also naps when you close the lid, fires up in one second when you reopen it, and reconnects to the Web and your apps/Web pages instantly.
There is a power button on the top right of the keyboard users can press and hold for a few seconds to officially power up and down when the lid is open.
Setting up the device is a dream -- 5 minutes start to finish. Users pick their language, then their WiFi network, let Chrome OS take a picture of them (this can be skipped), enter their Google Account and they're ready to go.
When I got online I was pleased to see all my Chrome bookmarks ported right to the Cr-48, courtesy of Google sync feature in Chrome. I was greeted with the Getting Started screen, which runs through the machine's functionality in nine steps. The keyboard functionality is the biggest deal here. It takes some getting used to.
Laptop users are accustomed to having separate directional touch pads and execution buttons. In the Cr-48, the two are integrated.
As with Apple Macbooks, the directional pad and execution button are one and the same, and you can navigate the Web and click on content with one hand. Check that: one finger.
As a PC user, once you get past the initial awkwardness of muscle memory that has you accustomed to using one hand for the touchpad and one for the execute button, the Cr-48 works well.
To right click, you put two fingers on the touchpad press down, and let go. Scrolling is different, too. You have to take two fingers and swipe up or down on the touchpad. This felt very awkward for me, was unresponsive and, I would argue on the whole, was poorly done. It's way too slow to respond.
To be fair, you can click the Chrome controls wrench in the top right of the browser window to adjust the touchpad sensitivity. This helps a bit, but you're better off plugging in a mouse and being done with it.
How about the other buttons on the keypad? Strange. The caps lock key has been replaced by a search button, the same one found on Google TV hardware controllers. Click the button and a new Chrome tab opens.