Surprise, its a Chrome Notebook…

I came home Tuesday to find a surprise waiting next to my door.  There was a generic UPS package delivered and I could not figure out what I had ordered.  I certainly wasn’t waiting or expecting a package.  I opened up the box to find another generic box inside, still wondering, “What is this?” in my mind.  I turned over the interior box to find purple grafitti on the package and then I realized that I’d just received a CR-48 Chrome notebook from Google as part of Chrome OS pilot program.

I have since read that others have had this same surprise as their notebooks have arrived.  There was no advanced notification to expect the notebook and no emails with tracking information, etc.  So, the surprise factor just makes the entire experience all the more exciting.

So far, the laptop and OS live up to the expections I had based on my reading.  The laptop is almost instant on to boot.  It is graphical from the first moment it turns on.  It was very quick to get up and running – just 4 easy steps to set it up.  The laptop also includes both wireless and 3G data connectivity.  Once started, you’re prompted to connect to the Internet so that you login with our Google account.  You snap a quick picture of yourself using the integrated camera and then you’re all logged in and ready to work (or play).   Your GMail, calendar, Picasa web gallery, and all other Google Apps are instantly available to you.  All changes you make on the Chrome OS are automatically synced to the Google cloud, including bookmarks, themes and extension.   I have even noticed that these settings are replicated to my Chrome browser on Windows and Mac.  Sync takes no extra time or thought.  It is certainly handy and it is enabled by default in Chrome OS (in Chrome browser for Windows or Mac, its a feature you must enable).

After using it for a while, I can say, its made a believer out of me. I can see it as a viable laptop for several group so people.  And, I’m not just saying it because I received a free laptop.  But, I can say it may not be for everyone.

Several years ago, I made the GMail transition for my primary email and I found myself slowly, over time, using my Apple Mail desktop program less and less and using GMail’s web interface everywhere I went.  I became accustomed to it and it did everything I needed from my email – sometimes even better than the desktop programs.  So, I was already well prepared by having my email in the Google cloud.

I also began using Google Docs after their introduction and I have found myself using Microsoft Office less and less – primarily because I can share my Google Docs with co-workers and family as we create content that we need to share.  Anything I have created in a Word or Excel doc was ultimately for record keeping or number crunching for a project (like my home build) or for our family (like medical expense tracking).  All of these documents are really useful to be shared with my wife in real-time.

I bring those two points to the table to say that many people have not made the transition to the cloud for all of their primary applications and for them, Chrome OS may not be viable.  Google even states on their website that Chrome OS is for “for people who live on the web“.  (Check out the link to take their quiz to see if Chrome OS is right for you.)  Its not going to run any other local programs except those that run from the cloud or inside of a web browser.

For a recreational or occasional user, I can certainly say that this is an excellent choice for a computer.  For someone who wants to check email, who wants to Facebook and who wants to surf the internet, this is an excellent appliance.  I choose the word appliance because its a single purpose device – to use the Internet.  I also say its perfectly suited for a recreational or occasional user because it lacks the complexity of Windows, which I find to be a huge burden on most PC users.  It also lacks all of the complexity of a Mac — yes, Macs can be complex, too.  There, I said it.  Chrome OS is a very simple Linux implementation that does its intended purpose very well.

As a matter of fact, as I was riding home that evening using the 3G network for the first time, I quickly came to the conclusion that this would be the perfect thing for my mom or my aunt who mentioned wanting to buy and have me help her setup a computer (yikes!).   DSL is pricey for my parent’s (very very rural) area, so its not worth a subscription for their occasional use.  I have usually relied on dial up while there, but most recently we’ve been forced to use extended family member’s DSL when we needed Internet while visiting.  But for the first time, I think the CR-48 is a great choice for them to use – with bundled cellular wireless.

I also think that its an excellent travel laptop for almost anyone for a couple reasons.  First, you don’t have to worry about confidential data being lost on the laptop.  If you lose the laptop, all your data is safely in the cloud.  You can even require a password to wake from sleep as a extra level of protection.  A remote wipe or even “Find My Chrome Notebook” feature, similar to Apple’s “Find My iPhone” feature would be a welcome addition, but would require a GPS.    The second reason is rather simple – the hardware of the Chrome notebook makes it perfect for travel.  Its small, lightweight and has integrated 3G wireless inside.  Plus, the occasional traveler can use the free, bundled 100MB of data per month on their trips.  For a trip where you need to do more, Verizon Wireless is offering a $9.99 per day option with unlimited data or a montly 1G, 2G, etc. packages you can pay for in additional to your 100MB of free data.

Some things I have not tried, yet due to lack for time.  I need to try and load  photos into Picasa Web using the CR-48.  I am not sure if the notebook will recognize my camera or my SD cards – so that is a test to be done this weekend.  I also need to get Google Cloud Print setup at some point.  Right now, I’m all Mac, so Cloud Print is not an option for me.  I do like the way that Google is setting up Cloud Print.  It is bundled with the Google Chrome browser.  [What other things should I test?  Please leave comments…]

From my couple days of testing, I am able to watch flash video online (even video from NBC and CBS works well) and the performance of the laptop is fantastic.  The solid state storage is great and provides nearly instant boot and instant on from sleep.

A little reading online indicates that the chipset inside is actually compatible with UMTS/HSPA wireless networks also – like AT&T (or my primary workplace – HTC).  Apparently, the code for the GSM network is not fully baked, but I hope this means we will be able to eventually use it on a GSM network.  There is even a place to insert a SIM card underneath the battery.    One could hope that maybe I can experiment with that with AT&T in the future.

Required Disclosure:
The opinions expressed here are strictly personal opinions authored by Philip Sellers, an employee of HTC (Horry Telephone Cooperative, Inc.) and/or its subsidiaries.  Any reference to, discussion of, or content regarding HTC and/or its subsidiaries has not been reviewed, approved, or authorized by HTC and/or its subsidiaries before such content is posted and does not represent HTC and/or its subsidiaries or its views and opinions in any way.

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Philip is a IT solutions engineer working for AmWINS Group, Inc., an insurance brokerage firm in Charlotte, NC. With a focus on data center technologies, he has built a career helping his customers and his employers deploy better IT solutions to solve their problems. Philip holds certifications in VMware and Microsoft technologies and he is a technical jack of all trades that is passionate about IT infrastructure and all things Apple. He's a part-time blogger and author here at Techazine.com.

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