Home > Everything Else, Google, Hardware and Software > Cr-48 : The First Twenty Four

Cr-48 : The First Twenty Four

December 18, 2010
I was shocked to see the Cr-48 sitting out on the front porch last night.  I tend to pre-order things and forget–so I figured that’d it’d happened again.  Instead, Silicon Valley Santa came early. Apparently the first group of testers weren’t notified as they wanted to see how wacky we went on the web. I’m a good little lemming–hence the blog post. :) 

After a full day of use, I wanted to join the thousands blogging about the Cr-48 and jot down some of my impressions–how it worked, what DID work, and what didn’t work. I’ve made an effort to do most everything on the Cr-48 today–including this blog post. Man, I miss Live Writer.😛

Unboxing and Initial Setup

Out of the box, the machine just ‘starts’.  Fantastic. That’s how unboxing a new device should be. Unfortunately, I hit a brick wall immediately after. My network is locked down pretty tight and one of those security measures only allows authorized MAC addresses to attempt to authenticate.

“How the heck do I get the MAC address on this thing?”

It wasn’t on the screen, so I looked all over the unit. Nothing. Yanked the battery… nothing. Seriously?

DIDN’T WORK: There needs to be a way to spit out the network ifconfig information on startup. If the device is appealing to geeks, then give the geeks some love.

After hacking my own network, resetting the security schema, logging in, and resetting it, I was golden. The out-of-box-experience (OOBE) for the Cr-48 is actually a lot better than most the netbooks I’ve worked with if nothing else for it’s single ‘environment/task’ configuration. I guess that’s both a pro and con of having low expectations for the device (e.g. I don’t expect it to be it more than a glorified web browser).

WORKS: Instant update to the new version of ChromeOS, restart, sync everything, and ready-to-go perfection.

DIDN’T WORK: When the Cr-48 asks to take your picture, do it–even if you just hold up something or take a photo of empty air. Why?  Because ChromeOS doesn’t have a mechanism built in to MODIFY the photo afterwards if the initial picture wasn’t taken. You have to totally format and restart if you want to have a snazzy photo.

Rooting to Developer Mode

Now that I’m logged in and see my data, I want power. *insert evil laugh here*

Thankfully, swapping to developer mode is a FEATURE of the system.  You can’t do it ala software, it’s a physical switch near the battery. The only thing I don’t like is the sad computer screen when you start.  Seriously Google? My computer doesn’t need to be sad, it needs to have a magic wand or a hoverboard when it’s in root mode.

As the instructions explain, you should do this immediately as it wipes user partition (takes a few minutes). After that, you’re good to go.

At this point, you can swap to console windows just like a regular Linux device. Hit up VT2 by hitting Ctrl-Alt- -> (the forward button at the top, like where F2 would be). Log in and hack away or, as the prompt says, “have fun and send patches!”

NOTE: Hit Ctrl-Alt- Speaker Mute Button (LOL). It takes you to the console where the kernel messages are being spewed out. Interesting if you’re a bit geeky.

WORKS: Empowering users who WANT to root the unit is fantastic. I didn’t have to stand on one hand to control my device.

Using the Device

It’s hard to not like the package.  It’s a bit plain, but that’s expected for a prototype device created on a budget (they sent out ~60k of these for free… I’m sure Silicon Valley Santa’s elves made it ‘good enough’).

Screen: The 12.1” screen is crazy bright on full brightness. A couple of notches down from max is fine in a bright room. It’s clear and clean as well. Nice.

Keyboard: I actually love the keyboard. The search button in place of CAPS lock is brillant. When does anyone actually USE CAPS lock these days (except for the trolls on forum posts)? The search button doubles as a ‘new window’ when you think about it which really speeds up navigation once you get used to it.

Touchpad: No, this is a touchbad. I hope the real units either fix this or do away with it. Want to right click in Google Docs and fix your typos? Not a chance. Right-click is a mythical beast that only works when you don’t want it to. Have larger, warm hands (me!)? You’ll be rocketing your cursor all around the screen while you type. Know where to ‘click’? I sure didn’t. There’s no clue that the bottom of the pad is the buttons. I guess MacBooks are the same way–maybe this is a PC user snafu. For now, this is easily solved by a itty bitty Targus mouse I use for traveling.

DIDN’T WORK: The touchbad gets a DIDN’T WORK all of it’s own.

Sound: I have Pandora constantly running (ala Extension) and it’s not too bad. This bad boy isn’t running Bose or Klipsch, but it’s good enough for sitting and surfing. The headphone port has a nice range, no background static (which my Dell laptop is notorious for having).

Battery: Since my last ‘plug-in’, which was about 5 hours ago, the meter says I have 1:23 hours left on the clock. That includes having a USB mouse plugged in, 6 polling tabs open, Pandora constantly playing, and writing this post in Google Docs.  So if things go to plan, the life will be about 6.5 hours. For netbooks, that’s not unheard of; however, l’m sure having the monitor a bit brighter, streaming music, and having HootSuite, Mail, StackOverflow, Groups, Reader, Docs, and four search tabs all running for that time is a bit more than a normal netbook operates with. It’s far more than my normal laptop would survive–and it has two high capacity batteries.

Performance: Honestly? Considering it’s the backbone of the entire system, It’s kinda slow.  Considering it’s running a 1.66GHz Atom, has 2GB of memory, and an SSD hard drive, it FEELS slow–which is really all that matters.  Opening a tab shouldn’t take a few seconds. Page rendering on Amazon.com shouldn’t load one little image at a time.

I’m wondering if that’s because the AR928X card is stuck in 802.11g mode instead of 802.11n mode (Google search is filled with posts about the cards not kicking up to N-mode on Linux). Hopefully this will be addressed in time with patches.

WORKS: For normal operation, once you get used to the flow of the device, isn’t not bad though. Learning the keyboard commands is REQUIRED–if you’re a mouser, even with an external mouse, you’re going to weep at how slow it can be to get around.

UX: Using the Cr-48

The user experience of the device is … different. There’s no other way to put it. That’s not a bad thing either. I spend a majority of my computer time either coding, gaming, or “all other tasks”. I still have my desktop for coding (VS2010 brings my powerhouse computer to it’s knees–I have no expectations a mobile device could run it) and gaming; however, this little computer fits the “all other tasks” category well.

To do that, however, requires a bit of change. Here are a few of the things I’ve discovered to help me use the Cr-48.

Do not try to use tabs for everything. Using tabs is great–we love tab-based browsing, but think outside that. Remember that you can open new windows (Ctrl-N). Think of these new windows as multiple ‘desktops’. For example, I’m running Google Docs in one, my standard ‘browsing’ in another, and my ‘communication’ apps (HootSuite, Mail, Groups, Reader) in another. It allows me to easily Alt-Tab between work environments while still keeping each separate.

Become a keyboard junkie. Press Ctrl-Alt-/ on the keyboard to pop up a SWEET interactive keyboard map (every app should have this).  These are the keys for the ChromeOS. On top of that, learn the keyboard shortcuts of Mail, Groups, Reader, your twitter application, whatever other site you use (e.g. github.com has some pretty slick keyboard shortcuts to move around their site totally mouseless). This really speeds things up.

Some good ChromeOS keys to get started:

  • Alt-Up/Alt-Down : Page Up/Page Down
  • Alt-Tab : Switch between windows
  • Ctrl-Tab : Switch between tabs
  • Alt-D : Focus on Location bar (and select so you can start typing)
  • Alt-Backspace : Delete

Remember the built-in hard keys. Since the Cr-48 is missing function (F-key) keys, it has a row of hard keys built-in. Back, forward, refresh, full screen, swap window, brightness, and sound controls right at your fingertips (literally if you’re hands are on home row). Full screen and back/forward are pretty snazzy once you get used to them there.

Find the app or extension that fits your requirements. I’ll talk more about extensions and apps here in a moment; however, use the Chrome Web Store and explore. There are a few cases where your application may offer BOTH an extension and app. Try both. One may work better than the other for your use.

Extensions

Since the launch of the Chrome Web Store, there’s been a lot of discussion about what an extension is… and what an app is… and why we shouldn’t all just use bookmarks like we have been.

Since ChromeOS syncs to your Chrome profile, anything you already sync shows up automatically. I had my Goo.gl Shortener, Web Developer, Mail, Evernote, glee, and Pandora extensions right OOBE.

DIDN’T WORK: The only extension that’s been a bit wonky has been glee.  It doesn’t seem to properly detect input areas–so pressing the gleeKey (‘g’) at any time pops up the box. Bummer ‘cause glee would be rockin’ on a netbook considering how keyboard-oriented it is.

WORKS: This is more of a recommendation than a works, but still. If you use Pandora, use the extension, not the app. Why? Because the Pandora app just loads up pandora.com. On a normal computer, that’s fine, but this is a Linux-based platform. What happens when Flash starts up on a Linux-based platform? Kittens are killed. The app also requires a full tab to operate while the extension sits happily in the extension bar, blaring your tunes.

Apps

I’ll admit, my initial response to the Chrome Web apps was “wut”? Why would I want fancy bookmarks? With the Cr-48, that’s still pretty much the case. There are a few apps which seem to run as actual applications, like TweetDeck’s ChromeDeck. Everything else seems to just be a bookmark to a site. That is a huge bummer. I’m hoping as the Cr-48 and other ChromeOS systems are released that this changes.

An example. As I discussed above, the Pandora application is tragic. It loads Pandora.com which promptly dies due to Flash.  The extension is rockin’, but there’s room for improvement.  ChromeOS supports panels (little pop-ups at the bottom of the screen). That’d be a great place for some Pandora action.

Random Thoughts

Multimedia is sorta meh. Flash sucks on here. I expect that on a Linux device, but I’d assume the owners of YouTube would have worked out SOMETHING magical. No, sir.  That means poor performance for YouTube and Hulu and, well, 90% of the rest of the web. Unfortunately, since this is a Linux box, Silverlight doesn’t natively work either (I haven’t tried installing Moonlight yet… though I don’t have high hopes). That counts out Netflix. It’s a bit of a letdown because the Atom processors are toted for being able to do multimedia on-the-go. I honestly think this machine COULD do it if it wasn’t for the Flash/Silverlight limitation on Linux and that really hurts to say.

WORKS: For some reason, the Flash player (using FlowPlayer) on Tekpub.com is BRILLANT and works like a champ. I don’t know enough about how the compression/streaming/playback works on FlowPlayer to say why–though it’s something I’m going to look into for a few sites I have using Flash movies.

The window switching animation is confusing. Okay, I’ll accept that I may be dense, but it just doesn’t feel natural. Rather than looping left-to-right through your windows, when you get to the end, you slingshot back to the first… so if you have three, you see left-left-right-left-left-right. That’s fine once you get used to it, but the right (the one that’s going from last to first) LOOKS like it’s going BACK. Just an odd UX thing.

Mounting storage is… awkward. I’m assuming this is a prototype issue and won’t affect the production devices, but the device is SO LOCKED DOWN that using the SD card slot is a real pain. I’m thinking this is to encourage cloud storage, which is fine, but if that’s the case, why is the SD card slot there? I can download files in Chrome, but moving them onto the removable device requires some magic.

But I want something from {device}… For this article, figuring out how the heck to get photos on here was a REAL pain. I have a phone that can take snazzy widescreen photos, but getting them to the web is a bit of a pain outside of TwitPic. I have a Sony digital camera, but plugging it into the USB port on here was futile. I wasn’t going to swap the front web cam around to snap photos–that was just silly. So how can a blogger use this and attach photos? I’m still working that out–note the lack of photos in this stream of text post.

Give us a right-click keyboard button! If right-clicking is going to be such a pain, give us the ‘properties’ right-click key that we’ve gotten used to on Windows keyboards for so long. I’ve REALLY been missing that (especially while typing this post to fix typos–I guess I should be less lazy and spell the words right the first time).

That’s it for the first twenty-four hours and see, all this cloud computing talk and I haven’t once said “to the cloud!”… oh, damn.

  1. December 20, 2010 at 9:11 am

    David,

    Excellent review and info on the CR-48. So when do we get to see some awesome pics of this thing…oh…right…😉

    — Adam

    • December 20, 2010 at 9:13 am

      LOL. Yeah. I did find out how to take screenshots (there’s a hot key for that) and I can upload the photos, but it’s essentially just Chrome. I’ll snap some photos of it (and the awesome box it comes in) and post it up.🙂

  2. Dan
    December 30, 2010 at 10:46 am

    You can right click with a ctrl-click. Had to learn that one to figure out a mac one time.

    • January 9, 2011 at 4:14 pm

      Yeah, found that since the post–that helps a lot…😀

  3. January 8, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    Well nice review! Did the cr-48’s keyboard blow up yet?

    • January 9, 2011 at 4:15 pm

      Not quite yet. Like Dan’s comment with the Ctrl-Click for right-clicking, it’s just taking time to get used to–just like getting used to typing on a smartphone or something.

  1. December 18, 2010 at 6:13 pm
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