ChromeOS notebooks arrived by FedEx today for testers around the country and I'm writing this blog post on one right now. This isn't Windows and it's not a Mac - it's a little notebook consisting of nothing but a Chrome browser!
There are some good things about it and there are some bad things. On balance? It's OK, but for one very big problem. The page scrolling in this browser is terrible. Presumably it's a result of the disposable hardware it showed up in, but scrolling up and down pages turns steady trackpad motion into fits and starts of scrolling. It's maddening. There are some good things about it, but after enjoying Chrome a lot on my Mac and waiting excitedly for a year and a half for this ChromeOS, it feels like the iPad came in and stole its thunder in the casual computing space just like happened to everything else.
The Good News
- The box it showed up in was beautiful! A really nice box, nice pictures printed on it, very interesting. Easy to open. Small and light. Showed up real fast at my house! Yes sir, this is a nice box.
- The matte finish of the hardware is pretty cool. It feels tacky, no risk of my fingers slipping off anything. The computer is also very light.
- "Instant on" works just like an iPad - very, very nice.
- Free 3G? There's a little bit of free 3G from Verizon (100 MB per month) then you can buy more 3G for as little as $10 without a contract. That's great. I wish my Macbook Pro had that going on.
- Flash integration appears to be better than it is on my Mac, which it sure ought to be. Testing it on Vimeo was challenging because everywhere I went I kept finding these damn stop-motion videos and I couldn't tell what was going on. President Obama on YouTube speaks nice and smooth though, just like he ought to.
The Bad and So So News
- This "simplified keyboard" is OK, but I'm a person who clicks my Command key a lot more often than my Alt key - command-F, command-A, command-C, command-V, you know? The command key is now out on the very left corner, so I guess I have to wiggle my hand around all funny and hold it down with my pinky. It's really uncomfortable.
- Guest mode, a nice easy way to share your computer with someone else, doesn't allow extensions to be installed. Probably not the end of the world, but browsing without my precious Apture or some way to grab screenshots feels worse than not browsing at all.
- Even though I've never bought software in a box in my adult life and I live primarily in Web apps, the absence of desktop software is a little disconcerting. I bet I can get used to it, as long as the Web apps evolve to take advantage of things like Growl or Toast-style pop-up notifications.
- The look and feel is not Windows ugly, but it's not Apple pretty either. It's Chrome wire-framey, you might say. It's OK, but it's a shame that the default fonts and other parts of the chrome aren't more attractive.
- Finally, and really the thing that matters most, is that this track-pad is a total piece of garbage. I think that's what's going on, though I'm not sure. Scrolling is really choppy. Click and drag works about 30% of the time and the rest of the time your cursor just sits there. Now I know that Chrome on my Mac often has a hard time recognizing my click until one character after I've begun my click and drag, but this is non-functional.
I'll try moving the track-pad sensitivity up and down, I've moved it up from the default but not tried way down yet, but this is pretty discouraging. When I'm on a modern computer, I want smooth screen movement and precise control over my cursor. I am experiencing neither with this device and it makes for a pretty frustrating lens to view everything else through.
Gina Trapani puts it well when she writes today, "Apple makes beautiful computers, and Google makes computers disposable." She means that in a bad way - and she's a big Google fan. After a few hours of using the ChromeOS machine I'm back to my Macbook Pro now and wow does it feel good to use a real computer again! Sorry, Google, I really wanted this to work out.
I'm not sure how much these things are going to sell for, but I'm guessing you'll be able to spend $100-$200 more and get an iPad instead. That will deliver an amazing, smooth, responsive experience - at the expense of Flash and a keyboard. I can imagine a lot of people who hardly ever use their computers buying ChromeOS computers, but for now I'm finding it pretty disappointing.