Performance (Real World Use)
Our traditional performance and benchmark section doesn’t really apply to the Cr-48 for two reasons:
- We’re dealing with a new operating system that isn’t compatible with traditional synthetic benchmarks.
- The new operating system has no functional offline mode at the time of this writing.
It’s really the second reason in that list that has the biggest impact on testing performance. The Cr-48 is essentially a netbook that only runs the Google Chrome web browser. There is a USB port and a SD/SDHC card slot on the side of the laptop for accessing files that need to be uploaded to the cloud, but at the time we reviewed the Cr-48, the directory and file management portion of the Chrome OS wasn’t working. In other words, you cannot locate any files stored on a USB flash drive or SD card slot.
This issue will no doubt be resolved before we see the first commercially available laptops with the Google Chrome OS, but at the time of this writing it’s extremely difficult to use the Cr-48 to transfer important files to cloud-based storage on the internet.
Speaking of the Internet, The Cr-48 features 802.11a/b/g/n wireless plus 3G CDMA wireless through Verizon. Both wireless connection options work perfectly with terrific range. The 3G access is pretty easy to setup using the on-screen tutorial and Google and Verizon have teamed up to provide Cr-48 pilot program testers with 100 MB of free data each month. Of course, you NEED to have internet access since the current version of the Google Chrome OS will not boot up without the internet.
In terms of general use as a web browser, the Cr-48 is something of a speed demon. The laptop takes about 5 seconds to reach the login screen from a completely cold start. Complete boot up takes about 15 seconds, with most of that time being used to load whatever pages you were viewing during your last browser session. This rapid response probably has more to do with the operating system and the fast SanDisk SSD being used inside the Cr-48 and not the processor. The Intel Atom processor continues to have trouble with streaming HD video playback regardless of the speed of your internet connection. Standard definition YouTube and Hulu play with minimal stutter and Netflix doesn’t work at all (Microsoft Silverlight isn’t compatible with Chrome OS or Linux at this time).
After trying to use the Cr-48 on a variety of media-intense websites I couldn’t help but wonder why Google decided to use an Atom processor in this testbed platform. The user experience is already painful enough using an unfinished operating system with no offline mode and no ability to access local storage. Why handicap the laptop even further with an Atom processor?
In our standard test with the notebook screen set to approximately 70 percent brightness and set to constantly refresh a webpage at 60-second intervals, the Google Cr-48 managed to stay running for 8 hours and 11 minutes while using Wi-Fi and kept running for 6 hours and 38 minutes while using the 3G broadband connection. Lowering the screen brightness or letting the system enter sleep mode would have extended the battery life even further.
This amount of battery run time is likely more than enough for most consumers, particularly if you’re used to a traditional notebook that can deliver only half as much (or even less) battery life. That said, we’ve seen similarly configured netbooks deliver more than 10 hours of battery life running on Wi-Fi.
I wasn’t completely blown away by the battery life on this machine considering that the Cr-48 is essentially just a web browser in a laptop shell running on a giant battery. If the Cr-48 was a production-level machine weighing almost 4 pounds that was essentially just a web browser, I would expect 10+ hours of life from a high-capacity 63Wh battery.
Heat and Noise
The Cr-48, like most Intel Atom-based netbooks, features a cooling fan to push hot air away from the processor when it starts to work hard. That said, I only noticed the fan turning on and pushing heat out of the vent on the left side of the chassis when I tried to watch streaming HD video on various websites. Since Intel Atom processors and integrated graphics struggle with HD video playback, this was the only time that the Cr-48 started working hard.
The exterior temperatures were all quite “lap friendly” but I imagine this has more to do with the fact that the Cr-48 is basically a netbook in a notebook shell. If this same hardware was stuck inside a much smaller and thinner chassis, then I suspect we would have registered much higher temperatures with our IR thermometer. As it was, none of the exterior temperatures exceeded 90 degrees Fahrenheit in our lab where the ambient room temperature was 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Google Cr-48 is a promising laptop that easily sparks excitement from anyone who sees it, but it ultimately fails to impress after you spend some time using it. To be fair, I cannot stress enough that the Cr-48 is a prototype notebook that will NEVER be sold as an actual product. This is essentially a proof-of-concept testbed for Google engineers to develop the Chrome operating system and provide third party developers a way to test their Chrome applications and hardware.
Nevertheless, I can’t overlook the feeling of indifference I saw on the faces of almost everyone who used this laptop during our time with it. True, we’re talking about an early-stage prototype here. But nine out of 10 people (including myself) who used the Cr-48 over the course of a week essentially asked the same question: “So … it’s just a web browser?“
Therein lies the rub. Cloud-based applications and file storage are great, but I’m not sure the overwhelming majority of computer users are ready to jump exclusively to the cloud. Most people still want at least some local storage for their files, and at the time of this writing, the Cr-48 fails to address a fundamental problem for a browser-based operating system with no local storage: When you don’t have internet access (such as when you’re on a airplane or in a 3G dead zone), then your laptop is essentially useless.
I suspect that if and when we see notebooks running Google Chrome OS those notebooks will have the ability to store some files locally and possibly even sync your “offline” Google apps with the cloud as soon as you reconnect to the internet. Unfortunately, at this time the Cr-48 doesn’t have any of that.
If the Google Chrome OS is going to succeed then Google is certainly going to need to work on making an “offline mode” that provides better functionality and productivity than what the Cr-48 currently offers.
- Chrome OS offers fast startup
- Cloud storage makes it effortless to replace a laptop
- Awesome matte (anti-glare) exterior!
- It’s “a browser in a box”
- No functional “offline mode” at this time
- Local storage (interal SSD, USB flash drive or SD card) still a problem