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Chrome Laptop
A couple of days ago I saw an invitation in the corner of GMail asking me if I wanted to participate in the Pilot program for the Chrome Laptop. I figured that in a week or two I'd get an email telling me that out of the thousands of people who expressed interest, only a few got the hardware, and it wasn't me.

It arrived in the mail today.

My first impressions are that it seems a bit small, but it is somewhat bulletproof as a platform. The user interface is Chrome, the web-browser. As such, it's set up to do all the things a web-browser with extensions and web-apps can do. If you've used Chrome as a browser, it looks just like that, with a clock, wifi indicator, and battery indicator in the upper right corner. If the main thing you use your computer for is as a web appliance (which I must admit is probably 90% of what I use my machine for), then this machine is well-designed for that purpose.

As for the hardware, the machine feels dense for its size, massing 1650g by my kitchen scale, and is roughly 9x12x0.75 inches in size. The screen is a smidge over 12" diagonal, in a 4:3 aspect ratio. I do not know what the resolution is. It has 1 USB port, 1 VGA port, a headphone jack, a power jack, and an SD card port. It also has a camera, but I don't know if it has a mic. I do not know how much memory it has, nor the size of any secondary storage. I suppose I could look them up, but that wouldn't be first impressions. The machine feels like it has a thin rubber coating -- it doesn't feel like hard plastic or metal, it's not cold, and it has a dark grey matte finish. The multi-touch trackpad/mouse-button is black, providing a visible contrast with the dark grey body.

Initial startup was easy: I unboxed it, put in the battery, and opened the lid. It started up quickly and asked me to select a language and a network (it found the local WiFi networks, so I had a selection). It is very tied to my google account, using my google username and password as the primary logins. Once it got past the basic configuration stuff (and not much more than google account info, networks, take a login picture, and signing the terms of use) it rebooted into Chrome OS. A "Get Started" app greets you, and walks you through some basics, acquainting you with the device. It points out, for instance, that the "caps lock" key has been replaced by a search key, and that above the numbers on the keyboard are a row of keys which do things (back a page, forward a page, reload, full-screen, switch windows, dim/brighten the screen, mute/lower/raise the volume, and power). Mostly straight forward. There was a big surprise I'll mention down below.

The machine sleeps and wakes up instantly when closed and opened. By the time I can get my hands off the case and onto the keyboard, it's done.

One of the first things I did was to verify that it was able to effortlessly play YouTube and other videos and multimedia. This was a success, mostly. YouTube and similar sites work fine, but ChromeOS is not supported by Netflix Watch Instantly, Amazon VOD, or iTunes. There is also no optical drive, so watching DVDs on it is out.

Similar to the iTunes AppStore, Google is pushing their own "Web Store" for selling apps, extensions, and themes for ChromeOS. Many things at the Web Store are free, many aren't. The Apps appear to be basically bookmarks to web-sites and extensions, while the extensions run on the box itself within Chrome (just like extensions for Chrome Desktop). Many, if not all, of the extensions seem to be for both the ChromeOS and Chrome on the desktop.

One disappointment was the Clicker.Tv app, which appeared to be an interface to movies and TV shows. It is, and seems to have an interesting interface for searching for content, but in the end it really links to Netflix Watch Instantly, iTunes, or Amazon VOD. Unfortunately, none of those services support ChromeOS, so the app is pointless on the laptop.

The system supports both WiFi and 3G. The latter option, via Verizon Wireless, includes a choice of plans, switchable at any time with no contracts or strings attached: 24 months of 100MB/month for free, unlimited for $9.99/day, or a range of 1-5GB/month plans for some varied amount I didn't pay close attention to. I find the free plan, out of the box, to be very surprising, and makes me willing to activate the service to try it out and perhaps use it when necessary.

There are things I want to try out. Some of the apps want to know my location. Does the box include GPS, or is it basing it's location reports on where I said I was? I will be in Albany this weekend where I can chech that out. How long can it go on a full charge? It shipped with a half-charged battery, and I've been using it for at least 3 hours and I still have 22%/1:38 remaining. I will fully-charge it tonight. Can it really read SD cards? What does it do to the contents? What do I get if I hook up an external monitor?

If you have any suggestions for what I can try, or questions about my experiences, please ask away.

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waitaminit... Google gave you a free netbook???

I signed up via their web site. I am excited for you.

What does it use for playing mp3s?

Does it have access to apps like Dropbox and Evernote? I think the latter can be accessed via the web, but I don't know about Dropbox.

How's the Citrix support?

The majority of what I use my tablet for (which has replaced my laptop for the time being) is chat, forums, web stuff, and reading. Funny how that takes up hours a night. :)

I haven't tried to play MP3s. I don't use Dropbox or Evernote, but both are available in the Web Store (for free).

"In the near future, you'll also be able to run traditional software remotely on our Chrome notebook. Companies like Citrix are developing solutions that will be available in the Web Store, and we are developing a free service called Chromoting that will enable Chrome notebook users to remotely access their existing PCs and Macs."

I haven't tried any chat stuff on it except for Google Talk,

I expect I would use Meebo, as I've used it before on PCs without IM software installed.

I like Dropbox and Evernote quite a bit. I like syncing items between computer and Droid 2.

I hate you. But in a loving way, of course.

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