After having used my CR-48 Chrome OS netbook for a little under a month, I have to say it has been an exercise in frustration. I don’t know how much of that is the fault of the operating system, because my two main issues deal with the trackpad and the wireless connectivity.
I turned on tap-to-click because I dislike having to press the physical button (of which there is only one) to get a click. That seems like more effort than is necessary just to follow a link, switch tabs, etc., and I’m used to tap-to-click being turned on on my Macbook and most other laptops I’ve used. However, I can’t seem to use tap-to-click to select text. I have to press the button down with my left hand while trying to drag with my right, but it seems like tap-to-click then gets in the way. While writing a bug report to the Chrome OS team, for example, I tried selecting some text in my report to test what exactly the problem was. I somehow selected text and dragged-and-dropped it elsewhere into my report. The trackpad isn’t as responsive as it should be, so I end up tapping more firmly, and then doing other unintended actions.
It is incredibly picky about clicking things once, such as links or tabs. Half the time when I try to click a link, I end up dragging the text. It seems to want me to not move the cursor even a smidgen while I click, so I find myself focusing intently on the object I’m clicking, lest I reposition the tab or drag the link text around. I also end up selecting text sometimes when I’m trying to click it. The trackpad behavior needs to be more forgiving, have some slack in it. I should be able to surf the Internet in a relaxed fashion, but I end up dragging links around and selecting text, then getting annoyed and having to move very carefully to precisely click what I wanted to click. I reposition my tabs in Chrome way more than I ever wanted to just because when I try to switch to a tab, I end up grabbing and dragging it instead. Clicking links and changing tabs should arguably be the easiest things to do in a web browser, but the Chrome OS netbook makes it painful. I don’t know if it’s the hardware or how the OS is handling feedback from the trackpad, but something needs to be fixed. My irritation level slowly increases as I try to surf on the netbook.
In class this morning, I was trying to use Google Drawing to draw a simple flowchart-like figure that my professor was drawing on the board. My issues with the trackpad made this a very slow process. Single-click the button to select an oval tool, click and drag to draw the oval, single-click the text tool, click and drag to draw the text box over the oval, click and drag to resize the oval, click and drag to move the oval and text… All of these actions were iffy, and I only successfully did what I intended to do the first time around a few times. The other times I selected something other than what I wanted because of the aforementioned need for great precision when clicking, or I couldn’t drag to resize at all, or I moved the object instead of resizing it. Drawing a shape initially and resizing it later was particularly irksome because sometimes when I clicked and dragged it didn’t change size at all. It just sat there, size unchanging, or a perfect circle appeared out of nowhere because I guess I clicked enough for Google Drawing to drop a new figure onto my drawing. Sometimes when I was trying to click and drag, it wouldn’t resize as I would move my cursor further and further away from the shape, then suddenly the shape would jerk up to the top of the drawing area. No no, get back down here… I’m trying to do all this while my professor is talking and drawing the figure, explaining what he’s doing. I drew the one figure, then when he went to draw a simpler figure later, I just used ASCII art in my Google Docs notes file to represent it.
For an operating system whose worth depends entirely on Internet connectivity, the CR-48 has real issues maintaining a wireless connection. I am able to use my boyfriend’s Internet connection in my apartment since he’s a neighbor; both my Wii and my Macbook can use the wireless connection fine. The CR-48 however barely detects a signal, and I cannot reliably surf the net on his wireless from my apartment without it repeatedly dropping connection. For now, the netbook stays at my boyfriend’s apartment where we can sit ten feet from the router to use it.
The same thing happened today on campus with the university wireless. I was at the campus Starbucks and the wireless connection kept dropping. I’d load up Google Docs successfully, but by the time I had moved the cursor over and clicked a link, I was disconnected again. Sometimes I stayed connected there for five minutes at a time, but it kept disconnecting. The girl next to me was happily browsing Facebook, and a lady further down was playing a game on some tablet-like device. I don’t know if that was an online game or not, but that brings me to my next issue: if you don’t have Internet access, this laptop is worthless. I’ve been searching around for how to use Google Docs offline on my Chrome netbook and haven’t had any luck. First I read they had offline support but it got disabled last year, then I read Google Docs is coming back with offline support this year, then I couldn’t find any way to enable offline support in Docs, then I went to the Google Gears page and found my browser (uh, Chrome) is not supported, then I gave up. Then the Internet connection went out again and I tried clicking a file in the tab that still had the Google Docs web store app loaded, and all that got displayed was a message about how I couldn’t use the app right now because I was offline.
When I was in class, I had a much stronger wireless signal (like 3/4 or 4/5 bars, I can’t remember which). I stayed connected up till the end of class, when suddenly my connection gave out. It would not reconnect to the university wireless, and I don’t know if it was an issue with my school’s wireless all of a sudden or if it was the CR-48’s problem. Then, the entire notebook crashed. Or I guess it was a crash, since the screen went dark and when it came back, all my tabs were gone and I had the option to restore them. The same thing happened again at Starbucks when I tried to activate the Verizon wireless connection. That seemed to be taking a while, so I figured I’d try the campus wireless network again. When I disabled 3G and enabled wireless, the netbook crashed.
What I would greatly desire, and what really needs to be part of Google’s suite of online office applications, is transparency between online and offline use. When I’m typing in Google Docs and the CR-48 loses its wireless connection or my university’s wireless takes a nosedive, I don’t want that tab to suddenly reload itself and tell me I can’t access the page, nor do I want the machine to crash. I want to continue typing and not even notice that I went offline: the transition should be seamless. When it comes back online, it could save my file back to Google Docs online and all would be peachy. But I really need a way to work on my documents offline. Unless web apps figure this out, including Google’s suite, “cloud” stuff is not going to work for me. I can’t even find a simple text editor on this netbook, even when I open a terminal. I should probably switch the device into developer mode so I can get a regular shell instead of crosh, which has ssh and other network tools, but no vim or emacs.
When I come to class next week, I’ll either bring my Macbook or a regular notepad and pen. The CR-48 has been too unreliable (wireless keeps dropping) and slow (can’t draw figures fast enough to keep up with the professor due to trackpad issues) to be useful in class. I’ll use some desktop application (OmniOutliner) on my Mac to take notes along with another desktop application (Curio) to draw figures, and I can accurately draw the figures quickly enough using the trackpad on the Macbook. I won’t have to worry about the laptop wigging out and dropping my Internet connection, nor will I care if my university screws up the wireless temporarily, because all my class notes will be taken locally. The Chrome netbook is fine at home for surfing the Internet, provided I’m close to a router and don’t mind the frustrations involved with casually navigating the web. As soon as I get back to that stable wireless connection, I’ll submit a bug report to the Chrome devs about the crashes I had earlier.
I feel bad even writing this review because it feels like looking a gift horse in the mouth. I think it’s AWESOME that Google gave me and thousands of other people free laptops, and I love the idea of this beta program. I think they can make the Chrome netbook work, but I think they have to hear complaints like I have in order to be able to sell this thing later and have people actually buy it/enjoy it.