CR-48 Chrome Notebook

The Cr-48 is an unbranded notebook computer designed by Google and manufactured by Inventec. The Cr-48 was distributed by Google between December 2010 and April 2011 to participants in the Chrome OS Pilot Program.

Intended as a reference hardware design, these computers were not made available for sale to the general public. Approximately 60,000 Cr-48 notebooks were manufactured.

Build and Design
The team at Google made some interesting design choices when they developed the Cr-48. For starters, the design is a simple and traditional clamshell shape with lots of 90-degree angles and straight lines. Combine the boxy exterior with the matte black rubberized paint and you might mistake this prototype notebook for an old ThinkPad. Open the rectangular lid and you’ll see a more modern looking Chiclet or island-style keyboard and a MacBook-esque touchpad both covered in an industrial-looking matte finish.

Both the screen lid and the bottom of the notebook share matching rubberized black paint that resists fingerprints and is extremely easy to keep clean. A quick view of the bottom of the Cr-48 reveals no access plates; you just get a massive battery and a small air intake for the cooling fan. The chassis feels extremely durable and doesn’t bend or squeak when you try to twist the notebook between your hands. It’s clear that the design team responsible for the Cr-48 wanted this laptop to look like it means business. That could be good or bad depending on who you ask.

Although I personally love the retro style of the Cr-48, it’s a bit of a tough sell when you consider what the Cr-48 really is. This “notebook” is really just an Atom-powered netbook with a new operating system (which is basically only a web browser) and a giant battery. I’m not sure how many people are going to line up to buy a laptop that is LESS functional than current Atom-powered netbooks if the laptop in question is bulkier and weighs an extra pound or more.

Ports and Features
The simplistic exterior of the Cr-48 extends to the port selection on the sides of the laptop. Google gives you a VGA port for connecting an external monitor, a single USB 2.0 port, a built-in SD/SDHC memory card reader, and a single audio jack. Before you get too excited, it’s important to know that only a few of these ports work (more on that issue in the performance section of this review).

Screen and Speakers
The Google Cr-48 uses a nice 12.1-inch anti-glare display with a 16:10 aspect ratio. The 1280 x 800 resolution gives you a few extra lines of vertical resolution and a less horizontal resolution compared to most modern notebooks with 1366 x 768 screens. Regardless of whether you support modern widescreen notebooks with 16:9 ratio screens or love the old 16:10 displays, there is one simple thing that makes the screen on the Cr-48 fantastic: It’s NOT a glossy screen!

The matte, anti-glare surface of the 12-inch display allows you to see what’s on the screen even if you’re viewing in under direct sunlight or you’re in an office or home environment with bright lights directly behind you. Try that with a typical glossy screen notebook and all you’ll see are reflections.

The viewing angles are quite good on the Cr-48 we used with minimal backlight bleed around the edge of the screen. Default colors on our review sample looked a little biased toward blue (although the photo of the notebook taken under our studio lighting makes this minor color shift look more intense than it is in real life). Overall, this is a very nice screen.

Keyboard and Touchpad
As mentioned previously, the Cr-48 features a modern-looking Chiclet style or island style keyboard with flat individual keys and a little extra space between each key to help prevent typos. Each key provides the perfect feedback with excellent depth to each press and smooth action to each key mechanism. The entire keyboard surface has a firm support structure so there’s no flex or bounce while typing even under extreme pressure.

The only problem I personally have with the keyboard is that Google decided to map a few of the traditional keys so that they serve different functions. For example, all of the function keys control specific features like forward, back, and refresh or they control notebook features like screen brightness and volume. The bigger problem for me is that the default setting for the Caps Lock key has been turned into a “Search” key. Not only do I enjoy using Caps Lock when typing, but I fail to understand the need for a dedicated search button when the Google Chrome browser has a built-in search functionality in the address bar.

Of course, you can adjust the keyboard settings and turn the search key into a standard Caps Lock key … but that only works for the handful of people who can figure out how to do it.

The multi-touch, gesture-enabled touchpad on the Cr-48 uses integrated touchpad buttons located under the left and right bottom corners of the touchpad surface. Once again, the matte texture comes to the rescue making it easy to slide your fingers across the surface and control cursor movement on the screen with minimal lag. Since the keyboard was pushed back close to the screen hinge there is plenty of room left on the notebook for a large touchpad and Google took advantage of that.