Friday, 8 February 2013

Another Tale of Two Laptops

My M11X on top the Incase laptop case I currently use with it. Note the non-reflective matte screen. Great for bright days!
This is the second part of my two-part comparison of the Alienware M11X and the Google Cr-48. In this post I talk about the best and worst parts of the Cr-48 and how they compare to the M11X. If you have read the first part, you might already guess what is in here; check and find out!

Best of the Cr-48


The Cr-48 and the Chrome OS makes using a computer very simple as apart from a rudimentary file manager and basic media player, everything is done in the browser by webapps. I love the shortcut function keys and the simple matte exterior which match the Chrome OS. The computer does not require, or allow any complex activities to take place on the machine. From a user’s perspective, that makes the Cr-48 and all Chromebooks very straight-forward, easy to use machines that enable you to get stuff done, all of Google's products and services make this easy, from their Drive app and the laptops online and offline storage, to the different applications which enable online/ offline and collaborative use. All of them work very well together, and have meant I haven't needed to look at Microsoft Office since September.


It’s great knowing that when I open the laptop up it is either waking from sleep or booting up immediately and takes less than half a minute and turning off the machine takes less than 5 seconds. Opening an app takes less than two seconds with the internet speed often the only bottle-neck on performance. The simplicity of the OS and the SSD makes this possible, something that definitely cannot be said for Windows 7, or even Windows 8 with Microsoft’s attempts to improve speed and lightness in the OS, and it would definitely take an expensive hardware upgrade. Both machines do similar things but go about them in different ways. Chrome OS goes for speed and that works for me.

Hardware Decisions

I see what Google did when they designed the Cr-48. It only has one USB port, doesn’t have an ethernet port and has only 16GB of onboard storage. This is a bare bones work machine built with those constantly online in mind and build down to a budget. Even so, it means I was able to pick up a great work machine for very little money. It is a minimalist’s dream when it comes to work and I am a big fan. While the M11X would eat it for breakfast in almost all specs, when it comes to getting words on the page, it is a great little machine with access to Google Docs and a great keyboard. For the price it was an absolute steal! I cannot necessarily say the same about all of the Chromebooks, which vary greatly from the current Acer C7 when compared to the newly announced, large HP Pavilion 14. I still think the Cr-48 is Google’s idea of what a Chromebook should be, much like their Nexus line of Android products. After using the Cr-48, I'd love to buy a Nexus Chromebook if Google supervised the design and manufacturing process, but then even if they released the Cr-48 with updated internals, I would be happy!

Worst of the Cr-48

The Trackpad

The trackpad is an attempt to match those of Apple’s Macbook line. It doesn’t quite manage it, and so clicking and dragging is a real chore sometimes. The same is true with the two finger scrolling. It just doesn’t meet what I came to expect from an Apple machine, even a first generation MacBook from 2006, the Alienware machine is a worse trackpad, but comes with consistency. On the other hand, the Cr-48 sometimes works one way, and sometimes another, that makes it more annoying than the M11X. I have yet to test out the newer Chromebook models, but I would imagine they would have this sorted by now!

The Little Things

There are a few other annoyances I have with the Cr-48 that detract from it slightly. Not something that makes it awful, but they could definitely be changed in the settings very easily by Google and improve the overall experience.

Firstly, when watching a video full screen, the cursor stays on-screen. I hate that I have to see that throughout my film. There should be a way for it to fade out, just like most other OS I have ever used.

Secondly, when waking from sleep, if there is an SD card in the machine it will automatically minimise whatever you are doing and go to the SD Card contents and ask you what you want to do with them. I would love to click a checkbox to stop it doing that when awaking from sleep and just do it when popped into the active machine. It would just allow me to be lazy and leave it in the device.

Thirdly, while there are several benefits for the Atom processor, the drawbacks include an average ability to watch videos of higher quality than 480p. While it can play 720p video, it generally needs to be completely buffered for it to go ok, and even then the video can slow and stutter somewhat. Perhaps it is too much for the processor, or too much for Flash on the machine. I’ll have to do a few more tests to find out. Either way, it is likely to be no problem for the newer Chromebooks with their faster processors.

Definite Secondary Computer

This machine is a definite secondary computer for most people who use computers for more than browsing the internet and sending emails and I would include myself among them. A Chromebook still isn’t supposed to be more than that, and it is able to do more and more things, but it is not a fully-fledged desktop OS yet. This means that it has to remain a secondary machine for me, just like my iPad. Hmm, now there’s an idea... I could not possibly sell my other computers and do everything I want or need on the Cr-48, whereas the M11X could perform almost everything I would need my sole computer to do straight out of the box, and with a few extras, could do it well.


I guess this comparison comes down to what kind of laptop you need, or want to use. One is built around specs and power, and the other is a pared-down work machine. The power is expensive and the work machine is cheaper, but they both have a different ethos and a different raison d’etre. If I didn’t have my iMac, I would definitely be keeping the M11X, or selling it and buying an iMac! However, as I already have a decent desktop machine, I do not need a powerful laptop to perform double duty as a portable workstation, media hub and potential gaming machine. Finally, with the news that Windows 8 is now an absurd £189 to upgrade from Microsoft, but still £45 to get from Amazon. Although both are more now than they were last month. As much as I love having the M11X for PC games and every so often when I need portable power, to truly maximise its performance and longevity would involve a lot of extra costs. It would probably be cheaper in the long run to hold off on spending more on it, and concentrate on spending money elsewhere, rather than adding to extra sunk costs.

The Cr-48 is not perfect by any means, especially as a prototype Chromebook, but I would definitely be interested in one of the newer models which would likely improve on any of the problems I have with it at the moment, especially the Samsung Series 3 with an ARM processor and the new Lenovo Thinkpad X131e.

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