People today are constantly on the move and connected to the Internet, doing anything from creating presentations to checking emails to chatting with friends to playing games. People use all sorts of devices to accomplish these tasks, primarily via smartphones because they’re so mobile. However, they’re nowhere near as power as an actual computer, but traditional computers tend to have low battery life. The geniuses over at Google have thought about these issues and created their solution: the Chromebook. We’ll be taking a look at the Samsung Chromebook Series 3, and giving it away at the end of this review!
The Chromebook is a small laptop (technically too large to be considered a netbook, but it’s very close) which runs Chrome OS, an operating system specially created by Google for Chromebooks and Chromeboxes (which are essentially the desktop equivalent to Chromebooks, but that’s irrelevant to this review). Chome OS is pretty much the Chrome browser running on top of the Linux kernel. Therefore, Chromebooks only have one real application which you can use — Chrome. The idea of Chromebooks is that as an increasing amount of tasks can be accomplished online, especially with cloud apps, a normal consumer will only require a browser and internet access to do everything they need.
Of course, no one would use a Chromebook if it were just like any other laptop. Because all that’s run is a browser, the machine can be slimmed down and configured in a fine-tuned manner. I’ll discuss the results of those customizations below.
Samsung Chromebook Specifications
The Chromebook we’re reviewing today is Samsung’s new second generation Series 3, which includes:
- 1.7 Ghz Exynos ARM-based processor
- integrated graphics
- 2GB of DDR3L RAM
- 11.6″ 1366 x 768 pixel resolution LED-lit matte screen
- 16GB of eMMC storage
- 802.11a/b/g/n wireless networking
- 3G connectivity
- SD card reader
- 0.3MP webcam
The final price, minus taxes and shipping, is a mere $249, which makes it a great value.
Unpacking the Samsung Chromebook was surprisingly easy. When you first open the box, you’ll be greeted by a Quick Start Guide, along with styrofoam covering that goes over the actual Chromebook. After taking away the styrofoam covering, you’ll see the Chromebook inside an anti-static soft bag. In the smaller brown box next to all the styrofoam is the power supply that you’ll need to charge your Chromebook. Besides those items, there was nothing else in the box.
Upon first look of the unpacked Chromebook, design is something that must be instantly admired. It looks very sleek, and doesn’t ask for too much attention. While it looks like it is made from metal parts, I still believe it’s in reality just plastic, but its extremely durable and looks fantastic. Plus, the Chromebook’s dimensions add to its impressiveness – 11.4″ wide, 8.09″ long, and just 0.69″ thick. It also weighs in at just 2.43 lbs, which makes travelling with it one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
If you expect a full keyboard from this Chromebook, you may be a bit disappointed. While it does have most keys, it lacks some that I use regularly such as Delete, Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down. It also lacks F1 through F12, but these are replaced with web-related buttons for forward, back, refresh, brightness, and sound. However, the keyboard is very nice to type on. The keys are distanced far enough apart so that hitting multiple keys at once on accident isn’t an issue. They are also somewhat low-lying and quite silent when typed. They do tend to show fingerprints pretty well, but that’s about the only complaint I have. The lack of certain keys isn’t my own preference, but understandable for the niche that Chromebooks are trying to fill.
I can easily tell that the trackpad is made to accommodate both Windows and Mac users. First off, the trackpad has physical borders around it so it’s easy to know when you’re on it and when you’re not. The entire trackpad surface can be used to move the mouse, and the bottom left and bottom right corners can be used to make respective mouse clicks. The trackpad doesn’t have any physical buttons except one — the entire trackpad itself. This is where it also accommodates Mac users who are used to clicking in this fashion on their Macbooks. Therefore, left clicks can also be accomplished by depressing the entire trackpad with one finger, or right clicks by depressing it with two fingers. Scrolling is accomplished with two-fingers swiping up or down. By default, it uses the “traditional” scrolling directions where when you swipe up, your view of a page goes up as well (the page itself gets moved down). In the settings, you can configure it to the new Mac-style “natural” scrolling, where when you swipe up, you move the page up and your view of the page down.
I’m very impressed with the build quality of this Chromebook. It’s extremely sturdy and doesn’t budge whenever I type more violently on it. A large part of the great build quality comes from considerations taken at the design level. For example, the rubber feet which elevate the Chromebook from whatever surface its standing on doesn’t protrode out much from the Chromebook at all, and they are also rounded. This prevents them from easily being ripped off of the device.
The system doesn’t come with many ports, as one might expect for a device that is purely meant to connect to the Internet. However, there are still a couple useful ports which you can make use of. As you see, the right side of the device has no ports whatsoever.
The left side, however, has a port for a headphone and/or microphone, as well as an SD card reader.
Most of the ports on this device are located on the backside, which includes a place to insert a USIM for wireless carrier internet, a USB 3.0 port, a USB 2.0 port, an HDMI port, and a power port. The USB ports allow you to plug in some devices such as cameras, but a few others such as wireless mice work as well. The HDMI port is pretty interesting, and in my opinion a little buggy, because when an HDMI cable is plugged in, the screen is switched over to the other screen/projector, but you still see a static pointer on the Chromebook’s screen.
I personally find the choice of placing most of the ports on the backside of the device questionable, but it hasn’t really caused me any issues. I suppose I’m just more used to the way laptops usually place their ports. In case you haven’t noticed, the device doesn’t have a vent anywhere, not even on the underside of the device. The Chromebook doesn’t need one because the ARM processor inside it is so efficient and doesn’t generate much heat. The only times when it does get quite a bit warm is when watching 720p videos on YouTube, but for everything else, the temperature barely changes. The device also doesn’t have an ethernet port because they’re larger than the device is thick, so it may be a very small inconvenience for some people, but adds mobility for others.
The Chromebook includes two speakers (totally 3W) in the front, right underneath the palm rests. I’m actually quite surprised at the quality of the speakers, because they don’t sound like tinny laptop speakers, and they can get pretty loud, especially for their size. Of course, the placement allows some muffling to occur if something is blocking them, but there’s not really much place to put them somewhere else.
The screen on the Chromebook is quite nice! I do enjoy the fact that it has a 1366 x 768 pixel resolution, whereas my previous netbook of similar size had a smaller resolution. The matte screen is also a nice addition, which makes reading in sunlight and other abnormally-lit areas a lot easier. The screen also offers plenty of brightness levels, so you won’t have to settle for one that’s too bright or too dark.
Even though this Chromebook is powered by an ARM-based processor, it is surprisingly fast and absolutely shames my old netbook. Pages load rather quickly as you’d come to expect out of Chrome. The machine does start getting a little bit sluggish when you have 15-20 tabs open, especially if you have a YouTube video or two playing, but otherwise it chugs along just fine. YouTube 720p videos run smoothly in full screen mode, which is something else I didn’t expect to see. Graphical elements of the OS appear very smoothly as well, so the integrated graphics are definitely good enough, whatever they may exactly be. Long story short, Samsung has made sure that it isn’t underpowered for what it does.
The biggest feature of this machine is its battery life. The ARM-based processor and LED-lit screen are so energy efficient that the Chromebook is advertised to have a battery life of 6.5 of hours. Under personal tests, I got this number to go up to around 8 or 9 hours when at the lowest readable brightness setting. The thing that makes this so surprising is that the device only has a 2-cell battery. In comparison, most laptops pack 6-cell batteries and get a much shorter battery life. It’s an absolute joy to go around and literally be able to use it all day long.
Chrome OS as a whole is actually pretty interesting to use. It most certainly isn’t your average desktop operating system, but it does simplify a lot of things that people tend to get confused over. The graphical user interface elements do try to resemble a traditional desktop interface, but all functions are tied to the Chrome browser. Besides the usual Chrome settings, there are only a few system-related additions, such as keyboard, trackpad, and wireless settings. Printing is also supported via Google Cloud Print. Because Chrome OS is Linux-based, the user doesn’t have to worry about viruses, and updates are handled automatically without any user interaction. Chrome OS is pretty successful at letting the user do what they want to, and handle all of the system tasks by itself.
Instead of desktop applications, you can install Chrome apps which link to web services. Google is pushing the idea that all applications can be run in the cloud, and this is their implementation of doing so. As such, it’s also easy for them to promote their own suite of online apps, including Gmail and Google Docs. As you might be concerned about, Chromebooks are very limited if they don’t have working Internet connections. However, cloud apps which support offline functionality can still be accessed, so you’re not totally out of luck. Internet connections shouldn’t be that much of an issue as there is Internet almost everywhere, especially if you have inserted a USIM card.
In the end, I find a lot of joy and productivity by using the Chromebook. I am pretty invested in Google’s online tools, which makes it a lot easier to jump over to a Chromebook. However, the smallness, lightness, and long battery life make the Chromebook one of the best computers for mobility. It’s simple to setup and use, and helps you get your work done if you don’t have too many specific offline needs. I also assume that Samsung’s support will be similar to all their other devices, and since a Chromebook is a big name, they should definitely know how to help you out.
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