New Samsung Chromebook and Samsung Series 5 550 head-to-head

Summary:Samsung and Google dropped a new Chromebook into the market for only $249, showing that a quality laptop can be cheap. The new Chromebook and the older Samsung Series 5 550 model are similar. Which one should you buy?

Two open
New Samsung Chromebook vs. Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook

I am in a unique position as I have the two premier Chromebooks in my possession. I bought the Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook a few weeks ago and have been using it as my primary work machine since the purchase. This week Google sent me a new Samsung Chromebook ahead of the product unveiling and I've been using it for a few days. 

The Chrome OS is coming into its own based on the interest I see in the platform. The two Chromebooks I have are good reasons for that interest as the prices are driving folks to consider the platform for the first time. Having and using both of these fine laptops is getting me a lot of correspondence about which one is best. This article comparing the two is the result.

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Hardware

Side by side
New Samsung Chromebook (front); Series 5 550 (rear)

The 550 is a thin laptop with a quality build that is light enough to be highly portable. It has a good keyboard for heavy text entry and a large buttonless trackpad that is great to use. The 12.1-inch display of the 550 is nice and vivid, although not the brightest on the market. The ambient light sensor does a great job of automatically adjusting the screen brightness to keep it easy to use while optimizing power consumption.

The new Samsung Chromebook is about the same thickness of the 550 (0.81 inches) but is much lighter at 2.43 pounds. It is very similar to the MacBook Air in both size and appearance. It has a good keyboard much like that on the 550, and the trackpad, while good, is a bit smaller than that of the 550. The new Chromebook has the same light sensor of the bigger sibling. The 11.6-inch display of the new model is of similar quality of that of the larger model. The 12.1-inch display on the 550 is slightly brighter than that of the new Chromebook.

The primary difference (besides size) of the two Chromebooks is the different processors. The 550 has an Intel Celeron processor which runs things snappily, while the new Chromebook has a Samsung ARM processor. It also performs well, but I would say the 550 is a bit faster. It's barely noticeable but the new Chromebook with the ARM processor seems just a step slower. That could be due to the additional memory (4 GB total) in the 550 versus the 2 GB in the new Chromebook.

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New model (left); Series 5 550 (right)

The new Samsung Chromebook has two USB ports (one 3.0, one 2.0) while the 550 has two USB 2.0. The new model also has a full HDMI port compared to the 550 which has a DiplayPort. The 550 also has an RJ-45 jack for ethernet which the newer Chromebook lacks. Both laptops have a full SD slot for memory expansion to add to the 16 GB of internal storage they each have.

Usage

Size comparison
New model (left); Series 5 550 (right)

One of the advantages of the Chrome OS is how the Chrome environment is set by the user's Google Account. Logging each of these Chromebooks into my account makes both devices functionally the same without any action on my part. The execution of both devices is identical, with no differences even though they run different processors.

The 550 cold boots in 12 seconds while the new Chromebook only needs 10. They both resume from standby almost instantly when the laptop lid is opened. 

Chrome OS works the same on both devices. Using each laptop is exactly the same as the other with no compromises nor differences. Using each is as simple as opening the lid and getting straight to work. 

Both Chromebooks have good battery life with the 550 perhaps slightly better. Given the more power efficient ARM processor in the new Chromebook, I suspect Samsung used a smaller battery to help make the form smaller and lighter. I easily get over 6 hours with each device, usually over 7 hours of real use.

Note that each of these Chromebooks is available with a 3G option but I have the Wi-Fi-only version of each. Working on Wi-Fi is as easy as expected and impressively each Chromebook instantly connects to the hotspot as soon as the lid is opened. There is never a lag reconnecting to the network, unlike some other laptops I have used.

Conclusion

Either of these Chromebooks are a good investment for folks like me that spend a lot of the day in the Chrome browser. They are identical in function and either will work for those considering a Chromebook.

I would give the svelte form of the new Chromebook an edge over the 550 as it is more portable and easy to carry. Otherwise they are both easy to use and I don't give an edge to either. I consider either Chromebook to be a good investment.

If I didn't already own the 550 I would probably buy the new Samsung Chromebook given its much lower price ($249 vs. $449). It's almost half the price of the 550 which is a great price. Since I do have a 550 I will keep it and pass on the new Chromebook. I only need one and like both so I'll just keep the 550 for now.

Topics: Laptops, Google, Samsung

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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