I've been using the new Samsung third-generation Chromebook since last week after Google sent me a test unit. Suffice to say it pretty much rocks. It has been thoroughly reviewed elsewhere but I will give the highlights here. Like previous versions of the Chromebook (both the cr-48 a prototype from Google and the second generation commercial devices from Samsung an Acer), the new Samsung is thin and light and has awesome battery life. The new Sandy Bridge processors make a remarkable difference in overall performance.
In fact, I have to disagree a bit with the CNET review linked above. While the review got all of the technical details right, the conclusion that the new Chromebooks represented too great a compromise over other similarly priced notebooks misses the mark. For the target audience (enterprises heavily invested in Google's ecosystem and web power users) this isn't a compromise, but a very viable, conscious choice to take a different approach to computing.
Last week I suggested that everyone will be using Chrome OS in the next few years. My suggestions were met with more than a degree of skepticism. However the latest version of Chrome OS featured on the new Samsung Chromebooks and related Chromeboxes is the real story here. The new windowed interface with dockable icons and shortcuts will be familiar enough to make mainstream PC users feel at home but remains light and sleek enough to appeal to power users and those who valued many aspects of earlier Chrome OS iterations. The interface initially reminded me of Ubuntu's Unity; this is a good thing because it combines familiar mobile design cues with the windows and tabs most of us know and love. More importantly it makes great use of the small screen.
We've been hearing talk of the merger of Android and Chrome OS for over two years now. This version of Chrome OS certainly give clues about how this might happen without alienating traditional PC users.
Unfortunately, the original cr-48 types distributed to journalists and early adopters won't be upgradeable to this version of the OS. Because it represents a substantial upgrade, this was disappointing to say the least. Not that working in a Chrome browser window exclusively is a bad thing but the new version of Chrome OS is a genuine improvement. One of Google's major pitches in favor of buying a Chromebook is that is "always new". OS update are pushed down regularly and frequently. Suddenly these little cr-48's started looking very old.
Rumor had it but the pokey little processors inside the cr-48 just couldn't keep up with the new version of Chrome OS. Fortunately though, according to Google PR, an update is on the way in four to five weeks that contains optimizations that will allow the cr-48 to run the latest version of chrome OS. So, cr-48 owners, keep your eyes peeled - that tough little black notebook will be new again shortly.
And if you're still toying with the idea of a Chromebook, the original Samsungs and Acers are still available for $299 and will run updated versions of the operating system. The latest Samsungs start at $449. Not small change, but well worth consideration.