The first Chromebook Review: Samsung Series 5

The first Chromebook Review: Samsung Series 5

Summary: The first Chromebook, the Samung Series 5, is being shipped and while it's not a great laptop, it is a very good one. Just don't think of it as a full Windows laptop replacement. It's not.

SHARE:
66

If you want a Windows laptop, get a Windows laptop. But, if you want an easy-to-use, Web-based laptop, consider getting a Chromebook. So long as you realize that the Samsung Series 5 and its brother from another company, the Acer Chromebook, is not a full-featured Windows or Linux notebook computer you’ll be fine.

So it is that I’m pretty happy with my brand new Samsung Series 5 3G even though CNET gave it a just "ok" rating pending software improvements. While neither Chromebook will be generally available until June 15th, I was able to get my hands on one a week early. I’ve been working with mine for several days now and this is what I’ve found.

Hardware:

The Samsung Series 5 comes with a matte 12.1-inch display. It's powered by an Intel Atom N570 dual-core CPU running at 1.66Ghz, has 2GBs of RAM, and a 16GB solid state drive (SSD). For graphics, it uses an Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 3150.

On the netbook sized system’s left side you’ll find a headset/mic jack, with a USB 2.0 port and a proprietary port for a VGA dongle hidden behind a plastic door. The second USB port and a SIM card slot hide behind plastic door on the right side. In the front you’ll find a card reader that can handle SD, SDHC, SDXC , or MMC cards. At the top of the display, it also has a video-camera.

Under the hood, there’s a 3G radio and 802.11n Wi-Fi. You’ll need one or the other of these because the Samsung doesn’t have an Ethernet port.

There’s also no Bluetooth. I can live without an Ethernet port, but the lack of Bluetooth bugs me. The Samsung, to me, screams to be used with a Bluetooth headset.

On the other hand, The keyboard, while not back-lit, boasts large, well-spaced out keys. Although larger than most netbooks, many laptops have abysmal keyboards. I found the Samsung Series 5 keyboard to be the next best thing to my gold standard for keyboards: the Lenovo ThinkPad's keyboards.

That said, this is not your normal keyboards. It has no function keys and the delete key is also missing in action. Instead, it duplicates some of this functionality with keyboard shortcuts.

That's great as far as it goes, but the Chromebook doesn't have any documentation to speak of so finding the Chromebook keyboard shortcuts can be a pain. The keyboard combo “Ctrl-Alt-?” will show you keyboard overlay that shows most, but not all, of the keyboard shortcuts. For example, Ctrl-M, which opens up the file manager, isn't to be seen on the overlay.

The touchpad is good-sized and I was able to work with it without much trouble. I say this as someone who hates touchpads. Give me a mouse or the ThinkPad's pointer any day of the week. The touchpad is capable of multi-touch gestures, but two-finger scrolling is the only one that's currently supported.

The battery life is remarkable. I've used my Chromebook constantly for up to ten plus hours and I've yet to bring it under 10% of remaining battery life. I've finally found a laptop that, provided my plane had Wi-Fi, I could use constantly over a trans-Atlantic flight.

I could also use that long on my lap comfortably. The Samsung runs cooler than any other laptop or netbook I've ever used and at a bit over three-pounds it's quite light for its size.

Page 2: [The Chromebook's Software] »

The Chromebook's Software

Software:

The be-all and end-all of the Chromebook is the Chrome Web browser and your Google account. Without a Google account, you can't use a Chromebook. Yes, there is Linux underneath Chrome, but only the most hardcore of Linux hardware hackers are going to bother with it.

That means that the Chromebook works hand-in-glove with such Google services as Gmail for e-mail, Google Docs for your office work, and Picasa for photos. That doesn't mean you have to use Google-based software as a service (SaaS) or cloud-services. For example, I've used Salesforce and Zoho applications with it.

That said, the Chromebook just works better with Google services or with services that are optimized for Chrome. You can find Chrome applications in the Chrome Web Store. For example, while Chromebooks don't support Skype, which is just fine as far as I'm concerned considering Skype's many problems, you can use video and voice conferencing both from the built-in Google Talk feature or the ooVoo video-chat/conferencing system.

You can also save music, documents, video and what have you on the local SSD. Contrary to some ill-informed analysts, you can save and use data locally even if you don't have a net connection. It it ideal? No. But, being cut off from the net doesn't mean that your Chromebook suddenly becomes three-pounds of dead-weight.

While there's nothing that fast about the Chromebook's components, I found it quite responsive. I was able to play music from the beta Google Music cloud service--now if only Google made it easier to upload music in the first place! The video-chat also worked quite well with both Google Talk and ooVoo.

When it comes to hard benchmarks, the Chromebook, which uses Chrome 12 turned in good numbers. On the Acid 3 compatibility test, which checks compatibility with such Web standards such as Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), JavaScript, and Extensible Markup Language (XML) the Chromebook came in with a perfect 100. On the HTML5 Test, which tests how “compliant the Web browser is with the HTML5 Web page standard” it turned in a respectable score of 291 out of a maximum of 400.

On the Web browser performance benchmarks, with Kraken 1.0 test, which is Mozilla’s update of its SunSpider JavaScript benchmark where lower scores are best, the Chromebook came in at 24,413.6ms. For the hardware, that's decent.

Surprisingly, on the Peacekeeper from FutureMark, a PC and mobile benchmarking company where higher scores are better, the Samsung came in with a better than I expected score of 1,888. With the SunSpider JavaScript 0.9.1, the most popular Web browser benchmark, the Chromebook had a score of 1455.3ms. Finally, with Google's own V8 Javascript benchmark, the Chromebook scored 1,872.

What all those numbers means is that, given that it's running on Intel Atom N570 dual-core CPU, it's quite fast. That said, personally I would have sacrificed some battery life for a faster processor.

Still, once I picked up the keyboard shortcuts, I was able to very happily use the Chromebook for my day-to-day work of Web-browsing, writing, e-mail, video and voice-conferencing, instant messaging, and, thanks to QuickBooks Online basic book-keeping.

I do wish, I must say, that it cost less than $499. Yes, it's nice that it comes with two years of free 100MB per month of 3G broadband from Verizon, but 100MB isn't much when you're doing everything online.

I can see myself using my Chromebook in place of my heavy Mint Linux-powered ThinkPad R61 anytime I need to run to a lunch date or business appointment. It gives me everything I need in a lightweight package. Yes, I could use a tablet for a lot of this as well, but when push comes to shove, I need a real keyboard to get real work done. To me, the Chromebook is for work, while iPads and the like are more for fun. Your usage may vary.

Could I use a Chromebook as replacement desktop for all my work? Heck no. I like having all my data and applications at hand on a full-powered computer with a fat-client operating system like Linux or even Windows. But, if you just want an easy way to do basic work computing, or you're a company that wants to stop spending money on client access license (CAL) fees, anti-virus software, constant patching and all the other headaches that comes with Windows desktops, then a Chromebook may be just what you or your line-of-work and road-warrior staff may need.

Related Stories:

Is the iCloud the end of the Linux & Windows desktop?

How to install Google's Chrome OS

Here come the Chromebooks

Five Reasons why Google's Linux Chromebook is a Windows killer

Who Google has in mind for its Chrome OS users

Topics: Google, Mobility, Samsung, Tablets

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

66 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Who is the target market?

    "If you want a Windows laptop, get a Windows laptop", well that wipes out 85% or more of the target market.

    One wonders who the target market really is. It?s definitely not the traveling business person that needs compatibility with the home office. Not the youthful gamer. Not the Apple fanatic.

    It?s got to be someone that fits the new (ok, very old) paradigm of being held to a central hard drive rather than that old broken PC Centric data model.

    I?m just not sure who that really is. Geeks, early adopters, risk takers and those rebellious enough to take the risk of technologies being introduced into unproven customer acceptance waters, maybe?

    Too bad I don?t have the cash to throw away on one.
    Cynical99
    • RE: The first Chromebook Review: Samsung Series 5

      @Cynical99 My guess is that there are a good amount of people who are already road warriors and ready to give up the expense, complexity and lack of portability that most OSes offer in exchange for the freedom of the Web. Many of the posts I've seen would seem to bear this out. Experienced professionals with good notebooks are picking up their Chromebook, knowing that it's all that they need for the day. It's a discipline, really, a way of saying that it's okay to rely on the Web. And, increasingly, it is OK, if not in fact preferable to dealing with anti-virus software, the insecurity of sensitive information on a PC, and machines that get worse over time as you add more software. The nicest thing about a Chrome OS machine is that you can buy your next one and spend zero time making the transition. Worth thinking about.
      jblossom9
      • RE: The first Chromebook Review: Samsung Series 5

        @jblossom@... "insecurity of sensitive information on a PC" and on a Mac. Actually, only those who don't know better tend to have insecure systems. So the same thing can happen with a ChromeOS system.

        "Experienced professionals with good notebooks are picking up their Chromebook, knowing that it's all that they need for the day" - You sound like you work for Google. ChromeOS has barely came out. You comment sounds like it's been out for years.
        Gis Bun
      • RE: The first Chromebook Review: Samsung Series 5

        @jblossom@... If only other OS'es gave me something like Chrome so I could use the freedom of the web on other platforms.

        Oh wait...
        vel0city
      • Road warriors need compatibility

        @jblossom@...
        They need compatibility with the home office, and most road warriors use custom built apps from the home office for inventory, sales, expense reporting and the like.

        Funny but none of them will run on Chrome. Even if they are browser based, the IT department has to certify the applications against Chrome and that takes time, if anyone in IT cares enough to do it.

        Nope, road warriors won't bite. Your sales pitch will fall on deaf ears because they have real jobs to do.
        Cynical99
      • Chrome, Secure?????

        @jblossom@... <br>Well, Chrome may not have been hacked yet, but do you really trust Google with your sensitive corporate documents? We sure don't. Sorry but you really showed how little experience you have in real business.<br><br>No way in hell would I allow my sensitive stuff to be anywhere near Google or a cloud I don't control. It'd be gone and no one would ever know because Google doesn't have your best interest in mind, EVER!<br><br>Get a life outside of your prejudices and look at the whole picture.
        Cynical99
      • Umm... smart-phones and tablets...

        @jblossom@...

        Seems they already have this space covered with rapidly growing adoption. Here is Australia - where we are known as one of the fastest adopters of new tech.... Wiki it! - smart-phones are expected to go from around 15% of the market early last year till 40 percent PLUS by the end of the year. I honestly can't see these punching all that high in response to that
        kaninelupus
    • RE: The first Chromebook Review: Samsung Series 5

      @Cynical99 "Too bad I dont have the cash to throw away on one."

      Good points, especially the last one.
      statuskwo5
    • RE: The first Chromebook Review: Samsung Series 5

      @Cynical99

      There are a number of individuals I guess who would be interested.

      A. Those power users, like myself, who see it compares favorably to an iPad (see: http://blog.chipp.com/chromebook-first-impressions/ )

      B. Those families who already have Google accounts and want to have a family computer they can share without worrying about trashing files, hard disks, losing work, getting viruses OR having to learn the new OS'es and all it's new tricks, or the new 7000+ features in MS Word 2013. These folks just want to get things done and not worry about whether Lion is cooler than Windows 7.

      C. Those small businesses who want to cut costs on IT infrastructure and provide a decent computing platform including support for ~ $28/ yr.
      chippwalters
  • RE: The first Chromebook Review: Samsung Series 5

    Even a dog once neutered can still function but it will never be the same . . . This is what I foresee with the cromebook. Once you take away its connections the croombook loses it's teeth and becomes as docile as a puppy.
    mgaul
  • Meh

    Can't wait to get my hands on a MacBook Air with newer intel processors later on this year!!!!
    Hasam1991
    • RE: The first Chromebook Review: Samsung Series 5

      @Hasam1991 I hate Apple and love Google and I'd agree with you. I'd take a MacBook Air over a Chromebook any day of the week.
      Aerowind
      • RE: The first Chromebook Review: Samsung Series 5

        @Aerowind i would certainly hope so, looking at the price point. if they put hardware expensive in the chromebook it would be way faster and smoother
        tykazowsky
    • RE: The first Chromebook Review: Samsung Series 5

      @Hasam1991

      We have three here at work to evaulate by the IT group. Yeah get an Air.... you have a MUCH richer environment.
      ItsTheBottomLine
  • RE: The first Chromebook Review: Samsung Series 5

    Nice review - good facts and insights, not like many half-based Chromebook reviews posted last week.
    jblossom9
  • RE: The first Chromebook Review: Samsung Series 5

    Cant believe one guy actually bought the chrome laptop. oh wait, did he get it for free?
    gunn13
    • RE: The first Chromebook Review: Samsung Series 5

      @gunn13 : I'm sure he did.
      Gis Bun
  • RE: The first Chromebook Review: Samsung Series 5

    This will mark up another Google failure right next to Wave. Why not just carry around a Microsoft Windows notebook? Your not going to notice a difference in the weight of each. And the Microsoft Windows notebook will be able to run native applications as well as anything in the cloud, and there is no monthly fee. Chromebook is pointless.
    LoverockDavidson
    • RE: The first Chromebook Review: Samsung Series 5

      @LoverockDavidson
      "Microsoft Windows notebook will be able to run native applications as well as anything in the cloud, and there is no monthly fee."
      Last time I checked a McAfee monthly subscription wasn't free. You wouldn't seriously consider surfing the web on a Windoze notebook without virus protection, would you?
      slave5tom
      • That's an old argument...

        @slave5tom With ZoneAlarm, Avira , CCCleaner, Ad-Aware, Avast, and Microsoft Security Essentials (all free) who needs McAfee, Norton, etc. Plus I would take Linux any day over ChromeOS.
        statuskwo5