Review: The ARM-powered Samsung Chromebook

The new ARM-based Samsung Chromebook is far more than an amazingly cheap, good lightweight laptop. It will revolutionize how we use PCs.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
The new ARM-powered Chromebook will transform how we use PCs.

I was already a big Chromebook fan before I got my hands on Samsung's just-released ARM-powered Chromebook. Now, after a weekend with it and with its  amazing price of $249 I think it's going to find a few million more fans. Indeed, as of October 21st, the ARM-based Chromebook is Amazon's best selling computer.

Why? It's not that the new model Samsung Chromebook has awe-inspiring hardware. It doesn't.

The Chromebook 2012 Gallery

If you popped it open, you'd find a Samsung Exynos 5 Dual (5250) system on a chip (SoC). This ARM-processor implementation contains a dual-core 1.7GHz Cortex CPU, 802.11n Wi-Fi support, USB 3.0 support, and 1080p, 60 frame per second (FPS) graphics support. It's quite nice, but it doesn't scream speed.

Indeed, it doesn't "scream" in any sense of the word. It has no fans so the only sound you'll hear from it is from your typing or whatever music you decide to play through its built-in speakers.

You'll also find 2GBs of RAM and a mere 16GB Solid State Drive (SSD). I say "mere" because the name of the game with Chromebooks is that they are all about the cloud. A Chromebook's real storage is the cloud-based Google Drive. This model comes with a free 100GBs of Google Drive storage for the first two years. That would normally cost you not quite $120.

So, how fast is it really? Well, it's nothing like as fast as its "big" brother, the Samsung Series 550 with an Intel Celeron 867 Processor and 4GBs of RAM. On the FutureMark’s PeaceKeeper Web browser test suite, the ARM Chromebook scored 1.123 compared to the 550's 1,888. On the other hand, its score makes it only a little slower than IE 9 on Windows 7 SP1 on a Gateway DX4710. This PC is powered by a 2.5-GHz Intel Core 2 Quad processor and has 6GBs of RAM and an Intel GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) 3100. In short, the ARM Chromebook does a lot more with a lot less hardware than a stock Windows PC does.

It's also very fast to boot up. My boot times were always around 10 seconds. In practice, I found it to work very quickly. With only 2GBs of RAM, it will start to slow down once you're over about a dozen open tabs.

For ports, it comes with one USB 3.0 one USB 2.0 port, and an HDMI port. It also has a combo headphone/mic jack, secure digital memory slot and a low-resolution Webcam. For networking, it's purely Wi-Fi. It supports the 802.11 a, b, g. and n family with dual antennas and Bluetooth 3.0. There is no Ethernet port.

Samsung says its battery will hast for six and a half hours. Mine lasted for over seven on a single charge. For a device that weights less than two and a half pounds that's amazing.

The display is only 11.6-inches with a resolution of 1,366x768. I like huge screens myself—hence my main work laptop is a ThinkPad T520 laptop with its 15.6" display—but for a small display it's quite nice. It's also much easier to travel with.

The keyboard was a pleasant surprise. Samsung may sell this device for not much more than a song, but they didn't cheap out on the keyboard or its touchpad. When it comes to laptop keyboards, my gold standard is still the Lenovo ThinkPad, but short of that, both current model Samsung Chromebooks are great to type on.

The Chrome OS interface itself is, as ever, a pleasure to use. While it's based on Ubuntu Linux, anyone who's ever used a Chrome Web browser can use it. There is zero learning curve when you move to a Chromebook.

Chrome OS also has all its usual built-in benefits. There's no need to ever update any applications because everything is based on the cloud. The operating system itself, unless you go out of your way to stop it, automatically updates it. You also don't need to customize it. Once you're signed into Google, it automatically syncs all of your Chrome bookmarks, settings, extensions and applications. Share it with a friend? No problem, they login to their Google account and they get all their Chrome settings, apps, and so on.

So, what's so special about this ultra-light laptop that I think it's going to change everything? Easy. It's $249. Take into account the Google Drive, and it's $130.

Think about that. It's a reasonably fast, go anywhere, do anything computer that will cost you less than an iPod. My colleagues have been following this to its logical conclusion. Eric Lai looked at what comes with it and it's pricing and said, "At these prices, what CIO or IT manager wouldn't give the Chromebook a serious look? You'd be crazy not to."

Jason Perlow wrote, "The significance of this particular product release isn't about UX and Apps. It's about bringing down the cost of of computing down to affordable, almost disposable levels, and leveraging the Cloud to do the heavy lifting which we've otherwise relied upon much more powerful personal computers to do before."

Exactly. This Chromebook represents the true future of the PC. It's cheaper than any device that's remotely comparable to it be it tablet, laptop or any of the hybrids. It depends not on the local computer but on network services to get things done. Sun's motto used to be the network is the computer. Today, that motto has been made reality in my hands by Google and Samsung with the ARM Chromebook. This really does change everything.

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