The latest editions to Googles hardware lineup include the new Samsung Chromebox Series 3 desktop and a refreshed Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook Ultrabook and are simple to use, consumer-oriented devices that depend on the cloud for the bulk of their application and storage capabilities.
Both devices became available June 14 and run only Googles Chrome operating system, which is combined with a mandatory agreement to accept updates, something Google calls the always new computer experience. Googles approach is a not unreasonable way to prevent performance-robbing bit rot that affects most Windows-based systems over time as a mish-mash of drivers, application settings and orphaned files degrade system reliability.
In eWEEK Labs tests of both systems, we found that the tight coupling of the Chrome app store with the Chrome operating system running on the devices left little room for application conflict or end-user configuration errors.
I tested the all-new Samsung Chromebox Series 3, which is the first iteration of the Google Chrome OS in a desktop product. The compact-form-factor device measures 7.6 by 7.6 by 1.3 inches and resembles a set-top device.
The Chromebox uses a 16GB solid-state drive (SSD) and comes with 4GB of RAM and an Intel Celeron B840 dual-core (1.9GHz) processor. I tested the unit with a 19-inch Hewlett-Packard monitor. The graphics hardware is rated to support up to a 30-inch display.
The Samsung Chromebox offers plenty of conventional ports for connecting peripherals. The unit supports Bluetooth and comes with six USB ports, a Digital Video Interactive (DVI) port and two DisplayPort plus ports. The Samsung Chromebox can also be connected to an HDTV via one of the two DisplayPort plus ports. The fanless Samsung Chromebox is well-suited for space-constrained environments where performance and robust support for productivity applications is a secondary concern.
Applications for Chrome devices come from the Chrome Web Store. I was able to add applications and browser extensions to Chrome from the store and then access them just by logging on to either the Chromebox or the Chromebook. While Im a big fan of Google apps like Docs and Calendar, most enterprise users will need to find workarounds to get traditional and widely used applications such as Word to work on Chrome devices.
Organizations that use Citrix to host applications can use the Citrix Receiver on Chrome to access these applications. Last year, Ericom released AccessNow, a Remote Desktop Protocol application that runs on Chrome and provides an RDP client that enables end users to connect to remote Windows desktops and applications. Most IT managers will find that while these apps provide much of the access end users want, the management framework to ensure that governance and security requirements are followed are still in the earliest stages of development.
Chromebook Series 5 550
The second-generation Samsung Chromebook comes in a fairly slim, lightweight Samsung case and is built around an Intel Celeron 867 dual-core processor with a 16GB SSD and 4GB of RAM.
Network connectivity is inordinately important for Google Chrome devices and the new Samsung 5 550 (priced at $449.99 for the WiFi model and $549.99 for the 3G Wireless Model) and the Acer AC700 Chromebook (starting at $299 and not tested here) can optionally use Verizon 3G cellular service in addition to the wireless LAN capability found in the previous-generation Chromebook. Unlike the latest Apple MacBook systems, the Samsung Chromebook 550 also has an RJ-45 wire-line port in case a wireless network is unavailable or unable to provide enough bandwidth.
The new Samsung Chromebook comes with two years of 100MB-per-month 3G service from Verizon, which is about enough for moderate email and social media (without video or large picture files) usage. Of course, paid monthly data service plans are available starting at 1GB of data for $20 per month.
The device has a bright 12.1-inch matte screen that I found easy to use for hours at a time. I was easily able to use the device all day long with the WiFi connection for Web browsing, checking email and participating in social media. And the Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550 is the very first laptop I have ever used (including the MacBook Air) that correctly dissipates heat in the center rear of the device, thus minimizing leg and wrist discomfort by keeping warmth away from body contact areas.