Samsung Series 5 Chromebook Review Reveals Speedy Cloud Computer

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-06-14

Samsung Series 5 Chromebook Review Reveals Speedy Cloud Computer

I've been playing with a loaner version of the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook for a week and the 3.3-pound notebook based on Google's Chrome operating system is everything I expected it to be.

That is, a more polished version of the Chrome OS version running on the Cr-48 experimental computer I tested last December packed in a superior hardware shell.

Unveiled at Google I/O in May, the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook goes on sale June 15 from and Best Buy online in two flavors: $429 for the WiFi-only version and $499 for a machine with a 3G radio with 100MB of monthly data allotment from Verizon Wireless for two years. Consumers may purchase more data from Verizon at their leisure.

I tested the arctic white model, which was nice, though I actually prefer the device in a more manly titan silver. The Chromebook, which measures 11.6 inches wide, .8 inches thick and 8.6 inches deep, has a glossy finish compared to the velvety matte finish of the Cr-48 I tested last December.

The top lid has the Samsung and Chrome branding, with the Chrome emblem raised on the lid, like a bold hood ornament. Hefting the device for the first time, I was struck by its weight, which is funny because I have a Lenovo ThinkPad T60 workhorse that feels like it weighs twice as much.

When I wondered why the Chromebook struck me as heavy, I realized the only computing devices I regularly haul around at home are my Motorola Droid X and my Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, which weigh 5-plus ounces and 1.25 pounds, respectively. Of course the Chromebook felt heavy at first, but it's really not.

Opening the lid produced the black, island-style keyboard with which I became familiar from the Cr-48. There were 74 keys, sitting in back of the spacious trackpad, which serves as the navigation and execution key for commands.

See the Samsung Series Chromebook I Tested Here

The top row of keys, which is a big differentiation point from any other notebook, include keys for Web browser control, including forward and back buttons, refresh, as well as keys for volume and brightness and full-screen toggle. Of course, there is the power button, which you can press and hold to put the machine to sleep or turn it off.

I'll admit that I was leery of this trackpad, as it resembled the one on Cr-48 that was so poorly responsive to start last year, and right clicking with the required two fingers was chore. My fears were later assuaged on this score.This trackpad is much more responsive. Still, right-clicking can be tricky if you're used to having separate buttons to do this in Windows machines.

When I opened the Chromebook to the start screen, the machine prompted me to configure it. First, it asked for my language preference and network. I chose English and provisioned my home WiFi network, then signed in with my Google account credentials, all steps with which I'd logged into the Cr-48 for the first time.

Then I was asked to select a user ID photo, which let me choose to take a picture with the 1MP Webcam or a stock photo. I chose a stock robot pic. Then I was in, or at least mostly in. Chrome OS, version .12 on this Chromebook compared to version .11 on my Cr-48, asked me to take a trackpad tutorial to get used to navigation.

When I finished I realized the Chromebook had ported in all of the bookmarks I'd created on my Cr-48. This is a bigger deal than it seems because it speaks to the cloud computing vision Google has of user data and applications availability on any device, hosted in the cloud.

Not only that, but it prescribed all of the apps I installed from the Chrome Webstore via the Cr-48. So when Google officials joked at Google I/O that you could throw a Chromebook in a river and not lose important data, they weren't kidding. This is obviously hyperbole; you might keep all your data, but you'd be out $500 clams!

Viewing YouTube videos and Flash multimedia content was pleasant enough thanks to the 12.1-inch LED backlit matte (seriously!) display, which boasts 1280x800 resolution, a 16:10 aspect ratio on 300 nits brightness.

Samsung claims its Series 5 Chromebook boasts up to 40 percent more brightness than the average laptop. I do know that reading text and viewing other content was easy in light or dark environs. The screen is good, but nothing spectacular.

Samsung Series 5 Chromebook Nice but Not Necessary

There are more than 4,500 apps to choose from in Google's Chrome Webstore, most of which are free. I tested the Webcam with Google Talk video chats and found it to work well. I also ran Gmail Picasa, Google Docs, Google Reader and others, which all worked well enough, thanks to the Intel 1.66 GHz Atom Processor N570. 

Then I installed the new Angry Birds Chrome version with a single click in a few seconds. Angry Birds was really where I got a feel for this Chromebook's Intel NM10 graphics chipset.

I would be lying if I said the Web version of Angry Birds operated without a hitch. This is the Web. Hiccups in access are normal, whereas you wouldn't see fits and starts on the native mobile apps for Android and iPhone. Overall, my experience gaming on the Chromebook was enjoyable.

To use this 3G model outside my house I went to the Chrome tools section, clicked on settings, the Internet. Here I saw my WiFi connection and an option to connect to Verzion's network. To do this, you must type your zipcode or town and choose options such as the free 100MB of data Verizon offers.

Once I entered my info, I was free to use the Chromebook courtesy of the carrier's mobile broadband, as if the notebook were a smartphone or tablet. Neat

This device only has 16GB SSD storage, so you can't store a lot of content with it. What were you expecting with a cloud-based computer? One of the biggest differences I noted between the Cr-48 and the Chromebook is that the pilot machine did not have a file manager. This Chromebook, running the fresher version of Chrome OS, does.

Users will find it by clicking on the Chrome wrench icon in the top right, then clicking the tools option. Users can plug in an SD card in the Chromebook's front 4 in one card reader (supporting SD, SDHC, SDXC and MMC) or a USB key (there are two USB ports) and the file manager will read the content and let users access media such as photos, videos and music. Tunes played well on this machine with stereo speakers, a far cry from the Cr-48's inferior sound system.

My test unit Chromebook actually came with an SD card preloaded with photos, videos and documents to test. That is how I became comfortable with the file manager before plugging my own USB keys into the machine to test.

The file manager worked quickly and painlessly, playing some video files, but wouldn't recognize my Windows-based Flip videos. That's a problem for a someone with a bunch of Flip videos they need to move from that dying camera ecosystem. It means I will have to convert them into a different format, which sort of defeats the purpose of a Web-based Chromebook.

The Chromebook also comes with a VGA adapter to let users port media to larger screens such as TVs. One of the sweetest perks about the Chromebook is the great battery life. I regularly got 8 hours of battery life from this machine's 8280 mAh battery, with a decent amount of use.

There is a lot of talk about whether the Chromebook is suited for a consumer, a business professional, or both. As a consumer, the Chromebook is a like a multi-function tablet for me.

It allows me to access pretty much all of my Web content in speedy fashion. I can type forever on it, writing short stories and letter on Google Docs and storing them for later, something that doesn't play so well on a tablet. I can also play games and watch video content. In that capacity, it's a great device, even if it's quite a bit short on the app choice front compared to iOS or Android.

As a worker, I couldn't use it because we at eWEEK are all on Microsoft Exchange for email and have other proprietary programs that aren't accessible via Chrome let alone Chrome OS, for I couldn't use this for work.

I suspect that Google may also have to relent and allow hardware makers to incorporate more storage on Chromebooks going forward. People enjoy the newness of the cloud, but there is also a lot of comfort and convenience in accessing local content. Sorry, Google.

And that's why I think computer makers could have trouble moving Chromebooks into anything other than a niche use case. Meanwhile, as a consumer user I now have another Web-enabled form factor to juggle along with my smartphone and tablet. 


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