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10/19/2012
05:02 PM
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Samsung Chromebook: Hands-On Review

Samsung's latest Chromebook benefits from rapid improvements in Google's Chrome OS. Is this cloud computing vehicle right for you?

Samsung Chromebook
(click image for larger view)
Samsung Chromebook
Google's latest Chrome OS device, the third-generation Samsung Chromebook, isn't quite disposable, but it's so affordably priced--$249, or $330 with 3G--that you could drop it and live with yourself. All your valuable data would be safe in some distant data center.

When Google senior VP Sundar Pichai introduced the new Samsung Chromebook at a media event in San Francisco on Thursday, he said, "To us, Chrome OS represents the most distilled form of cloud computing we can find."

For Google, Chrome OS is not about the hardware, it's about cloud services and online ad revenue. In the era of mobile devices and cloud computing, hardware no longer matters, at least not the way it did in the era of desktop computing.

[ Learn more: read Google's ARM-Based Samsung Chromebook Just $249. ]

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos articulated the new reality at an event introducing the second-generation Kindle Fire last month. "People don't want gadgets anymore," he said. "They want services that improve over time."

Taken literally, this is an absurd pitch to sell gadgets. But Bezos has a point. Most people don't want to be IT administrators; they just want their devices to work well, for local or remote applications.

But people do want gadgets, even if they're now looking at factors beyond price and performance. And the new Samsung Chromebook is a gadget worth wanting.

The Specs Impress

Samsung's third-generation Chromebook features an 11.6" screen with a 1366 x 768 display. It measures 11.4" x 8.09" x 0.69" and weighs 2.43 pounds. Its form factor is close enough to the 11" MacBook Air (which weighs 2.3 pounds and measuring 11.8" x 7.56" x 0.68") that it's comparable as a mobile device.

If compared on the basis of price, the Chromebook wins by a factor of four. But Google doesn't expect anyone to stop using their $1,099+ MacBook Air for a $249 Chromebook. Pichai acknowledged that Apple, with the MacBook Air, "set the bar in terms of what a great laptop is," and hinted that higher-end Chromebooks may be developed. But he sees the latest Chromebook filling a different niche, as a second or third computer in affluent households, as something that gets picked up and passed around for checking email and surfing the Web, or as an affordable computer, particularly in areas where mobile devices are more popular than pricey computers.

The Chromebook looks more than a bit like a MacBook Air, though it feels more flimsy: Samsung encased its electronics in plastic rather than aluminum, albeit serious-looking silver plastic rather than the Chromebook Series 5 Arctic White that suggests a child's toy. The Chromebook gives and flexes in a way the metal MacBook Air doesn't. It's also more easily scuffed and scratched. But for the price, that can be forgiven.

The new Chromebook is also less elegant from a design perspective. A cylindrical screen hinge protrudes from the closed Chromebook, adding an unnecessary speed bump to the device's otherwise clean lines.

The device, however, isn't really designed to compete with the MacBook Air. It's more of an alternative to tablets, like the iPad, the Galaxy Tab, and the Nexus 7. As a tool for accessing Google Apps, the Chromebook works better because it has a built-in keyboard. For e-book reading, you'll probably be happier with a tablet. As a portable video screen, it's probably a toss-up--some viewing scenarios may favor a tablet but having a keyboard to keep the screen in a fixed position can be useful too. Like many Android devices, but not Apple's iPad, it can accept external storage cards card through its 3-in-1 multi-card slot (SD/SDHC/SDXC).

The Chromebook comes with 16 GB of internal storage capacity, but Google is throwing in 100 GB of online Google Drive storage for two years at no charge, which would cost $120 if purchased.

Like most tablets, the Chromebook relies on an ARM-based chip. The device's Samsung Exynos 5 Dual runs cool enough that no fan is required when the processor is being taxed by computational-intensive applications, like playing videos and games. Silence is an under-appreciated aspect of computing.

The Chromebook's ARM architecture also helps keep the device running longer. Google says the device will last for 6.5 hours on a single charge.

In terms of I/O ports, the Chromebook is well-equipped: It comes with one USB 3.0 port, one USB 2.0 port, an internal mic/headphone port, and one HDMI port. It includes a 0.3-megapixel VGA webcam and a pair of 1.5-watt speakers. It's Bluetooth 3.0 compatible and supports dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n. The $330 model includes a 3G cellular radio for connecting to a mobile data carrier.

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SMP
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SMP,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/20/2012 | 7:32:18 AM
re: Samsung Chromebook: Hands-On Review
I would say that for the average user, Chromebooks are your perfect first computer. Once you get one, they will relegate your Windows computer to a niche device which you only use for occasional use of Photoshop or as a print server for legacy printers that don't support Google Cloud print. It is just that Chromebooks are so much easier and more convenient for doing 95% of what the average user does on a regular basis.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
10/27/2012 | 1:12:35 PM
re: Samsung Chromebook: Hands-On Review
Agree, but what keeps me from buying the Nexus 7 is the 7 in the name. Too small of a screen. Google should make a Nexus 10.
jmmx2
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jmmx2,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/24/2012 | 2:54:53 PM
re: Samsung Chromebook: Hands-On Review
For an interesting analysis of Google Chromebook vs iPads, see:
http://seekingalpha.com/articl...
Tom LaSusa
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Tom LaSusa,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/23/2012 | 3:49:49 PM
re: Samsung Chromebook: Hands-On Review
Hi ricegf,

I've approved your posts so you should see them. We do screen any posts that include an external URL, so we can curtail the spammers.

Once we determine that the link is not malicious, then we approve the comment.

Best,
Tom Lasusa
InformationWeek Community Manager
ricegf
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ricegf,
User Rank: Guru
10/22/2012 | 10:07:40 PM
re: Samsung Chromebook: Hands-On Review
Yes. I posted 2 links as references, but Information Week blocked them as spam. *sigh*
ricegf
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ricegf,
User Rank: Guru
10/22/2012 | 8:22:22 PM
re: Samsung Chromebook: Hands-On Review
Well, I thought I read it in this article, but now I can't find it. However, it is specifically mentioned on the Amazon.com pre-order page [search for "Samsung Chromebook (3G, 11.6-Inch)"] and in the Verge article [http://www.theverge.com/2012/1...], so at this point I believe that it's true.
longhairedcountryboy
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longhairedcountryboy,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/22/2012 | 7:38:08 PM
re: Samsung Chromebook: Hands-On Review
Is this true? I read it again and didn't see anything about free access.
Gussy2000
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Gussy2000,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/22/2012 | 3:26:44 PM
re: Samsung Chromebook: Hands-On Review
I keep reading positive reveiw after positive review about this product. I think like the Nexus 7, this is another under marketed, underappreciated device. Google is too humble. I'd like to see a bigger advertising push for this Chromebook and the Nexus 7.

I will say this: I read technology news several times a day, so I am NOT a typical consumer in regards to this sort of thing. My wife, however, does no such thing and she actually mentioned this new Chromebook to me (as if she was letting me in on some big secret :) )

That is a good sign. If my wife has heard about this product then it is getting traction with the general public. I'm very tempted to get her one.
ricegf
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ricegf,
User Rank: Guru
10/22/2012 | 2:05:07 PM
re: Samsung Chromebook: Hands-On Review
Really, it's the $330 3G version with 1 GB of data a month for 2 years that's the killer deal here. 2 years of free Internet access virtually anywhere in the USA - sweet! T'will be interesting to see if this generation will be able to gain any market traction against tablets and laptops.
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