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Samsung Series 5 Chromebook: Hands-On Review

Samsung's Chromebook Series 5, based on Google Chrome OS, looks ready for its big launch. Our first look found sleek design advantages and a few small setup hitches.

Samsung Chromebook: Hands-On Visual Tour
Slideshow: Samsung Chromebook: Hands-On Visual Tour
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
The Samsung Chromebook Series 5 is a beautiful, if slightly pricey, Chrome OS notebook that presents Google's browser-based operating system in a flattering light.

Chrome OS runs Web applications and if you require applications that don't run on the Web, you'll want to stick with Linux, Mac OS X, or Windows. But for a growing number of uses, the Web is enough. And Web applications are becoming more and more capable as HTML5 matures and developers take advantage of emerging Web standards.

The review unit that InformationWeek received sports a reverse-Oreo color scheme: White on the outside and black on the inside. A "Titan Silver" exterior, otherwise known as gray, is also an option.

The Series 5 is light, weighing only 3.3 lbs, a bit less than an HP Pavilion dm1z ultraportable and a bit more than the 13" MacBook Air. It's slim too, measuring 8.6" x 0.79" x 11.6." Its screen, which measures 12.1" diagonally and has a resolution of 1200x800, would be better served by a hinge with more resistance--if you lift an open Series 5 by the keyboard and tilt it so it's vertical, the screen folds closed.

Samsung's strong sense of aesthetics is evident in the Series 5. Its gently curved corners and clean lines define a notebook that could be mistaken for a design by Apple's Jonathan Ive, except perhaps for the two-tone color palette and the packaging: Apple's boxes and wrapping just look more elegant.

Samsung ought to license Apple's MagSafe power cord patents: The Chromebook power cord and adapter brick are functional but rather inelegant compared to what they could be. But that partnership is not likely, given that the two companies are suing each other.

The Series 5 is powered by a 1.66-GHz Intel Atom Processor N570 and comes with 2-GB standard system memory (DDR3), a 16-GB solid-state drive (mSATA), and 802.11 b/g/n wireless connectivity. It also comes with a built-in mic and an integrated camera, which happen to work well with Google Talk for voice calls or video chat.

The keyboard is clean, readable, and well-laid out. The multi-touch trackpad works as it should, which wasn't the case in initial versions of the Cr-48, the prototype Chromebook that Google gave to developers last year. I have to say I'm divided about which hardware I prefer: The Samsung Series 5 is indisputably more refined than the Cr-48. But the all-black Cr-48 has a utilitarian appeal of its own.

Startup time is quick, once you've set up your account: Eight seconds after hitting the power button, the login prompt appeared. This is mainly a function of SSD storage; I often use a MacBook Pro with an SSD drive and the startup time is comparable. SSD storage allows you to completely wipe your Chromebook of data in about five minutes; trying to do this on a hard disk takes several hours, assuming you're careful and zero out the data with multiple passes. But if you've configured your Chromebook not to store passwords, you shouldn't have any personal data on there in the first place.

Battery life is estimated at 8.5 hours. Your mileage may vary particularly if you're visiting websites that present fancy graphics.

Price may be a problem for the Samsung Series 5. The Wi-Fi model lists for $430 and the 3G model lists for $499. The low-end iPad 2 Wi-Fi model starts at $499. Chromebooks also support Ethernet connectivity through a USB adapter.

Verizon is offering an appealing mobile data plan for those who don't want to commit to a large monthly payment: 100 MB per month free, with additional data available on demand for an additional fee.

The Series 5 comes with 2 USB ports; a 4-in-1 memory card reader that supports SD, SDHC, SDXC, and MMC cards; a port for a VGA adapter; and a mini-plug port that supports audio in and out.

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