Product: Samsung Chromebook Series 5 3G Notebook
Price: $500 (3G and Wi-Fi data connectivity, includes 100MB of 3G data per month for two years; Wi-Fi model without 3G is $430), on sale to the public beginning June 15
What It’s Good For: Browsing web pages, watching videos on YouTube, listening to music, writing, chatting, video conferencing — anything most people would want to do with a small laptop.
Who It’s Good For: Web users, general Internet surfers, just about anyone.
Limitations: You can play Angry Birds on it, but don’t expect to play any graphics-intensive 3D games. High-end software, such as sophisticated speech recognition apps and Photoshop are not available on it (yet). Doesn’t work if you can’t get online.
Bottom Line: Samsung’s Chrome OS-running laptop with its 12.1-inch screen and adequate performance is refined from the get-go, quick to set up, hassle-free and easy to use. This slim and simple appliance could change the world of computing.
A Close-Up Look At The Samsung Chromebook Series 5 3G
The minute I booted up this Samsung Chromebook for the first time, I immediately become aware of its extraordinary appeal. Exactly 7 seconds after I pressed its power button, I was ready to begin computing.
But wait a minute. This is not Windows, nor is it a Mac. It’s not even Linux (update: it has Linux underpinnings, but this is a brand new approach). This slim laptop has Google’s new Chrome OS on it, a fast and lightweight operating system that’s tailor-made for the web, and ready to jump all over whatever you might want to do online. It’s basically just a Google Chrome browser, where you use web-based apps for everything. The best part is, it all feels so seamless, it makes you wonder why you’d ever need one of the cumbersome conventional operating systems to get things done.
It’s easy to get started. After entering my Gmail username and password, I was suddenly presented with the familiar Google Chrome browser I usually use with Windows 7, synced up from the cloud with all my Chrome browser preferences, bookmarks and extensions, and ready to go. I felt like I was home. Total setup time: about the time it takes to boot up a typical laptop.
Part of that setup is a friendly and quick tutorial about how to use the laptop’s touchpad. Just like with Windows and Macs, you can choose to tap to click, or you can click the touchpad, which functions as a button. I especially like the way you can adjust the sensitivity of the touchpad, where it felt just as responsive as the best touchpad I’ve ever used. I’m not a big touchpad fan, though, so I plugged a wireless USB mouse into one of the Chromebook’s two USB ports, and it was immediately recognized and usable.
Getting down to some computing, all the Chrome apps that I’ve previously downloaded into my Google account were sitting there waiting for me, including Pandora, Google Docs, instant messaging client Imo, and many others — some of which feel like glorified bookmarks, while others are more akin to actual applications on a Mac or PC.
Samsung reps like to say this laptop is “born for the web,” and they’re not kidding. Besides the laptop’s Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity, the keyboard has dedicated web keys — instead of those function buttons at the top, there are left and right arrows that help you navigate the web quickly, as well as a reload button.
Conveniently located on the top row of the keyboard (which unfortunately isn’t backlit, a useful feature I’ve grown accustomed to) are also volume controls right where I like them, as well as buttons to fill the screen with the browser, adjust screen brightness and a refresh page button, but I was disappointed to see there was no delete key — just the backspace key as is the custom on Macs. There’s no Page Down and Page Up keys, either, which is too bad, but with such a small unit, space considerations must have come into play.
Those quibbles aside, the keyboard is constructed with impressive quality, and it’s not flimsy at all. The keys press down just far enough for comfort, and are spaced far enough apart for touch typists to enter text at full speed. What? There’s no Microsoft Word? So what? Launch a document in Google Docs, and you’ll be off and writing in minutes. And there are thousands of other apps waiting for you, and most are free.
This little laptop did an admirable job playing video with perfect smoothness, with nary a dropped frame in sight. Even though there is no way to use iTunes on this laptop (no great loss for me), it was still able to do justice to music playback. With its onboard Picasa image library and editing software, photo management and a bit of light image editing were surprisingly easy to accomplish.
After a quick activation, the Verizon 3G network became available, a handy feature if you find yourself in a coffee shop that doesn’t have Wi-Fi. Although the two years’ worth of 100MB-per-month data included with the purchase of this 3G model is too stingy, that might be enough for occasional forays into places where Wi-Fi isn’t available.
When it gets down to just doing the things you like to do on the web such as tweeting, using Facebook, uploading photos or listening to a few tunes, the excellent Chrome browser and its growing number of apps work together well with little fanfare. After a while, the apps became invisible as I effortlessly used a system where things just worked, not instantly, but quickly enough.
All this usability, and you won’t have to worry much about battery life, either. Even after using the laptop for four hours after charging, there was still 63% of its juice remaining, implying that the 8.5-hour battery life quoted by Samsung is probably accurate. To me, that means I will tire out before this laptop runs out of gas.
After my testing of this groundbreaking product, I’m highly impressed by its quality and practicality. It’s slim, small and light, yet its sharp and bright 12.1-inch screen is big enough to get some actual work done. Its dual-core 1.66GHz Intel Atom N570 processor is just quick enough to keep you from waiting (see full specs and innards here and here), its ultra-quiet and cool operation won’t burn your patience or your lap, and its $500 price won’t burn a hole in your pocket, either.
What do I think of it? I love it. It gives you just enough of exactly what you need. As the Chrome Web Store fills up with more software and people get more accustomed to doing all their computing in the cloud, the Samsung Series 5 3G Chromebook could change the world.