Samsung Series 5 Chromebook first impression review

Samsung Series 5 Chromebook

The Samsung Series 5 Chromebook isn't instant-on. Don't believe any marketing messaging suggesting it. I had to wait an agonizing 4 seconds when flipping the lid before the Chrome logo appeared -- first bootup out of the box.

Instant On, Instant Setup, Instant Update

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Seriously, when was the last time you had that kind of experience? I can say never. If this is the future of computing -- near instant-on -- sign me up. Flipping the lid and getting down to work or play, without waiting, is liberating. I got some of that experience using the 11.6-inch MacBook Air, which is instant-on from sleep, but not from cold boot. Similarly, the Series 5 starts quick from sleep, but not instantly in my testing. Close. It's about 1.5 seconds -- and that's wirelessly connected to the Net.

Samsung's Chromebook, like the Acer Chromia, goes on sale June 15. I received a two-week loaner yesterday. Since I extensively reviewed the beta Cr-48 Chromebook and the Series 5 goes on sale so soon, I decided to offer a quickie, first-impression review. My first impression will be different from most peoples' because Chrome OS and the Chromebook concept are familiar to me.

Setup was amazingly fast. Chrome first prompted for wireless network, and I connected after entering the password. Next, I typed in my Google account ID and password, and the browser opened in seconds. But what came next was foreboding. The browser opened to a tab with trackpad tutorial. When have you ever needed one those? The Cr-48 had a troubled trackpad that got better with a software update but still lagged a little. Sadly, the Series 5 trackpad is a bit hokey, and that's even after I went into the settings and adjusted sensitivity. It's not terrible, but the out-of-box experience is disturbing. Perhaps with a little practice, the trackpad and I will get along fine.

After I went through the brief, four-step tutorial, I was ready to work. Surprise, surprise, Chrome already had synced my bookmarks and other settings, including web apps. That meant I was ready to work. Instant-on is a nice perk, instant setup goes to a whole other dimension of computing. Imagine opening a laptop for the first time and getting to work within just a few minutes. There are no apps to install because they load from the web and the browser syncs them up from Google's cloud. Instant setup is simply transforming. Mac OS X and Windows both demand time-consuming transfer of apps and data. Chrome OS makes it all available immediately.

There's another instant benefit: Instant update. Chrome and Chrome OS are both on fairly accelerated development schedules. That means Google will deliver new features every few months (if not sooner) rather than Microsoft's every few years for Windows. Updates apply automatically, as soon as they're available.

The Series 5 Chromebook is a comfortable size, although a little heavier than I expected for a laptop without an optical drive. The laptop weighs 1.5kg (3.3 pounds) and measures 11.6-inches wide by 0.8 inches high by 8.6 inches deep. The screen is 12.1 inches measured diagonally and it's matte finish. I had to adjust, having become accustomed to a glossy display. I find the 300-nit brightness to be more than acceptable, but not exceptional. Then again, I consider the MacBook Air display to be too bright.

The keyboard is pleasing to touch, and I find typing to be quick and comfortable. If only the trackpad was as good as the keyboard. Overall this is one the most comfortable notebooks in terms of its overall dimensions, size and responsiveness of the keyboard and crispness and clarity of the display.

What about Flash?

But there was something I had to check before anything else. Adobe Flash. My colleague Larry Seltzer asked Betanews readers if he should get a Chromebook for his daughter. The reasoning: She spends 90 percent of her time on the web anyway. Well, hell, he can't expect the kid to write in Google Docs all the time. She's got to be able to play games and watch TV shows, for which the latter Flash Video would be important. The performance was so-so at best on the Cr-48. So I was prepared to be disappointed.

I opened a tab to Hulu and clicked on the season two opener for USA drama "Covert Affairs." Hulu auto-selected 360p playback, despite my 24Mbps broadband. At full screen, the video was crisp, clear, colorful and contrasty. Playback pleased, overall. However, there were definitely dropped frames, which I noticed -- but they didn't overly disturb. Switching to 480p didn't noticeably improve video quality but it did increase dropped frames. But, again, watching was satisfying. When Flash Video goes to hell, the frame simply freezes or jumps between still shots while the audio continues. I saw none of the free-frame behavior.  Flash Video on the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook passes the good enough test. Something else: Watching streaming video didn't trigger the fan, nor did the laptop get perceptually hot, unlike the Cr-48.

Before getting down to business -- and thinking about Larry's fourth grader -- I moved on to Angry Birds, which is available as a web app for Chrome and Chrome OS. Installation was so quick, I couldn't blink fast enough. If two seconds passed, I'd be shocked. I played the HD version, which wasn't exactly speedy but definitely was smooth. I played through level 2 so that I could get back to this first-impression review.

Because of hazardous Flash performance (use at the risk of failure), I couldn't test enough of Chrome OS' digital media capabilities on the Cr-48, which is why I looked there first before trying out other applications on the Series 5. There are two other essential points to consider: Google is looking for consumers or businesses to dramatically change their computing behavior by working in the browser and largely keeping their data and apps in the cloud. As such, Chromebook largely requires a constant Net connection. There is little that can be done offline (but not nothing).

For Millennials, who are likely accustomed to the browser and constant Net connection, Google isn't demanding much from them. But demands would be great if they couldn't listen to music, watch videos or play games. These activities are also important because students are one of Chromebook's target markets. Google is offering subscription programs for businesses and schools, something more commonly seen for software than hardware. Student subscriptions cost $20 per month -- $28 for businesses.

The loaner I have sells for $499.99 with WiFi and 3G. Another, without 3G, is $429.99. Samsung sent the Arctic White Series 5 Chromebook, which is beautiful. The laptop's appeals as much as anything else for the simplicity of the design.

By the Specs

Many readers will wonder about other hardware, such as processor, memory and storage. I want to qualify something first. Too many techies have been conditioned by Intel and PC OEM marketing to focus on faster and more. These two attributes don't necessarily make a computer better. "Is there enough what the user needs?" matters more. That's about there being a good balance between hardware and software capabilities. My initial experience suggests balance, but I want to stress the Chromebook more before professing it's all good enough.

What you get: 12.1-inch LED display with 1280 x 800 resolution and 16:10 aspect ratio; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N570 processor; 2GB DDR3 memory (not expandable); 16GB solid-state storage; integrated NM10 graphics; ALC272 integrated audio; stereo speakers (which in my tests deliver surprisingly rich sound for the class of machine); internal microphone; 1-megapixel webcam; WiFi N; Verizon 3G (on higher-end model); headphone/Mic jack; two USB ports; 4-in-1 memory card reader (SD / SDHC / SDXC / MMC); and 6-cell battery (with stated life of 8.5 hours). I was disappointed to find no Bluetooth, but was surprised to find a 4GB SDHC card in the box (which I assume Samsung tossed in for reviewers).

As stated many paragraphs above, the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook goes on sale June 15. I could write more about Chrome OS, but I've done that previously in seven parts and then updated after my MacBook Air fatally crashed. But I do plan to do a follow-up review, focusing more on using the operating system. It's one thing to use beta software on testing hardware and something altogether different to use final code on shipping hardware.

The Samsung Chromebook won't be for everyone, but it's got appeal for anyone looking for instant-on, instant setup and instant updates. But it's not for most Betanews users, apparently. Last week I asked: "Will you buy Google Chromebook?" More than 73 percent of respondents answered "No."

26 Responses to Samsung Series 5 Chromebook first impression review

  1. benjitek says:

    It won't even reach flash-in-the-pan status -- it'll soon be one of those things either you never knew about, forgot about, or were embarrassed that you spent money on. A future thrift-store or garage sale item waiting to happen.

    Google obviously has money to blow ;)

  2. Briantist says:

    I can see these going down very well with two specific markets:

    - medium to large companies, where the TCO and security of personal computers is a headache. All you have to do is flood the corporate workspace with Wifi and pay monthly for your PCs.

    - people who buy their PCs from mobile phone shops. If these Chromebooks can be picked up for "free" by signing a 24 month contract in a high street store, with a broadband contract, I think many non-expert users will find them affordable and reliable.

    • RollDatKernelMyBrotha says:

      "- medium to large companies"
      I don't know about you, but companies employ a variety of custom apps, tool-chains, and a plethora of hardware/accessories to get things done. Not even Google could run effectively running "just" ChromeOS. You assume ChromeOS has solved the missing toolchain/workflow/integration problems...it hasn't. It can't even print directly to a printer! You gonna tell the president of the company YouDontNeedThat(TM)?

      "TCO and security of personal computers"
      Can you prevent ChromeOS users from connecting to unsecured wireless networks? Can you create rules on all ChromeOS to disallow certain apps from being installed, or access to certain apps and disable usb ports? What about forensic/audit trails? Does Google ChromeOS have tools to monitor current and past user activity? How about when an employee leaves, can you migrate/delegate the user's profile data to several users in a few clicks or is it stuck in the cloud?
      How do you disable the user's access to the Google cloud data without disabling his frakking login (since they are literally TIED).

      "TCO"
      1 user at $28 month in 3yrs is $1008 not including initial cost of chromebook.
      100users at $28 month in 3yrs is $100,800.00 and monthly cost of $2800 CONTINUES long after the cost of the notebook has depreciated and fallen apart. And there is no rich eBay after market where you can buy spare parts as easily as you can for say the Dell latitude or Optiplex or Lenovos or HP.
      So after 3yrs, you are STUCK with that old @ss machine. While other companies using normal laptops upgrade their users and bring a smile to their faces. I can tell you, as an employee stuck with a 3yr old dumb terminal(ChromeOS), I'd be looking to leave that company in a hurry.

      "people who buy their PCs from mobile phone shops"
      Except it's not really a cellphoneOS, or is it a phoneOS trying to be a desktopOS? I dunno it does a poor job at EITHER. It's a solution looking for a problem or gullible buyer.

      • fredsbassett says:

        #1- Windows systems cost approximately $3000/yr to run. That's nine times what it costa for a Chromebook.
        #2- You get a brand new Chromebook after three years, so you're just plain wrong...

      • PC_Tool says:

        Show me where you get the data for #1...

  3. firen says:

    The chromebook will fail eventually....I would rather go for an android tablet..

    $499 for such a piece of junk is simply a rip off..

  4. jakartatech says:

    It's all about tablets in 2011 - 2012 - 2013 etc. etc. millions of dollars are spend by marketing the tablets, it's like printed in the consumers minds... Chrome has a dead start and I'm sure Google won't sell to many... I mean, why should people pay for an expensive device if it all can be done on a flashy trendy tablet?

  5. Aires says:

    "Since I extensively reviewed the beta Cr-48 Chromebook"

    You did not use it extensively, you used it for a week! You only used it again when your Macbook Air developed a fault. Although you monaed about the Air and claimed the Cr-48 saved your life, you did not conduct a second review. That is just so damn misleading!

  6. lseltzer says:

    No Bluetooth! If you want to use a real mouse you have to wire it into USB? Does it even support that?

    You allude to this, but if you have an iPod or some other music device are you SOL for any kind of synch?

    And you say there are no apps to bother with, but I have a bunch of extensions in my Chrome/Windows installations, like Tweetdeck. Is anything like this available?

    • DigitalSin says:

      I guess with iCloud you'd be able to sync your iPod OTA and listen to the music on the laptop?

  7. bigsexy022870 says:

    So here is my problem. Nobody needs a chromebook. It's a idea that is in the beta stage. I must say i don't believe anyone needs to even think about another OS. Windows and OSX is just fine. Anything else is kinda silly. This chromebook has a tiny 16 gig hard drive, which is just horrible. Who needs a laptop crippled by hard drive size. Where you can't install itunes(for those of us who need it). And you can't install a million other apps that any windows or mac user could. Apps that we need or want. And what good is a webcam if you can't install yahoo or skype. This is just a joke of a notebook.

    • rrode74 says:

      I could not agree more. In the hands of users you have 2 super rich OS's that have lots of applications support in Windows and OS X (more apps in Windows).

      Why would anyone, especially a consumer or corporate user want to use anything else. I get it if you are running some crazy high end scientific software that happens to only be written to work on Linux but outside of that day to day computing becomes challanging when running anything else.

      • DaveN says:

        @bigsexy and rrode

        Individual choice and varying needs. If a Chromebook, iPad, or whatever meets one's needs for "computing" capability and other considerations such as price and form factor, why wouldn't they buy it? Valid arguments can be made around things like iTunes and storage, but those only matter to users of iTunes and those who take advantage of the storage.

        For the record, personally I agree with both of you. I don't find enough functionality in either Chromebook, iPad, or the Android tablets to justify spending the money or adding the weight to my bag. I like powerful Windows desktops and small Windows laptops, but that only matters to me - I can't argue that a middle school kid typing up 2 page reports needs a $2,000 multi-monitor desktop PC.

        If nothing else, all these Android and iOS devices will put pressure on Microsoft and their OEM partners to ship more interesting, functional, and cost effective products. (I'm not sure if they put pressure on OSX or not, those guys march to their own drummer). We fans of traditional, fully-functioning operating systems and hardware can only benefit from this competition - no one is making us buy iOS or Android, but our Windows and OSX experience will be better as a result.

  8. DigitalSin says:

    My Cr-48 still gets passed around between my wife and kids when the need arises. It's a decent enough little machine. Somehow though, I just don't feel it's worth anywhere near the $500 mark. Maybe I'd consider $250, but anything more for a web browser just feels silly to me. For $500, another iPad would satisfy more needs in the house than another Chromebook. Also, what's with the 1 megapixel webcam? Man that's cheapo.

    • yeldare says:

      1 megapixel = 1 million pixels

      640x480 = 0.31 megapixels

      1280x720 = 0.92 megapixels

      It's capable of doing 480p for sure, maybe even 720p. What's the issue?

  9. lfmmoura says:

    Joe, the one thing we expect from a web-only OS is that at least the web will be richer. And that means, unfortunately, that Flash needs to work properly. What you said about apps is no different than installing Google Chrome (the browser) at different platforms. No news here. In fact, I'd go even farther: Android does this, and it's much more of a real OS than Chrome OS will ever be. Instant on? Come on, now. Newer mobile devices already use next-to-nothing of battery life to stay in stand-by mode. And OSes these days are solid enough to go by for weeks without needing to reboot. We all know this is only an issue because marketing hype makes it an issue.

    From your reviews, it seems you really put a lot of effort into liking the OS. I don't think an OS should need this kind of effort. We're clearly not ready yet for an online-only solution, and the Internet is not yet omnipresent and nearly always reliable, like, say, electricity.

    At least we would expect that the web experience would be richer, OS features (or lack of them) aside. Clearly that's not the case, which pretty much makes Chrome OS useless at this point.

    Like I've said before, even Honeycomb is much better than this. I'd really like to see you play with, say, the Asus Transformer, which is the closest thing to a Honeycomb-netbook we have these days, and compare this with your Chrome OS experience. And mind you: The Transformer, fully packed with a keyboard and extra battery, is cheaper than most Chromebook offers.

    Please do this, if you can, and report to us what you think. Thanks!

  10. rrode74 says:

    Is instant on really that big of a deal? On my laptops, they dont get rebooted (Mac or PC) for weeks at a time. I clost the lid and plug them in. When you think about the time you spend on a computer, "booting up" wether it takes 1:30 or :04 it adds up to probably less than 1% of 1% of your time in front of a computer.

    Users care about hardware specs if their flash content is choppy because of a crappy CPU/GPU combo.

  11. RWW says:

    The instant on feature is something Windows could do but has had no interest in doing. Perhaps features available in the marketplace might push them a little bit. A fast startup (which might resemble a configureable Express Gate) with a command to later start the other features you prefer to run would be perfect. I know about delayed starts etc. but this would be different and easy to use.

  12. Alfiejr says:

    well a couple of key questions didn't get answered in this piece:

    what CAN you do off line? (and will there be 3G versions too?)? no matter what, sometimes you won't have wifi when you need to do something.

    is this in fact a Google "walled garden" - inevitably dependent on Google web apps and cloud services? or is there a practical non-Google set up too? if it is, well, just don't apply a double standard compared to Apple's walled garden.

  13. Anonymous says:

    You're right, 4 seconds is too long. Funny, this is the first positive review of the Chromebook that I've read.

  14. Anonymous says:

    You're right, 4 seconds is too long. Funny, this is the first positive review of the Chromebook that I've read.

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