Is Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550 worth spending $549?

Google and Samsung couldn't have done more to hide the second-generation Chromebook and new Chromebox during Consumer Electronics Show 2012 in January. They're cloaked no longer, as I explain in my "Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550 first-impressions review". The products launched today, and they're worth a look. But is the new Chromebook worth buying?

Everyone should ask first about performance, because by the specs Samsung's new Chromebook is an under-performer -- Celeron processor in an Core i-processor world. But there are different measures of performance, and only one really matters: Is it good enough for what it's meant to do? I partly answer the question in my review, but the topic is so important for this computer I've dedicated another post just to it. Quick answer: Performance is good enough. However, price-performance is another matter.

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An Air Comparison

For two months last summer, I used the original Samsung Series 5 Chromebook as my primary PC, in the first weeks and as my only one later on. The cloud experience was refreshing, no liberating, but Chromebook grated the longer I used it, because of performance. There was too much lag, and video playback was too choppy. At the least, Chromebook needed 4GB of memory, rather than two, faster processor and better graphics chip. The new model has the memory chops and perhaps good-enough processor and graphics chips, by the aforementioned measure. I use "perhaps" because the real test is time -- performance a month from now or longer.

Google got what could have been a disastrous luck of the draw, sending me a Chromebook to use ahead of today's launch. I moved form a smoking MacBook Air, which places high measure for comparable user experience performance.

MacBook Air specs: 1.8GHz Intel Core i7 processor; 11.6-inch glossy display (1366 x 768 resolution); 256GB flash memory; Intel HD graphics; 4GB SDRAM; webcam; two USB ports; Thuderbolt port; WiFi N; Bluetooth 4.0; iLife '11; and OS X Lion.

Chromebook 5 550 specs: 1.3GHz Intel Celeron 867 processor (dual-core); 12.1-inch matte display (1280 x 800 resolution; 300 nit); 16GB solid-state drive; Intel HD graphics; 4GB SDRAM; webcam; two USB ports, DisplayPort; WiFi N; 3G (one some models); Gigabit Ethernet; 4-in-1 media card slot; and Chrome OS. The operating system stack supports Bluetooth, which therefore can be added by dongle.

Smooth Operator

Based on the specs, I absolutely prepared for huge letdown, but didn't get it. Instead, I'm surprisingly satisfied with my first week using the new Chromebook. Always. My first open tab went to Hulu, so I could see if video streaming had improved. Considering that through Google's subscription program, education is a target market, video streaming needs to be excellent. Students will demand it for leisure and study. Video also is excellent measure of overall performance, without benchmarking, which I never do since it's often poor measure of real-world usage and primary value is comparing devices. Verdict: Video delivers.

Overall operation is smooth, even with a dozen or more tabs open. In fact, BetaNews website opens much faster on this machine than the Air. We've got a couple banner ads running recently that just slog down main site opening, or so I experience on the Apple computer but not the Samsung.

Bottom line: For the last week, the new Chromebook wasn't just my primary machine, it was my only one. I'll spend all of June using this computer, unexpectedly beginning a repeat of last summer's two-months with its predecessor. The switch is easier because so much of what I do is in the cloud, compared to last year, and the overall experience is so improved -- and that's because of software as much as hardware.

The 550's specs generate strong gut "this can't be good enough" reaction, but my experience is satisfaction. Remember, I came from using MacBook Air and expected a dim user experience by comparison.

The Xbox Analogy

Techdom is too obsessed with specs, something vendors perpetuate in their product marketing. I could use many examples to refute the more-is-better myth, but for this audience Xbox 360 works. Microsoft started selling the game console in November 2005 and there have been no major platform updates since. Today's Xbox 360 is much the same as the original; yes, Microsoft tweaked hardware along the way. Gamers pine for more, but who complains the console underperforms?

Rather, the games keep getting better as does the overall user experience. Microsoft improves Xbox 360 by way of software updates and cloud services. Then there are platform extensions, with Kinect top of list. The motion sensor radically improves the overall user experience without changing the core platform. This is how you should see Chromebook, as a category.

Google has set a hardware baseline, with the big benefits coming from improvements to software and services, similar to the Xbox and Xbox Live ecosystems. New Chrome OS versions closely track browser development, which revs a new version about every six weeks. Chromebook Series 5 550 ships with v19, but v20, which is in the beta channel, offers Google Drive integration. Last month, my colleague Tim Conneally aptly observed that the newly launched Google Drive is "perfect for a Nexus tablet". The feature is as good, if not better, for Chromebook.

Price to Performance

But there's another consideration -- price to performance and how it compares to other choices. That's where Chromebook crumbles for many potential buyers. The newer Samsung sells for more than its predecessor when released -- $449 vs $429 for the WiFi model and $549 vs $499 for 3G. Compared to MacBook Air, which starts at $999 and the model I have $1,649, price to performance is quite favorable. But, by the specs, there are plenty of lower-cost options. Hell, in my local Best Buy on Saturday, I saw an ASUS laptop (not netbook) discounted to $249.

Then there are the tablets. San Diego school district is readying 25,000 iPads for classrooms in the autumn. Education is one of Google's primary target markets. iPad 2 sells for $399 and newer Apple tablet starts at $499. New iPad's high-res display, 2048 x 1536, decimates Chromebook 5 550 for readability and overall user experience. Even compared to many other currently selling laptops, screen resolution lacks and will, by comparison, look less appealing when new Windows 8 laptops ship in a few months.

That's perhaps the important distinction when making the Xbox comparison. The 360 was state of art in November 2005. The 550, as flagship second-generation Chromebook launch model, falls behind even as it starts. Much depends on how far Google can extend the user experience with ever-more and quickly-improving software and services. I'm confident Chromebook 5 550 will satisfy most of my computing needs through the end of June. But the computer is not for everyone -- whatever is, eh?

What Price is Right?

On Sunday, my father-in-law bought a used car for my daughter. The financial guy processing our paperwork turns out to be a Cr-48 Chromebook user. The topic came up after he commented about my Androids skateboarding Tee. Knowing that I would be writing about the Series 5 550 and looking for reaction to Chrome OS 19, I asked for Chromebook user experiences on Google+. Pricing must have leaked, because teacher Brian Fay commented:

Did you see the price? $549 is way, way, way beyond my price range for such a thing. If that will be the final price, I'll likely buy a cheap notebook and throw Linux on it instead. Not as good as a Chromebook (fast boot, no maintenance) but good enough. I always thought that these things would end up being $200 or so. Oh well.

So did I.

Fay is a good measure being an educator and education being one of Chromebook's primary target markets. As a long-term performance investment, $549 is potentially quite rich. As previously stated, much depends on Google making more of what buyers have got.

However, for businesses or schools, pricing is different. Google launched the original Chromebook with a multi-year monthly subscription plan, but that goes away today. Under the new scheme, businesses buy the device at the manufacturer's suggested retail price plus $150. For schools it's MSRP plus $30 per device. The extra fee covers maintenance and other service fees.

Performance is there today and hardware upgrades promise continued performance for price in the future. Chromebook subscription looked like a good value, now it's gone.

Demand will drive down selling prices, as Samsung and other Chromebook OEMs increase production and economies of scale kick in. Looks to me like even second-gen Chromebook buyers will pay a price premium for being early adopters. What else can explain price increases for a category many people expected declines?

My mom uses the Cr-48 Chromebook, and I planned on buying her a new one. But even $449 is rich. Mom's worth spending that much, of course. My concern is rapidly diminishing value over time. How I feel after a month using the Series 5 550 Chromebook will weigh in my decision for her and final recommendation to you. For now, I'll say that performance satisfies. I am less encouraged about price-to-performance value now and in the future. However, I see huge price-to-performance value in $329 Series 3 Chromebox, which also launched today.

43 Responses to Is Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550 worth spending $549?

  1. chinch987 says:

    chromebooks have no purpose or future at a cost anywhere near a real windows laptop.

    at $549 i'd wager a high return rate when people boot and say WTF? (See original linux netbooks)

    Any "chromebook" is a bad purchase but above the $149 is simply throwing away $.

    • Chill4291 says:

       At $149, I could see it serving a purpose.

      • ToeKneeC67 says:

        Rather get a used 150 Windows 7 Laptop before getting a new Chromebook.  Rather run Ubuntu even on used laptop at that cost.
        But even new at 149 - there would be very little business model -no profit.

      • Chill4291 says:

        Yea. Didn't say it would happen. Just that I could see it serving a purpose.

  2. worleyeoe says:

    Joe are you seriously suggesting even a mild comparison to a MacBook Air? Really? This thing doesn't even compare favorably to the $449 Sony Vaio laptop my dad bought this past Christmas. While not light and airy, his laptop boots fast, wakes up fast, has gobs of storage, and has great graphics for a low-end laptop. Heck for about $800 we might see a really nice W8 hybrid tablet with Intel's swanky new Clover Trail chip with possibly a 128 GB SSD, booting in seven seconds.

    • admin 1 says:

      In terms of Internet browsing performance, absolutely. If you tried running heavy local apps, no - but then Chromebooks don't run heavy local apps, so the answer is yes. Plus you will pay a lot more for the same performance on a Vaio or MacBook Air.

      It isn't just about the SSD. You won't get Windows 8 booting as fast as Chromebooks for the simple reason that Windows is a fat OS that needs to start up many more processes before it can start than a slimmed down OS like on the Chromebook.

      • worleyeoe says:

        You've seen the five month old beta version of W8 cold booting in seven seconds, no? I may be wrong but show me the boot benchmark for this latest Chromebook that beats a seven second cold boot.

        As for Internet browsing, well I loaded Chrome on my dad's Vaio and it's damn fast as is IE9. Again, I'm not sure why I need to pay an extra $100 when Google GDrive and Skydrive are free.

        Next!

  3. capncoad says:

    Yikes, i'm really surprised at the cost of these things. $550 is not reasonable for a celeron processor and 2gb of ram. for $600 can get a 4g iPad that would be a much better value in terms of what you get out of it. These prices need to come down.

    • admin 1 says:

      The Chromebox pricing is reasonably competitive. On the other hand, the build quality of all Chromebooks is very high, with a combination of one of the best screen, keyboard and mouse pads available - clearly they are being pitched at schools and businesses, who just will not buy cheap shoddy laptops which break under the battering school kids will give them, or where short battery life, or poor screen/keyboard/trackpad will impact productivity. However even taking into account build quality, I think the new Chromebooks are priced about $50-$75 too high. Perhaps the price will drop to a more competitive level in time as the original Chromebooks did.

  4. woe says:

    Eff no.  Buy a $499 iPad and a nice dinner.

    • Chill4291 says:

       I never thought the Ipad would even be in the realm of possibilities/something I would purchase. But if I had to choose between the two, I would really have to weigh the options. They both have limitations.

    • admin 1 says:

      Applying the same logic as some are applying to diss the Chromebook, the Chromebook is about 10 times as fast as the iPad2, and on top of that the iPad2 runs local apps and so needs a fast CPU more than the Chromebook. 

      The comparisons between iPad and Chromebooks, and Windows laptops and Chromebooks seem to require the application of a series of double standards:

      1) iPad vs Chromebooks - iPad isn't slow although they are, because they are cooler than Chromebooks.
      2) Windows Ultrabooks vs Chromebooks - Chromebooks are slower although they are not, because if you installed Windows on them, they would be slow.
      3) Windows budget laptops vs Chromebooks - Chromebooks are overpriced if they sell at more than $250 because someone is selling a discounted Windows netbook with 1GB RAM, and single core Atom CPU, a 1024x600 screen of poor build quality, which hardly runs as all for that price, and someone else is selling a 15" laptop with an i7 processor with a 2.5 hr battery life, and weight a ton, that won't access the Internet or stream movies any faster for the same price.

  5. bmovie says:

    "On Sunday, my father-in-law bought a used car for my daughter. The financial guy processing our paperwork turns out to be a Cr-48 Chromebook user."

    "Used car"
    "financial guy"
    "Cr-48 Chromebook"

    Wilcox.
    Chromebooks.
    Used Car Salesman.

    Forget price. After whatever years you spend in school using a Chromebook you will not be able to apply to any high-paying or otherwise jobs that require Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite, CAD, etc. Chromebook is a closed and dumbed down system that prides itself in never getting your hands (or your heads) "dirty". Perfect for someone like Joe's "Mum". Ipso facto. You can only aspire to jobs that use free Google Apps and whatever apps that will function in this "walled dungeon". Think; Department of Motor Vehicles, used car dealers and BetaNews.

    • admin 1 says:

      So if you want a job as a typist, a graphics artist, or a CAD technician by learning those specific apps, then you should get a Windows laptop. These are hardly high paid jobs though - more like a degree in McDonalds hamburgerology than a professional degree.

      On the other hand the Chromebook gives kids a Window into that vast repository of information and knowledge that is the Internet, and what better tool to do this than Chromebooks, which are a Window into the Internet.

      Schools should teach skills for life, not narrow technical skills that will be out of date in a few years. In other words teach them to be chefs who can prepare any type of food and who will be able to adapt to future needs, rather than teaching McDonalds hamburgerology degree material.

  6. Simple answer: no it does not worth it

  7. Chill4291 says:

    For anyone who knows electronics/market pricing it is clear that this isn't a deal. If for some reason someone has a preference for the Chrome OS, it might be worth it to them. They aren't getting the most for their money, but neither are the majority of Apple customers and it doesn't seem to hurt Apple.
    People have to decide if Chrome is worth it or not. Or Google needs to find a way to make this more competitive.  Google has made comments at different times that their goal is to bring the prices of computer/tablets/and phones down...But I have yet to see this happen (subsidized/locked doesn't count because Google has been clear about bringing the price down while also taking away carrier restrictions) .

  8. scophi says:

    I have to agree with everyone else here...I'm missing the point of the Chromebook.  You can get much more for much less.  I have a friend who just got a Dell Inspiron for around $500 and it's more...just more in every way.

    I'll go a step further.  What's the point of Chrome OS in general?  Can't you just download Google Chrome and install a few apps from the Web Store?  Everything I have seen on Chrome OS is available free online.  Why buy a downgraded laptop to run apps?

    Perhaps if it was half the cost...or maybe as a Chrome Tablet.  But as is....

    • Nick says:

      I don't know why people are still having a hard time understanding what these devices are for.  How many people do you know with a $1300 Facebook machine, a $1000 Internet machine, a $1400 imac for watching youtube and internetting? These devices are a relatively cheap, highly secure, and low maintenance internet machine. Everyone keeps mentioning these cheaper Windows laptops that are bricks in comparison as far as size and design goes, they're insecure and require tons of maintenance. Just because you're in the minority doesn't mean these devices are useless, they're capable machines for probably >90% of the population. Us techies know all too well the drudges of fixing friends and/or relatives computers because they're too slow and not working properly.

      Comparing them to tablets is apples and oranges in my opinion, on a laptop you can run circles around someone on a tablet trying to accomplish the same tasks.

      • TroyGates says:

        Your prices are a bit high except for the iMac. Most consumers buy their computers from places like Wal-mart, Bestbuy, Dell.com, etc. The computers they are buying are $500 or less. Maybe 5-10 years ago everyone was buying $1000+ computers, but not now. The regular consumers don't know specs, they know their price range and buy within that.

      • Thomas Snyder says:

        Agree, Nick. There are many people for whom productivity means writing text and lots of it. I know so many CEO's and ex-CEO's who are excited by the tablet format, bring it to every meeting and never once write in it except to add a URL or to entertain people with a video. I have been writing software, articles and tv shows since the mid 80's - I have used every platform (was on the mac devel. team), developed animation software, used and loved the Windows tablet with OneNote, etc, etc.  And I cannot understand what most business people mean when they talk about productivity these days. I gave my daughter an Ipad for graduate school work and she uses it to watch old episodes of Friends, while taking her Mac Air to class.
        All of which is a long way of saying that people watching and helping along the growth of productivity tools should be much more fascinated with every development including the new Chromebook. At the end of the 90's the business school (H) was flumoxed by the productivity paradox - where was it after 2 decades of personal computer use in offices. They found it and it was waitng for good web use. in 2019, there will be no big return to the "productivity paradox" question, because the consumer driven tablet world has finally put productivity behind us, at work and apparently at home.

      • I agree with this post. I have purchased computers for myself and as the only IT guy for my company for many years. With my purchase of a new Toshiba laptop, I have to dump the installation and re install 7 just to get rid of the crapware. Sad thing about this my new Samsung Android phone has just as much.

      • admin 1 says:

        The $500 and sub $500 Windows computers people talk about either have a lousy battery life and are heavy, or are painfully slow - there is a good reason why people are prepared to pay $1000-$1500 for an Ultrabook or Macbook Air.

        A Chromebook for the same price on the other hand is fast, light and has a good battery life, because it doesn't run Windows. Like everything else, it is a tradeoff.

        There is one big advantage Chromebooks have which people usually miss, which is probably the most compelling reason to buy Chromebooks - Chromebooks are Zero Maintenance devices. This is why they have been so successful in schools - the TCO of a Chromebook is 30% of the TCO of a Windows laptop - due to labour savings on maintenance and support. If your time is valuable, and you want to spend it on actually using your computer for work or leisure, then you should look into Chromebooks, and see it they do what you require.

        On the other hand Windows laptops/desktops are ideal for computer hobbyists who love to spend their time configuring, tinkering, modding, upgrading, and benchmarking their computers. However this is an unwanted price that those who actually want to do useful work on Windows laptops/desktops need to pay.

  9. apogee001 says:

    Zzzz....zzzz....zzzz....zzzz....

  10. Iain Simpson says:

    No all these chromebox and chrome whatever are way underperformers with specs and cost way too much for a cloud based OS, waste of time for personal and business, expect all of this to be a FAIL soon.

  11. Tenoq says:

    Price is killing it.  It just makes no sense to buy a crippled OS like that for that sort of money.  You may as well buy a tablet - same functionality, more portable and elegant design.  

  12. sharpdesigner says:

    You said: "Google has set a hardware baseline, with the big benefits coming from improvements to software and services, similar to the Xbox and Xbox Live ecosystems."

    What is the probability this will happen? Original CR-48 had already been removed from the list of devices getting latest Chrome versions. What is the chance you won't end up with a POS after 1 year?? And since this is all connected kinda system, the updates are something users can't live without and the "base hardware for exceptional price" is too basic to even run Windows/Ubuntu properly so the "investment" doesn't look justified. May be I am wrong

    • dkratter14 says:

      The original Cr-48 has not been removed from the list of devices getting the latest Chrome versions. Just today Chrome 20 hit the beta channel and I got it on the original Cr-48. Google skipped deploying Chrome 19 to it in order to work out some kinks related to the Cr-48, that's all.

  13. keymaker says:

    It's way too much money for something that's so limited. Right now you can buy a pretty good Windows 7 laptop that's compatible with tens of thousands of Peripheral for about $499 or less. I see no purpose for this thing if it cost more than a fully functional laptop.

  14. Anthony says:

    It is a great article with full of information. Really I was looking forward to read about it. Love this article. Thanks for this sharing. :P

  15. brunul says:

    Look at that archaic piece of junk. Come on. 

    • admin 1 says:

      I know, it is the equivalent of a Ford model T - you have to pull the choke out and run the engine for four minutes before you can move off, you have to crawl under it every weekend and get your hands dirty greasing the bearings and servicing parts just to keep it working, and you have to employ a security guard  to watch it when you go out on the Internet highway because there is no security to speak of - but that's Windows for you.

      On the other hand Chromebooks are like a modern car - 7 seconds to turn the key, release the handbrake, and you are off, no user serviceable parts - Google's Internet service garage automatically and transparently services your car for you, and you have the most secure, locked down OS built bar none.

  16. bmovie says:

    I just realized what the Google logo reminded me of...Milton Bradley's Simon color sequencing memory toy in the '80s! That toy had 4 color panels that lit up. Google has 3. 

  17. DouglasKrates79 says:

     
    This may be a dumb question but here goes anyway. I understand these machines are built for Cloud apps, but what are their capabilities for traditionally installed software. Are they compatible with MS Word for instance? Adobe Photoshop? Programs like that.

    • bmovie says:

      Professional programs like Word and Photoshop and CAD are only accessed if they are on another non-Chrome computer (Mac, PC) via software and wiring. These programs are not written for Chrome and probably will never be. Google would rather you use Google apps and Open-Source apps on the Web, or apps written for Chrome. You will be using or learning Word or Photoshop second-hand. It's kind of like spending $500 to resize a photo on a computer in another room...or like they say in advertising, it's like winking at a girl in the dark! 

      Not a dumb question, just a dumb computer. (See the other Wilcox article on the Chrome Box.)

      • DouglasKrates79 says:

        Thank you for answering bmovie, I appreciate it. I'm inclined to agree with you: that IS a dumb idea for a computer.

      • admin 1 says:

        Google Docs, Zoho Office, and Microsoft Office 365 aren't MS Office, but they are web apps which are compatible with MS Office. Chromebooks can also run MS Office and other Windows by connecting to a virtualised Windows application on a Windows Terminal server or Linux server. There are several SaaS providers who provide Cloud based Windows applications or complete Windows desktops as a service. 

  18. Sounds like you need to get a chrome book for your father in law!

  19. Mac Jt says:

    Can you connect an Apple Cinema Display to this?

  20. Simon Delancey says:

    The only sticking points as far as I am concerned are:

    1. You're stuck with entrusting your precious data to Google with all that implies

    2. You can't do very much without a reliable connection

    3. You're stuck with Chrome as a browser....

    Something like a Lenovo Ideapad S205 with Ubuntu installed would beat the Chromebook on every specification point plus would offer the ability to actually do stuff offline.

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