Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook is good enough for you

I enjoyed occasional point-counterpoints with Scott Fulton when we worked together at BetaNews. Unexpectedly, I find myself in position to rebut him working somewhere else. It's something I rarely do, but in this case must. Scott's "Why the new Chromebook still doesn't cut it" asks but fails to answer many questions -- it's a FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) piece. Clearly from those questions, and most everything else about the post, Scott hasn't used the new Chromebook Google and Samsung launched two days ago. Had he, no reporter of his vintage and experience could so dismiss the laptop in such manner.

The first question Scott should have asked: Why do so many tech writers who last year dissed Chromebook praise its successor? CNET's Scott Stein doesn't love the Chrome OS followup, but most other tech writers heap praise -- and for a reason. Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook is good enough for everyday computing. Most "actual consumers and businesses", as Scott describes them, will find the computing experience satisfying, though I wouldn't say that Chromebook is for everyone. But it could be for most anyone, with caveat really being Microsoft Office. Do you require it? The answer will be yes for businesses dependent on back-end Microsoft server software leveraging Office on the desktop.

Where's the Override?

Mr. Fulton writes: "There's no optical disc drive, yet the software would have me store all my files on this cloud-based service called Google Drive. So how do I get my existing files from here to there? Presumably I would plug a storage device into one of the USB ports. Will the operating system recognize my storage device? This is an important but unanswered question".

It's no "unanswered question" at all. I assume Scott's post is meant to refute his ReadWriteWeb colleague Jon Mitchell's Chromebook review. The answer is there -- not even in the text but a sidebar, called out plain as day.

But first, Scott continues: "Perhaps this thing recognizes most flash-based USB thumb drives in the world (again, an assumption) but will it read data from a Western Digital My Passport or Seagate Expansion drive? Windows 7 needed to download new drivers to recognize the latest My Passport drives (I've watched it happen). When a new class of hardware comes out, is Chrome OS equipped to download the latest drivers?"

According to the RWW sidebar: "Chrome OS treats cameras and SD cards as any other mass storage device, like a USB drive, so it's easy to copy files off of them, even if there's no software for them". Yes, Chromebook can access the drives, and no to drivers being required. They're not necessary on Windows 7, either, by the way. I can speak from experience plugging in USB flash and external hard drives to the Chrome OS computer. Files are all easily opened or copied.

He goes on to ask similar questions about photos and printers, which the same sidebar in the same site he writes for answers: "Google says that more than 70 percent of printers on the market are Google Cloud Print enabled, which means you can print from anywhere, not just your home network".

"But how do we know whether any particular printer will work with a Chromebook?" Scott asks. Google offers a handy list of supported printers, which would have answered the question asked. I have an Epson printer, and Google links to easy-setup instructions.

Fire Photon Torpedoes

None of the questions Scott asks are difficult to answer, and a more useful story would have done so. Instead he asks them unanswered, while peppering the post with snark like:

  • "There is nothing about the virtue of being a Web app that elevates it to the level of good". Oh yeah? Tell that to the hundreds of millions of people using Gmail or Hotmail as their primary inbox.
  • "When everyday consumers and businesses look at supposedly knowledgeable computer-types as though we're from Mars -- it's usually because we're from Mars". You're from Mars perhaps. Those of us who have used the new Chromebook are from planet Earth.
  • "Lenovo is a better-known brand than Samsung", referring to a Windows laptop with same processor. This one impinges itself.
  • "The Chromebook will never become a real PC until it has a real OS. Until then, it's a cheap keyboard". Chrome OS is a real operating system -- Google-refined Linux. Or is Linux not a real OS?

I'm no stranger to snark, and commend Scott for writing it well. But he looks at Chromebook like everyone will give up something using it -- or that relying "on users to store their personal treasures on someone else's cloud" is a fearful thing. Anyone who uses email, Facebook, Flickr or YouTube stores their treasures in the cloud today. Considering peoples' poor backup habits, that content is probably safer in the cloud than on the external drive Scott is oh-so desperate to use.

Chromebook benefits are many, and Scott ignores them all. Among them:

  • Easy setup
  • Instant-on capability
  • Hands-free IT management
  • Frequent updates, delivered easily
  • Seamless sync with devices running Chrome

Perhaps most importantly is increased simplicity and decreased complexity. Mitchell writes:

Chrome OS is dead simple. It's simpler than a Mac. It's arguably as simple as iOS if not simpler, but it has the true multitasking of a desktop. As intuitive as iOS is, a new user still has a lot to learn. Ask my grandma. But someone who uses Chrome or even just Gmail on the desktop hardly has to learn to use a new Chromebook at all.

The price cuts right across the iPad market. For people who were hesitant to buy an iPad because they thought they might need desktop capabilities, this new Chromebook is right there waiting. It won't replace a Mac, unless you really feel that your Mac is too much computer, but it might convert some first-time buyers. It seems like a lifesaver for students.

I whole-heatedly agree. In the companion post to my review I questioned Chromebook's value -- $549 for 3G combo and $449 for WiFi only. Mitchell comparing to iPad makes lots of sense of the pricing, particularly education, which is one of the primary target markets.

You Can't Get Away

Scott uses old-school metrics, what I call "has-been computing", to compare the Series 5 550 Chromebook to Windows laptops. He sees the Samsung machine for what it is not, while ignoring what it is. The question to ask: Is Chromebook good enough for what it does? Absolutely. Om Malik calls the computer "screamingly fast".

He's right. Despite seemingly low-cal specs, the Series 5 550 Chromebook is a real performer. In fact, my wife and I are discussing replacing the Core i7 MacBook Air she now uses with Chromebook. I've got two here, temporarily. The first that Google sent for review had a glitchy space bar. My wife will try that Chromebook before I return it to Google. If the computer suits her, we'll buy one for her and sell the MacBook Air. That's how much value I see in Chromebook for someone that spends most of her computing time online. It also points back to the easier-than-Mac quality Mitchell observes.

Speaking of the keyboard, Mr. Fulton ridicules Engadget reviewer Dana Wollman's high praise. I posted the quote to Google+ the day before yesterday after realizing that my review overlooked the exceptional keyboard:

One of the best we've tested lately. Seriously, folks, you're looking at a $449 netbook-like machine whose island-style keys put thousand-dollar Ultrabooks to shame. Compared to Samsung's own Series 9 laptops and other ultraportables, the chiclet keyboard on offer here actually has some bounce to it. The slightly deeper keys and even the quiet sound make it easy to settle in for hours of web surfing, email and story writing (well, if you're an Engadget editor, anyway).

The Series 5 550 keyboard and trackpad are joys to use.

I wonder if Scott couldn't resist taking such a "has-been computing" look at Chromebook because of another RWW colleague missive -- "More Bad News For HP: The New Google Chromebook Compared to a Typical HP Laptop". Richard MacManus sized up the computers by focusing on what Mr. Fulton misses: user experience.

MacManus writes: "At first glance the software on the two machines is fundamentally different, since the HP laptop relies on desktop apps for the main tasks (such as Microsoft Word), while on the Chromebook you can only run Web apps (such as Google Docs in the browser). But actually, the difference in user experience of the software is minimal".

He emphasizes that Mitchell found the second-gen Chromebook to be "more than sufficient for most of his daily work and casual computing...Mostly casual = everyday. So the Chromebook is hitting directly at HP and Microsoft's mainstream market for laptops, even though it isn't an apples-to-apples feature comparison".

That's exactly how I would describe using Samsung's second-generation Chromebook. After 9 days, there is nothing I've wanted or needed to do that couldn't be done. No Windows PC or Mac required.

That's another benefit: Freedom from the Apple and Microsoft duopolies. If Scott Fulton wants to keep them, fine. The view from the cloud looks pretty good. I'll enjoy the sun while he works in a rain of software updates, device drivers, viruses and such that are all too common in the world of has-been computing.

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