Samsung Chromebook Review ($249 ARM-based model)

The Samsung Chromebook XE303 is one of the thinnest, lightest, and least expensive laptops available today. It’s the third Chromebook from Samsung, which means it’s a laptop designed to run Google’s Chrome OS operating system. The $249 laptop is also the first Chromebook to feature an ARM-based chip instead of an Intel processor, and one of the first devices of any sort to be powered by an ARM Cortex-A15 processor.

Samsung Chromebook XE303

That’s a lot of superlatives. But here’s the bottom line. The new Samsung Chromebook is remarkably light, surprisingly responsive, and offers a pretty great laptop experience — if you don’t mind an operating system that only really runs one app: a web browser.

While it may have been tough to justify spending $350 or more on earlier Chromebooks based on that limitation, at $249 the latest Samsung Chromebook costs less than most Windows notebooks, offers a better keyboard or display than most netbooks, and boots and resumes from sleep in virtually no time at all.

In terms of performance, the new Chromebook is nearly as fast as an Intel-powered model. And if you really don’t like the idea of running a browser-based operating system, developers are already working to port Ubuntu to run on the little laptop. It will probably never be able to run Windows, but with Ubuntu it becomes possible to install desktop-style apps that may provide a better experience than web apps for creating and editing audio, video, documents, or performing other tasks.

Google loaned me a Samsung Chromebook for the purposes of this review. You can pick up a WiFi-only model for $249. If you’d prefer a model with 3G, Samsung also offers a $330 Chromebook 3G which works with Verizon’s network and offers 100MB of free data each month for 2 years. Customers can also pay extra for additional data.

Overview

A Chromebook is basically a laptop that runs Google Chrome. If the only app you really need is a web browser, that means the new Samsung Chromebook is probably the thinnest, lightest, quietest laptop you can find for under $300.

But if you rely heavily on desktop apps such as Photoshop, iTunes, Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere, you may have a hard time adjusting to life with a Chromebook. There are web apps that let you edit photos or audio, but they may not be as powerful or easy to use as desktop apps. Chromebooks are also designed for use with the internet.

Chrome OS

If you’re on a airplane or in another place where you can’t get online, a Chromebook suddenly becomes a lot less useful. Google has been taking steps to enable offline support for apps such as Google Docs and Gmail, and you can listen to music or watch videos stored on your solid state disk or on an SD card without an internet connection. But to get the most out of a Chromebook you need to be able to get online.

So why would anyone want a computer that does less than a typical Windows, Mac, or Linux laptop? Because Chrome OS lets you do some things better. Sometimes.

Since Chrome OS is designed to support a single application, it’s a very light-weight operating system that boots very quickly, resumes from sleep instantly, and runs that one app (the browser) very well. This particular Chromebook model boots in just 10 seconds if you ever bother to turn it all the way off. And if you just close the lid, it will spring back to life instantly the next time you open the laptop.

You’ll also probably never get a virus or other malware since Chrome OS runs web apps instead of native apps. There’s virtually no way to accidentally download and install a program that will maliciously attack your computer because there’s really no way to download and install apps at all. I suppose a rogue browser extension could wreak some havoc, but Google has some security measures in place to minimize that risk.

Also, since Chrome OS synchronizes data with your Google account, you can access all of your Google Chrome browser bookmarks, extensions, and apps moments after the first time you sign in with your username and password.

Chrome OS can also synchronize your open browser tabs. So you can open a few web pages on your desktop and pick up where you left off on your Chromebook.

Chromebooks download software updates and install them automatically in the background. All it takes is a quick reboot and the latest features, bug fixes, or security updates are installed in a few seconds. And any “apps” that you run will be web apps, which means that updates are rolled out automatically and your software will never be out of date.

Since almost no data is stored only on the laptop, if your Chromebook is lost, destroyed, stolen, or otherwise impaired, you won’t lose any data. You can just login to another Chromebook — or the Google Chrome browser for a PC — and you’ll be able to access all your data as if nothing had happened.

That helps explain why the Samsung Chromebook has just 16GB of solid state storage. You can store some files locally, but Google would prefer if you used Google Drive or some other online file storage system.

The new Chromebook also features 2GB of RAM, an 11.6 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display, stereo 1.5W speakers, 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi, a microphone and VGA webcam.

Design

The Samsung Chromebook XE303 measures 11.4″ x 8.1″ x 0.7″ and weighs just over 2.4 pounds. Like many ultraportable laptops, with the lid open, it looks a lot like a Macbook Air, with a silver/gray case and a black island-style keyboard. But unlike the Macbook Air, Samsung’s latest Chromebook is designed to be a $249 device — and it has a case made of plastic rather than aluminum.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but while the Chromebook feels extraordinarily light, it doesn’t feel as sturdy as a premium ultraportable laptop. There’s a bit of flex in the keyboard (although you’ll only notice it if you press down hard in the center), and if you tap the screen or bump the laptop, the lid will wobble a little bit.

And while the 11.6 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel LED display looks better than the screens on many netbooks, the viewing angles aren’t all that good. Colors start to look distorted when you view the screen from the side or when you tilt the screen back too far.

But seriously, what did you expect for $249? A gold-plated, diamond-encrusted case? For a cheap laptop, the Samsung Chromebook is pretty well built. And since the low power ARM-based processor and solid state disk don’t generate much heat or take up much room, the Chromebook has a fanless design. That means the only noise you’ll hear when using the laptop will come from the speakers or the sounds of keys clicking as you type.

Under the hood, the notebook features a 1.7 GHz ARM Cortex-A15 processor, one of the first on the market. It’s one of the fastest ARM-based chips available, but look at what that means in the performance section.

On the left side of the laptop there’s an SDXC card which you can use for removable storage. Since there’s only 16GB of built-in storage, you can use this slot to store movies, music, or other files, or just to quickly and easily transfer files to and from the device. There’s also a headset jack next to that port.

That’s it for ports or openings on the sides of the laptop. There’s a panel on the back which houses 1 USB 2.0 port, 1 USB 3.0 port, an HDMI port, power jack, and what looks like it may be either a SIM card slot or a microSD card slot. On the demo model Google sent me, this slot is filled with a small rubbery card that’s difficult to remove.

There’s no VGA port, but Samsung says you can use an external dongle to connect a VGA display.

It’s kind of unusual these days to find all the important ports on the back of a laptop instead of the sides, but aside from the fact that a friend of mine tried to plug the power cable into the headphone  jack, there aren’t really any major disadvantages to this layout.

It also allows Samsung to keep the base of the laptop very thin. The hinges that connect the lid to the base of the computer actually rest in front of that rear panel, so the rear of the notebook (which is big enough for full-sized ports) can be as thick as the base and lid of the laptop combined.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Samsung’s Chromebook has a keyboard with 74 keys. Most of them are the same keys you’d find on any laptop, including number and character keys, backspace, shift, enter, and arrow keys.

Above the number row there’s also a row of shortcut keys that let you do things like refresh a web page, maximize or minimize a window, adjust brightness or volume, or move forward or back through your web browsing history.

Sure, most laptops have Fn keys, but because a Chromebook is just designed to run a web browser, it can have browser-specific function keys.

There’s also a search button in the spot where you’d normally find a Caps Lock key. Honestly I find myself just ignoring this key most of the time, because it’s not particularly hard to find a search box to type in. But I also rarely use Caps Lock, so I probably would have ignored that area anyway.

If you really want a Caps Lock key, you can always adjust your Chrome OS settings to turn the Search key into one… or an extra Ctrl or Alt key. You can even disable the key altogether.

What takes much more getting used to are the absence of physical keys for more common functions such as Del, PgUp, PgDwn, Home, or End. You can perform all of those functions, but you have to memorize a hodge-podge of keyboard tricks such as holding down the Alt+Backspace keys in order to delete the characters to the right of your cursor instead of the items to its left, or pressing Alt+Up for Page Up and Alt+Ctrl+Up for Home.

You can find a partial list of these keyboard commands at Google’s support pages. The unofficial Chromebook Forum has a more detailed list.

For the most part I find typing on the Samung Chromebook to be a very pleasant experience. The keys are well sized and well spaced, and I can type just as quickly on this laptop as on any other I’ve tried. But after spending more than a week using the Samsung Chromebook, I still find myself struggling to remember which key combination to use to jump to the beginning of a sentence without accidentally scrolling up a whole page.

Beneath the keyboard is a wide touchpad with support for multitouch gestures such as two-finger scrolling (place two fingers on the touchpad and move up or down to scroll through a web page). There are no physical buttons, but you can push down on anywhere on the touchpad to click.

Since there’s no right button, you can simulate one by tapping the touchpad with two fingers at once. This lets you bring up context menus that, for instance, let you open links in background windows. Unfortunately your timing has to be just about perfect — I’ve frequently found myself opening a link in the current window instead of bringing up a context window.

The Chromebook supports some USB peripherals though, so you should have no trouble plugging in an external mouse if you’d prefer to use one.

Software

Over the past decade or so the web browser has become the most important app on many people’s computers — but it’s one you don’t think about very often. That’s because it’s basically an app that runs other apps… web apps like Gmail, Google Maps, Flickr, Facebook, and YouTube, just to name a few.

Of course, it’s also a portal to a world of information from news sites, blogs, Wikipedia, and millions of other sites.

So here’s the idea behind Chrome OS: Why bother booting a big, bloated desktop-style operating system if you’re probably only going to run one app anyway?

The Chrome OS operating system hasn’t changed much since I reviewed the Samsung Chromebook 550 this summer, so I won’t spend a lot of time repeating features I’ve already covered. If you want a more in-depth look at Chrome OS, check out my review of that laptop.

In a ntushell though, here’s how Chrome OS works: The first time you boot the operating system, login with your Google username and password. If you use the Chrome browser on a Windows, Mac or Linux PC it should take just a few minutes for a Chromebook to synchronize your bookmarks, settings, extensions, and apps. Once that’s done you should feel right at home — you can even view a list of web pages that are open on other devices from your New Tabs page.

The user interface basically consists of a toolbar with icons for web pages and apps you’ve pinned on the left side, a settings area on the right which you can click to view wireless settings, the battery gauge, or options for more advanced settings, and a desktop which doesn’t do much but provide a wallpaper that you can look at when your web browser isn’t in full-screen mode.

Every time you open a new browser window you’ll see thumbnail icons for the pages you visit most often. You can also open any web apps you’ve installed by hitting the Apps button in the toolbar at the bottom of the screen. This brings up a menu with a Google search box and a list of apps.

Install is kind of a strong word for some of these apps. Basically you can go to the Chrome Web Store and search for apps that let you do everything from edit photos to play Angry Birds on a Chromebook. Some of these apps are little more than glorified bookmarks, while others will install a little code on your system in order to add features.

You can also install extensions that add functionality to Chrome. For instant, the LastPass app is a password manager that can automatically log you into various websites and synchronize your passwords across devices, while the Pocket app lets you save web pages you want to read later or share them with another computer or mobile device.

There are also a few apps built into Chrome OS such as the Files file manager, an image viewer which lets you do some basic editing such as cropping or rotating pictures and a media player that lets you listen to audio or watch video in supported formats even if you don’t have an internet connection.

Google also includes a camera app for the front-facing camera, a calculator app, and a few other apps.

For the most part the emphasis is on web apps though. If you want to watch videos, you can use YouTube. If you want a more full-featured image editor you can use Aviary or iPiccy. And if you want to edit documents you can use Google DocsMicrosoft Office Web Apps, or Zoho Office.

Part of the reason Chromebooks can boot in just 10 second is because they don’t need to load all the software to support native apps that you get with a Windows, Mac, or Linux computer. That’s why you can’t simply run the full desktop versions of Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, iTunes, or other software. Of course Firefox and other web browsers are also out of the picture.

A Chromebook isn’t going to be much use to someone who doesn’t think the browser is the most important app, for anyone who doesn’t have a nearly constant internet connection, or for anyone that needs to run software that works best offline.

As a blogger, a Chromebook offers 99 percent of the functionality I need from a laptop. I can quickly and easily conduct research, edit photos, write articles, and share data over email or social networks.

There’s one thing I need a laptop to do that a Chromebook is virtually useless for though: Video editing. If you’ve ever taken a look at my YouTube channel, you’ll know that I don’t often spend a lot of time editing videos. Instead I try to shoot them in one take and upload them… but instead of uploading the 2GB raw video files my camera shoots, I prefer to compress them to H.264 video files before uploading them. I can’t do that using Chrome OS.

Google is working to fill in some of the gaps in functionality you might experience when using a Chromebook. For instance, you can’t just plug in most printers and expect them to work. But you can use the Google Cloud Print service to send print jobs to internet-connected printers that support the service.

And if you absolutely need to run desktop apps you can use Chrome Remote Desktop to login to a Windows, Mac, or Linux computer (as long as that computer has the Chrome browser and remote desktop extension installed… and as long as that computer is on).

The remote desktop app is actually pretty impressive and gives you full control of a remote computer. You can even use your Chromebook to listen to music or watch videos streaming on that PC… but audio and video quality isn’t all that good.

Remote desktop is most useful when you want to share your screen with another user or login to someone else’s computer to offer technical support. But in a pinch, you could also use it to run desktop apps on a Chromebook… sort of.

The Samsung Chromebook includes Adobe Flash Player, which means that you can view Flash video, play Flash games, or upload content to websites that use Flash-based uploaders.

One thing that this particular Chromebook doesn’t yet support is Netflix. That’s because Netflix relies on Silverlight instead of Flash to stream content to Windows and mac PCs… but doesn’t offer support for Linux yet. Netflix does offer a Chrome OS app, but it relies on Chrome’s NaCL (Native Client) feature, and doesn’t yet work on Chromebooks with ARM-based chips.

So while Netflix looks great on the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook 550 with an Intel Celeron processor, all you’ll see if you try to stream a video from Netflix on the $249 Samsung Chromebook is an error message. That’s expected to change soon, but for now you’re going to have more luck with Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, YouTube, and other online video sites.

Speaking of Hulu, you don’t need to be a Hulu Plus subscriber to access that online video site. Any content you can stream on other PCs for free will also play on the Samsung Chromebook, and videos look great in full-screen mode.

In fact, Flash-based HD video plays more smoothly on this machine than on many computers with Intel Atom processors that I’ve tested.

Performance

Samsung’s $249 Chromebook is surprisingly powerful for such an inexpensive device. I’ve already mentioned how quickly it boots and resumes from sleep. But in day-to-day usage, you’d never know that you were using a laptop with a smartphone-class processor.

I regularly found myself opening up 8 or more browser tabs while using the Chromebook and it never missed a beat. Even with a dozen pages open and music streaming over the web, the computer feels responsive while switching browser tabs or windows, launching new apps or performing other activities.

It might not load all of those web pages quite as quickly as a more powerful computer. But unless you put the Chromebook side by side with a faster computer you probably wouldn’t notice much difference.

The only time the Chromebook started to feel sluggish was when I really tried to treat it like a desktop computer… literally. I connected a 1080p display to the HDMI port and hooked up a wireless mouse and keyboard.

I can’t tell if things slowed down because it took more processing power to work with a higher resolution display, or if the Chromebook is always a little slower than I think — and it was just more noticeable when I set it on my desk and tried to use it exactly the same way I typically use a desktop PC. But switching between tasks and launching new apps started to feel a little slow in this setup.

Technically you’re supposed to be able to mirror the display so that you see the same content on the 11.6 inch screen and an external monitor. I tried this on both a 1080p monitor and a 720p television and it didn’t work in either situation. In both case I had to disable the laptop screen in order to see anything on the big display — and on the 720p TV, the Chromebook mistakenly tried to display 1920 x 1080 pixel graphics. I couldn’t find any way to change that.

There also doesn’t seem to be any way to use Chrome OS for a dual-display setup — at least not yet. Google is always adding new features to the platform, but I’d be surprised if that sort of power-user feature is high on the priority list.

So while the Samsung Chromebook does support peripherals including external displays, keyboards, and mice, your results may vary depending on the devices you’re using.

It’s tough to compare overall performance of a Chromebook to traditional notebook computers because the Chromebook has a different operating system and a different usage model. But I did run a few browser-based benchmarks that look at how the new ARM-based Chromebook compares with an Intel Celeron-based version as well as with a Windows laptop featuring an Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge processor in terms of Javascript and HTML5 performance.

As you’d probably expect, the Chromebook was the slowest of the three… but the difference between the Intel Celeron and Samsung Exynos-powered models aren’t as great as you might expect. And the new Chromebook does better in those benchmarks than any Android phone or tablet I’ve tested to date.

You can thank the 1.7 GHz Samsung Exynos 5250 dual core processor for that… as well as the Chrome OS operating system. The Exynos processor is the first chip based on an ARM Cortex-A15 design which offers significant gains over the Cortex-A9 chips that have dominated the market for the past few years.

But Google has also been able to continually improve the performance of the Chrome web browser and Chrome OS operating system over time as well. I ran my tests on the Celeron-powered Chromebook this summer, but GigaOm’s Kevin Tofel ran the same tests more recently and recorded much better scores using the same hardware.

In other words, in some ways the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook 550 is faster today than it was when it was released this summer, and there’s every reason to expect the same thing to happen with Samsung Chromebook XE303.

By contrast, most Windows computers tend to get slower with time as you install more apps, write more changes to the system registry, and add more files.

I also ran Sunspider on Samsung’s first Chromebook (with an Intel Atom N570 processor) last summer. It scored 1496, but Chrome OS has come a long way in the last year, so that score isn’t particularly reliable. AnandTech ran the test more recently and got a score of 1034.

Battery life

The new Samsung Chromebook has a 30Whr battery and gets almost exactly 6 and a half hours of battery life when surfing the web over WiFi and streaming music over the internet.

If you opt for the 3G model I suspect the battery will run down more quickly if you’re using cellular data. And theoretically I suppose you could get better battery life by disabling WiFi — but that would kind of defeat the purpose of running a web browser-based operating system.

This Chromebook gets slightly better battery life than the model with an Intel Celeron processor, which runs for about 5 to 6 hours on a charge. If you were expecting a huge boost in battery life from a model with an ARM-based processor, you’ll be disappointed.

But there are a few key advantages to this model. The battery is about about half the size of earlier Chromebook models. Not only is the new laptop about half the price of earlier Chromebooks, it’s also thinner, lighter, and quieter.

While the Chromebook 550 measures 0.83 inches thick and weighs 3 pounds, the new model is less than 0.7 inches thick and weighs 2.4 pounds. Since the Exynos 5250 processor doesn’t generate much heat, Samsung didn’t need to include a fan to keep the system cool, so the system is nearly silent.

Sure, a slightly bigger battery that would offer even longer run time would be nice. But 6.5 hours is pretty good — especially considering how easy it is to suspend the laptop by closing the lid and picking up where you left off a split second after opening the lid. Basically you get all day computing from this laptop if you have an 8 hour work-day, an hour-long lunch break, and a few bathroom breaks.

Unfortunately the battery isn’t designed to be user replaceable. So if you start to notice battery life decreasing after a few years, it’ll probably be cheaper to buy a whole new Chromebook than to send this model to Samsung for a replacement.

Verdict

Samsung’s Chromebook XE303 is one of the cheapest laptops you can buy. But it’s an incredibly capable little machine for a $249 laptop. It’s thin, it’s light, and it feels very fast — even if it doesn’t actually have as much raw processing power as many laptops on the market.

If you need to run desktop apps such as iTunes, QuickBooks, or Photoshop, the Chromebook might be a compliment to your primary computer, not a replacement for it. But if you’re happy with Google Music, QuickBooks Online (or FreshBooks), and Aviary, you really might be able to replace a traditional PC with this Chromebook.

While there are some advantages to running Chrome OS (quick boot speeds, synchronizing data between devices), the high price of early hardware made it hard to recommend a Chromebook. Why spend $450 for a Chromebook when you could just buy a decent Windows laptop and install the Chrome web browser?

At $249, the new Samsung Chromebook offers a much better value proposition. It’s priced like an Android tablet rather than a Windows laptop… and while it doesn’t run Android apps there are plenty of games and web apps that you can run in a browser. The large screen and full-sized keyboard and ports also make the Samsung Chromebook feel more powerful than a tablet, since you can use it for long-form writing. In fact, this entire review was written on the Chromebook.

At the same time, the Chromebook’s light weight and instant-on capabilities make it feel tablet-like. During the two weeks I’ve had this laptop in my house, it’s become my go-to device for responding to email messages, checking Facebook, or writing quick blog posts when I didn’t want to wait for a PC to boot.

I still grab my smartphone first, but the Chromebook feels more useful than any of the tablets sitting on my desk (although I prefer those devices for reading books or long articles on the web).

A browser-based operating systems seems like a really weird idea… until you use a cheap, fast notebook that runs one app really, really well. The Samsung Chromebook XE303 is what Chromebooks should have been all along, and it’s pretty much the first model that I think is truly worth the asking price.

Even if you hate the idea of Chrome OS though, there’s another reason to consider this laptop. The operating system is actually based on Gentoo Linux and if you enter developer mode you can actually install some third party softrware. It’s also possible to boot Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, or other Linux-based operating systems from an SD card, or even install a desktop operating system to a partition on the Chromebook’s 16GB solid state disk.

Any apps or data installed outside of Chrome OS won’t be synchronized with your Google account… and if you muck with the system too much you might cause problems. But Google provides software that lets you restore a Chromebook to its original factory condition.

  • Ronald Schouten

    Thanks for the in-depth review. I think the statement that the laptop can only run one application, a browser, is incorrect though. The browser is more than an application, it is a runtime, similar to the JVM or .net, and serves as the development platform for any number of applications.

    I like the idea of Chrome OS and look forward to web applications evolving and providing alternatives to what only installed applications can do.

    • http://soltesza.wordpress.com/ sola

      Absolutely right about the runtime nature of the browser.

      The browser is not an application, it is a runtime environment for HTML applications. Google has many web applications so they – naturally – use the browser environment to execute them.

      I am not sure about the success of web applications though. The browser is an even worse common denominator than the Java VM or the .net runtime.

      Java6/7 at least has access to the taskbar, the file system and other OS features while HTML applications are much more separated from the OS. This effectively limits their development as true competitors to sophisticated native applications. This is why, for example, Facebook has decided to develop native clients for the more important mobile OSes instead of forcing their web-client.

      Also the speed of HTML applications is far worse than Java/.net or native applications. This is a major reason why WebOS has failed since it is not even comparable to Android on the Touchpad (I can personally attest to that). Javascript execution efficiency is just nowhere compared to native or bytecode.

  • nards barley

    hmmm. I don’t know why they don’t do one of these with Android. Does it become a dog then?

    • http://rationaldreaming.com/ Mike

      No doubt because they believe Android is a touch-based tablet OS. There’s no reason to believe Android would run like a dog on this device — it’s as fast as any tablet out there.

      I also have no doubt that the enterprising hacker community will have Android up and running on this Chromebook in short order.

      • nards barley

        If they put Android on this I would use it the same way I would use one of those mini Android PCs, except it would give me more flexibility.

    • http://soltesza.wordpress.com/ sola

      Android would run very well on this hw since it is a top-of-the-line ARM SOC. In most situations it would run as well or better as on Tegra3 clocked at 1.7 Ghz.

      However, Android is optimized for touch and not particularly optimized for keyboard/mouse use.

      This form factor is good for ChromeOS and even better for desktop Linuxes.

      • nards barley

        If I could use my MK808 I could opine on whether I consider it a problem that Android is optimized for touch, but alas…….

  • http://www.michaelhorowitz.com Michael Horowitz

    Great review, Brad. Thanks.

  • CatfishRivers

    Brad thanks for the detailed review. The thing that concerns me most from your review is the mention of some difficulties when connecting by HDMI to a larger display/television (slight lag, apparent scaling issue?).

    I am currently using a Google TV (Logitech Revue) connected to my Vizio 32″ 720P HDTV. However in general I found it to be somewhat “buggy” and frustrating. It requires frequent reboots.

    So I was thinking about purchasing the Chromebook and connecting it to my TV by HDMI. Do you think the Chromebook performs well connected to a TV? Can you please elaborate a bit more on the scaling issue. Would this be a deal-breaker if connecting it to me TV is my primary goal? (I did notice that you mentioned Flash videos and HD videos in general perform well with the Chromebook – however the issue appears to be some glitches in performance when connecting to a TV)?

    Thanks again.

    • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      Basically I tried it with two different displays. It worked with the 1920 x 1080 pixel display just fine as long as I wasn’t trying to mirror the displays (show the same content on both). On the 720p screen it tried to show 1080p content…which scaled improperly and looked pixelated.

      I can’t say this is what will happen on *all* 720p televisions, but it’s what happened on my Toshiba model.

      Generally I see the HDMI output as a value-added feature. If you’re looking for a laptop that you plan to primarily use while connected to an external display you might be better off picking up a cheap Windows model with an Intel Atom N570 or later processor (such as the N2600 or N2800) or a mini-laptop with an AMD E series processor. They should all be able to handle most HD video playback.

      Alternately you could try an Android mini PC like the G-Box Dyno, UG802, or Diamond Multimedia AMP1000.

      • http://rationaldreaming.com/ Mike

        Sounds like a driver issue. I would assume that if this is a widespread problem, Google will fix it at some point.

      • SPM

        The new ARM Chromebook will run circles around any Windows netbook or budget Windows laptop for graphics or video playback. It can drive two 1080p displays at 30fps simultaneously without a hitch. If you want decent video playback, you should not be looking at Windows netbook or a low end Windows laptop.

      • CyberGusa

        Video playback isn’t a issue for the latest ATOMs. The Imagination PowerVR based GMA’s can handle full HD with no issue aside from drivers and making sure it’s set up properly. It can even play Blu Rays at over 20Mb bit rate.

        The Exynos 5 is pretty impressive for a ARM solution but you’re only getting about as much performance as a budget AMD Zacate E-350 would provide and that’s in the area just between what a high end ATOM could provide and where budget laptop solutions start.

      • http://soltesza.wordpress.com/ sola

        Which is quite a feat for a $250 ultra-mobile laptop with a 11.3″ display, 6.5hrs of battery runtime and a cool, fan-less design.

      • CyberGusa

        In part, yes, though a 11.6″ laptop with E-350 and a good high capacity 6-cell battery could get you about the same run time and performance and only be a little bit higher priced.

        It’s more impressive that ARM has finally reached this performance range.

        Mind a regular laptop can be upgraded, so a E-350 can support up to 8GB of RAM and you can choose between SSD or HDD. You can choose to run 64bit software, both Windows and Linux, etc.

        For the ARM Chromebook, it’s as is… forever! You can only run ARM compatible, preferably optimized, software. You can never upgrade the hardware or do much of anything besides getting a higher capacity memory card. Processor is still 32bit, so no 64bit software…

        So there’s some trade offs… Thing about the x86 Chromebooks is you could upgrade them.

        For most people though it would definitely be a great deal though, just pointing out some may not agree entirely.

      • Mondy

        I think the 11.6″ Acer Aspire AO725 with a 6-cell user-replaceable battery for $299.99 MSRP is a much better deal. This sort of Chrome-sponsored laptop should cost $199.99 or less. Plus, batteries aren’t difficult to service for replacement. It’s a simple clicking in. ;)

      • Mondy

        *AO722, I meant, not AO725.

      • Mondy

        The Acer has a dual core C-60 processor, and an AMD 6250 video chipset, not bad (much better than integrated Intel video at that price), but the AO722/5s can be notoriously hard to find. A search on Amazon and Newegg.com showed up discontinued models of the 722 and 725 variants (guess it wasn’t a typo after all), but the only un-dicontinued model still sold for under $299, the C62rr…. (they can be so popular in the private online sales sense, not the public sense, that the price is marked-up higher than the MSRP as on Amazon at $343 (fulfilled by Amazon, not 3rd party warranty; there are new ones for less than $250 there, however, by 3rd party merchants without Amazon return policy) …is at Newegg: currently at $278.99.

      • http://soltesza.wordpress.com/ sola

        The Acer Aspire AO722-C62 is available here in my country (Hungary) but it costs ~335EUR for the (2GB RAM, 6″ battery version).

        It may have a similar battery runtime as the Chromebook, but it achieves it
        with a 3-times bigger battery. This means that it quite certainly has a
        fan and would probably fry my lap during watching videos in bed/couch.

        The Chromebook when it gets available, it will likely cost ~250EUR.

        Disadvantages (for my use case)
        – 35% more expensive than the Chromebook
        – Noisy fan, noisy HDD
        – No USB3 (though 3 USB2 ports instead of the 2 of the CB)

        Advantages:
        – 500GB storage by the HDD (though the 16GB SSD + my 16GB SD is enough for me in the CB)
        – x86 Ubuntu can be installed immediately
        – Available now, with native keyboard layout

        The biggest issue is the fan and heat, I would like a tablet like experience in this regard.

      • Mondy

        I agree with your cost choices. Wasn’t aware Europe seems to charge more (VAT I was aware of though). In the U.S. there’s many options from vendors that there’s subsequently more confusion as to how to discern what is a good value for the money, so I try to recommend whatever seems a good value, even if it’s a year old, and regardless of whether it’s called a netbook, smartbook, or ultrabook.

    • http://soltesza.wordpress.com/ sola

      One important thing: the Chromebook with ChromeOS currently plays only a very limited set of formats. Your Revue may be better at this.

      You may be able to use a Chromebook for this later when the Linux hackers release a proper Ubuntu / Fedora distro for the Chromebook and XBMC starts supporting the hw acceleration features of the Exynos 5.

      Without utilizing the built-in hw video decode acceleration, the Exynos 5 may not even be able to decode 1080p HP streams (cores too weak for this) so generic, non-accelerated video players are not suitable for this hw.

  • http://opinadorcompulsivo.blogspot.com Miquel Mayol i Tur

    Gentoo? can you run EMERGE?

    At my first contact with Chromium OS it was a Open SUSE created at their web and i managed to install yum, Open SUSE repos and some packages inside the VM I tested it.

    if anyone can make a tutorial explaining how to install packages to convert Chrome OS in a new GNU / Linux distro with some tricks it would be awesome, and even they do not want that, it can be their best marketing.

    • http://soltesza.wordpress.com/ sola

      Although I am an Ubuntu/Debian guy, it would be great if one could properly upgrade the ChromeOS / Gentoo distribution into a desktop Linux, say, with an XFCE desktop.

    • Jonathan Alfonso

      If you enable developer mode, you can run emerge. Unfortunately, most of the FS is mounted read-only, but there is a way to get around this. I’m not sure how you can add additional repositories unfortunately.

  • John Morris

    Poop. Loved everything I read about this little guy until I read the part about the butchered keyboard. Ain’t even very useful for the intended browser centric purpose without PgUp/PgDn/Home/End. And with no Fn key it isn’t even a possibility to regain the F1-12 keys through overloading the keys they replaced them with.

    With a full laptop keyboard I’d have been all hot and bothered to get a full Linux distro on one. Without a complete keyboard I’ll stick to the Thinkpad.

    • http://rationaldreaming.com/ Mike

      Er, wouldn’t you be able to reprogram the top row of the keyboard to your specifications under a installed Linux distro? They wouldn’t all fit, but it would be close if you set the other cursor movement keys to Ctrl-arrows or something like that.

      (It’s the lack of a Trackpoint that would deter me, but then I’ve never owned a laptop that doesn’t have one of those :-)

      • http://soltesza.wordpress.com/ sola

        Yes, I believe this is definitely an option, albeit it would be nice to keep the dedicated function buttons and have FN buttons.

    • toronado455

      This is a feature (or symptom depending on your view) of making a device that is designed primarily for non-computer people. I’ll bet most of those types don’t even know what Page Up does, let alone ever used it.

      The good thing is those functions are still available just by holding down the alt key instead of an fn key. The fact that they provide for the customization of the caps lock key is cool. I’d have preferred that they left the default function (and key label) as caps lock though instead of search.

  • mondy

    sounded like a great laptop except for (and thanks for pointing it out) the lack of a user-replaceable battery, which suggests Samsung makes no effort to stave off the “inevitable” e-waste (or doesn’t find it worth the effort) when dumping this netbook just to buy a new one where the battery works again.

    • SPM

      Given the importance of the Chromebook in education, libraries etc. I think the reason for the non-replaceable battery is to prevent them from being stolen and sold on.

      • CyberGusa

        It’s actually a cost cutting feature, non-replaceable batteries reduce build cost and help allow for thinner designs.

        Besides, by the time the battery wears out they’ll want you to start looking at the newer model :P

      • Mondy

        SPM’s reasoning is a little more acceptable. I can understand the preference to avoid battery theft, although there are some ways to deter that (such as not leaving your laptop unattended, and perhaps having a physical lock on it from being removed-a rarer option).

        The reasoning for purchasing a newer model is NOT one I would find ok, even though it’s obvious that’s what Samsung would want most customers to do after a couple years. The reason being is that some essential components/costs should NOT be cut, and unfortunately, a segment of the market that would purchase a $250 netbook (fortunately, this time around, with a slightly larger screen compared to the 10″ ones a couple years ago) are precisely the ones that, for what ever reason, can’t immediately afford a $400 entry-level Lenovo laptop for school, and they’re the ones more often than not stuck with having to purchase another laptop too soon. Now, if they’re well-informed and choosy (unfortunately not as frequently as it could be), they may go with a better/competitive option, like Asus Dell, or Acer, as I have, because they offer some models with a plethora of 1st and 3rd-party user replaceable batteries at that price, on Ebay/Amazon, but I wasn’t talking about the middle and upper income market that can always afford a fashionable new model. And even if a battery was lost, it’s a $40 replacement in some cases, not another $250 one (sometimes the whole laptop is stolen). And, them being inexpensive enough reduces the incentive to steal one (the same way they become less hot than a gaming or shiny fruit laptop)

    • http://soltesza.wordpress.com/ sola

      Altough it is not a user-friendly feature I assume the battery can be replaced with some effort (at home).

    • Craig

      The battery is replaceable, it just requires some effort. Since worn batteries are the only time you really need access to it, you can probably endure the extra work on those infrequent occasions. Even sealed smart phone batteries are replaceable with some patience and effort.

      • Lou Lopez

        Thanks for explaining that Craig I thought the same thing.

  • Teddy Wang

    Now that the Chromebook is using the same architecture as most Android devices, will we start to see some convergence of the platforms? The Chromebook would be much more useful if it had access to the hundreds of thousands of apps available to Android…

    • http://soltesza.wordpress.com/ sola

      Android and ChromeOS are very different beasts even if they both use the Linux kernel as their foundation.

      Up until very recently, even the Android kernel was a forked and heavily customized. Some of Google’s custom developments have been merged into the mainline kernel but the Android kernel (as far as I know) is still not fully compatible with the mainline.

      Also, ChromeOS uses Xorg as its GUI foundation while Android has a completely custom GUI architecture based on OpenGL (this is not compatible with Xorg).

      • CyberGusa

        Besides, Android apps are optimized for touch screens and mostly Smart Phone type devices. So they wouldn’t be all that usable on a non-touch screen device.

        So better to stick to GNU/Linux and Chrome OS…

  • http://soltesza.wordpress.com/ sola

    Brad, thank you for the detailed review, I have learned some things I hadn’t from other reviews from Engadget, Verge and others. Good job !!!

    Could you tell me about the charger supplied to the Chromebook? Is a big brick like a normal laptop charger? Or, maybe something like a Transformer Prime charger (which is as small as a phone charger).

    • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      It’s a laptop style 2-piece charger… but it’s on the small side for a laptop charger.

  • toronado455

    Having most of the ports on the back edge seems really great. It’s a great way to keep cord clutter down to a minimum. All the plugged in cords can go straight back off the desk instead of snaking around to the sides of the laptop. This is how you would want a laptop dock to work. It makes sense to have the headphone jack and the SD card slot more handy on the right side too.

    This might be the first true netbook. :-)

  • Paul

    Thanks for the review. Convinced me to not buy one.

  • Tatenda Patmos Mkwaturi

    Hi. Thanks for the in-depth review. I was looking to get an Arndale board but now am torn apart because of the Chroomebook. My main interest on the CBook are it’s specs. Now some questions, how to connect multiple CBooks in a cluster,no need for display but wanting CPU and gpu functionality. An ARM small supercomputer. Arndale vs CBook, thought CBook battery would be handy for the cluster . Could use other OS for the cluster.

  • declan

    how long does the battery last. not untill you have to charge it, i mean like untill it always has to be on charge

    and can you get itunes on this because i have an iphone

  • ashley

    alright its a great laptop but after 2 days with it my laptop just died and never came back on i put it on the changer and everything some poeple say it because the works went to fast making it but if i knew i would never buy it

    • Jonathan Alfonso

      Disconnect it from the power and take a paperclip. Unbend the paper clip, and turn the laptop upside down. There is a small hole with a button inside which allows you to reset the EC, which controls power management. Gently push the paperclip into the hole (you should hear a click) and hold it for about two seconds. Now plug your laptop in and boot it. It should now work without any extra work :). If it does not work after this, the battery and/or the motherboard have gone bad.

  • CeCe Moore

    Do you happen to know if the Chromebook works well with Blogger? Thanks for the review.

  • beioalaine

    The Samsung Netbook NC10 has no frills minimalist design and it comes in white & blue. It has a matte exterior and is adorned with a reflective logo. It issimple design and rounded corners gives it a more professional design compared to other Asus and Samsung Netbook.

  • nige

    why can i not use xbmc on the chrome book

  • penguinx64

    I love my Samsung Chromebook. I use it every day to surf the web and check email. I find myself using it more than my other 4 laptops because it boots in less than 10 seconds and shuts down in less than 3. It barely gets warm after 1/2 hour of use. Battery life is also longer than my other laptops. It’s thin and light too. What’s not to like? The best part is that it does NOT have Windows 8 Metro Tiles and there’s NO WinTel Inside!

  • Edward Wilcock

    At this juncture of its development, it is a an excellent machine but I have experienced one important
    fault which should be corrected. When I access the Desk Top, the light dims and affects the quality of
    the viewing. However, this is corrected if it is kept on the mains. Is this a general occurence ??
    Is it the fault of the battery ?? Not much good iff the viewng quality is affected.

  • Willow

    wow !! awesome review !!

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