Review: Samsung Series 5 Chromebook

 Hardware, Chrome OS, Chromebook

Google has touted some of the benefits of a laptop that essentially does nothing but run a maximized Chrome browser. They say it boots fast, and it does. You go from cold off to usable in about 12 seconds, and resuming from sleep only takes a second or two. There's little chance of a virus infection when you can't really run executables and the entire file system is encrypted. The battery seemed to last at least 8 hours in my testing, though its hard to make a comparable benchmark when all the system does is run a web browser.

The Series 5 Chromebook certainly suffers from the general sluggishness we've come to expect from Atom-based netbooks even though there's no heavy-duty Windows operating system in the way. Sure, lighter web apps like Evernote run fine, but even Angry Birds from the Chrome web store is a choppy mess in HD mode (which isn't actually high-definition). That's right: your smartphone can run Angry Birds more smoothly than this laptop. I think Samsung might have been better off opting for a processor with a little more oomph, like AMD's Fusion E-350; it would have knocked an hour or so off the battery life, but video playback, CPU performance, and graphics-accelerated web features would be much improved.

The hardware has a few rough edges in addition to the performance problems. The covers over the ports on the left and right side feel really flimsy, as though they'll tear off within a few months. The sound quality from stereo speakers is truly awful, even for a very small and inexpensive laptop, and they emit a little "pop!" almost every time I play a new piece of media or adjust the volume. The whole unit feels a bit heavy for its size. 3.3 pounds doesn't sound like a lot, but a laptop this size, this thin, looks like it should weigh less.

The Software

I don't really need to describe what it's like to use Chrome OS to you. Just launch the Chrome browser, maximize the window, and try to live your entire computing life right there. True, Google has tossed in a rudimentary file browser and a pop-over media player, slightly separating Chrome OS from "just the Chrome browser." Both are so poorly designed and feature-poor that they're practically unusable.

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