Samsung Chromebook: Six months later

September 2, 2013
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Sure, reviews offer an insight into owning a device, but you don't get the full picture. How will it hold up to the strains of daily activity? What happens after the thrill of a new piece of technology to play with disappears?

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This week we take a look at the Samsung Chromebook, an affordable, yet stylish Chromebook which garnered mostly positive reviews and has been at the top of Amazon’s top sellers list for months. For $250 it looks like a steal, but how does it fair after months of constant use? How much does $250 really get you?

This article is about my experiences using the Samsung Chromebook. If you’re looking for an insight into the absolute best Chrome OS and a Chromebook can offer, check out Nate Swanner’s Chromebook Pixel project by clicking here.

Specs

Here’s a quick rundown of the major specs on the Samsung Chromebook:

  • 11.6-inch (1366×768) display
  • ARM Exynos 5 dual-core processor clocked at 1.7Ghz
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB SSD
  • 2 USB ports (One USB 2.0, One USB 3,0), HDMI port, SD card slot, Combined headphone/mic jack

There’s nothing in the Samsung Chromebook’s spec sheet that jumps out at you as amazing. For $250, you aren’t picking up a quad-core Intel i7 processor and 512GB SSD set up in RAID configuration, but then again, Chrome OS doesn’t need all of that power to perform smoothly.

Connectivity is also middling. Due to the relatively thin frame, there’s no ethernet port, but that’s the only notable omission on the laptop. The display is also nothing to write home about. Poor viewing angles and muted color reproduction are a by-product of cost cutting measures, but at least it’s of the matte variety, meaning it’s still perfectly viewable in direct sunlight or under a desk lamp.

 Booting up for the first time

The first time I booted up the Samsung Chromebook I was instantly amazed. In less than 10 seconds I was welcomed with a setup window and a few clicks later and a very long password type in and I was already up and running with all of my bookmarks and web apps synced.

This quick boot up time wasn’t a fluke either. The Samsung Chromebook has booted up in less than 10 seconds every time. Resume times are also quick, taking less than two seconds for me to re-enter my workspace after opening the lid.

Samsung Chromebook [1] - aa

The design is basically a copycat of the Macbook Air, which isn’t such a bad thing, because if you are going to copy the design of a product at least pick a well designed product. The Samsung Chromebook is nowhere near as svelte as the Macbook Air, but it is quite thin and a touch heavier than its 11-inch Macbook Air counterpart.

The matte silver paint might appear to be metal from afar, but as soon as you pick it up you’ll realise that this is not a unibody metal design, in fact it’s not even metal. However, the plastic used on the Samsung Chromebook isn’t the absolute garbage you’ll find on similarly priced Windows laptops, it’s actually quite nice.

The display lid does flex quite a lot, and the frame isn’t totally rigid at the edges, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the Windows laptops I’ve owned. All in all, the Samsung Chromebook left me pleasantly surprised with my first use of it.

Chrome OS – Not quite the incomplete operating system that people say it is

If you’ve used the Chrome browser on your Windows PC or Mac, you’ll feel right at home here. It’s basically the same user experience except it’s on a whole UI level.

The design of the OS is quite nice and is a little similar to Windows 7. There’s a taskbar at the bottom (which you can’t move around, but can hide) which allows you to pin apps onto and it’s also where you’ll find the app drawer. On the right hand corner of the bar is a little notification panel with the time, audio level, connectivity and battery level.

Samsung Chromebook (2) - aa

Having already moved into Google’s ecosystem months ago, I felt right at home in Chrome OS. While being settled in Google’s ecosystem is probably the best method when using a Chromebook, it’s become easier for people in the Microsoft crowd to adopt Chromebooks, especially after the announcement of Office 365, Skydrive, Outlook etc. For those of you who use Apple’s ecosystem, you might want to hold onto your Macbook.

Chrome OS updates automatically and silently.

Chrome OS is far from perfect (more on that later), but it’s extremely stable, there’s no need for an antivirus program and it receives free updates every six weeks. What’s best about the updates is that they are done silently and not in the obnoxious way that Windows does it. In fact you can forget about ever having to worry about updating anything ever again on Chrome OS.

Begone flashing Java update notifier, Vamoose pop-up “removed external storage device” notifier! The most you’ll ever see in Chrome OS is a quick pop up notification for an email that just arrived. It’s all very simple and (for the most part) extremely elegant.

Day to day use

My typical day begins with a bang. After booting up my Samsung Chromebook, I’ll have easily opened ten tabs or more. Gmail, Google Plus and Google Drive are almost always and a few research tabs are mainstays on my tabs bar. I’m almost constantly listening to music on Spotify, and there’s usually a Youtube video playing in the not too distant future.

So how does the Samsung Chromebook hold up to the strain? Not too badly. Unlike many of the reviewers, I’d bought my Chromebook after Google rolled out the update which used physical memory when your RAM was filled up, so I didn’t suffer from the constant refresh of tabs that some reviewers complained about.

Samsung Chromebook [4] -aa

2 USB ports, a HDMI port and the charging port are all found at the back of the Samsung Chromebook.

Youtube playback has been problematic since the beginning and it’s yet to be resolved. When playing back 1080P videos, the Samsung Chromebook struggles, and don’t even think about moving to another tab.

There are a few things that can be done. First, I recommend that you pin the Youtube app to the taskbar and then change the opening settings to “open maximised”. This seems to lend a few more MBs of RAM to the Youtube tab and after dropping the video resolution and dropping my tabs count to about 4 or 5, the Chromebook can keep up and play Youtube videos in the background.

Overall, performance is decent. While it’s fairly snappy at under 8 tabs, once you hit 12 or more tabs, there’s a noticeable slowdown, and on more CPU intensive web pages, stutter comes into play. Chrome OS isn’t completely free from random shutdowns, however they are becoming increasingly rare as the updates roll by, and thanks to the quick boot up speeds and the “restore” function, nothing is ever truly lost and you’re back to where you were in less than 30 seconds.

Samsung Chromebook [3] - aa

The keyboard and trackpad are quite good, worlds ahead of almost every Windows laptop under $1000 and probably as good as some of the ones that cost more than that. The trackpad is one of those newer, button-less models and while it’s a tad sticky, it is accurate and reliable. Two-finger scrolling and three-finger swipe between tabs are the two trackpad gestures available, and they’re also accurate, but it would’ve been nice to see pinch to zoom functionality added.

Every single article I've ever written on Android Authority has been typed up on the Samsung Chromebook.

The keyboard is also above average. It’s comfortable and the island layout is spacious enough, but it is a tad shallow and takes a little time to get used to. It’s definitely an improvement over my last laptop, whose keys were so mushy I felt as if I was sinking into them with every stroke. Every single article I’ve ever written for Android Authority (including this one) has been typed up on the Samsung Chromebook, as well as countless assignments, speeches, essays, songs and short stories.

While not quite up to the level of the Macbook line-up or the Lenovo Thinkpad’s, the Samsung Chromebook offers a great keyboard and trackpad, and the only real qualm I have with the keyboard is that it’s not backlit (although at this price point you wouldn’t expect it to be).

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Battery life is also excellent. Under just about the heaviest workload conceivable in Chrome OS, the Samsung Chromebook runs for a little over five hours. On less strenuous days, I can easily get 8 or 9 hours of usage time. The ARM processor in the Samsung Chromebook also allows it to be completely fanless (it can get a little warm, but never scalding hot).

It’s amazing just how silent this device is, especially coming from hulking Windows PCs with quad-core i7 processors. In fact it’s pretty much imperceivable until you get a Windows PC or Mac into the same room as this thing. Before, the noise of the fan blended in with the rest of the outside world, but after using this for a few days, you’ll definitely notice the fan cranking up on your Windows PC.

Can the Samsung Chromebook be used as a primary laptop or is it just a secondary device

It was surprisingly easy for me to leave Windows behind. I’ve been using the Samsung Chromebook as my primary laptop for almost 6 months now, and I haven’t looked back. I’d already been using Google Docs for document creating and almost every other activity that I did on a computer involved the internet, so for me it was easy. If you’re looking for a list of Chrome OS alternatives for popular Windows applications then here’s a short one:

  • Microsoft Office: Google Docs or Office 365
  • iTunes (Movies/TV shows): Google Play Movies, Netflix
  • iTunes (Music): Google Play Music, Spotify, Rdio
  • Photo editing software: Pixlr editor
  • Video editing: er… forget I ever mentioned that

While hardcore Excel users and people who work with Word documents with loads of formatting won’t be able to leave their PC’s behind, most regular users will be able to use Google Docs or Office 365 without issue.

For music, movies and TV shows, you’ve got a plethora of choices and if all you’re doing is light photo editing, then Pixlr will fit your needs well.

People who edit lots of videos, compile code, or play P.C. games, need not apply, because Chrome OS won’t be a viable option for them (at least as a primary device). But for the rest of us, Chrome OS might fit our needs perfectly.IMG_1986

An SD card slot and combined headphone/mic jack are the only ports on the sides of the device.

One other common concern for people, is the lack of storage. With only 16GB of storage space, the Samsung Chromebook resembles a mobile device more than other laptops, however it’s not much of a problem for me at least. When I went on a trip where there would be no internet, so I just put a few movies on a USB stick and just took it with me. It also comes with 100GB of free Google Drive cloud storage for two years, which is excellent.

How much do you actually do offline? Not as much as you'd think.

The biggest concern that people raise, is the common “it’s just a browser” statement. Therefore it becomes nothing, but a paperweight once you go outside your home. Let me ask you, not counting gaming, compiling code or video editing, how much do you do offline? That’s right, not much. Several people have given me that exact statement, and I’ve asked them the same question. The truth is that outside of document editing and creating (which can be done offline on Chrome OS as well), people don’t do much offline. Remember, those who are gaming, compiling code or video editing aren’t the target market for a device like this

The good

  • The Samsung Chromebook is nicely designed, despite being a copycat Macbook Air
  • It’s fairly thin, light and small, meaning it’s easy to tote around in a backpack
  • Chrome OS updates automatically and silently
  • The keyboard and trackpad are great
  • Battery life is excellent
  • For $250, the performance well exceeds Windows notebooks and netbooks in the same price bracket

The bad

  • Performance suffers once you open up 10 or more tabs
  • The display is subpar
  • Keyboard not backlit
  • Youtube playback still poor
  • Processor takes a long time to open extremely high-res photos from a DSLR
  • Speakers face downwards and become muffled on your lap (they are otherwise loud, but lack bass and lose clarity at high volumes)

The little things

  • The nubs (“feet”) on the underside of the device aren’t tall enough and the underside scratches easily
  • The paint on the Samsung Chromebook’s lid isn’t of the highest quality, and it tends to scratch easily
  • When maximised in their own “maximised tab” any buttons on the top right of a web page are covered (the account button in Youtube is a great example)
  • You have to lift the device up in order to place an SD card into the SD card slot.
  • The charger plug is tiny and difficult to put in, especially in the dark.
  • The hinge ruins an otherwise sleek design

Wrap up

For some people, the Samsung Chromebook isn’t a viable option as their primary computer. But for those who are deeply entrenched in Google’s ecosystem and don’t fall into the power users section, the switch is relatively easy, though not without sacrifice.

The Samsung Chromebook is sleek, lightweight, it has brilliant battery life, the keyboard and trackpad are excellent, and for $250 it’s easy to see why it has been at the top of Amazon’s top sellers list for so long.

Google's promise of a Chromebook still performing as well as it did when you first bought it has proven to be true in my use of the Samsung Chromebook.

Six months onwards, I am very pleased with the purchase of my Samsung Chromebook purchase, the build has proven to be decent and it still performs as well as it did when I first bought it, maybe even better (that’s a lot more than I can say for a lot of my Windows laptops). Sure there are a few quibbles here or there, the display is still subpar and Youtube playback issues still plague me, but for $250, it’s one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.

Have you got a question about the Samsung Chromebook? Drop it in the comments and I’ll try my best to answer it.

Are you planning on purchasing a Samsung Chromebook? Have you already picked it up (perhaps another Chromebook)?

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