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.
Here’s a quick rundown of the major specs on the Samsung Chromebook:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2 USB ports, a HDMI port and the charging port are all found at the back of the Samsung Chromebook.
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.
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).
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.
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:
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.
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
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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a coworker poured water into my i5 elitebook so I was considering buying a new laptop, you may have convinced me to buy a chromebook to tide me over until I can afford to buy another tablet screen laptop.
That was my exact plan. My three year old desktop PC died on me, and I was completely broke so I bought a Samsung Chromebook until I could save up for a high-end Ultrabook.
Surprise, surprise, I loved Chrome OS and the Samsung Chromebook was awesome so I just never bought another PC and stuck with it and used the money for a new DSLR.
Now, if I’m ever moving up to another computer it’s either for another, more mid-range Chromebook, or if I ever get a big bag of cash sent to me, the Haswell refresh of the Chromebook Pixel, or the Macbook Pro with Retina Haswell refresh.
“used the money for a new DSLR.”
amazing how new form factors are throwing the old guard (pc / laptop markets) completely out of gear.
Well I need windows software like OneNote for school so I can’t do that sadly x( I still need a desktop OS
This is more about Chrome OS than it is about the Chromebook, but I think it’s very possible to live without Windows and still have all the benefits of Chrome OS on a Chromebook.
If you’re like me, someone who’s very invested in the Google Ecosystem but doesn’t find the Chromebook itself to your liking, you can always either install Chrome OS (or in this case, Chromium OS) on your laptop, or install a relatively light distribution of Linux (I prefer Ubuntu myself, just cause) and just use web apps in Chrome. With the Linux option, you’re getting pretty much the same benefits of Chrome OS, with quick boot times, low resource usage, and (relatively) better battery life.
I did this with my old Sony VAIO, and I’ve never had a reason to boot into my Windows partition since. I still keep it around though, because let’s be honest, I need something to play all my Steam games on, and Steam for Linux just doesn’t compare.
DOES IT LET YOU PLAY DIVX OR ANY OTHER AVI FILES ?
I’ve tried files in .AVI format and they’ve played without issue.
and mkv and rmvb.
More power would be nice for the Samsung Chromebook. As you say, it finds some webpages (like Google+) quite heavy going. In general I love the fact that it just gets out of the way. It’s rather like ubuntu in this respect.
Great article. I got a Chromebook as a gift for my daughter…now i use it all the time as it is brilliant and trouble free. I am looking to find a way of charging it when away from home – an in car charger would be best. Do you know where i could get a good one from?
I bought one of these on Ebay: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Car-Adapter-Charger-Samsung-303C-XE303C12-A01US-Chromebook-Google-Chrome-OS-/121119553571 hope this helps.
I was biting my nails as I read this because I just ordered the Samsung Chromebook last night. Luckily nothing in this article surprised me. I’ll be happy down the line when they find a middle ground between the cheap Chromebooks like the Samsung, Acer, and HP and the Pixel.
Relax! one of the good things with chromebook is its price, you can’t go wrong at that price! I’d say that would be the case with a $1k plus investment.
I have the same model as in the review and I would definitely recomend it. Also, I thought the pixel is HP?
My big question is shall i stick with using the Samsung Chromebook or bite the bullet and get the Pixel version…just looked in my piggy bank and i can just about afford it! Is it worth the extra money?
at $1.5k I’d much rather go for other products like an apple product. I frankly do not understand the pixel’s purpose (doesn’t make sense for me, dont know about others)
Is there a Haswell refresh of the Chromebook Pixel?
There isn’t a confirmed Haswell refresh of the Chromebook Pixel, but if that ever happens and they swap out those USB 2.0 ports for USB 3.0 and add a HDMI port and NFC support, it’ll be an insta-buy! So there’s no confirmed Haswell refresh, but I’d like to think that it’ll see a Haswell refresh.
yeah, that’d make it super attractive to some niches like say – photographers, to have a lightweight device (on the cheap).
I has a little fear that pixel is dead, it sells so little they gived away 5000 of them on google IO to clear the inventory. Maybe they don’t even make more, they are just selling that few thousands that are remaining.
And who is surprised ? For 200 bucks you could buy an 13 inch retina Mac book pro, with 4x the storage, a lot faster CPU faster graphics, much better bulid quality, nice design ( actually we can’t compare what has better design because pixel is just a ripoff of MBP with sharp corners and some LED’s at top.)
an order of magnitude better display, longer battery life, killer speakers, thunderbolt… And haswell refresh is just around the corner.
Actually I don’t know why google created this… Almost all of their employees uses MacBooks… Why should hard core googlers use anything different ?
The Pixel was never meant to be a best seller or a device for the masses, it is meant as a developer flagship, for people developing software and apps for the ChromeOS and also for other OEMs to take a look at and get a good look at how Chromebooks don’t have to feel cheap. I’d also like to comment that there is some solid evidence of a Haswell Pixel, look up “Chomebook Bolt” when you have the time.
“Chromebook is nowhere near as svelte as the Macbook Air”
Chromebook $250 vs Macbook Air $1050
how much more can we expect at that price!
Of course not, but they do have similar designs so comparisons are obvious. I’m not expecting it to be as svelte, however, it is quite thin though.
I was about to add that since the comparison was always going to be there, it would be prudent to remind the cost implication of a unibody design!
Don’t see what exactly the arm chromebook is copying, the fact that it’s silver? The macbook air is wedge shaped from the side and edgy. The chromebook is all one thickness and completely rounded. Other than that bit your review was very to the point and honest. I’ve had mine for a while and love it too :)
A very good review Adam. I tell people constantly that if they aren’t editing Video, the $250 Samsung Chromebook is probably all the computer they need. I podcast quite a bit, and for that, I’m using a fairly high end windows desktop. But the Chromebook is the one that goes out the door with me daily, and I hardly ever turn on my Windows or Linux laptops anymore. Not all of my files live in Drive, but that’s OK, because I can remote into my Desktop system with hardly any effort to retrieve what I need.
To the Author:
Just save some money and go buy an MacBook Air.
In a setence, It’s just ultimate choice for writers like you. Just give it a try.
“In a setence” ouch! Your MacBook Air isn’t helping!
I don’t quite understand how buying an 800-900 dollar Macbook Air is “saving him some money”, other than that comment being complete and utter brainwashed-Apple-speak.
Yes, spending a grand on a MacBook is REALLY going to help a writer TYPE. Put down the crack pipe … it’s hurting your ‘setence’ structures.
“The design is basically a copycat of the Macbook Air”
Macbook Air design ia basically copycat of Vaio X505
I love the keyboard, I use the top row all the time. I was barely using it on my Windows laptop. And when I did, I was always struggling to remember what F key to use to refresh or to get full screen. They rethink an entire row and make it super useful for most users.
Adam, one of the things holding me off for next year’s model is the lack of a touch display. Have you missed not having it?
I don’t think a touchscreen is essential on a laptop. It’s nice to have, but Chrome OS isn’t as touch-friendly as Windows 8.
Android and Chrome thing, eventually your android tablet will function as a 2nd & touch enabled monitor when you are using the Chrome OS.
Adam, if android laptops come out this holiday season, as rumored they would, for the same price with a similar outward appearance, would you recommend a chrome os machine over it?
I would go the Android laptop over a ChromeOS laptop. . . the apps alone are much better. ChromeOS apps have a ways to go.
I’d go with Chrome because IMO Android is a mess.
Besides, I think it is likely that Google will eventually replace Android with Chrome, once most/all of the key applications in Android are available in Chrome and off-line functionality for certain applications (like games) is provided in Chrome.
Depends really. First of all, the latest versions of Android no longer support Flash (although you can sideload it, it’s not as stable as it is on Chrome OS).
If it’s just a tablet with the ability to be docked it won’t turn out to be too good as the keyboards on those haven’t ever turned out good (10.1-inch isn’t big enough to fit a spacious full sized keyboard)
Then there’s Google docs. In Chrome OS, you have the full Google docs experience that you’d get on Mac or PC, however, on Android the Google Docs app is severely limited.
We’ll have to see how they turn out and whether Google optimizes for them in Android 5.0 KLP. Until then I believe Chromebooks are a better choice.
Good review Adam, though you forgot one thing – assuming you don’t play a lot of games or play video content while out of range of Wi-Fi, chromebooks are also vastly superior to (and in many cases, cheaper than) tablets as general internet devices.
I’ve also enjoyed my Samsung Chromebook XE303 (the model number for the chromebook reviewed in this article), and prefer it my Windows 7 and 8 laptops for general internet use (due to its superior trackpad and lack of time-intensive internet security updates – my Windows 7 desktop is my primary computer and I don’t use the laptops all the time). I’m seriously thinking of buying a mid-range (say $500-700) chromebook with 4G LTE connectivity if such a device is released in fall 2013 and it is under 3 pounds in weight.
I have had this chromebook and I found somewhat working fix for the youtube. If you go to the setting of youtube you have to turn off the HTML5… it makes youtube and Google Play Music experience much better…
That was a very thorough review. I totally agree with your response to the “it’s just a browser” criticism against Chromebooks. The fact is that most people spend much of their time online anyway.
You mentioned solutions for accessing Windows applications. Another option is Ericom AccessNow, an HTML5 RDP client that enables Chromebook users to connect to Terminal Servers or VDI virtual desktops, and run any Windows application (not just MS Office) or even full desktops in a browser tab.
For an online, interactive demo, open your Chrome browser and visit:
Please note that I work for Ericom
So I cant use iTunes on this device?
No, but you can upload your songs to Google Music Player in Google Play like me and probably many other people have done. You can then play your songs on ANY computer by accessing Google Music Player in any browser (Chrome works best but you can access it through Internet Explorer, Firefox, or presumably Safari.)
Google allows you to upload up to 20,000 songs into Google Music Player for free.
Article right on the money! I LOVE LOVE my Chromebook. Had purchased several other brand lightweight notebook laptops that all got either given away to family members or sold. Picked up this “open box” item for less than $200. Immediately upon opening and firing up…I knew I had finally made the right purchase. I take my laptop when I make outside calls needing a lightweight easy to use product in my vehicle. My personal pros: speed, weight, keyboard is very responsive (my Acer and Asus notebooks had keyboard issues) and since I was a Google lover…it responded to my Google history right off the bat. Cons: Screen is not as bright as I would like it. Yes…the top does show scratches but I don’t have a sleeve cover either. Overall…I am VERY pleased with this purchase. I should have bought this before I sunk money into 3 other wasted computers all because I was “afraid” to purchase what seemed like a wimpy – inefficient computer – the Chromebook. Boy…was I wrong!
I was wondering if you can download software on the Chrome book?
If you’ve used the Chrome Web Store on a PC/Mac, it’s basically that, so yes. And more and more “packaged” apps are becoming available offline as well.
The only question i have now is: is there a way of downloading movies and music like you can do on a regular laptop via Vuze or other torrent clients?
My main concern is that i wouldn’t be able to watch free movies anymore.
I’m a videographer & editor so I have a beastly desktop rig, but I still love my Samsung Chromebook as my secondary computer :-)
Great review. I have been using my Chromebook over 6 Months and love it. No going back here.
I do wish they had included a backlite keyboard, even if the most basic.
Hey Adam, random question: Do you ever feel that the Chromebook would be much better if it had a touchscreen? I’m still waiting for Asus to create a Transformer-like Chromebook.
I use a gaming desktop that costs over 4 grand. It has the whole adobe suite, a steam library with tons and tons of games, and all sorts of other amazing stuff. I still think I’d enjoy owning a Chromebook. I’m often not at home near my desktop. Think I’ll get one of these for work and school.
Recently got an Acer C7 refurb (320GB and 2GB RAM) from Acer outlet on Ebay for $129. So far I’ve impressed with the start up and easy of use…it’s starting to replace me using my tablet for browsing. I really bought it as I want to install Ubantu so I can have a fully complete OS on it…however aside from gaming and video editing Chrome OS does feel pretty complete.
Excelent review! Finally someone says something about chromebooks after actually using them for a while! :D
I agree with you on every point. I’ve also had my Samsung Chromebook for about 6 months, and I love it. The only thing is, about 2 months ago, it started randomly disconnecting from wi-fi for no apparent reason. You have to re-start it, and even then sometimes it won’t recognise our network until I turn it off and on multiple times. Recently it has been disconnecting almost once or twice every day. Very frustrating. My internet searching shows other people having similar problems, but nobody seems to know how to fix it. This thing is useless without wifi. Unless Samsung fixes it or does a recall, I don’t think I will recommend this device, even though I have loved it so far.
My 4 year old Macbook Pro crashed about a month ago, just as I’m readying to leave for college across the country and so I needed a laptop to fill the void until the Haswell Pros came out, and I bought this chromebook and, besides the Youtube 1080p playback, I’m very happy with it (except for the constant internet requirement, my dorm has wi-fi issues). I was considering getting the new infinity pad from Asus as soon as it came out, along with the attachable keyboard, but I might just use this in place of the infinity pad to take around to classes and take notes because it’s so lightweight and easily portable.
Thanks for a helpful review. I gave my iPad to my 5-year-old niece and switched to a Chromebook and can’t believe how much more useful it is thanks to the keyboard. I need a true notebook for work and school. The iPad was a novelty but the backup/update got old and updating apps was a constant chore. All gone, no worries, floating in the Cloud now. I recommend a Chromebook to first-time tablet buyers, the price is right.
I use mine daily. But by no means is it my only computer. Aside from mobile devices I have a desktop for video work and a notebook at the office. The Chromebook is the computer I use while in bed. It turned the tablet into a reader. The only shortcoming that I know of the Chromebook is that it lacks sufficient power to caste tabs to the Chromecast. Other than that I have no complaints.
I love my Chromebook but the one thing that I truly miss is the Delete Key.
Not sure why you’re trying to run 1080p on a 1366×768 screen when Youtube lets you run 720p. Is it because you’ve plugged it into a TV or external monitor? Otherwise you should have ran them at the resolution that fits your screen, and tested it a resolution that makes sense so people could know exactly how it would run normally (the way it was designed to). Not very informative or helpful, it’s like overclocking your PC by double than saying the computer is bad and runs too hot.
I’ve got it plugged into a monitor most of the time and like I mentioned in the article, simply reduce the quality to 720P and It’ll run much smoother.
Mine’s garbage. It is constantly restarting, it freezes often, and sometimes the screen goes black for no reason.
An excellent and balanced review. I have used this Chromebook for about 3 months, and just passed it to my son, replacing it with the HP 11 Chromebook, which has a better screen and USB charging.
One problem was printing, I had to have a Windows PC running with a printer connected to Cloud Print. I just solved that problem with a cheap Brother DCP-J525W printer that was an end of model sale. It is Cloud Print compatible and has WiFi so now I have a permanent, “use from anywhere” printer that I can use from any Chromebook, or Chrome browser.
I use my Chromebook offline for hours a day. Gmail Offline, Docs, Keep and the Pocket app work offline. I clip web pages into Pocket and sync the app before leaving the office.
I still need a PC for Audio capture and editing, and Video editing, but the Chromebook is used 95% of the time. Light, Fast and cheap enough to toss into a backpack and go without fear.
I have a high end Windows Ultrabook that is up for sale…