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Samsung Chromebook Series 5 review

Verdict

An exciting new way to work, but its reliance on online applications and infrastructure is currently too limiting

Review Date: 28 Jun 2011

Reviewed By: Darien Graham-Smith

Price when reviewed: £292 (£350 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
4 stars out of 6

Value for Money
4 stars out of 6

Performance
3 stars out of 6

Cloud computing is supposedly the future, but PCs and mobile devices have thus far remained overwhelmingly dependent on local hardware for data storage and processing. We’ve had to wait for Chrome OS to finally arrive – on the Samsung Chromebook Series 5 – for a product that embraces the concept in its purest form.

Chrome OS eschews local processing power in favour of online applications running through the Chrome web browser. Indeed, the browser is your only interface to the OS: it isn’t even possible to install other applications beyond browser plug-ins. It’s the web or nothing.

Samsung Chromebook Series 5

Living in the cloud

You may baulk at going without your regular desktop applications, but at the Chrome Web Store you’ll find web-based ways to achieve most computing tasks, as well as gateways to web content, downloadable themes and a good selection of games. These install as Chrome Apps – half-bookmarks, half-extensions that can not only take you directly to the relevant site but also install extra services in Chrome OS (see Hooking up).

And although the Chrome OS concept relies on an internet connection, many third-party applications can be used offline, using HTML 5’s new offline storage features. Offline versions of Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Docs are promised by late summer.

Strength in simplicity

The minimal model has several advantages. The OS boots in fewer than ten seconds – we timed 6.7 seconds to the login screen – and resumes from hibernation in two seconds flat, giving something close to the instant-on experience of a tablet.

Samsung Chromebook Series 5

The simple design also makes it easy for Google to trickle out frequent updates, as it does with the Chrome browser. It’s promised that every Chrome OS device will automatically gain new features over time, potentially including improvements to performance and battery life.

And because everything in Chrome OS runs within the browser, it’s sandboxed by default. Indeed, Google says the Chromebook needs no antivirus software – a bold claim, but one that’s backed up by a TPM-authenticated boot sequence. Certainly Chrome OS is far more difficult to hijack than Windows or OS X.

It’s arguably better for data security, too. Since your data lives in the cloud, you won’t lose it if your Chromebook is lost or stolen. All that’s held on the Chromebook’s tiny 16GB SSD is caches and settings – and even these are encrypted, so without your password a thief can’t access any information at all. You, meanwhile, can simply pick up another Chromebook, enter your credentials and carry on working.

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User comments

Price just too high

I'm a big fan of Google's services but I can't stop thinking they've got the pricing model here completely wrong.

At this price why would ordinary Joe consider this over a nice new shiny Windows 7 laptop?

I think Google should have taken a hit with profits for the first few years of Chromebook and made this a £200 purchase. Easy for me to say I know.

But they are up against veterans in Microsoft and Apple here, they need to make people think twice before buying products from them, at this this price, the decision is easy- go for what you know.

By a_byrne22 on 28 Jun 2011

a_byrne22 is right!

This is just the latest attempt by the IT industry to re-centralise computing by going back to the "dumb terminal". Every previous attempt over the last 20 years has failed for the same reason: it always turns out that the "dumb terminal" is not significantly less costly than a PC capable of standing alone AND participating in a network. Why pay the same for something that does less? Only a corporate IT department would buy into that proposition!

By JohnAHind on 28 Jun 2011

Too expensive

As others have said, you can pick up a similar Win7 or Linux machine for this sort of money. With those machines you can use all the Google Web Apps and also have the option of installing your own apps. Why tie yourself down to Google!

By Rouleur on 28 Jun 2011

Returns

I hope I'm wrong, but I suspect that PC World etc. will see similar levels of returns to those they had with the early Linux based netbooks.

By PaulOckenden on 28 Jun 2011

where has the money gone?

There is no OS. No CPU to speak of. No major graphics. Little RAM. No storage to speak of. No optical drive. No exteranl connections.

It is basically a case, a screen and a keyboard. £100 would look about right at launch with the price falling to £60-70 over time.

There are decent touch-screen tablets out there for £70 for gods sake!!!!

Did nobody at Samsung or Google take a step back, think about (for about half a second) and realise "Oh crap. We've completely messed it up. We'd better bury this quick before we become a laughing stock!"?

By Bassey1976 on 28 Jun 2011

Agreed with you all

It's way, way over priced.

If this was in the sub £150 category it would be a no-brainer.

But at these prices, I wouldn't hestitate to buy a normal laptop.

Silly Google.

By Grunthos on 28 Jun 2011

@Bassey1976

I know you're only trying to make a (valid) point, but "There are decent touch-screen tablets out there for £70" - really? There are decent touch-screen tablets and there are touch-screen tablets for £70, but there are NO decent touch-screen tablets for £70.

By The_Scrote on 28 Jun 2011

Simply Too Expensive

I can only agree with everyone here, it's just too expensive.

It's an exciting concept but for this price - the average user is just going to opt for an established Windows machine, and rightly so.

However - if you've got the money to spare on a second machine then this could be an interesting choice.

I'd be interested to hear if any businesses will take these on as their sole machines - given Google's Support offer?

By jhITsolutions on 28 Jun 2011

Word

"In a year or two the Chromebook could make a very attractive personal computing platform"

In a year or two Google will be on version 87 of whatever they've decided to release that week. They 'could' be a far stronger force than they are now if they settled down a little with their releases

By rhythm on 28 Jun 2011

It's an AA0 for iCore 3 money

This has virtually the same spec as my AA0 but costs the same as an iCore3 laptop. If it was at least half, maybe a third of the cost I could see it having a place in schools but as is, what's the point?

By JamesD29 on 28 Jun 2011

I'd consider this as an alternative to a tablet, which I cannot afford. The problem really is the need to maintain constant Internet access. 3G would be fine if 50% of the country wasn't a 3G blackspot, including my house.

By c6ten on 28 Jun 2011

It's Early Days

I believe this technology could be successful; it’s very early to dismiss it. There are a lot of home users in my opinion which buy laptops mainly for internet browsing which this is aimed at. Yes its expensive but early i3 laptops were higher priced than they are now. When we see more development in this area, prices could fall. It is just the Country’s poor internet architecture which may not be prepared for cloud computing on a mass scale.

By Kayo123 on 28 Jun 2011

Pointless

So you need to buy the laptop and some form of a 3G contract (monthly cost with limited data transfer).
I dont get the point of Chrome OS, dont the android tablets already do all of this, and they will be integrated into the cloud anyway.
No internet connection no use. I find this pretty useless, IMO it might be early days but recent security breaches pretty much outline how unreliable the cloud currently is.
Also if you have sensitive personal info, it will have to be saved on the cloud. I think they are way of the mark, if the made a laptop with android 3.2 or something for a good price I would think that form of integration between phones, tablets and laptops would be a great idea. This though is horrendous, how many casual consumers would pick this over a netbook, tablet or apple mac?

By r1sh12 on 28 Jun 2011

Price is everything

The idea / concept of a ChromeOS laptop is a good one, and surely one day Cloud based devices will have their place.

Problem is right now, as has already been said, the price is way too high. This is effectively a netbook with a bigger screen that relies entirely on a web connection to function. at £350 it's just far too expensive for a device that will have limited functionality.

To my mind, if this was priced at £150, it would provide a low cost solution for people who want a cheap device for web browsing around the home without having to shell out too much hard earned dough.

as it is though, the price is really what seals the fate for this machine. Get that right and Chrome will get some traction in the consumer market

By hjlupton on 28 Jun 2011

the price

I contrast to most of the comments above I find the price rather reassuring. It suggests to me a solidly built product that won't break within the first 12 months of usage.

I just don't see how you can build anything reliable enough for £150 price-point that was mentioned above. Some people seem to want their cake and eat it too.

By c6ten on 28 Jun 2011

@c6ten

It's not a case of cake and eat it. The problem is chrome is a limited os in so much as once out of Internet connection range then it ceases to be usable. Couple in that you can get a fully functional windows 7 laptop for only a few pounds more or a netbook running win 7 for less money the problem presents itself. Further the intel atom CPU is a low powered device. Yes for cloud based systems the bulk of the processing is server side, however Joe public will expect a certain amount of functionality.

Even at £200 this would be a much more tempting prospect where someone only needs a computer for web browsing etc or even a second system without compromising on screen size.

Chrome OS has a bright future but right now in it's infancy with limited functionality and limited hardware the £350 price tag is simply to steep

By hjlupton on 28 Jun 2011

@hjlupton

The fact that you can 'get' a Windows 7 netbook for £350 doesn't mean that the hardware is any good. As I say this looks like a quality piece of kit, notwithstanding the limited nature of ChromeOS. I am taking the manufacturers' point of view here, I must admit. But all those saying it's too expensive are probably just saying they don't need it and don't intend to purchase one.

By c6ten on 28 Jun 2011

@c6ten

I have no doubt that the build quality of the hardware is very good (it is Samsung afterall). I am merely making the point over functionality from Joe Public's point of view.

Lest we forget the average user of computers is not as tech savvy as many of us who read PC Pro. Right now, Wi-Fi / 3G connections are not as prolific as a device like this demands. Having no functionality where an internet connection is not available at £350 simply won't sit well with the average user. In the same way that people returned linux based netbooks because they didn't like how it worked, opening the door for Windows to get a foothold on the netbook market. I just feel that ChromeOS being cloud only will irk many users. If the price tag was around the £200 mark, most people expect some compromise and many may be happy with only being able to use the computer in internet range. In fact it really makes the system a viable option for people on limited budgets to be able to have a full sized laptop computer without having to shell out more money.

I like where Chrome OS is going, I really do. I'm also excited to see how the platform develops, but as I have said before and I will say again, at £350 I just feel it is too expensive at this point in time

By hjlupton on 29 Jun 2011

You make a good argument and I can't really dispute any of your points. However, I wonder whether this product is really aimed at 'Joe Public'. As you say netbooks only took off when bundled with the familiar Windows interface. I wonder whether these Chromebooks aren't supposed to be a little more niche than that.

I'd certainly like a device that booted in under ten seconds, and as I say I can't justify buying a tablet. Battery life also seems good with the Chromebook. I'd see it as a viable side-kick for my laptop, which has lousy battery life and takes ages to boot (a Windows 7 Core 2 VAIO before you ask).

Maybe the Chromebook is for people who already have several computers and like the small form-factor. And if that is the case the price question is resolved.

By c6ten on 29 Jun 2011

I've read all the comments and my opinion is that Chrome OS on this form factor is hopefully doomed. Consumers have a certain expectation when buying a tablet they they are purchasing something with less functionality than a laptop / netbook and the form factor is designed for convenience while travelling or away from the main PC.

With these Chromebooks that are restricted to what you can install and how much you can do away from the Internet, consumers will get frustrated with having good hardware but a poor user experience. Why not buy a second hand laptop, install Ubuntu and run the same apps in Chrome for less money ?

"Maybe the Chromebook is for people who already have several computers and like the small form-factor ?" I disagree. If someone has the buying power to have several PCs, they will no doubt have bought into the Netbook craze already and own a fully functioning OS, not just a £350 web browser.

By philiplgbennett on 29 Jun 2011

Well I don't have a netbook, and have three PC's and a Mac in the house. The netbook just seems to me another maintenance nightmare, and possibly not very well built, condidering the low price. I expect my computers to last 5 years at least, and I have no need for a netbook, anyway. However, I would consider a Chromebook, as no computer is much use without an Internet connection these days.

By c6ten on 29 Jun 2011

I've read all the comments and my opinion is that Chrome OS on this form factor is hopefully doomed. Consumers have a certain expectation when buying a tablet they they are purchasing something with less functionality than a laptop / netbook and the form factor is designed for convenience while travelling or away from the main PC.

With these Chromebooks that are restricted to what you can install and how much you can do away from the Internet, consumers will get frustrated with having good hardware but a poor user experience. Why not buy a second hand laptop, install Ubuntu and run the same apps in Chrome for less money ?

"Maybe the Chromebook is for people who already have several computers and like the small form-factor ?" I disagree. If someone has the buying power to have several PCs, they will no doubt have bought into the Netbook craze already and own a fully functioning OS, not just a £350 web browser.

By philiplgbennett on 29 Jun 2011

What maintenance issues are you having with your netbook ? Is this software or hardware related ? I don't understand the constant references to poor quality and price ? I do understand that you get what you pay for generally, but you would expect even a cheap netbook to last a certain amount of time, while of course you can't expect the user experience to be as good as a more expensive one.

I think what it comes down to is, for £350 you can get a pretty good quailty, well built, fully functioning and flexible Windows 7 laptop / netbook. However good the Samsung hardware may be, you are still paying for just a browser ?

By philiplgbennett on 29 Jun 2011

http://www.pcpro.co.uk/reviews/laptops/366331/tosh
iba-nb550d

£50 quid less. Faster, more flexible etc. Whats not to like ?

By philiplgbennett on 29 Jun 2011

Well you may enjoy running Windows Update twice a month and patching software multiple times a month, not to mention syncing documents and data, but I don't. When you have three PC's it all adds up. I need a zero maintainence netbook. Do you have a problem with that?

By c6ten on 29 Jun 2011

What's good about this product?

Print to non-cloud printers No
Play music No
Watch films No
Works off-line No
MSOffice compatible No
Cost effective No
Installed aps No
Effective No
Suite of off-line Aps No
Bluetooth No
Secure Dunno
Quick Yes, for web based activities only
Useful Yes, ideal for the boat, train, plane journey home, oh snap - no wifi... oops!

By DCF23 on 29 Jun 2011

@ c6ten

I let Windows Updates automatically download and install updates for me. I don't have any software apart from Adobe Reader that needs patching, which prompts me to do it automatically. Syncing documents and data across multiple machines ? Google Docs and Gmail. Can't see anything particularly difficult in that ?

By philiplgbennett on 29 Jun 2011

Free of Microsoft !

I'd be happy to have a secure and robust operating system for web browsing etc without the baggage and headaches of Windows.

This could work well for the many laptops that are only web access terminals that never leave the house, let's see how the applications and so on come along to match it - it's a full linux OS under the skin so the possibilities are many.

By yarwell on 30 Jun 2011

I used to have a device like this, A Datawind Pocketsurfer, uselss when there was no internet connection, in the end i upgraded to the DataSurfer, a mini Windows CE netbook, slow, but it had gprs, wireless, wired USB and has a lot of use,took it through europe with me when i went to german, the best part is i could still use it without an internet connection, as I can with my 7" android tablet which supports 3G, wired and wireless, For me the chromebook is about as useful as a chocolate teapot . . . . . . Now if i could use it without a conection and connect when needed to sync then it would be a viable option for me, if it was 1/3rd the price

By WereWoof on 30 Jun 2011

Netbooks must be better

I have a Samsung netbook - a couple of years old now (so using xp) and have no hardware issues with it. So I don't think that build quality would make me prefer a Chromebook. But the netbook can run standard applications (and has a decent size hard drive too, providing you don't want to run movies from it).

Last week, I was at a 2 day project meeting where there was no internet access (and no network coverage for my mobile!). yet I could still create documents (and share a few with other participants using a USB stick). Not perfect, but functional. So sorry, although I am no fan of Microsoft and would like the Chromebook to work, at the moment I just don't see it having any use.

By ianbyrne on 2 Jul 2011

Netbooks must be better

I have a Samsung netbook - a couple of years old now (so using xp) and have no hardware issues with it. So I don't think that build quality would make me prefer a Chromebook. But the netbook can run standard applications (and has a decent size hard drive too, providing you don't want to run movies from it).

Last week, I was at a 2 day project meeting where there was no internet access (and no network coverage for my mobile!). yet I could still create documents (and share a few with other participants using a USB stick). Not perfect, but functional. So sorry, although I am no fan of Microsoft and would like the Chromebook to work, at the moment I just don't see it having any use.

By ianbyrne on 2 Jul 2011

Compare with netbook or tablet?

For me this product is not a sustitute for a netbook, but for a tablet. As a netbook / laptop alternative, it will struggle as it offers less for the same money. However, as a tablet alternative, for those who are not wanting apps, it offers a traditional form factor. Not enough for me, happy with my Xoom.

By kevmarlow on 9 Jul 2011

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