For the past year or so I’ve been glued almost daily to our desktop PC both for gaming and writing on the site. For a while I’ve felt that I needed something more portable, something that would bring me out of the stuffy man-cave that is our home office, but buying a laptop felt pointless as everything I’d use it for would essentially render the PC useless well, except for gaming. So I put off the idea for a while, that was until I was having a nosey at the Chromebook whilst in Currys.
Apparently much like the Apple section, the Google section, which is home to the Nexus 7 tablet and various models of Chromebook, has it’s own Google rep. After a lengthy talk with the guy I almost immediately fell in love with the Chromebook. Here’s why.
The Chromebook itself is home to Google’s Chrome OS which is loosely based on Linux but essentially is a web based operating system with 90% of the applications requiring some form of internet connection to function properly. Almost everything is done through the Chrome browser other than the two other native apps, the File Manager, the media player, and the camera app. At first this might sound unappealing to some, but so much can be done through Chrome I was actually quite surprised.
At first I decided I was going to get the HP Pavillion Chromebook for £249, but after a good bit of research as well as a look at the devices myself I actually went for the Samsung Chromebook for £229.
In this review I’ll first talk about the Chrome OS then I’ll move onto the hardware itself.
The Chrome OS is a fairly different OS compared to Windows or OS X. Loosely based on Linux, the Chrome OS is a web based operating system where most of the things you do are done within the Chrome browser itself. It might seem a little odd but it’s surprisingly functional. Much like the desktop version of Chrome you can install extensions or apps onto the Chromebook but because of the way it’s built you can’t install third party applications or programs like Photoshop or Steam. In order to do things that you’d usually do on Windows, you’ll need to do a bit of thinking.
What I mean by this is that you’ve got to start thinking differently. Instead of just giving up because you can’t edit a photograph on Photoshop, head to Google and find a web based alternative. In fact the Chrome Store offers a perfect alternative called Pixlr Editor, it essentially feels like it’s a standalone program but it’s not, it’s within the Chrome browser. The same can be said about file conversion, this is something you’d usually go to a program like Format Factory, but a website like Zamzar does just as good.
Word processing isn’t a problem at all as Google Drive is heavily integrated into the Chrome OS. The same goes for spreadsheets and power point presentations. Google Drive is actually something I use regularly anyway so it’s a huge plus.
As I mentioned above I wanted something that didn’t make our desktop PC useless, for heavy Photoshop tasks or video editing or gaming I start up the beast that is our PC. For every day web browsing, writing on n3rdabl3, and even writing documents my Chromebook does a fantastic job.
In terms of speed the Chrome OS is ridiculously fast, I mean, REALLY fast, as soon as you fully open up the lid it’s already on and ready to use, it’s so fast it actually takes a few seconds for the WiFi to kick in and connect. Setting up the Chromebook is super fast too, all you really need to do is enter your Google credentials, give it a few seconds to start up initially and then you’re on your way. Everything like Google Drive and Chrome is available right out of the box making it ridiculously functional almost instantly something which you don’t often get with Windows.
Customisation is limited but the layout is so simplistic it doesn’t really require much tweaking. If you fancy it you can change your background to either some of the stock images, or if you want you can use a custom one. If you’re not a fan of the large black launcher at the bottom you can hide it. The Chrome Store does have many different themes for your Chrome Browser so if things like that tickle your fancy, you can do that too.
If you feel that you’re a more advanced user Chrome OS offers a lot more than what I’ve spoken about above. These are called Flags. These are features which are experimental and could cause issues and are set to “off” by default. In the past various different flags have actually been implemented into later updates such as Rich Notifications and the Immersive Fullscreen. Some Flags also offer tools for those who would like to develop for the Chromebook.
Another thing you could do if you’re feeling brave is enable your Chromebook into the Beta or even Developer channel to update your Chromebook with an experimental version of the Chrome OS.
Overall the Chrome OS offers a fantastic, fast, simple and gorgeous OS for users who do a lot of web based tasks. You don’t necessarily have to be online in order to go things on the Chromebook, but it’s an ideal requirement. There’s so many other little features which I could mention, but I feel that now is a good time to move onto the hardware.
Samsung Chromebook Hardware
So, I mentioned in the beginning that I first had my eye on the HP Pavillion Chromebook, this particular model offered a fairly large 14-inch screen as well as a few other features, but in the end I went for the smaller Samsung Chromebook. There are various reasons for this but the main point which swayed me was how cheap the HP Pavillion felt compared to the Samsung Chromebook. The HP’s glossy screen and glossy plastic casing didn’t scream the same quality that Samsung’s offered.
So here we are, about a month after purchasing my Samsung Chromebook I’m writing this review. First I’ll throw the specs at you. The Samsung Chromebook comes with a 11.6’’ (1366×768) display. Though the screen size on paper felt a little small, the Samsung Chromebook comes with a fantastic full size keyboard. It doesn’t feel like a small netbook, but at the same time it’s nice and compact unlike some 14″-17″ laptops.
Under the hood the Samsung Chromebook comes with Samsung’s own Exynos 5 Dual Core Processor with 2GB RAM. Inside there’s only 16GB of Solid State Drive storage which means that there’s not a wealth of storage available. But there’s a solution to that. For every Chromebook purchase you’re eligible for 100GB of free Google Drive space which lasts for two years – what this means is that if after two years you exceed the 15GB shared storage between Gmail, Drive, and Google+ you’ll have to pay the monthly fee in order to add more files to the cloud.
That aside the Samsung Chromebook does actually have two USB ports, one of which being USB 3.0. This means that you can plug in anything into your Chromebook that doesn’t require a driver to install. This applies to most memory sticks and expandable storage as well as other Plug & Play peripherals like keyboards and mice. While we’re onto keyboard and mice the Chromebook also has Bluetooth 3.0 so if your in the market for a Bluetooth peripheral, it’ll most likely work with your Chromebook. Finally the Samsung Chromebook has a HDMI port for connecting to an external HD monitor or a TV, it also has an SD Card slot meaning that you could discreetly expand the Chromebooks storage without having to lug around an external hard drive. Other inputs include the 3.5mm headphone jack which also doubles up as a microphone jack, and of course the VGA webcam and internal microphone.
The Chromebook itself is ridiculously thin at 17.5mm thin and very, very light weighing at just 1.1kg. It’s matt silver casing is smooth but doesn’t feel cheap like the HP Pavillion, the screen itself is also matt meaning that I receive very little glare when the sun comes blaring through the window.
In terms of sound the Samsung Chromebook has some pretty loud speakers located underneath and to the front of the laptop, the sound is fantastic when placed on the right surface but if you want to leave your Chromebook on your bed and listen to some tunes then you’ll be sacrificing the sound as the soft surface absorbs most of the sound. If you were to place it on a desk though and you’ll be in business. A little bit of a let down I guess, but not a deal breaker, especially if you make use of Google Play Music’s 20,000 song storage.
As mentioned with the Chrome OS section the Samsung Chromebook is fast. Not once have I experienced any lag, nor have I experienced anything freezing or closing without warning. I feel like I’ve also put the Chromebook through some intensive tasks and the only real strain I’ve noticed is that the Chromebook gets quite warm underneath. Something I’m a little concerned about as the Samsung Chromebook doesn’t have any cooling measures of any kind. Google claim this to be a positive feature and I have agree it is. It’s nice to have a computer that doesn’t make a sound, but I can’t help but worry that it’ll overheat if I use it excessively.
This particular Chromebook also comes in a 3G version for those who aren’t always connected to WiFi. The version I purchased is the WiFi only but it still comes with the SIM card slot on the back, but it’s just filled in with in irremovable rubber stopper it’s not an issue as such, but for someone like me who likes perfection, this useless slot could be put to better use or removed completely, but I guess it saves on production costs.
The Samsung Chromebook has a really nice full sized keyboard, it’s fantastic to type on and for a smaller sized laptop the keys aren’t too squished together. In place of the “F” keys are some new Chromebook specific keys which make navigating around a hell of a lot simpler. There’s a “forward” and “back” key, a “refresh” key, a “maximise” key, and a “window switcher” key, they’re all pretty self explanatory but when used in combination with the ctrl, alt, and shift keys they add even more functionality to an already functional keyboard. The list of what the keys do is pretty endless and it’s almost impossible to remember them all, so they’ve added a neat feature which if you press ctrl+alt+? you’re given an on-screen keyboard that when you press either ctrl, alt, or shift it’ll show you what key does what.
Overall I’m absolutely in love with my Chromebook. Sure, it doesn’t have the full functionality of a standard laptop or desktop PC, but this is something I was looking for. Granted the Chromebook would make a better secondary computer to handle smaller tasks such as web browsing, word processing, blogging, and listening to music but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a high quality laptop, because it is. It’s thin, light, and quiet and at £229 it’s a bargain. The Chrome OS is fast and functional and offers much more than I originally thought it would. I really would recommend giving the range of Chromebooks a look if you’re looking for a laptop that you’re primarily going to do smaller tasks on.