The Chromebook has been around for a few years now, but early models were not widely available and their need for a constant internet connection somewhat hamstrung them into less capable devices than they could potentially be. With the new Series 3 Chromebook from Samsung, combined with the latest Aura update for Chrome OS, all of that has changed.
Whilst I never used one of the first Chromebooks from Samsung, I had a play around with Chrome OS in a virtual machine when it first came out (obviously not representative of real world usage or performance), and it was hideous. Literally just a Chrome window, it couldn’t do anything without an internet connection and seemed very sluggish. Having heard good things about the newest Chromebooks, I decided to get one.
The Series 3 Chromebook from Samsung has reasonable specs, a 1366×768 matte display, 2GB of RAM and a 1.7GHz dual core processor. Interestingly, the CPU in this model is not made by AMD or Intel like you might expect – it’s a Samsung Exynos chip, a supercharged version of the processor in the Galaxy Note, and obviously, it’s an ARM piece.
The fact that it’s an ARM chip brings several benefits. Firstly, its impact on battery life is much lower than an equivalent Intel chip, contributing to the Chromebook’s six and a half hour stated battery life. Secondly, the fact that it’s low power means it’s also low heat, and the Series 3 is passively cooled, meaning not only is it silent all the time, it’s cool on your lap as well. The Acer C7 chromebook, which uses an Intel Celeron chip, has a battery life of just 3 hours, and requires a fan to keep the chip cool.
The screen on the device is probably its biggest let down, which is a shame. It has a good resolution, is plenty bright and it’s matte finish means its legible in sunlight. However, to quote TechRadar, it’s like there’s a layer of sugar sandwiched between the glass and the display. It’s an odd effect, which reduces the quality slightly, but once you get used to it, its not a big deal.
The keyboard on the device is absolutely fantastic, which is great for a device that’s likely going to be used for typing up essays, emails and browsing the internet by most people. It’s scrabble tile keys are a good size, well spaced and have a decent amount of travel. The keys aren’t backlit, but that’s to be expected on a device of this price. The trackpad is also very responsive and supports a number of gestures for scrolling and navigating pages, similar to a Macbook. Whilst some parts of it can be difficult to press, a setting allows the trackpad to detect taps as presses, saving you some effort.
In terms of the software, the stable channel of Chrome OS is updated roughly every six weeks, and more regularly than that if you switch to the beta channel or are insane enough to enable developer mode. It’s responsive, boots in around 7 seconds and resumes from sleep when you open the lid almost instantly. Chrome OS runs the apps available in the Chrome Web store, and whilst the selection isn’t massive, most of the apps are high quality. If you’re an Android user or already invested in the Google ecosystem, you’ll be right at home here. As soon as you log in, all your mail, calendars and media if you use Google Play is instantly available. Also included with the Chromebook is 100GB of free Google Drive storage for a year – which is handy considering the Chromebook only has a 16GB SSD. This is because the main idea of having a Chromebook is to embrace cloud computing, and once you get a taste of having all of your files available everywhere, you won’t go back. Create a document on your PC, save it to Google drive and it’ll be available for you to edit on your Nexus 7 on the train and show your boss at work on your Chromebook. Google Play allows you to stream your music and movies, and offer online reader apps for your books and magazines bought through the service.
Performance is generally good, with slowdowns only experienced with many tabs open at once, or trying to stream a YouTube video in HD whilst working on other pages simultaneously. The Chromebook will happily play 720p YouTube videos full screen with no hint of a slow down or stuttering. The Wi-Fi chip in the device is obviously a good one (thankfully), as the Chromebook consistently gets the highest SpeedTest results of any device on my network, and it also detects and connects to networks on the 5GHz spectrum, the only one of my devices to do so.
Multi-tasking is easy thanks to the dedicated window switcher key that is part of the row of Chrome OS specific buttons that replaces the “F” row on a traditional keyboard, including back and forward buttons, brightness and volume controls. The power button is also here, but it requires that you hold it down for around 4-5 seconds to avoid accidental shutdowns. The taskbar in the Aura update to Chrome OS is a welcome feature, that’s well implemented and responsive. Shortcuts to frequently used apps can be pinned to it, and it can be used to switch between open apps and windows. Finally, the search key on the keyboard replaces the traditional caps lock key, and allows you to do a universal search on the device or on the internet. It can also be mapped back to a caps lock key if you’d prefer that.
High download speeds are supported by speedy page rendering thanks to the dual core chip and 2GB of RAM under the hood.
The battery life on the device is absolutely excellent. I’ve found the device consistently exceeds the stated 6:30 hour battery life, and if the device spends a lot of time asleep and is used infrequently, it will last a couple of days easily.
The Series 3 Chromebook from Samsung is a fantastic device, and I think nearly everyone can find a use for one. Whether you’re a technophobe looking for a first computer, or a tech expert with loads of devices already, you’ll be happy with a Chromebook. I’ve found myself using the Chromebook just as much as my quad core, Ivy Bridge desktop PC, and Nexus 7. The great keyboard is certainly a contributing factor to this, and I’ve written this entire review on the Chromebook. It’s a good device for distraction free writing. The price is a deciding factor for the Chromebook – selling for just £229, the device is almost an impulse purchase, and certainly one you’ll be satisfied with. If you’re not sure about the keyboard or the screen, many high street shops are now stocking them, and you should go to PC World or John Lewis to give it a try. The Chromebook is highly recommended.