I wrote my original Series 3 Chromebook review after just over a week of casual usage. Now, after nearly 6 months, I’m going to go back to it and follow up on my original points.
I’ve now used the Chromebook every day since the beginning of January, and it turns out it’s a lot sturdier than the occasionally creaky and lightweight chassis might suggest. I’ve not found any issues with the build quality at all – the hinges are robust and the Chromebook has stood up remarkably well to 6 months of travelling around with me.
In terms of the internals, I have found the Chromebook to be occasionally sluggish at times, although sometimes this is just a software issue and it’s back to normal within a couple of days (see Software section below). The battery life is absolutely fantastic and I can’t fault it, easily lasting a couple of days of light usage taking notes and browsing the internet at uni. It almost always outlasts its stated 6.5 hours of battery life, and I often find that it will last several days in standby. For my needs at least, the stunning battery life more than makes up for the occasional lax performance.
One issue I pointed out in the original review was the poor quality matte screen. This is something that I quickly got used to and hasn’t been an issue at all like I feared it might be. The quality isn’t great, but it’s not awful either and I haven’t yet found a task where I think “this screen is terrible”. If you have a dire need to display something on a high quality screen, there’s always the HDMI port on the back.
Chrome OS is a funny thing. Updated near constantly, I switched between the Stable, Beta, and foolishly, Dev channels looking for a balance between new features and stability. Running the Dev channel on Chrome (the browser) on my desktop made me assume I could run the Dev channel fine on the Chromebook as well – bad idea. I’ve found the Dev channel to be frequently buggy and unstable, and whilst I’m used to testing unstable software, I found the Dev channel was just a bit too rough and ready. Occasional serious issues with the Beta channel meant that wasn’t an option either – opening the Chromebook at the beginning of a lecture to find that Google Docs was broken wasn’t a fantastic experience and meant I had to take notes with my chisel on the stone tablet I carry around as backup.
Because Chrome OS updates so often, you can find that a feature there one day is gone the next. For example, last week a three finger swipe across the trackpad could be used to navigate back and forward between web pages. Today, it switches between browser tabs. These features are often implemented as “Flags”, experimental toggles that you can enable or disable from a special config page. There is a disclaimer stating that these features may appear and disappear randomly, but it would be nice to have more established gesture support.
I’ve found all the syncing within Chrome and Chrome OS to work spectacularly, and it’s really improved within the last few months. Pages seamlessly sync between all my devices with Chrome installed, and Drive has proved hugely useful for sharing access to my files between my devices. Certainly, a Chromebook is a more useful companion if you already use Google services. The Chromebook has made me use services like Drive so much, that it’s become a pain when I can’t access files I need on my Lumia (since Google supports *no* apps on Windows Phone 8).
I still feel that nearly anyone can find a use for a Chromebook, but after using one for six months I do have a couple of clarifications as to which Chromebook to pick. If you’re a student, traveller or light web user, get the Samsung Series 3. Its brilliant battery life outweighs its occasionally mediocre performance and the device itself is great. If you’re a more heavy duty web user, if you go from one plug socket to the next and you watch a lot of videos, I would maybe suggest plumping for an Intel Chromebook. That’s not to say multi-tasking and videos are unusable on the Series 3 – just that the performance isn’t brilliant on either. The Series 3 will struggle with playing a video and doing other things simultaneously (Protip: This can be mitigated by moving the video to its own Chrome window) , and after around a dozen tabs, it starts to seize up. Do I still think the Chromebook is a fantastic device? Certainly. Would I recommend one? Absolutely – but make sure you get the right one for you.