Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Samsung Series 5 Chromebook Review Reveals Speedy Cloud Computer

I've been playing with a loaner version of the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook for a week and the 3.3-pound notebook based on Google's Chrome operating system is everything I expected it to be.

That is, a more polished version of the Chrome OS version running on the Cr-48 experimental computer I tested last December packed in a superior hardware shell.

Unveiled at Google I/O in May, the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook goes on sale June 15 from and Best Buy online in two flavors: $429 for the WiFi-only version and $499 for a machine with a 3G radio with 100MB of monthly data allotment from Verizon Wireless for two years. Consumers may purchase more data from Verizon at their leisure.

I tested the arctic white model, which was nice, though I actually prefer the device in a more manly titan silver. The Chromebook, which measures 11.6 inches wide, .8 inches thick and 8.6 inches deep, has a glossy finish compared to the velvety matte finish of the Cr-48 I tested last December.

The top lid has the Samsung and Chrome branding, with the Chrome emblem raised on the lid, like a bold hood ornament. Hefting the device for the first time, I was struck by its weight, which is funny because I have a Lenovo ThinkPad T60 workhorse that feels like it weighs twice as much.

When I wondered why the Chromebook struck me as heavy, I realized the only computing devices I regularly haul around at home are my Motorola Droid X and my Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, which weigh 5-plus ounces and 1.25 pounds, respectively. Of course the Chromebook felt heavy at first, but it's really not.

Opening the lid produced the black, island-style keyboard with which I became familiar from the Cr-48. There were 74 keys, sitting in back of the spacious trackpad, which serves as the navigation and execution key for commands.

See the Samsung Series Chromebook I Tested Here

The top row of keys, which is a big differentiation point from any other notebook, include keys for Web browser control, including forward and back buttons, refresh, as well as keys for volume and brightness and full-screen toggle. Of course, there is the power button, which you can press and hold to put the machine to sleep or turn it off.

I'll admit that I was leery of this trackpad, as it resembled the one on Cr-48 that was so poorly responsive to start last year, and right clicking with the required two fingers was chore. My fears were later assuaged on this score.This trackpad is much more responsive. Still, right-clicking can be tricky if you're used to having separate buttons to do this in Windows machines.

When I opened the Chromebook to the start screen, the machine prompted me to configure it. First, it asked for my language preference and network. I chose English and provisioned my home WiFi network, then signed in with my Google account credentials, all steps with which I'd logged into the Cr-48 for the first time.

Then I was asked to select a user ID photo, which let me choose to take a picture with the 1MP Webcam or a stock photo. I chose a stock robot pic. Then I was in, or at least mostly in. Chrome OS, version .12 on this Chromebook compared to version .11 on my Cr-48, asked me to take a trackpad tutorial to get used to navigation.

When I finished I realized the Chromebook had ported in all of the bookmarks I'd created on my Cr-48. This is a bigger deal than it seems because it speaks to the cloud computing vision Google has of user data and applications availability on any device, hosted in the cloud.

Not only that, but it prescribed all of the apps I installed from the Chrome Webstore via the Cr-48. So when Google officials joked at Google I/O that you could throw a Chromebook in a river and not lose important data, they weren't kidding. This is obviously hyperbole; you might keep all your data, but you'd be out $500 clams!

Viewing YouTube videos and Flash multimedia content was pleasant enough thanks to the 12.1-inch LED backlit matte (seriously!) display, which boasts 1280x800 resolution, a 16:10 aspect ratio on 300 nits brightness.

Samsung claims its Series 5 Chromebook boasts up to 40 percent more brightness than the average laptop. I do know that reading text and viewing other content was easy in light or dark environs. The screen is good, but nothing spectacular.