We don’t normally cover Chromebooks here but with the lines between desktops, tablet and mobile OS’s becoming ever blurred its getting tougher to not to. For the last few days I have been using the £230’’ Samsung Chromebook. I’ve decided so that I can get a full view of what its like for a user who will own one of these machines to make it my only computer for the next 30 days. My usual laptop and tablet have been boxed up and are inaccessible for the duration of this review period. I will only be using this Chromebook and my Nexus 4.
Lets get the specs out of the way first as with most of devices in this industry these are only really relevant against its kin.
XE303C12 Oct 2012 1.7 GHz Samsung Exynos 5 Dual 6.5 hours 2 GB DDR3 16 GBSSD 11.6 in (29.5 cm) 2.43 lb (1.1kg)
Hardware – The Good
This Chromebook is silver and black and let’s face it, it looks a bit like a Macbook Air (in fact, my son mistook it for one). It’s made of plastic which is to be expected for a product this cheap but it looks nice. It doesn’t look like a netbook and gives the impression of a far more expensive machine. Its reasonable thin and light and when the lid is closed it feels solid. Open the lid and you can see the trackpad and keyboard and screen. The trackpad is a decent enough size and is centered it feels smooth and gives good tactile feedback when clicke.. The keybord is a chiclet style and is really quite excellent. I’ve written a ton of stuff on it since arrived and its just as good as my Macbook. The top row of keys has buttons for power, volum, brightness and also has some unique buttons for app switching (the equivelant of CMD+TAB on a mac) full screen, refresh and forward and back keys. The matte screen is just over 11 and a half inches and is a decent resolution. Brightness is good and having a matte screen is really good when using in bright light as you don’t have to see your own face staring back at you. USB 3.0 and HDMI is an excellent addition and one that must be applauded on a laptop of this price.
Hardware – The Bad
Before I start, I must stress that I am well aware this is a £230 laptop but I would be doing you, the reader, a disservice if I didn’t point out the products flaws. The screen is excellent as long as you are viewing it straight on but when you start to move the display towards you the screen gets lighter and when you move it away the screen gets darker. These aren’t large movements either, this happens through about 20 degrees of tilt. The trackpad on my unit has a tendency to get stuck when I click it and this seems to be down to the amount of travel it has when being clicked. I’m not a particularly ham fisted clicker but many times over the last few days I have found the trackpad is stuck down and I have to jiggle it to get it to pop back into place. Another issue with the trackpad is that it can be clicked from the underside of the laptop. This is incredibly annoying as it means if i rest my hands either side the weight will press the laptop down and click the trackpad. The same thing happens when I pick it up to move it. A few times whilst writing this very paragraph the word I am typing has highlighted itself despite my fingers not touching the trackpad. Speaking of resting my hands, the left side of this unit clicks very loudly. I discovered I can make the right side do it as well but not without setting out to do it intentionally. I’ve included a video of these issues to better demonstrate. This is incredibly irritating when trying to get some work done and isn’t something I expect from any laptop, regardless of how cheap it is. It’s bad quality control pure and simple. The speakers are on the underside of the laptop and are pretty tinny. They’ll be fine for watching YouTube videos but I wouldn’t recommend them for Movie’s or music. They sound a lot worse when on a lap as my thighs muffled the sound. This however is forgivable given the price.
It’s Chrome, you probably know it well so you’ll be right at home here. Theres lots of apps and unlike the standalone browser they can actually be made to run in their own window. There is a task bar thats very similar to the one found on Windows 7 which shows all of the open windows you currently have as well as the time, wifi status, battery etc. It’s quite a bit bigger than it needs to be so I have chosen to hide it. When you have it showing and a download happening, coupled with the top of the chrome window your left with not much more than half of the screen left for working in. Ironically there’s too much chrome.
I continually ran into an issue when trying to use multiple accounts. I have my CSP email open at the same time as my personal Google accounts for several services and so I decided to run this an app in a standalone window. The problem is, the OS doesn’t allow this. If I sign into my Coolsmartphone account alone its ok but as soon as I want to use another service such as Google+, Youtube, Reader etc then it’ll automatically log me out of the CSP account and into my personal account. On Chrome for Mac OS X I can log into multiple accounts without issues. The only way I have found to do this is to run my CSP email in an incognito window which doesn’t offer full screen.
Switching between processes and general browsing isn’t as fast as it is on a desktop OS but that’s too be expected given the hardware its running on. I’ve had no significant bouts of lag and its never bugged me yet but its definitely noticeable. A good example is scrolling. Sometimes you can scroll a few lines and stop suddenly but the exact same gesture will have you flying down the page. Its as if inertial scrolling is only enabled randomly.
YouTube (and other flash video) is problematic though. When viewing videos full screen it would only actually fill the screen after several attempts. The UI elements are in the right place but the video only occupies the top left quarter of the screen. Even with no other processes running the video would occasionally drop frames at 720p and above but was fluid for the most part. If you have a video playing in another tab the audio will clip when a page is rendering and come back when its done so there will be no background music listening here.
Netflix doesn’t work either. You can log in but when you try and watch something you are greeted with a bespoke message advising that the ARM based Chromebook is not currently supported.
Some sites such as The Verge don’t load correctly due to an issue with Typekit support. This plays havoc with the fonts and the layout unfortunately.
As I said in the intro I am going to be spending the next 30 days with this laptop as my only machine. It’ll be used for the video podcast, all of my writing and basically and almost all my internet based activities (Apart from Netflix, which isn’t supported) I’ll be regularly tweeting about my experiences and answering any questions people may have so feel free to follow along or wait until next month for my ultimate conclusion.