If you have been considering purchasing a Google Chromebook, I bought one a week or so ago. After extensive use of my new machine and drawing up its key features, here is my review of Google’s latest Series 3 Chromebook released in late October from a users perspective.
When I heard that Google had launched a brand new Chromebook starting at £229 I simply had to buy one. I’m an admitted consumer tech junkie, and when a gadget comes up at an unbelievable price, I simply have to buy it.
The Chromebook in question is the Samsung Chromebook Series 3 WiFi, which is Google’s latest Chromebook to be released for late 2012. It is different from prior Chromebook models in its pricing and also its internals. I’ve been playing with mine for a week now and prior to this I had literally no experience with Chrome OS; I’m a Windows guy, and am currently still wrapping my head around all of the new features in Windows 8. So, how has my Chromebook adventure been so far?
In a word, pleasant. I don’t know whether it is the price of this product which immediately made me fall in love with it out of the box or the fact that this was something completely new. Either way, I really like the design of the Series 3 Chromebook, with its silver body and sleek (although not by super-thin standards) design.
As you can tell, the Chromebook Series 3 is a silver machine which is lighter in shade to a Samsung Series 5 Ultrabook however slightly darker than a Macbook Pro. The whole machine is made from plastic, which is of a high quality, and whilst reports from reviewers have suggested the quality of the plastics is not great and the build of the machine leaves something to be desired, my unit is as tight as a submarine and for £229 is an extremely well made machine to say the least. In fact, I’d go as far to say this is better built than many more expensive laptops out there, especially the platter of netbooks you can find lined up within any laptop store.
None of the plastics on the machine are glossy, all are matte. Fingerprints as such do not show up easily on the Chromebook, and grip is pretty good when carrying around. The bottom of the Chromebook features four rubber circular legs for grip. These work extremely well, keeping the laptop planted.
Great keyboard, passable display, puny speakers
For any laptop, Chromebook, Ultrabook or any other book’ to be worth the money asked of them, in my eyes the most important part of a machine like this is its keyboard. The Series 3 has been for the most part a joy to write on; the keyboard is island style, as with many thin and lights nowadays, with good travel for such a small lappy and good feedback. Two things bugged me for a few days after extensive use of my Chromebook, though. Namely, there is no delete key which is something I use a lot on all keyboards. There is also no caps lock key, so for those old schoolers’ out there who repeatedly turn the caps lock on and off for a new sentence, this could take some getting used to.
The caps lock button has been replaced with a search button which acts as a keyboard shortcut to bring up your apps. Any frustrations I had initially regarding these issues however have faded now, due to the nature of Chrome OS — these replacement keys are excellent for navigation of the OS without ever needing to use the track pad. The search key, which has replaced the caps lock button, can be reverted to function as a caps lock key however; simply go to settings > search for ‘keyboard’ > open keyboard settings > change the keys function.
Using the touchpad is pretty sweet on the Series 3 too. You can use two finger scrolling, and it has two clickers built in to the trackpad. It’s large also offering a good surface area for even the biggest of hands, and it is practically perfect in texture for smooth usage; not quite up to the glass trackpad of a Macbook Pro, but good none-the-less.
The speakers are an area for improvement. Even my cat pinned her ears back.
If there was one area of improvement for this machine that could be made, albeit not at its current retail price, that would be the display; it is bright enough for any mere humans eyes, and it is fine for watching 720p video on with its 1366 x 768 matte display, however it is non IPS and as such viewing angles are anything but perfect. Viewing the screen from an angle at the sides results in overall okay viewing angles, however it is when you tilt the display fully down that it degrades quite badly. Mind you, how many people don’t look straight on at a display anyway?
On top of the display, for me the worst feature of this Chromebook is its speakers. I for the most part use headphones with a laptop, however for those who don’t, be warned — turning the volume up above half way results in distortion, tinny playback and a rather awful experience overall. They are loud though, even though they are located under the machine, but testing their full capabilities is a task best left to those who believe Celine Dion is a good singer. Even my cat pinned her ears back.
Ports wise there is a 3.5mm headphone jack and SD expansion slot on the left of the Chromebook, whilst other ports are located towards the back of the machine. Round back you’ll find a SIM port (this is still there on the WiFi only model, only redundant), 1 USB 2.0 port, 1 USB 3.0 port and a HDMI port. The charger port is also located to the back of the machine. I found that the placement of ports to the back of the Chromebook were not a major hindrance, however it did take a little bit of getting used to coming from more traditionally designed laptops.
The Series 3 was snappy, fluid
With the above said, lets move on to performance. One of the key reasons this machine is so darn’ cheap is because it runs on a dual-core Samsung Exynos 5250 processor, which is cheaper to source than any Intel processor as used within the Series 5 which costs much more than this Chromebook. I found over a weeks worth of use that the Series 3 was snappy, fluid and more than capable of keeping up with a varied amount of performance tests. Writing this editorial was a breeze, updating Twitter accounts through the Tweetdeck apps was fine and you only really see a performance decrease with at least 8 web tabs open at any one time. For me, this was no problem, and throughout my use with the Series 3 it was snappy, fluid, and never felt like it needed extra oomph under the hood or a blue sticker of approval from Intel.
Chrome OS, the backbone of any Chromebook shell
So overall I have really enjoyed my time with the Chromebook Series 3 in terms of its design and aesthetic, so what of Chrome OS, an operating system of which I had never used before up until 7 days ago?
The whole point to Chrome OS is that nowadays a lot of what can accomplished on an offline desktop can be carried out online. In this sense, the Chromebook does a fantastic job, or for me it was a highly productive machine anyway. My main source of income comes from content creation and blogging, and as such, all I need to work effectively is a laptop with basic internet access — everything else the Chromebook ships with is a bonus for me, given this machines price.
Setting up my Chromebook was a breeze and all it required was a quick charge out of the box and the lid to be flipped open. I was then asked to select my language, input my Google Mail account, and hey presto! Chrome OS updated to the latest version and I was as free as bird, as Lynrd Skynrd famously sang.
Overall Chrome OS is a slick experience. It is familiar in a sense compared to Windows, due to Chrome OS featuring a task bar at the bottom, however unlike a traditional desktop files and apps can not be applied to your home screen. Instead, you put them in the taskbar, or leave them within the apps folder handily accessible through not just clicking on the taskbar icon but also by hitting the search key.
By default the taskbar displays Chrome, Gmail, Google Search, Google Drive and YouTube. All of these of course once clicked launch in the Chrome web browser, where all work is carried out ultimately. Speaking of Google Drive purchasers of this Ultrabook get 100 GB of free Drove storage redeemable upon Chromebook activation.
Working exclusively in the Chrome web browser has been for the most part been a fluid experience. For those who rely heavily on Gmail and are familiar with Google Docs, the Series 3 (or any Chromebook, for that matter) gives one the ability to get some real work done. This is a major selling point for a Chromebook over a tablet computer, which whilst offering app and internet working conditions like a Chromebook, does not feature a real keyboard or a display which can be tilted to comfortable view.
All settings for the computer such as track pad sensitivity, keyboard settings, users and search settings are found within the Chrome web browser.
Another 7 days ahead
When I first started to use my Chromebook, I didn’t really get it. Sure I knew about the concept, its intended market, however the thought that kept crossing my mind was what is the benefit of this versus a netbook? Well in terms of design, you will not find a netbook built as well as this for the price asked of it. Nor will you find a netbook which boots up in 5 seconds flat, or wakes up from hibernation within 1 second. The Chromebook is an extremely solid device for accessing the internet offering not just apps and games like a tablet does from its app store but a traditional keyboard for heavy typing too, and that’s the major benefit of one over a tablet computer also.
Overall I have really enjoyed my first week with my Google Chromebook, and look forward to another 7 days ahead.
For just £229 you can have a brand new laptop which looks fantastic, features a build quality in excess of its price tag and allows you to browse the internet and get some serious typing work done should you need to. How cool is that? Very, if you ask me, and whilst the Series 3 has a few niggles (its speakers to name but one) and Chrome OS isn’t as feature rich nor as fully pleasant to use as Windows 8, it is more than capable and willing to please you as the end user.
Would I recommend the Series 3 Chromebook? Yes. You’d be a fool not to consider one as a secondary computer.
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