Samsung Chromebook (XE303) Review: Testing ARM's Cortex A15by Anand Lal Shimpi on October 31, 2012 9:00 AM EST
The new Chromebook, like its predecessors, is a completely plastic device. At $249 you're not going to get any tales of exotic materials or fancy new manufacturing processes. That being said, the Chromebook looks really good. For years, value notebooks have been equated with glossy, horribly styled pieces of junk. Samsung used a matte finish and styled the new Chromebook to look very similar to a lot of the current crop of Ultrabooks and Apple's MacBook Air. The result is a notebook that doesn't really look cheap, although I will add that in person the Chromebook doesn't look anywhere near as good as it does in Google's photos.
There's not much that can be done about the feel of the Chromebook however. It is made of and feels like plain old, hard plastic. I'm sure Vivek could go into tons of detail on the molecular composition of what Samsung used here, but the bottom line is it feels like what you'd expect a $249 notebook to feel like.
Despite material choice however, the device never gave me any indication that it would age particularly poorly. The typing surface is made of a single piece of plastic, with the bottom cover being the piece that's removable to gain access to the internals. I didn't encounter any creaks of squeaks while using the machine. The chassis felt fairly rigid. The display hinge is ok in my opinion, not overly confidence inspiring but not a clear issue.
The new Chromebook is remarkably thin and light. With an 11.6-inch display the new Chromebook weighs 2.42 lbs and is 0.7-inches thin. To deal with the thinner profile, Samsung moved most of the IO ports to the rear of the machine. You'll find two USB ports (1 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0), HDMI out, DC input for power/charging, charge indicator (orange for charging, green for charged) and a little door hiding what looks to be a micro SIM card slot. The latter is unused on the $249 Chromebook, there's literally nothing behind the slot so if you manage to stick anything in there you'll have to open up the Chromebook to get it back.
Around the left of the machine is a mic/headset combo port and an SD card reader. The SD card reader works quite well. Pop in an SD card and a window will appear with its contents. There's even a simple image browser.
There's no longer a physical switch to boot the Chromebook into recovery mode, instead you hold down the escape and refresh keys when powering on the machine. Then, once you hit the warning screen just hit ctrl + D to enter developer mode. Remember that the first boot into developer mode will wipe all user data stored on the internal NAND to avoid someone using this trick to get access to your files.
The USB 3.0 port is a bit useless on the new Chromebook. I dusted off my trusty Zalman SLC NAND USB 3.0 drive, capable of delivering more than 80MB/s and copied a 2.8GB file to the internal NAND. I timed the process and came away with an average transfer rate of around 12.7MB/s - well within the realm of USB 2.0 performance. Given the Exynos 5 Dual SoC features an integrated USB 3.0 controller, it's possible Samsung just wanted to take advantage of the feature and perhaps test its implementation. It's a nice checkbox feature but it does nothing for the end user as far as I can tell.
The HDMI output is also a bit hit or miss. Plugging the Chromebook into a relatively modern (~2 year old) Samsung LED backlit LCD HTDV caused the Chromebook to reboot itself. I had better luck by starting with the machine off then plugging in the HDMI cable, which at least gave me the Chrome logo on the TV but then quickly got into a mode where it kept alternating between sending 720p and 1080p signals to the TV, neither of which would go any further than a black screen. Moving my pointer around on the Chromebook itself just gave me a bunch of random visual artifacts (flashing black blocks in the lower quarter of the screen). I don't doubt that the HDMI output will work for some, but don't expect a whole lot of work to be put into compatibility testing there.
The speakers on the new Chromebook are surprisingly good for such a low cost notebook. WiFi is also not bad, with both 2.4GHz and 5GHz 802.11n support. The biggest take away here is that Google and Samsung deliver build quality and some of the chassis features of a value PC notebook for nearly half the price.
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actionjksn - Thursday, November 8, 2012 - linkHow would the performance on this compare to a similarly clocked Core 2 Duo? I'm talking about CPU tasks not graphics.
TheJian - Monday, November 12, 2012 - linkYou're forgetting to mention your basing that on a 1.3Ghz cpu from a year ago instead of the 1.7ghz tegra3+ that they're currently putting out (htc one x+ etc). That's about another ~27% you're leaving off NV's table right anand?
So Intel's current tech is just about to catch NV's old tech with Tegra4 just around the block that will increase cpu (I don't expect much here, but they don't need much already quad and performs on par with what just came out to a large degree), and double gpu since going quad instead of dual, so at worst it will double if no chip improvement at all, and dual channel finally. Looks like they'll be behind again just after launch I guess? They'll have to do better than catching last years tech. And they didn't make it into xmas devices like Tegra. So again NV will get their tech out in time in Q1 for craploads of devices to be planned all year. I'm thinking it's best to be fastest in March/April if you want to be designed into Xmas devices.
Surface may have chosen the 1.3ghz but they should have ran a 1.7ghz Tegra3+. I guess it saved them $10/surface (less?). I'm sure customers would rather pay $5-10 for another 30% performance. They should at least offer the option. Oh well. I told my dad to buy a Nexus 10 for xmas anyway and I'll wait for a great 10in Tegra4 as if I'm going to game (dad isn't much) I want Tegra game optimizations and everything out now isn't quite as good as I'd like for Xbox360 portable replacement and double as a laptop i9300 replacement (it's 8yrs old...LOL). Nvidia seems to be the only one helping devs make some great stuff and gaining praise from the likes of Carmack and Epic's Unreal team.
Tegrazone.com has some great games in the pipe. I'm looking forward to Baldurs Gate enhanced on a 65in TV in the near future too...LOL. That game should run on anything out by everyone on the top end and give gamers a good 100+hrs of fun on the bigscreen without an xbox360/ps3. With my limited game time, it should hold me over until android gaming really takes off. There are 5 unreal 3 engine games in the pipe now, and lots of other good looking stuff at tegrazone says next xmas should be excellent. I'm sure Id's engine will get used by them in a few games also. Between these and my PC I should have no reason to even look at an xbox720/ps4. I'm guessing a lot will be in the same boat.
I may have to pony up for the cube u30gt jelly bean to get me to xmas which should produce a tegra4+. Then again going from 40nm to 20nm there may be no need. That's a HUGE decrease in chip size and samsung is better than TSMC at any process. The U30GT (and it's ilk) look pretty dang good for $200 tablet at 10in for something to use for training vids/books etc until next year.
sathish2020 - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link"With Apple pushing at the top and Google working the bottom" Nice one.
deslock - Thursday, November 29, 2012 - linkThanks for the detailed (as usual) review. A question:
Since it idles at 6.33W and has a 30 Watt-hour battery, shouldn't it last less than 5 hours with the screen on? It lasted 6.07 hours in the browsing test.
ramonchis - Thursday, January 10, 2013 - linkHi. I got one of these a couple of days ago. In the first day I broke the LCD by putting some weight on the laptop.
I went to the store (Best Buy) to check if they could repair it of exchange it, but they did not offer any solutions.
So.... I would like to change the screen myself, which I have done in the past with other laptops.
Did you get a chance to open the screen lid? Do you know the LCD model?
calden - Sunday, January 27, 2013 - linkI have used the Chromebook Since the CR-48 then moved to the Acer and now this one. You will be surprised as to how useful the apps found in the Google store really are. I use Microsofts 365 and I am just as productive as if I was using the full program on a normal laptop. I recently found a new online service called Lime Documents, fantastic. The writing program is called Lime Writer and after using it I can honestly say I will never have any use for none web apps again. www.live-documents.com/live_writer.html The same goes for the Excel and Powerpoint clone, there awesome apps.
I love having the security the Chromebooks give me, I travel a lot and have either have had my laptop stolen or lost after a night of drinking. These give me the freedom of just shrugging my shoulders and saying oops instead of freaking out that someone now has photos of me and my dog with peanut butter. That was a joke of course it was the cat, at 250 dollars though these really are disposable computers.
My company recently bought over 300 Chromeboxes and Chromebooks. Our company is an all Unix environment with 90 percent of our data and internal apps being served from Oracle, in which all info is displayed with web apps. The few people who need Office or other software like the treasury department can display them using Citrix. A feature that was left out of the article, I for one use a CRM program called Goldmine. When I travel the 4G connection I have is more then fast enough to display this program and others. The Chromeboxes make a perfect dumb terminal, their also priced much better then the HP solution we were using. Google also doesn't mess about, we have many spares to switch out the defective ones if nessecsary. We then send them back to Google who just gives us new ones.
To tell you how useful a web program can be our software development team uses online development apps that were found in the Google store. They claim it's as good as if they were using Eclipse or Netbeans. I was actually amazed when they showed me. It's also a good employee incentive to give out a laptop to everyone even the secretaries. Yes they are just Chromebooks but our staff really seems to enjoy them as they can't muck'em up like they can with ordinary machines. We supply our people with Samsung 550's, the ARM version was deemed to slow but I took ome of the evaluation machines for my self as I like the size. I find it to be quick enough for my needs, I can stream 1080p movies from my Google Drive account without breaking a sweat so it's just fine for my needs.
qwerty321 - Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - linkOne of the guys working at Linaro claims he has the USB 3.0 port pushing 70+ MB/s. I'm guessing an engineer knows better than a laypress hack.
EvilTed - Saturday, September 7, 2013 - linkHe should enlighten everyone how?
I call BS on your enlightened engineers claims!
I'm fuming mad at Samsung for blatant false advertising.
I have tried ChromeOS as well as Ubuntu with Unity and XFCE and the average throughput over USB 3.0 is 16MB/s, which is slower than my 2011 Mackbook Pro over USB 2.0 :(
I actually bought my Chromebook for image transfer and storage from SD card to USB 3 drive.
The fact it cannot produce at all has left me with a $250 doorstop.
Class action suit anyone?