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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jeffkro - Friday, November 2, 2012 - linkYou do realize there is a higher end chromebook that runs on a ULV celeron cpu right. If you want better specs it is available.
jeffkro - Friday, November 2, 2012 - linkThe celeron runs windows pretty fast so you know its lighting fast for chrome OS.
agnar150 - Saturday, November 3, 2012 - linkYou could not be more wrong. The OS structure is inherently more secure and it is very much more secure than Windows.
Wolfpup - Friday, November 2, 2012 - linkHow is Windows not safe? I've been using it how long now? Decades? And had exactly zero security intrusions. Being the market leader so you're a big target doesn't mean the platform is less safe-in fact Microsoft takes security a lot more seriously than most closed source software does.
As for this unit...it remains ridiculous. I bought a $200 Acer running real Windows 7 on AMD hardware, and it's obviously a bajillion times more functional. This thing runs one single program-Chrome, on low end hardware, doesn't properly support external displays or other devices, can't replace my real PC for...much of anything, and it actually costs as much or more than superior devices...just like the older Chromebooks did.
epobirs - Friday, November 2, 2012 - linkUtter nonsense. There are tons of options for locking down Windows the average consumer doesn't bother with but the information is widely available. Just a few changes makes it far harder for malware to get any value from the machine.
The difference is that you still have the full capabilities of Windows and its software library, along with a choice of browsers, including Google Chrome.
The people I know who do serious online financial work wouldn't blink at spending a lot more than $250 to pay someone like me to teach them to lock down their machine for work. Putting up with the limitations of Chrome OS and paying for the privilege would strike them as absurd.
UltraTech79 - Friday, November 16, 2012 - link"People that do online investing and banking with significant assets" have better options than shitty chrome OS or standard windows. Ridiculous.
ddriver - Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - linkHave you actually checked the chrome store? there are plenty of good applications, especially concerning productivity, surely, the overall number of apps is much lower than android, but considering most of those are useless, it is not that big of a deal. You can do plenty of stuff on the chromebook, and that that price point it is a very good bargain.
Flunk - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - linkNo, honestly it doesn't. If you need a keyboard you buy one of the ASUS Transformer pads. This is a very limited device that won't get you very far and really doesn't have a reason for existing. If this was just a laptop-like device running android I could see the utility but Chrome OS is basically just a kneecapped version of android.
jeffkro - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - linkIts kneecapped for security, their is a reason for it.
klmccaughey - Thursday, November 1, 2012 - linkI would totally agree with this if there was an android with a keyboard and this hardware at this price point. The transformer is good, but it's far too expensive.
I got an Ipad 2 by accident, and between that and the laptop I don't think I need anything else. I hate Apple, which makes the whole experience confusing.