When the Google Chromebook was first introduced in 2011, there were plenty of doubters. Apple (AAPL) practically owned the ultraportable market with its MacBook Air line. Microsoft (MSFT) and Intel (INTC) were continuing to promote Windows Ultrabooks. And tablets were eating up the low end of the portable PC market.
A Google Chromebook would be coming into a crowded marketplace that was already suffering slowing sales. And after the experience of lightweight Netbooks that turned out to be useless in many cases, the expectation for these inexpensive devices was that any Google Chromebook review was bound to be scathing.
When Google and its hardware partners announced they were introducing a third portable PC platform — this one based on Google’s lightweight Chrome operating system — it seemed destined to be one of those Google projects that goes nowhere, like the Nexus Q or Google Buzz. The first generation from Acer and Samsung (SSNLF) failed to win over most critics (it was tough to find a Google Chromebook review from that era that was glowing), but Google didn’t give up.
Subsequent generations of Chromebooks have been much improved. And while you could drop $1,299 for the Google Chromebook Pixel with its ultra high resolution display, to me Chromebooks make more sense in the $250 price range. Then any shortcomings are made up for through sheer value.
That’s the price point of the Samsung Chromebook Series 3 (303C12) I recently spent a few weeks with. Read our Google Chromebook review to see how this Samsung version fared.
Google Chromebook Review – Samsung Clearly Looks to Apple for Inspiration
I’ve been a big fan of the Apple MacBook Air since it was introduced. Samsung (no stranger to copying Apple) has done a pretty decent job of replicating the look of the MacBook Air with its Google Chromebook Series 3. Think I’m being harsh on Samsung? Check out the photo on the right with the Samsung Chromebook Series 3 beside my 11-inch MacBook Air. Mine isn’t the only Google Chromebook review that’s noted this uncanny resemblance.
Outside of the visual similarities, there are things you need to know about the Samsung Chromebook Series 3 hardware. First, where Apple MacBooks and many Ultrabooks are made of aluminum, this Google Chromebook is made of painted plastic. It uses a mobile CPU — not an Intel (INTC) processor — and the LED display is nothing special.
It also has only 2MB of RAM, 16 GB of storage and the keyboard is a little mushy. The lid is tight and makes the device top-heavy — it’s very easy to accidentally flip the whole thing over when adjusting the display angle. In its Google Chromebook review, PC Mag was getting over 5 hours of battery life on the Samsung 303C12; I frequently saw six hours in mixed use.
But, that 16GB is an SSD so booting up is a wicked fast 10 seconds and the keyboard is better than most Bluetooth add-on versions for tablets. And above all, you have to remember, this machine cost only $249 … so premium touches are going to be missing. Any Google Chromebook review that directly pits this dirt cheap Samsung machine against a $999 MacBook Air or even a $500 PC laptop in a hardware shootout is missing the point.
Google Chromebook Review – The Samsung Chromebook Experience
There’s no getting around the fact that using Google Chrome requires an adjustment. Not only is the user interface different than what a Windows or OSX user is accustomed to (think tabs and lots of them), the Chrome experience is highly reliant on the cloud.
Instead of Microsoft Office, you’re using Google’s online application –Google Docs, for example — and files are primarily stored in the cloud via Google Drive. Contrary to what many people think, the Google Chromebook is not useless when there’s no Wi-Fi, but you need to plan ahead and save files locally to the SSD if you want to work on them offline.
Forget about gaming for the most part, although Google does have a Chrome Web Store where you can buy apps like Angry Birds and Facebook for the Samsung Chromebook Series 3, so you do have access to some of the casual use experience of a tablet (although app selection is sparse compared to Google Play). As TechRadar points out in its Google Chromebook review, those third-party apps are browser-based and may require a web connection. So yes, you can work offline, but entertaining yourself with the Samsung Chromebook may be tougher.
Chrome itself has some distinct advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, it doesn’t require much horsepower, so a mobile CPU is enough to keep things humming and there’s no fan to add noise. That mobile CPU also means decent battery life. Chrome allows multiple user accounts, so sharing the Samsung Chromebook Series 3 while maintaining privacy and personal settings is easy. Chromebooks also check for updates on launch and automatically install any patches, making for a low maintenance and secure device.
On the downside, it’s easy to end up with dozens of tabs open in the browser-based OS. With only 2GB of RAM, the Samsung Chromebook Series 3 starts to chug until tabs were closed.
Google Chromebook Review – Samsung Chromebook Specs
- 11.6-inch LED display at 1366 x 768 resolution
- 2 GB RAM
- 16 GB solid state storage (SSD)
- Samsung Exynos 5000 series dual-core CPU at 1.7GHz
- Full sized keyboard (optimized for Chrome)
- 3W stereo speakers, internal microphone and 3.3MP built-in web cam
- 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capable (version tested in Google Chromebook review was Wi-Fi, but 3G is available as an option)
- Ports include VGA (dongle required), HDMI, 1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0, headphone out/microphone in, multi-card slot (SD/SDHC/SDXC)
- Multi-touch touch pad
- 2 cell Li-Po 4080 mAh battery rated for 6.3 hours
- Weighs 2.43 pounds
- Includes 100GB of free Google Drive storage for two years
Google Chromebook Review – Conclusion
I was a bit of a doubter coming in to this Google Chromebook review (I just can’t wrap my head around a $249 computer being much good for anything, especially after suffering through Netbooks). But I have to admit that after using one, I see the appeal of Chromebooks … and the Samsung Chromebook Series 3 is a pretty representative of the value the devices offer.
The primary demographic for these things is families, especially those with kids. When you have a home Wi-Fi network, a Chromebook becomes an extremely affordable computer that can handle pretty much any school assignments you throw at it. It also does just fine for watching streaming video. It’s lightweight, compact, has reasonable battery life and a real keyboard — unlike a tablet. It boots quickly and you can set it up with multiple user accounts, making it ideal for sharing.
With the Samsung Chromebook Series 3 priced at $249, that makes it a real value proposition. It’s in the same ballpark as most 7-inch tablets, but includes a keyboard that makes all the difference when trying to get work done — at a fraction of the cost of a Windows or Mac laptop and half the price of a Surface 2 tablet with keyboard cover.
If you’re looking for a gaming rig, high performance laptop, the ability to run Windows (or Office), a high resolution display or full offline functionality, this Google Chromebook review should convince you to stick with a traditional laptop.
Although some users swear by its functionality in a business setting (it does have low cost and easy maintenance going for it), I just don’t see this particular Google Chromebook booting PCs out of the office. But at $249, the Samsung Chromebook Series 3 makes a compelling case as a student computer, an extra home PC or a tablet alternative when typing is a frequent activity.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.