Chromebook review

As you may know already, I recently bought a Samsung Chromebook. Since it is a fairly new computer and reviews can be quite rare, I thought it would be a good idea to give you my feeling after a couple of weeks of daily use.
Please note I may do a lot …

As you may know already, I recently bought a Samsung Chromebook. Since it is a fairly new computer and reviews can be quite rare, I thought it would be a good idea to give you my feeling after a couple of weeks of daily use.

Please note I may do a lot of comparisons with both a MacBook Pro since my girlfriend has one, a MacBook old generation since it’s the laptop I had before.

So, the Chromebook is an ultraportable laptop from Google running on Chrome OS (Linux core) mostly made for web browsing sold at a lovely price: €299.

Samsung Chromebook - photo by Alix Lucas

Hardware

General

Let’s start by the whole hardware part. First of all, I think it’s pretty nice even if it doesn’t compete with the MacBook Pro. Obviously.

I’m not so comfortable with very technical specifications so I’ll just leave it here: Exynos 5 Dual Core 1.7Ghz, 2GB DDR3 RAM, 16GB SSD storage.

Yes, you read right. Only 16GB hard-drive. This is because you’re meant to store all your data on the cloud (understand Google Drive). On the bright side: no fan, no noise. It’s absolutely silent. A fly would make more noise than this.

Shell

The whole shell is not in aluminium but in (good) plastic which is why you don’t have the same feeling as the MBP, but that’s definitely better when it comes to the weight (and the price). Indeed, the Chromebook 11.6" is very lightweight with only 1.1Kg (which has to be 2.4lbs to some of you) for 1.8cm thick.

In any case, you can tell it is a small computer halfway through a regular laptop and a netbook.

Screen

Chromebook 11.6" screen resolution is limited to 1366*768 which is enough if you want my opinion. However the screen quality isn’t awesome. Indeed, the Chromebook uses a lower-end display with pretty bad sight angles. So you wouldn’t buy the Chromebook for its screen.

Anyway, since this laptop is mostly made for web browsing and small applications, I think it’s more than enough.

Thus I can still enjoy fullscreen Youtube videos without having my eyes bleeding, but I still prefer watching movies on my TV when I’m home (especially given the screen size).

Note: the Chromebook comes with a 0.3 megapixels webcam.

Audio

There are two speakers on the bottom case which isn’t great when the laptop is put down (on a table, your knees, the couch, the bed) which is pretty much always the case. So the sound isn’t great.

It’s not awful, definitely not awful but it’s not high-quality sound. So if you want high-quality sound, you may need to plug in external speakers or headphones.

Battery

Oh man, this is good. You can rely on an average 6.5 hours battery lifetime with a regular usage. This may vary according to your usage; from 5 hours when streaming, up to 9 hours when casual browsing.

This is definitely a plus not having to worry much about the battery (at least for me).

Keyboard

The keyboard is pretty nice, really. Keys are large and smooth so typing is quite easy and most importantly, noiseless.

Samsung Chromebook - photo by Alix Lucas

The Chromebook keyboard has been rearranged and optimized for web browsing. Indeed, the upper row contains "back", "forward" and "refresh" keys. You also have a "fullscreen" and a "alt-tab" like keys along with the traditional "luminosity", "volume" and "power" buttons.

Note the "caps-lock" button has been replaced by the "search" button (quite similar to the "Windows" button) and "ctrl" and "alt" are pretty huge.

One funny detail is how letters are in lowercase on the Chromebook keyboard when all other keyboards are using uppercase. Made me smile when I noticed it. :)

Trackpad

Chrome gives us a close to MBP trackpad with a double-finger vertical swipe to scroll and double-finger tap as a right click which is pretty neat.

However trible-finger swipe doesn’t go back in history like on a MacBook Pro; instead, it moves one tab to the left or to the right depending on the direction.

This is actually cool but kind of disturbing when you have a MBP background. In a way, it makes sense since there are "backward" and "forward" keys on the keyboard.

In any case, the surface is not only smooth and pleasant, but also quite large. It has to be the best trackpad I ever had on a not-Apple laptop.

Connectivity

The Samsung Chromebook has 2 USB ports (USB2 & USB3), a HDMI connection and a SD card reader. All of these are on the back of the laptop which I don’t like much; I’d rather have them on the side. No big deal for sure, but having to plug / unplug something on the back of the laptop can quickly become a pain in the ass.

Beware, HDMI connection may be a problem if you plan on connecting your laptop to a monitor because it’s generally VGA. So if you plan on using your Chromebook for talks, remember to buy an adaptor first. ;)

Chrome OS

Chrome OS is freaking fast. It takes about 6 seconds between the moment you press the power button and the moment you’re on the desktop. This is probably due to the fact most applications and services run in the browser. Indeed, there are very few things installed on the computer aside of Google Chrome.

Minimal desktop of Chrome OS

The Chromebook is a web-based laptop, running on a web-based OS to use web-based applications. If you can’t stand Google services or don’t plan on having internet, this laptop isn’t for you.

Thus, the OS taskbar shortcuts essentially open new tabs in Chrome to Google services (Gmail, Google Drive, Youtube, Chrome Web Store, Google Maps, Google+…).

On a side note, Chrome OS comes with a built-in yet very simplistic image editor. This may sounds irrelevant but when you have images you want to crop / rotate for articles, this is really rad.

Working offline

Thankfully, Google thought about offline usage and made Gmail and Google Drive fully usable when not connected to internet. You can classify and even write mails on Gmail and write whole documents on Google Drive: everything will be synchronized / sent when WiFi is up again.

So this is pretty neat. Let’s say you have a couple of hours to kill in the train. No problem, you can deal with all your unread emails and work on your projets on Google Drive safely. No need for a connection.

There is even a section of the Chrome Web Store gathering offline applications (including games). Beware though, you need an internet connection to download these applications of course. ;)

Final thoughts

So far, I am pretty satisfied with this computer. I guess you can say Chromebook is a no-surprise laptop: you know from start you will need WiFi to do most things. You know from start it’s not a fucking beast. You know from start it is mostly made for web browsing and writing documents.

Once you know that, you can decide if you still want / need a Chromebook or not. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t do much aside from reading Twitter, making demos on CodePen, and writing articles on a computer now that I don’t play games anymore and the Chromebook is really suited for this stuff.


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