First Hour With: A Samsung Chromebook

What follows is an account of my first hour with a Samsung Chromebook. This device was sent to me on loan from Samsung UK and you are about to follow my stream of conscience whilst using the device:

So the first thing I notice is that it is incredibly heavy when compared to the MacBook air. The actual surface area is not much bigger and I would expect it to have fewer internal components (due to the lack of storage space needed), so I struggle to understand why it is so heavy.

It’s actually quite attractive, except for the vents on the side and the janky covering of the USB port—it basically feels like something you’d find on a point and shoot camera, covering the memory card.

The keyboard is that standard chicklet affair that you see these days on many laptops and is ok to use. The trackpad feels very peculiar to me now as I have definitely been spoilt by Apple’s glass implementation. The Chromebook’s trackpad is a standard textured plastic—but is pretty big, which is good and clickable too. There are no buttons.

Something that is instantly noticeable is the lack of a caps lock key. This has been replaced by a search button (denoted by a magnifying glass). Where it’s cool to have a key like this I find it’s placement weird. The left alt key is about double the size of that on a regular keyboard – as there is no windows or cmd key– which would have made a perfect placement for it and would have made sense as a a key that defines this OS as different. Chuck a Google logo on it for all I care.

When you boot up for the first time you are prompted to enter your Google login credentials as this is how you will continue to access the device. After signing in and the OS launches, the first thing I notice is the fan kicking in. Straight away.

The OS has pulled in my bookmarks from Chrome and I’m taken to the App Store. Launching a new tab shows a bunch of Apps, mainly regular Google apps – like Gmail, docs and Calendar – but I also notice apps called File Manager and Scratchpad. These are obviously pre-installed to ensure basic OS functions are taken care of. Additionally any app I have previously downloaded in Chrome is there for me to see.

The screen is really poor. Colours are very washed out. I visited the 70Decibels site and everything looks more blue and less vibrant than usual. The screen actually reminds me of laptops from a bygone era. Poor effort. So I launched Angry Birds (obviously) it took a short time to load – turns out this is because it was installing for offline play – and it plays poorly too. Gameplay is choppy and strained. The Chromebook’s hates those birds more than the pigs—it would seem. YouTube works fine though.

The keyboard has the usual media keys (volume up and down) but it also has some browser specific keys (forward, back and reload) which is nice.

I’ve had this machine switched on for about 20 minutes now and the underside is starting to get warm. I have no idea what this machine thinks its doing, but right now I have two static web pages open.

One cool feature is the instant on. Very much like a MacBook Air. They also have an 8 second boot time. Impressive.

So I thought I’d go and find out a little about the device itself. Apparently I have a 12.1” model with Wifi. So I went to the official Chromebook page and discovered that this thing costs $350! That makes little to no sense to me. I’m not saying go and buy an MacBook Air – obviously this is for a different market – but buy an iPad. The iPad has more apps that are much more sophisticated. It doesn’t get hot (ignore the press) it doesn’t have an ugly ass vent. It has a gorgeous screen (whether you go Retina or not) and even the on-screen keyboard is better than the one this ships with.

Samsung were very kind to ship this to me to play with. So I guess I’m sorry for giving them such a hard time, but I can literally see no point in buying this machine. Just get an iPad.

After 35 minutes I can take no more. Well I say that. The OS has now locked up on me and I can’t log out. I can see the benefit of a device like this – a cheap laptop with online access and web apps – but at this price I cannot see it fitting a home or school user.