Performance (Real World Use)
Our traditional performance and benchmark section doesn’t really apply to the ChromeBook for two reasons:
- We’re dealing with a new operating system that isn’t compatible with traditional synthetic benchmarks.
- The Google Chrome operating system has limited functionality in its offline mode at the time of this writing.
That second bullet point is my core criticism of the ChromeBook’s performance. The ChromeBook is essentially a platform for showcasing the Google Chrome web browser and Chrome-based apps. Sure, the Samsung ChromeBook has USB ports and a SD/SDHC/SDXC card slot on the side of the laptop for accessing files that need to be uploaded to the cloud, but the directory and file management portion of the Chrome OS is slow and unpolished.
When we took a 16GB SDHC memory card out of a digital camera and put it into the memory card reader on the ChromeBook it took 15 seconds before the ChromeBook could recognize the files and display a list of the files. When we clicked on an image file to view it we had to wait another 6 seconds before the Chrome-powered laptop could open the file. We tried a similar test with a 16GB USB flash drive. The ChromeBook recognized that a storage device was connected to a USB port but it refused to display the directory listing … in other words, you couldn’t see the files to open them.
Whether you’re an average consumer or a business professional, I’m sure it’s frustrating to have a laptop that doesn’t work with some USB drives. I guess if you want an important file then someone will have to email it to your Gmail account or another web-based file-delivery system.
Speaking of the web, the $499 Series 5 ChromeBook features 802.11a/b/g/n wireless plus 3G wireless through Verizon. The Wi-Fi reception was pretty good but I did notice my signal strength on the ChromeBook wasn’t as good as the Wi-Fi strength on my Alienware M11x. The 3G access is pretty easy to setup using the on-screen tutorial and Verizon gives you 100 MB of free data every month for two years with no contracts, no activation fee and no overage fees.
My only complaint with the included 3G service is the 100 MB data limit. Sure, 100 MB is better than nothing and you only had to pay $499 for the ChromeBook. However, since the Chrome OS does virtually everything online and uses cloud-based storage you will literally burn through 100MB of data after you download a few apps of have to upload or download an important files for work. For example, I downloaded four PDF documents in a few minutes and that was 37.6 MB of my 100 MB limit for the entire month!
If you overlook the free 3G data limits, the ChromeBook is very convenient for general web browsing. The laptop takes about 5 seconds to reach the login screen from a completely cold start. Complete boot up takes about 15 seconds, with most of that time being used to load whatever pages you were viewing during your last browser session. The speedy response is a testament to the Google Chrome OS and the 16 GB SSD (no slow hard drives here). The dual-core Intel Atom processor continues to struggle with streaming HD video playback regardless of the speed of your internet connection. Standard definition YouTube and Hulu play with minimal stutter but 720p videos suffer from stutter, lag and occasional dropped frames. Don’t even waste your time trying to watch a 1080p YouTube video on the ChromeBook … it’s simply a horrible experience.
In short, the Samsung Series 5 ChromeBook is fine for “old fashioned” web browsing such as checking email and viewing text-heavy websites, but modern web browsing that involves watching HD video is fundamentally beyond the capabilities of this modest laptop.
In our standard test with the notebook screen set to approximately 70 percent brightness and set to constantly refresh a webpage at 60-second intervals, the Samsung Series 5 ChromeBook managed to stay running for 8 hours and 14 minutes while using Wi-Fi and kept running for 6 hours and 49 minutes while using the 3G broadband connection. Lowering the screen brightness or letting the system enter sleep mode would have extended the battery life even further.
This amount of battery run time is likely more than enough for most consumers, particularly if you’re used to a traditional budget notebook that might deliver only half as much (or even less) battery life. That said, we’ve seen full featured notebooks running Windows 7 that deliver more than 10 hours of battery life running on Wi-Fi.
Battery life test results (higher scores mean better battery life):
Although the battery life is good, I wasn’t overly impressed by the battery life on this laptop considering that the ChromeBook is essentially just a Google Chrome web browser in a laptop shell running on a large battery. If Windows-based laptops with better features can deliver the same battery life or better, there’s no reason that a ChromeBook shouldn’t keep running for more than 10 hours.
My other complaint about the battery is that it is a slow-charge battery and power adapter. It takes more than 12 hours to charge a completely drained battery back to full capacity.
Heat and Noise
The ChromeBook, like most Intel Atom-based netbooks, features a cooling fan to push hot air away from the processor when it starts to work hard. That said, I only noticed the fan noise when I put my ear up against the bottom of the notebook. If you’re working in a typical office environment with humming florescent lights or a noisy air conditioner then you likely won’t be bothered the fan on the ChromeBook.
The exterior temperatures were mostly “lap friendly” but there were a few hot spots (such as near the power jack) that would be uncomfortably warm if you have the Samsung ChromeBook on your lap. On one hand, I can forgive the odd hot spot on a laptop with such a thin chassis because there isn’t much room inside for parts (thus adding to the heat). However, there isn’t a massive hard drive or other powerful components inside the ChromeBook … so I don’t understand why the exterior temperatures can’t stay below 100 degrees Fahrenheit. We measured the exterior temperatures with an IR thermometer in our lab where the ambient room temperature was 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Samsung Series 5 ChromeBook offers some exciting advantages for a $499 laptop. For starters, you get contract-free access to the Verizon 3G wireless network and 8+ hours of battery life. Add to that a nice 12-inch matte display that is very easy to read outside under bright sunlight. You also get the very promising Google Chrome operating system that uses cloud-based storage so your important files aren’t lost if you lose your laptop. This also makes it easy to replace your laptop and quickly get back to work.
Despite these advantages, we cannot in good conscience recommend the Samsung Series 5 ChromeBook for the majority to laptop users. For starters, the lack of abundant built-in storage for apps and files means that you MUST rely on cloud storage for all but the most basic tasks. That’s fine if you’re somewhere with WiFi or Verizon 3G access, but if you’re in a 3G dead zone or if you’re on an airline that doesn’t offer in-flight Wi-Fi then your fancy ChromeBook is effectively nothing more than a paperweight. Yes, you can download a few apps for offline use, but most still require access to the internet for full functionality.
The biggest problem with the ChromeBook is the same problem faced by Google’s Chrome operating system. When you show it to most people their immediate response is, “So … it’s just a web browser?” And that first impression is pretty accurate at the time of this writing.
I have little doubt that consumers will embrace the Google Chrome operating system as more apps become available and our wireless infrastructure improves to the point that you ALWAYS have wireless access. Unfortunately, at present there is little reason for most people to buy a ChromeBook when you can buy a better Windows-based laptop for the same price and purchase contract-free 3G or 4G access separately.
- Chrome OS offers fast startup
- Cloud storage makes it effortless to replace a laptop
- Awesome matte (anti-glare) screen
- It’s “a browser in a box”
- Essentially a paperweight if you lose Wi-Fi or 3G access
- Minimal local storage