The Chromebook

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.

Introduction Inside the new Chromebook
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  • eddman - Thursday, November 01, 2012 - link

    What your comment has to do with what I wrote?! I never mentioned anything about smartphones.
    I just pointed out that you cannot compare an old 45nm chip with a brand new 32nm one, consumption wise.

    Then again, just because we haven't seen clover trail on smartphones, doesn't mean it consumes too much power.
    Reply
  • Hulk - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - link

    Good quality IPS screen on my next laptop or I stay with my Dell 640m forever.
    Put a SSD in it recently and I'm totally fine with it.
    Reply
  • slackpenguin - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - link

    I keep reading these comments on reviews for this device like "wouldn't some other device be a better value for $250?"

    How many of you actually go and buy $250 used clunker laptops and are overjoyed with the "value" you just picked up over a 2.5 lb, 0.8 inch, fanless laptop with a warranty?

    I haven't seen $250 laptops that come with any "advantage" of a "proper OS". New $250 laptops almost always come with Windows 7 Starter. Used, almost always blank or Windows XP Home. They inevitably either weigh 6 lbs or run a dog slow Atom with 1GB RAM and a 4200 or 5400 rpm drive that is soundly beat by this new Exynos chip setup.

    Granted, you can upgrade most any of these clumsy $250 devices talked about for another $40 as Microsoft is desperate for you to use tiles instead of a start menu.

    It sounds like most of these comments are from people who would see value in the "Homer Car" over one of those Smart cars. There are plenty of devices out there for you people. This "value" comment is just getting annoyingly repetitive.
    Reply
  • eddman - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - link

    You are right about the 250$ range, but with a little more you can get some good stuff.

    http://www.bestbuy.com/site/Asus+-+14%26%2334%3B+L...

    http://www.bestbuy.com/site/Asus+-+15.6%26%2334%3B...
    Reply
  • TrackSmart - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - link

    Anand,

    Why not add a few words comparing this to a standard netbook? $250 sounds like a unique price class, until you hop on Newegg and see that netbooks can be had for similar prices. Here's an 11.6" model for $278 that runs an AMD C60 CPU, 4GB RAM, and 320GB HDD: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    Key questions worth addressing in the article:
    1) Is the Chrome user-experience dramatically better than running Windows on a low-end processor? [Particularly the more efficient Windows 8 platform.]
    2) Do the advantages of a lightweight operating system really outweigh the lack of versatility compared to a full-blown OS?
    3) Many of us have purchased netbooks as replacements of our parents ancient laptops. Does this Chromebook do a better job than netbooks at meeting basic computing needs?
    Reply
  • Krysto - Thursday, November 01, 2012 - link

    Yes it is, and Windows 8 is not that much more efficient than Windows 7. Maybe 5% more efficient. Reply
  • TrackSmart - Thursday, November 01, 2012 - link

    To clarify, this isn't a "yes" or "no" question that I wanted an answer to. The "answer" depends on your computing needs and what you can afford.

    I have my own general answers. For my purposes, the Chrome OS is too limited for what I want to do with a laptop-like device. The *concept* of a lightweight operating system that can run on low-end hardware is fantastic. However, the Chrome OS ecosystem is still lacking in features and software availability. Microsoft's RT operating system sounds like it is getting closer to this goal, at least if Anandtech's review is to be believed. We'll have to see if 3rd party software appears to round-out the ecosystem. And the price is still $600 if you want the keyboard cover, so out of this sub-$300 discussion.

    On the other hand, a Windows-based netbook can run all of the software I need, but painfully slowly. It's the reason I don't own a netbook and chose to spend more than $300. But if $300 is all you have to spend, and you need something portable that runs all of your productivity software, an 11.6" netbook might be better for you than a Chromebook.
    Reply
  • karasaj - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - link

    Does anybody notice that A15 pretty much beats the Z2760 from the Surface review hands down in every way?

    If only Surface RT had that. But then again that might say just as much about IE versus chrome.
    Reply
  • alvinchim - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - link

    Anand: How fast does this boot up? Is it like a smartphone/tablet, instantaneous? Is it like an apple ssd/os, pretty quick? Or like a window 7 SSD watch the screens go by? Or like a windows xp/hd x 7 years old, you might as well sort the laundry, text your girlfriend, and brush your teeth boot? That's a big question, because this really is like a tablet with a keyboard and a bad screen. Reply
  • slackpenguin - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - link

    I keep seeing figures of 10 seconds cold boot, 2 seconds from sleep mode, and 3 seconds off. Reply

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