Published: May 8th, 2013

It was the best of OSes, it was the worst of OSes. OK, well maybe not the best (or the worst), but the contrast between the Google Chrome OS with WiFi access and without is quite stark.

I’ve had a Google Chrome OS-based laptop to play around with for a few weeks, and took it to a conference in San Francisco with me (along with a regular laptop as backup). While my comments will mainly focus on the OS, let me share a few thoughts on the Samsung Chromebook itself first.

I tested the XE303C12 Samsung Chromebook, and at 2.5 lbs and just 0.8 inches thick, it’s certainly not a physically-demanding travel companion. It’s powered by a Samsung Exynos 5 1.7 GHz dual core processor, with 2GB of Ram and a 16GB hard drive. The build quality is solid and it’s quite portable; and the 11.6” LED HD display was of acceptable quality. The 2 cell, 4080 mAh battery is rated for 6 hours; not bad, but would expect more from a netbook/ultraportable. My main issue though was with the one-button touchpad – I need my right clicks, particularly to correct my typos and misspellings.

I didn’t really set out to review the laptop itself though, but rather Google’s much ballyhooed Chrome OS. Basically, if you’ve used the Chrome browser, you’ll get Chrome OS. Basically, it’s just the browser. So, anything you can do in the browser, you can do with Chrome OS. Besides the obvious – browse the Internet – this includes web-based applications, and any of the extensions available in the Chrome OS store.

It’s more limiting than a full-fledged laptop running Windows, but the benefits are price (just $249 for the Samsung model) and speed (you can boot in under 10 seconds). Updates and security are included automatically

It’s a decent concept – after all, so much of what we do these days happens in the browser. We check our email, watch videos, browse the web. With Google Apps, we have a free full-fledged office suite, from word processing to spreadsheets. And there’s a plethora of in-browser games on the market as well.

Great in theory, but in practice it was underwhelming. The experience was much different depending on connectivity. If I had good WiFi access, it wasn’t bad. If I couldn’t connect, it felt like a brick. Yes, the are offline applications available for some programs, such as Google Apps and Gmail, but the experience wasn’t the same, and it all felt much more limited.

With laptops coming down dramatically in price, and vendors working to bring ultrabooks down closer to the $500 level, it’s harder to make the case for a Chromebook. If your computing needs are as limited as your budget, then maybe it makes sense. However, for a few hundred dollars more, you can buy so much more functionality.

While I applaud Google for thinking outside the OS, and I still have a netbook somewhere in my closet, I think the Chromebook is too late to market to have a real impact.

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