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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  • gisabun

    I purchased a netbook in 2009 and it was rated for 9.5 hours. Got more like 7 hours out of it but I think the battery pack was bigger.
    Personally I wouldnm’t touch Chrome OS. As mentioned, with minor exceptions, if you don’t hsave the Internet [assuming it has a NIC aside from WiFi] then it is basically a brick. When mentioned using a local Gmail application offline, what’s the point? You can’t send or receive.

    Also hesistant on your web browser as your “desktop”. Chrome the browser is still is high in security vulnerabilities [ see
    ]. So I’m wondering that if malware hits the browser in Chrome OS, it affects everything. One big paperweight.

  • WiMax

    For an industry publication, I’m surprised that the writer was unaware that the O/S is “Chromium” while the browser is “Chrome”.

    This is just the beginning of cloud computing for the masses. This PC is being targeted to low budget buyers that need to use the Internet. Google is also targeting education and has a special education division where those buyers can purchase direct for even less. (As low as $99).

    The Chromebooks are the perfect mix of Internet appliance at an attractive price point. The writer is correct that if you need more functionality, this probably is not the right choice. Anyone thinking of purchasing a traditional netbook should opt for this. Finally, the computers themselves do not need to run on Chromium. There are many people that have installed Linux standalone and as dual boot.

    Finally I’m surprised that the writer did not mention the Chromebook Pixel. It is unlike any of the other Chromebooks. It’s a high end machine that is very functional – premium video, audio, etc,… At $1299, it should be premium technology!

    • Jeff Jedras

      Chromium OS is an an open source OS you can download from Google and install on your PC.

      Google’s own build, which only ships pre-installed on devices from its hardware partners (such as the Samsung Chromebook I tested) is referred to as Chrome OS.

    • gisabun

      Sales to schools didn’t really take off. At one point this spring, it was reported that the total sales of all Chromebooks totalled 500,000. Considering that Google claimed that over 2,000 schoold bought some [that averages to 250 per school *IF* you exclude consumers], that isn’t great. [Oh, total number of schools in the US: Elementary: 88,982; Secondary: 27,575; Combined: 14,837; Other: 1,262 – less than 2% of schools use them.]

  • jimlove

    I tried a two week stint with one of the earlier Samsung Chromebooks. I’m a self confessed Google fan so I was willing to take the plunge and see if it could replace my laptop.

    The pluses? it was fast. It was cool (in the sense that it gave off little or no heat). It ran forever on a charge. Only one thing killed me. I discovered in today’s world how many times wireless actually drops. It was more than I thought.

    I went back to my MacBook Air – light, cool, almost as efficient and always able to use it unless you forget your cable and find out that you can’t borrow one from anyone or buy one except in a Mac store — but I digress. (Yes, even Mac’s make me crazy).

    I tried another Windows lightweight laptop but I discovered that I’m one of those modern luddites who really struggle with Windows 8. I never thought I’d stop making fun of that Start Menu. Go figure.

    The bad news? The MacBook Air costs 10 times what the new Chromebook sells for. And even my fully loaded Windows computer cost way less than the MacBook. So if you are constantly in wireless contact, and you want to save some bucks, have a very fast and light alternative, the Chromebook is worth a try. If you use Google Drive and Gmail already its even a better deal. At 250 bucks, it’s really cheap second (or in my case and I admit I’m crazy – a third) laptop.

    • gisabun

      There is a difference between a MacBook Air and a Chromebook. To start off with, you actually have ap;plications locally that you can use. You can also use the MacBook Air when not connected to the Internet to do something. Of colurse you can actually do some [real] work such as video edition, audio editing, etc.