Samsung Series 3 Chromebook Review
A handy gadget to have on a holiday…
I got my Samsung Series 3 Chromebook from Best Buy (Union Square, New York City). There was a display model positioned where the Samsung section meets the non-Samsung laptops, which made some sort of sense. This is a Chromebook of the small and cheap variety.
When I got it back to my hotel room, I fired it up. It initially had Chrome 25 installed, but it eventually updated to Chrome 27 over my possibly-shaped 3.5G connection.
I did just a little bit of benchmarking, for anyone interested in web standards compliance and performance.
Chromebooks and Chrome OS
Chromebooks are laptops ranging in size and quality. They can be small and cheap like the netbooks a decade ago, or they can expensive and glorious like Google’s Pixel.
Chromebooks run Chrome OS (naturally). Chrome OS is basically a special Linux distribution that boots up Google’s Chrome browser instead of GNOME or KDE. Aura is a window manager that makes Chrome feel just a little bit more like a complete environment (like OS X or Windows). It adds a task bar and a launcher.
I did have my Nexus 4 and my Nexus 7, but it seems the only practical way to get any news on these devices is via a social network (in my case, Google+). If an RSS junkie wants to get any real consumption going, a desktop OS is basically mandatory. Thank goodness for Feedly.
Performance is fine, especially for the battery life. Browsing the web on the Chromebook is far smoother and faster than on the Nexus 7. It’s also much quicker to enter text, obviously, via the physical (yet cheap-feeling) keyboard.
Most things that work in Google Chrome work on the Chromebook, even the handy chrome://flags/ listing of experimental features.
I was able to make the touch pad scroll the same way I’ve finally become accustomed too on my MacBook Pro by selecting “Australian scrolling” in Settings.
The Chromebook came with vouchers for GoGoInFlight Wi-Fi, which I made use of on my domestic flights. This was a really nice touch. I just wish it was available on international flights.
The WiFi indicator looks very similar to the one in stock Android. However, unlike in Android, there are no little blinking up and down triangles to indicate current activity.
I played an episode of Zero Punctuation. The speaker(s) are surprisingly loud, although the Nexus 7 definitely had a clearer sound. Even when I picked the Chromebook up, it sounded a bit muffled. I will definitely not be listening to music on this device if I can help it.
I prefer to avoid the physical click action on touchpads. Unfortunately, there’s no way to perform drag-and-drop via touch alone, despite there being an experimental flag to that effect. The touchpad is also not as smooth as I’d like, but this isn’t a luxury device so I’m willing to let that slide.
Not all NaCl apps in the Chrome Web Store have been compiled for ARM. If you use this sort of app, then you probably ought to pick an x86 Chromebook for better compatibility.
The preview for the new Google Maps would occasionally crash with WebGL-related issues, but these were difficult to reproduce reliably.
I have a fairly long Google password, which makes waking and unlocking the Chromebook less than convenient.
This Chromebook model has a USB 2.0 port and a USB 3.0 port. Unfortunately, even as of Chrome 29, there is no UI to browse and manipulate the contents of a modern Android smartphone (via MTP or PTP). This is really strange and very disappointing. Why wouldn’t two Google devices want to get along?
If everything you want to do is on the web then this might very well be the perfect travelling companion. That is, as long as you can keep it fed with Wi-Fi. Without a network connection, Chrome OS doesn’t offer a whole lot.
I really appreciated having the power of a desktop web browser, as there are some activities that just aren’t pleasant or even feasible on a tablet or phone. Now that I’m back home, however, I’ll probably have trouble thinking of ways to use it.
Of course, if I get bored and adventurous, I could always try installing a real Linux distribution just like PJ @ Groklaw.