Customer Review

1,815 of 1,993 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Value, October 27, 2012
This review is from: Samsung Chromebook (Wi-Fi, 11.6-Inch) 2012 Model (Personal Computers)
I'm based in the UK and bought my unit there. However, physically this model is nearly identical to ours (to my knowledge only the keyboard layout and socket you need for charging it differs) and I've been using Chrome OS and previous Chrome hardware for a while, so I thought I'd give my take on this device.

I've owned the Cr-48 for a while, which was a kind of test unit Google sent out to people to beta test the operating system. That came out a long time ago and none of the commercial units have felt good enough to me to justify buying, up until now. They were always a little too expensive, despite the obvious advantages.

This will be a long review. For those wanting a short summary, I'll include one at the end.

The software

For those unclear, Chrome OS (which the Chromebook runs) is fundamentally different to a Windows, Mac or Linux-based laptop, desktop or netbook. This is because it runs the web. No native applications exist specifically for this machine. There are apps (sometimes referred to as Chrome apps) but they also work in the Chrome browser.

Because this computer runs what many call 'just a browser' it has several advantages, as well as disadvantages when compared to a Windows machine. I've chosen Windows for most comparisons here as more people typically use Windows than a Mac or Linux machine.

Security

You cannot install Windows applications (or other native software) on Chrome OS. This means that the computer can operate more securely than a Windows machine simply because the computer knows what should be installed. If something is there that shouldn't be there, the computer will erase all local data and install a version of the software that's stored in a secure area. Once you're connected to the internet, you'll be updated to the most recent version of the operating system. As your settings, bookmarks and Chrome applications are stored by Google, they are also restored after the machine is reset and you log in. Typically the operating system is updated every 6 weeks, meaning bugs get fixed pretty quickly (important bug fixes will arrive more quickly) and new features are released quickly, too.

Getting things done

This is where the big problem is for some people; you can't install Microsoft Office, Adobe's Photoshop or other software packages. You're limited to software that's delivered through a website. Most people are perfectly comfortable with using things like Facebook, Twitter and email this way. The web offers some pretty powerful tools, though. For instance, pretty sophisticated image editing software exists on-line, as do audio and video editing tools. Using the massive resources of the internet (typically referred to as 'the cloud') means that video editing and other resource-intensive tasks can be made dramatically quicker than doing it locally. Make no mistake though, if you do need something like Photoshop it's just not possible, unless you use software specifically designed to deliver 'normal' software through the web. Companies like Citrix offer products that can do that, but given the additional cost, it's usually only big businesses that use them.

If you don't need extremely-specialised software though, there's a lot available. Google, Zoho and Microsoft all offer tools that will let you create, open and export documents in popular formats, such as Microsoft Office. There are advantages to this approach, too. Google Docs (as an example) allows individuals to use their on-line document, spreadsheet and presentation software free of charge and, even better, you can collaborate with up to 50 people on the same document, practically in real-time. This sort of thing just isn't typically possible with traditional software. Where it is, it's likely to be clunkier than a web-based tool as a website just lets you login and work.

Calendars, Angry Birds, finance tools (Sage and QuickBooks are available through the browser) are all also available in this way. It's worth checking out if the things you'll want to do are available in this way before ordering a Chromebook.

There are also many off-line capable applications. That is, things that will work without an internet connection. These include Google Documents (editing and viewing) Google Docs spreadsheets (viewing) and things like Google Calendar. Keep in mind though that this is primarily a device for accessing the internet. Without a connection, this device is extremely-limited. Applications delivered through a browser will get more and more capable over time, though.

Other drawbacks

As I've said, not everything is available through a browser. Critical things that people take for granted either aren't available or are very different on a Chromebook.
It's not possible to watch AVI or MKV video files (at the time this was written) for example, without converting them. That's a big pain for some. Printing is different too, as you can't just plugin a printer on Chrome OS and have it work. For those that are curious, Google has a service called Cloud Print, which involves hooking up your printer to the internet. This approach does have an advantage in that you're able to print to your printer from anywhere with an internet connection, either from a mobile device or any installation of Chrome. For those without a printer that can connect to the internet independently of a regular computer, you can enable a normal printer by installing Chrome on a Windows machine and running it that way.

Storage

A key thing about Chromebooks is that they come with a 16GB hard drive. This is considered very low by modern standards as a typical Windows machine will come with a minimum of 500GB and often far more.

Google Drive is Google's solution for this. Essentially, Google Drive is on-line storage. It stores files from Google Docs and will store pretty much any type of file, too. A key thing is that it integrates with the file system, meaning you can save files directly to your account (Drive can be used on Windows and other computers, as well as Android and iOS devices) and access them from whichever device you're using.
By default, Drive comes with 5GB of storage. This isn't a huge amount, but for free on-line storage it's pretty typical. Many other services actually offer much less. However, if you buy a Chromebook you get 100GB free for two years, which is very useful given that it can be used across many devices. If after two years you're using more than whatever the normal free allowance is at that point (things do change) and you've not qualified for some other promotion, you'll no longer be able to add new files. Your existing data will be accessible, meaning files will not be deleted.
Another great thing about Drive is that files can be shared with others. Google Docs files are not counted towards your storage.
Again, it's worth noting that other great on-line storage solutions exist, such as Dropbox and Box. The difference of course is that they're not tightly-integrated with the Chromebook.

Hardware (general)

This new Chromebook is running on an ARM chip, the type of processor you'd typically find in a mobile phone or tablet. That may sound slow given the demands of a typical Windows machine, but it's very quick. It boots in around 7 seconds (it feels more like 5 as the logo is on the screen almost as soon as you open the lid) and you can be on-line with your normal tabs open in under 30 seconds with ease. The keyboard is extremely responsive and many professional reviewers have remarked that it's the best that's ever been on a Chromebook, which includes the much more expensive Samsung Series 5 550 machine. The trackpad, too, is very good indeed.

The machine is extremely responsive due to it needing very few resources to operate. If you attempt to run 20+ tabs, yes, it will slow down a whole lot. But if, like most typical users, you use this for email, Facebook and the like, you should have no performance issues. Depending on your usage, the stated 6.5 hours of battery life are very close. In fact I'd suggest that you'd get more, depending on screen brightness etc.

Other hardware

On this particular unit you'll find one USB 2.0 port, one USB 3.0 port, HDMI out (for putting what's on your screen on a bigger screen, like a computer monitor or TV) and an SD card reader. External USB hard drives work fine in my experience and many phones are treated properly as mass storage too. However certain devices such as external optical (CD/DVD) drives will not work at all. As a commenter noted, I originally forgot to point out that this machine has no moving parts because of the type of hard drive used. This means the machine is extremely quiet and doesn't get hot.

Miscellaneous

It should be noted that since Chromebooks are essentially stateless (that is, they have little personal data stored on them) they can be wiped at any time without a problem and you can start over. This also means that they can easily be shared and Chrome devices (a desktop version, called a Chromebox also exists) have something called Guest Mode, which allows a friend to browse the web without accessing your settings or bookmarks and when they're done, their browsing history is automatically deleted. For those with whom you share your Chrome device regularly, you can add them to the list of permanent users.

Summary

Essentially, if you use the web most of the time (this is what most computer users do) or want a second machine that can be used without any technical knowledge for that purpose by others in your household, this is an ideal device. If, however, you like to play a lot of 'real' video games or access specialised software, chances are that this device isn't for you. That said, this device is cheap enough that you can buy one for the couch or to use while you watch television. Due to the price of this machine, it's most likely to be compared to a low-end Windows machine (which are typically very slow) or a tablet, such as a Nexus 7.

If you want easy web access and don't care at all about typing, I'd suggest a tablet. A good quality tablet can (at the time of this review) be had for $199, including a high definition screen. But if typing and web access matters to you, I'd seriously consider this device.
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Comments

Tracked by 13 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 53 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 4, 2012 2:33:10 AM PST
I was very interested in this machine but needed to know if I could install my MS Office and this review gave me the "NO" I needed. So, for the moment -- No longer instrested.

Posted on Nov 4, 2012 6:10:04 PM PST
One of the best reviews I have ever come across. Particularly important in pointing out things that people like me (and that encompasses many) don't even realize, e.g., not every OS can run Photoshop--I'm a borderline Lightroom 4 fanatic, so that nugget turned me away from the Chromebook regardless of my enthusiasm for it earlier. Good work!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 5, 2012 5:47:17 AM PST
It's worth noting that if you *really* need Office, but like the idea of the machine, Google Docs will import and export to MS file formats. Though I noted that in the review, it's perhaps a point worth repeating. Also, Chrome Remote Desktop works fantastically well and would let you access a remote machine running Office. Finally, there's Office 365 which is more capable than Docs, but would come at an additional fee unless you're signed-up on a plan already for both that and the desktop version.

The above said, I completely understand that this type of computer isn't usable for everyone and I appreciate the implied compliment.

Posted on Nov 5, 2012 7:29:48 AM PST
Macjoubert says:
Awesome review Awesome,

I got the chromebook too but Im unable to download any .doc or .xls files from anywhere, be it Google Drive or SkyDrive where I edit them.
So the case is when I click on the download option it pops up a message saying open it with OpenDocument Viewer or something like that but doesnt download the file. When I try to save from OpenDocument Viewer it saves in an incompatible format that no one can open.
How did you download and edit word/excel files?

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 5, 2012 12:20:01 PM PST
On the video I did with files and media I got the file by putting it on a usb stick.
Personally, I've not ever wanted to download the file to the Chromebook. I work on files on-line or off-line so they can be printed or synced later, but the idea of actually saving the Word or Excel formatted file on the Chromebook just didn't ever occur to me. I'm guessing whomever is in charge of how Drive works on Chrome devices at Google assumed the same.

I'm absolutely not trying to excuse how it works. It is poor without question that you can't download the file locally in some capacity, but I really didn't ever think about needing to do it. Given that it's possible to email it to yourself or others, invite people to collaborate, print or view or edit it off-line (depending on the application) it just didn't occur to me.
On my Windows machine, I'm in the habit of downloading my CV as a .docx file for when I want to apply for a job, but I could just as easily email it directly from Google Drive and perhaps that's their thinking.

Posted on Nov 7, 2012 12:25:59 PM PST
JayB says:
Reviewer is correct. When I taught, I used Windows in my pc and laptop, but now that I'm retired, a web browser is all I need or want. I like this little chromebook. I still use my laptop and my pc and my Iphone.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 7, 2012 9:23:18 PM PST
I will keep watching the excellent comments on the Chrome Book in the hopes that it will develop an Excel-app which would allow the export of data, perhaps in .CSV format that I could pick up with my Office 10 Excel.

Thanks for the reviews.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 7, 2012 9:24:00 PM PST
I will keep watching the excellent comments on the Chrome Book in the hopes that it will develop an Excel-app which would allow the export of data, perhaps in .CSV format that I could pick up with my Office 10 Excel.

Thanks for the reviews.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 8, 2012 10:25:13 AM PST
Google's Sheets (previously called Spreadsheets) exports to CSV and XLSX, as well as a couple of other formats that you might find useful. Try it in your regular browser and see how well it imports and exports your files. If that's what's stopping you from seriously considering a Chromebook, it would be well worth trying it.

Posted on Nov 10, 2012 5:40:39 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 10, 2012 5:41:45 PM PST
SpartanA2 says:
Very nice review! It provided validation to research I have been doing before purchasing one for my wife. I would like to add one point of clarification. The hard drive on this device is a 16 GB "solid state" drive. This is reallya bonus because it means - no moving parts. Therefore, this laptop runs extremely quiet and cool.
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