Customer Review

8,477 of 8,938 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good computer with a few drawbacks at a very good price, October 24, 2012
This review is from: Samsung Chromebook (Wi-Fi, 11.6-Inch) 2012 Model (Personal Computers)
***Updates To My Review At The End***

My background: I'm a gadget geek but I'm not super devoted to any platform. I do love Google's web products but never used their hardware. My laptop is a 13" MacBook Pro and my desktop is a Mac Mini that runs both OS X and Windows 7 (I spend more time on Win 7 these days). I have an iPad (3rd gen) and Motorola Droid Razr Maxx along with a docking station. My wife has a Win 7 ultrabook, Kindle Fire HD and Razr Maxx, all of which I purchased for her.

I'm an editor for a web-based publication so my usage is primarily writing and some light (very light) image editing. I've done most of my writing on Google Docs for a long time because it automatically saves and I hate writing directly into the CMS. We also use Google Apps Business for e-mail, calendaring and doc sharing so that rocks.

The last thing I need is another computer but Chromebook called to me. A couple of reasons:

- The docking solution wasn't great. The keyboard was crap, my phone got unusually hot and interacting with the CMS was hit and miss with the phone OS. It was good for e-mails.
- An iPad with a keyboard is garbage. I've tried it and hit the same issues. It is just clumsy for my primary work. I still travel with an iPad because it is light and its battery is a rockstar and can do in a pinch.
- The laptop is fine but it is a beast to carry. I just got back from a week-long jaunt to three conferences and I think my shoulder is broken from my shoulder bag.
- I love my phone and tethering has been a lifesaver. No complaints.
Okay, enough background. Now to the actual review.

Unboxing wasn't particularly impressive but I don't really care. Standard laptop box with the laptop, an AC adapter and Chrome sticker. I plugged it in and it was at about 75%. Now about an hour later, it is nearly charged.

When I pulled it out of the box, it almost felt like a laptop that didn't have a battery in it (remember that?). Anyway, it feels solid closed up. I don't have any problem throwing this in my engineer's bag and feeling like it will get screwed up. The AC adapter is your standard black box with two cords.

I opened up the lid and it started immediately. It asked me to connect to my wifi connection and then proceeded to download the latest update of the operating system (version 23 according to the info in Chrome). After a quick reboot, I put in my Google credentials and it loaded everything I use in my Chrome browser normally, including my apps and bookmarks.

Opened up, the build quality showed a few weaknesses but nothing major. There's a little give on the keyboard and palm rest. I didn't feel any problems holding the laptop from its corner. It feels very solid overall. The thing to remember, of course, is that I came from a unibody MacBook Pro so take that for what it is worth.

The keyboard blew my expectations away. I figured it would be fairly cramped and that my typing speed would suffer. I figured the action wouldn't be very good either. But, coming from a MacBook Pro chiclet keyboard to this was a cinch. I feel very little difference in typing speed or accuracy. This was really a big deal for me. I tried the HP Mini a few years ago and it was awful. A few millimeter difference is it.

The trackpad is very good though not as top notch of a comparison as the keyboard. It is very Mac-like in using it. The two finger swipe gestures, right-clicking, dragging, etc... it all operated like I expected. I'm a tapper, not a clicker so that may have something to do with it. It doesn't seem like it is quite as accurate or response as the MacBook Pro but still very good.

The screen isn't great but it isn't a dealbreaker. For text, it performs adequately but not spectacularly. For video, it is quite adequate, maybe above average but again, not fantastic. The screen brightness isn't what it could be, I feel like it is a tick or two off what should be standard brightness. But, I am also used to glossy screens and even with the brightness, the matte screen seems to do okay. I work right next to south-facing windows and even though we have no sun here in Seattle, it gets fairly bright and it seems good in these conditions. The viewing angles aren't going to impress anyone but it works for me.

The speakers seem to be pretty good and loud enough. They are optimal for use on a desk rather than a lap though as the sound gets muffled a bit by clothing. I put on Pandora One and the sound through my nice $100 studio headphones sounds pretty good with the top volume topping out just right. Using my Apple headphone/mic combo, it worked well in a hangout. One thing is that the headphone jack seems very tight.

I hit my first snag when I tried to do HDMI out. It didn't seem to work. Then I read a bit more and got it to work with the Ctrl+Full Screen and that seemed to do it. Depending on your monitor, your results may vary. It actually looked great on my LCD TV (including sound) but the resolution needs to be adjusted. It didn't look good (ironically) on my Samsung 21 inch monitor. There might be some settings I'm missing on either side but it's not a huge deal. Testing the video on the 1920x1080 HDTV, it worked great other than the overscanning.

The camera is something that Monet would appreciate. You'll get the gist of it but this is no HD cam. It is good for basic pictures and compares unfavorably to the front-facing camera on my Droid Razr Maxx.

After an hour of use off the charger, the heat situation is non-existent. This thing is creepily quiet and cool to the touch except for a few warmer spots. I will end up watching a movie to see how it reacts but that would be a nice change. Even my iPad gets warmer.

I had no opportunity to try out the bluetooth or the SD card reader. I will be getting a 32 GB SD card. I did try out a USB drive and it seems to be working just fine.

Getting into the software and how it drives on the ARM processor, I was pretty impressed. I opened about 18 tabs (which is well beyond my max, typically) and I had Pandora running in the background the entire time and didn't get a stutter. At times, the load was sluggish but again, I am switching between this and a MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM and a dual-core i5. But I really expected this to be flawless when using the web. As long as you don't go crazy with tabs or the apps you are driving in them, you should be good.

Watching videos, outside of the screen quality, was really quite smooth. From someone who bought the original Kindle Fire and saw it stumble with streaming video for just $50 less, I was super-impressed. I don't know if power-users will love it but it works with my slightly-lowered expectations.

That being said, this is a web enabled device and there are a few (very few) apps that I use regularly.

My stand-alone apps that I use regularly is chat (Google and AIM) and Tweetdeck. Both Tweetdeck and imo seem to work pretty good in a browser. If anyone has any suggestions, let me know.

I also know that Skype doesn't work great right now. I am using it through imo but, at least as far as I can tell, I can't make dial-out calls like the Skype app allows on all of my other devices. This, including no support for a USB headset, would make it tough to make this a full-time replacement. I live on Skype as a dial-out provider (Google dial-out will not allow me to use certain conference call providers plus Skype is great for connecting with people worldwide with ease). I'm hoping a promised webapp version is coming soon. On the plus side, Skype works great on my cell and iPad.

I turned off the wifi connection and it worked liked it should. You need to turn on offline mode in Gmail and Google Drive in order for it to work but after that, it worked like it always has. Games that I had loaded for offline mode worked. Offline, this is a pretty limited machine but not unduly so.

Chrome remote desktop worked particularly well. Granted, I was using it on the same network but there was no lag on the software side of using it. I was, again, thoroughly impressed with the graphics. Though, one thing would be to allow me to select which screen I view when I am using a dual-display.

I'm looking forward to Netflix capability but that's not ultra-critical right now for me. Amazon Instant works well for me, as does Hulu.

I'm taking only this when I go on an extended trip this weekend so I can update more on real battery life and any other real-world experiences of using it later.

Overall, this is what I expected and I am pretty happy with the purchase, especially as one of my first sight-unseen types of purchase. For my uses as a primary road writing device for blog posts and e-mails, this is a solid, solid play. And for $250, it's pretty unbelievable. All of this typed into the new Chromebook as well at my normal rate.

== UPDATE 10/28/2012 ==

Just took this thing on a weekend away without bringing my laptop. This is a big deal as even if I took my iPad, I would normally take my laptop as well. A couple of additional thoughts from 72 hours as my primary computer.

I did end up getting a SD Card (a 32 GB one from Amazon) and putting it in the SD card slot. Unfortunately, it sticks out from the side pretty well (about a centimeter looking straight down on it). I loaded it with a few movies and some music so I would have some tunes and movies for offline. The player works fine but is very basic. Other than wishing the SD card would seat all the way in, it is a good setup for leisurely watching movies solo.

I also did some extended work while my wife was driving. I typed two articles and I can't emphasize enough how good of quality this keyboard is. Even working it off of my lap, it performed beyond its price point.

I typed those articles offline and using Google Docs offline worked as expected. When I reconnected, my documents synced up no problem. This worked exactly like it had on my MacBook Pro whenever I took it on a flight without wifi so no surprises there.

Under normal use, the battery is probably going to be right there in the 6.5 hour range. Google could have pushed this spec. Working offline with the screen brightness at 50%, I was able to squeeze a little over 2 hours into 25% of battery life.

Speaking of brightness, the ambient light sensor works pretty well. Maybe a little too good in the car as it would dim slightly as we went under overpasses on the freeway.

The other thing I wanted to do is try out the some games. I played Angry Birds because I could compare it across all devices and the Chromebook is definitely lagging in performance. It was just a step behind and could be a bit choppy. I also tried the most popular game Entanglement and it seemed to perform well though it is simple. I also did a fantasy basketball draft on Yahoo sports and it was also a step behind.

I'll also mention that the first time I loaded up Entanglement was the first time the Chromebook crashed on me. I don't imagine it will happen that often but the nice thing is that it recovered everything I had up in about 20 seconds. Also, it is the first time I noticed heat of any kind coming from the laptop at all. Not unusually hot but it will warm up some when going graphics and CPU intensive.

In any case, I stand by my 4 star review. Even with some minor performance issues and a few smaller issues with quality, this is still an excellent purchase. An improved screen and battery life would make it easier to look past the sometimes-lagging performance. I won't be getting rid of my MacBook Pro but I am looking forward to taking this thing on the road and getting a good chunk of the functionality without the weight.

== UPDATE 11/20/2012 ==

After about a month more with regular usage, a couple more notes.

After awhile, the Chromebook does warm up but not significantly. Again, I'm comparing this to other laptops. And really, you shouldn't be using a laptop on your lap anyway but some situations require it.

Closing the screen instantly puts it to sleep but I definitely have found that you can't keep just putting this thing to sleep time after time and not expect any lag. Eventually, something I loaded would make the Chromebook freeze and I'd have to restart. I've learned to simply shut this computer down rather than close the lid and let it sleep. With near instant boot time, it's not a big deal but that's definitely a change.

The keyboard on this thing is still a rockstar. Using it in poorly lit situations make me long for a bit of backlighting but I am really a touch typer at this point so it only slows me down when I am realigning my hands.

No degradation in performance. I've watched probably 6-7 ripped movies on this thing with no problems and no internet connection. Looking forward to taking this to my in-laws for Thanksgiving instead of my MacBook Pro.

== UPDATE 03/09/2013 ==

I haven't updated in awhile so I thought I would. I still use the Chromebook on a regular basis and thanks to the regular updates to the system, this version of the Chromebook now has swap enabled (at least in the beta channel). For those unfamiliar, previously when the Chromebook would run out of physical RAM, it would just start dumping inactive tabs (so it would require a refresh). It would, at times, get a bit laggy with too many tabs open.

With swap enabled, once you hit the top of your RAM usage, it starts using the hard drive as RAM. This means limited to no inactive tabs being dumped (I haven't seen one yet) and overall, faster usage under heavy workloads (10+ tabs).

In short, this computer has actually gotten faster and better since my last update.

A couple of issues still exist. Netflix still doesn't work. I've contacted Netflix and they say they are working on it. They've been saying the same for months though. Every other streaming service works (including Amazon Prime, Hulu and Comcast's streaming). If Netflix is a must and you don't have an alternative device (I use an iPad mini for it if I really need it), I wouldn't bet on this coming through anymore.

I would like to see more gestures using the trackpad as well, The two finger scrolling is nice but the three finger nav (especially for back) helps a lot. I can use the keyboard back button too, yes. But switching between using a Mac and the Chromebook makes it especially unnatural. More gestures!

There is a little bit of wear on the palm rests and some dings but nothing major as of yet. This thing still is great for writing (which is my primary use for it). It is so great and lightweight so it is easy to throw in a small bag for a day trip.

Overall, still very happy and it is even better with the speed and stability improvements with swap enabled.

== UPDATE 03/11/2013 ==

Just a quick update since I just updated but Netflix now works. I've tried it and it has been confirmed by many other users. Again, this has been a big ding against both Netflix and Google for not figuring this out but now it is working.
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Comments

Tracked by 25 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 430 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 24, 2012 6:51:37 PM PDT
Derek Burch says:
Great range of real-life situations covered - thanks to the reviewer for taking the time to post this. I will look forward to the "extended trip" report.

Posted on Oct 24, 2012 9:51:34 PM PDT
Joe says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 24, 2012 9:57:09 PM PDT
Lance Haun says:
Haha. It was purely circumstantial in that I called Best Buy on Monday afternoon and they didn't have any so I looked at Amazon and saw it was still in pre-order. I went to the Chromebook webpage because I didn't remember what other vendors were selling and the Play Store link was there and I got it.

Hope you get one soon to try it out!

Posted on Oct 24, 2012 10:00:20 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 24, 2012 10:18:20 PM PDT
MWebb says:
Thanks for being a brave pioneer, and a thoughtful and speedy reviewer.

I take it that the shift from Intel x86 chips to the ARM chip hasn't created any problem in app availability on Google Play, right?

Any idea how how Google pulled that off? I presume they did a double port - Chrome OS to ARM, and all the old Android 4.1 apps to Chrome OS for ARM.

Anyway I think it's awesome the normal cast of apps are already available for Chome OS on ARM and that you can actually run some streaming video (Netflix/Amazon) already.

Right now I am on the road and therefore working on a travel-prepped HP Mini 110, a single core Atom processor (Intel x86) with Ubuntu 12.04 Linux installed and everything of importance in the "cloud" (Google apps like on a Chromebook) rather than off a local folder. In other words, the Chromebook concept via a cobbled-together software/hardware system. Not elegant, but workable. For $249 for a Chromebook, however, I am ready for a jolt of elegance.

Meanwhile the HP Mini is not _painfully slow_ (although it IS slow and of course being a netbook the keyboard is cramped and the screen is too small). I CAN run some in-browser window video (I am running Chrome, and like you I am very comfortable in the Google app ecosystem). I like the fact that with Linux I can encrypt my home folder so someone can't use a hacking tool or even a live Linux installation on a USB key to walk past a Windows log-in password. Because if they could, I would need to "log out" of Chrome as my browser every time I leave my machine - Chrome has all my bank account passwords etc. memorized so "one password rules them all" with the Google approach. A plus for convenience, a real risk if a laptop is physically stolen and the thief gains access to an un-encrypted hard drive and just loads Chrome and starts visiting accounts.

So, do you have any idea what security layers the Chromebook has? Or, posed another way, is there any security risk if I lose physical possession of a Chromebook? If I choose to download off-line content, can I encrypt the folder?

How is the trackpad? The "pain point" in my encrypted-Linux, use-Google Chrome approach to on-the-road-computing is that the trackpad on my HP netbook (like all of their Windows ilk) absolutely, positively sucks. It supposed allows 2 finger scrolling in Linux and 2 finger tapping for right mouse click access (like on a MacBook) but, in fact, the scrolling is so jerky I don't want to do it and half the time it doesn't register 2 finger taps for a right-click. How is the new Chromebook for pad scrolling and right clicking?

How do you handle forward and backward delete (Backspace and Delete) since the keyboard only has Delete?

My other travel computer of choice is a MacBook Air with the home folder encrypted. Apparently security software can hack the log-on password fairly easily (but the software is expensive and supposedly only sold to law enforcement), but I'm not worried about spy level access, only about preventing ordinary theft access. The problem I have with the Air is that it attracts too much attention and is too inviting to thieves. Plus a bigger $$$ loss. A $249 or $329 Chromebook would solve these problems neatly for me.

Also I had hoped for "perfection" in the MacBook Air screen, but it's not IPS and therefore still has viewing angle issues. IMHO only the iPads have screens to die for. Given that "perfect" doesn't yet exist on laptops, I can accept "ok" on a $249 machine.

Anyway, thanks again for the quick review. I find the early reviews from the serious hobbyists/users on Amazon to be among the best available on the interblab.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 24, 2012 10:20:40 PM PDT
Lance Haun says:
Good stuff.

So Android Apps don't work in Chrome OS as far as I know. Almost anything you can play in your browser, you can play on this. And they do have some specialized apps: http://chrome.google.com/webstore/

There's no Netflix yet but that is definitely coming. That's part of the chip move that was a bummer. Like I said though, Hulu and Amazon work great (and Hulu is the web version, not mobile app version).

From a former HP Mini 1030 with Ubuntu 10.04, I feel your pain. That's no way to live long term.

You login to the machine using your Google credentials. My wife also tried logging in and it created a new space for her. Now, I'm not flipping the dev switch and trying to command line this thing but I couldn't figure out a way to access anything she had on the actual computer. I'm also not even an amateur hacker so I can't speak to the broader security. I have a very good Google password and I use LastPass for everything else.

The only trackpad I've been using for years has been the MacBook Pro one. While it is a step behind Mac, I don't feel like it is that far behind. Scrolling is smooth with two fingers. Two finger right click consistently. You can swipe through your apps with two fingers and you can go back with a three finger swipe while browsing.

No problems with just having a backspace key. That's what I've been living with for a while and I hardly remember I have it on my Mac Mini with Win 7.

The screen is a slight disappointment but it isn't terribly surprising even though it is Samsung.

Hope that helped!

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 24, 2012 10:38:27 PM PDT
MWebb says:
Thanks Lance. Yes both your review and your comment responses do help a lot. I am pretty sure I will get one.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 25, 2012 7:01:40 AM PDT
i Braren says:
Thank you very much Lance. How big is the charger block? Seeing these are cellphone parts I was hoping it would be smaller than most. If you have time to upload pictures that would be great too.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 25, 2012 9:26:40 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Oct 25, 2012 9:29:54 AM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 25, 2012 9:50:15 AM PDT
Lance Haun says:
The charger is like most laptop power supplies, unfortunately, but they do keep it smaller. Probably compares well to a heavier Snickers candy bar as far as the black box is concerned.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 25, 2012 5:24:37 PM PDT
V. Lyons says:
I think it is in stock at the Best Buy stores - at least it was today at mine in Frederick, MD
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