MT Reviews: Samsung Chromebook

Cool-looking laptops at super-cheap prices? Sounds excellent if you're a consumer on a budget, but you get what you pay for.

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

The ads for it have been everywhere – TV channels, the internet and those animated billboards you find in train stations. They make the Chromebook look as though it will fit into your life as happily as your dog, except that instead of barking, it can post Facebook updates and make video calls to your mates. 

On opening the box, you sense they’ve gone for a touch of the Apple MacBook style. The design cues are extremely similar: neatly spaced black keys, a flush silver mouse pad, no intrusive switches, buttons or stickers. So far, so good. Pick it up, though, and you realise why it retails for just £229. It is feather light (to the point of feeling flimsy) and definitely not made of that plush aluminium casing that Apple's Jony Ive bangs on about.

Functionally, you can see where Google is trying to go with it. The firm’s online suite of cloud-based programs gives you word-processing, social networking, file storage, video calling, YouTube, gaming, movies and lots more – without installing anything new on your PC. And that is the point of the Chromebook: not storing stuff on your laptop, but operating entirely in ‘the cloud’.

It’s a clever idea, but it’s half-baked. You have to hook up to a Wi-Fi signal first (which took 15 minutes of fiddling around) before the thing can be coaxed into performing any tasks at all. Once it’s up and running, you discover that apart from Chrome (Google’s internet browser), there are no other programs actually installed on the Chromebook - you have to get to them from inside the internet browser. 

It’s clear that they’re aiming for a sort of ‘fluidity and seamlessness of connectivity’ feel, which probably sounds good in their Silicon Valley office, but feels under-developed and clumsy when you’re trying to start typing a new document. 

But perhaps this reviewer’s judgement is clouded (forgive the pun) by years of familiarity with individual programs installed locally, instead of browser-based software stored on a remote server somewhere in Utah. 

Taking this into account, there is nothing functionally lacking from the gadget. Google’s Docs programme is easily as good as Microsoft Word for every day typing, the graphics on the screen as fluid and sharp as you could ever need for watching video on the move, or browsing photos, and it does have a screen-mounted camera for ‘Hangouts’ on the Google+ social network. 

It has a normal USB port, and a second, super speedy one; an HDMI port for hooking up to your HD television; an SD card slot for uploaded files and photos; pretty reasonable speakers; and – possibly the coolest thing if you’re a ferocious web-surfer – new keys on the keyboard for navigating back and forward through pages and refreshing. 

To be fair to Google, it is advertised as a sort of ‘on-the-move’, ‘life-complementing’ machine rather than an all-singing, all-dancing PC. But, even though this reporter regards himself as pretty tech-savvy, the cloud-only nature of the machine was not entirely clear until the thing was on the desk and switched on.

Overall, Chromebook pushes in a direction to which all computing is inevitably heading. But it feels unfamiliar and like Samsung and Google have just decided to roll out a ‘new and exciting product’ on the cheap.

So if you think you’re getting a bargain on a brand new laptop, prepare to be disappointed. This is a very basic iteration of what, one day, might be all the rage. 

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