Google’s spending up big on TV ads for Chromebooks, which is an interesting strategy for a category that’s all about spending up small. Samsung’s Chromebook costs just a little bit more than Acer’s comparable C7. But is that money well spent?
I covered off the basics of the Chromebook concept in the C7 review, so it may be wise to read that first. In any case, Samsung’s offering doesn’t differ in what it offers in an operating system sense, because the control of that part is firmly down to Google. In short, don’t buy a Chromebok if you’re not constantly online, and especially if you’re not fond of Google’s data acquisition habits.
On the plus side
On the surface, the Samsung Chromebook (Samsung XE303C12 to its friends, but I’m not C3PO), like the C7, looks as though it is rather inexpensive, with an asking price of only $349. It wasn’t that long ago that the concept of a notebook that hadn’t been through a few owners already at this price point would have been an impossibility. The Samsung Chromebook certainly has a dash of Samsung’s design style to it; while it’s undeniably a plastic Chromebook, it’s a nicely styled one, which may count for something. My own review sample wasn’t fresh out of the box, and there was a scratch on the lid when I got it, which highlights an issue with plastic notebook cases generally. Then again, tech reviewers can be a rough bunch, so your experience may vary.
The Samsung Chromebook runs Chrome OS, but unlike the C7 and its somewhat spurious 320GB mechanical hard drive, it uses a 16GB eMMC for storage and operating system purposes. It’s an interesting move, but one that plays into the idea that this is a laptop for the cloud; you’re not really meant to store anything on a Chromebook, and, as I found with the C7, it’s not always all that easy to do so. All the documents you create are on Google Drive, all your email is meant to be on GMail, and so on and so forth. The practical upside of using solid state storage is that the Samsung Chromebook boots up noticeably faster than the competing Acer product.
One other factor in the Samsung Chromebook’s favour is the keyboard. Yes, again, you’re still only getting bargain basement keyboard performance, but I had fewer issues typing long documents with the Samsung’s keyboard than with the Acer. A Chromebook isn’t exactly a high-spec productivity toolbox to begin with, but having a better keyboard to start with is a big plus.
Also in the plus category over the C7 is the matter of battery life. Running a full-screen video on the C7 saw its battery conk out in a worrying two hours and twenty-five minutes. The same full-screen video test, with moderate volume ran on the Samsung for a more pleasing three hours and forty one minutes. That’s still not all-day performance, unless your needs are modest. Then again, if you’re pondering a Chromebook, your needs would want to be pretty modest in the first place.
On the minus side
It’s a minor quibble, but aside from the SD card slot, all the rest of the Chromebook’s ports are out the back. Why is that a problem? Because it’s harder to reach around to plug in peripherals. That might seem like the smallest of quibbles, but it quickly becomes irritating when you’ve got the Chromebook on your lap, because it means external storage or other USB devices prod into your legs. For what it’s worth, and in the interests of balance, rear-mounted USB ports are something that annoy me greatly on Apple’s iMac lines, too.
It may sound as though it’s a clean sweep for the Samsung Chromebook over the Acer, but it’s not all good. Where it isn’t quite as nippy is in the processor department. The Celeron processor on the C7 was no great shakes, but the Samsung Chromebook has instead gone down the ARM route with a 1.7Ghz Exynos 5250 processor. It’s….
In some cases.
Putting the C7 and Samsung Chromebook head to head in web page rendering, the C7 generally flicked up complex pages a little more briskly, as an example. Again, this is in some ways a function of the asking price of each system relative to a “real” laptop. You know, as distinct from all those imaginary ones you don’t see on store shelves in Noddy Town. In any case, as with the C7, you’re limited to Chrome Store apps for the Samsung Chromebook. Something tells me that most Chromebook users aren’t likely to push the system too hard.
Speaking of hard, Samsung’s taken the same hard line towards Australian pricing of the Chromebook as Acer has with the C7. Want a Samsung Chromebook in Australia? That’ll be $349, thanks, which sounds OK, until you realise that the US list price is $249. Sure, there’s taxes and a little shipping to take into account there, but still, for the astonishing second time in just one week, I find myself saying
What the very what, Samsung?
I mean, really. It’s a global economy, and you take advantage of that in terms of production and shipping. Whacking a forty per cent tariff on a product being sold in Australia, even one at the budget end is more than a bit avaricious.
Having said that — and I live in the possibly naive hope that retailers will snap at least a bit off that Australian price premium on the shelf, or Samsung will come to its senses — if I was buying a Chromebook, I’d buy the Samsung Chromebook.
The Acer has more storage — which you don’t really need, because a Chromebook is meant to live in the cloud — and a faster processor, but not one that blazes, except through its power supply. The Samsung, on the other hand, has a more comfortable keyboard and better battery life. I’m not likely to buy one in any case — I sit very much more in the Ultrabook/High performance category in terms of what I need out of a notebook — but if you’re ChromeOS-curious, the Samsung is the way to go.