Samsung Series 5 Chromebook irons out kinks

Jul 22, 2011 By Troy Wolverton

Consumers shopping for a PC have a new choice: laptops running Google's Chrome OS operating system.

The first Chromebooks went on sale last month and more are expected. I've been testing out Samsung's Series 5 Chromebook with Wi-Fi and 3G. I like it, but it has some significant shortcomings that will make it unsuitable for many users except as a secondary computer.

Chrome OS is built around Google's Chrome Web browser. When users log on to a Chromebook, they don't see a standard PC desktop; instead, they see a tabbed browser window. Rather than using separate applications to check email, compose documents or send , everything you do in Chrome OS has to be done within the browser.

The advantage is that Chrome OS is a much more streamlined operating system than Windows or Mac OS. Startup and shutdown can be done in less than 20 seconds or so, and resuming from is nearly instantaneous.

Chrome OS is also theoretically much more secure than standard laptops. Because Chromebooks are designed to be connected to the Internet, little data is stored on the machine itself. And because everything is focused on the browser - which Google updates frequently - there's less chance of a malicious program running in the background.

Not being able to run "native" programs other than the browser itself may seem like a limitation, but these days you can do a lot with a browser. I used to run multiple programs at once on my , including a Web browser, Outlook for checking email and keeping track of appointments, Word for composing articles and Excel for creating spreadsheets. Now I typically do most of those things in my Web browser, thanks to online services such as and .

Google has set up an for Web apps for Chrome OS, including games like "Angry Birds." But because the operating system is built around the Chrome Web browser and includes Adobe's Flash, you can use it to access a wide swath of applications and services on the Web.

When Google unveiled Chrome OS last fall, neither the operating system nor the hardware it ran on was ready for prime time. Chrome OS was buggy and lacked key features such as support for external drives, and the prototype laptop's trackpad responded only intermittently when I tried to click on something.

Chrome OS and Chromebooks have come a long way since then. The operating system now supports external drives, so you can plug in a flash drive or an SD card in a dedicated slot and pull up pictures or other files. And I ran into no problems with the trackpad on Samsung's Chromebook.

I did run into some performance issues, however. Initially, various applications, including Flash, crashed. And I repeatedly got error messages warning me that particular browser tabs had died.

Google representatives said the underlying problems have now been fixed in a new update, and I haven't encountered them since.

I really liked the design of the Chromebook. It's thin and light, weighing in at just 3.3 pounds. It has a full keyboard, a bright 12-inch screen and a battery that lasted a full work day in my testing.

Another nice feature: The top-end Chromebook includes a built-in antenna to connect to the Internet via Verizon's cellphone network that allows users 100 megabits of free data each month. That can be useful when users aren't around a Wi-Fi hotspot.

All that said, the Chromebook has limitations. Chrome OS still doesn't support VPN, so you can't use the Chromebook to connect to the many corporate networks that require it. What's more - and this was a big one for me - Citrix doesn't yet have a plug-in for Chrome OS. That means you can't use a Chromebook to run virtual versions of Windows apps delivered over a network - which is how we at the newspaper access our publishing system.

says that both VPN and Citrix support are coming soon.

And there are still plenty of applications that don't yet run under a . You can't run sophisticated photo or audio editing software on Chrome OS. And you won't be able to play the latest PC games.

The lack of native apps presents another big problem because many Web apps won't work unless you're online. That can make the Chromebook all but unusable if your Net access is down or if you are out of range of a data connection.

Chrome OS also doesn't natively recognize many popular file formats. For example, I couldn't use it to watch videos I made on my older digital camera because they were recorded in the AVI format.

And the has other less serious but sometimes annoying limitations. One big one for me: doesn't allow you to adjust how quickly a character repeats when you hold down its key.

For those reasons, the Chromebook won't work as the primary PC for many consumers. But for those who only want a PC to surf the Web, send email and play casual games, the Chromebook is definitely worth a look.

---

SAMSUNG SERIES 5 CHROMEBOOK:

-Likes: Thin, lightweight design; speedy startup and shutdown; full keyboard; long-lasting battery

-Dislikes: Lacks support for VPN, Citrix; lack of support for native apps and paucity of that can be used offline; doesn't support many popular file formats

-Specs: 1.66 GHz Intel Atom processor; 2GB memory; 16GB flash drive; 12.1-inch screen

-How much: $429 for Wi-Fi only model; $499 for model with Wi-Fi and 3G

-Web: chromebook.com

Explore further: Maker of $33 smartphone hails 'new era' for India

More information: Troy Wolverton is a technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News.

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Will Google resurrect the smartbook?

Nov 03, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- The idea of a smartbook has been tantalizing, but first generation attempts have fallen prey to their own immaturity. Now, though, there is a chance that Google could resurrect the smartbook ...

Review: Google all the time on the Chromebook

Jul 13, 2011

(AP) -- New laptops running Google's Chrome operating system offer a new approach in portable computing: Games, productivity tools and anything else you might need are handled by distant computers connected ...

Google notebooks challenge Microsoft

May 11, 2011

Notebook computers powered by Google software are heading to market in a direct assault on the Windows operating system at the heart of Microsoft's technology empire.

Review: Chrome OS gives a peek at computing future

Dec 22, 2010

What if nearly everything you usually keep on your computer - photos, documents, music and software - was stored online? Your machine would be speedier and perhaps less vital because you could simply use another ...

Recommended for you

South Korea's Samsung and LG unveil new smartwatches

41 minutes ago

South Korea's Samsung and LG unveiled new smartwatches Thursday with upgraded functions and design as they step up their drive to lead an increasingly competitive market for wearable devices.

Apple to unveil 'iWatch' on September 9

2 hours ago

Apple will unveil an "iWatch" in September with the maker of the iPhone finally embarking on its much-rumored foray into wearable computing, technology news website Re/code said Wednesday.

Hewlett-Packard recalls 5 million AC power cords

Aug 26, 2014

Hewlett-Packard Company is recalling about 5.6 million notebook computer AC power cords in this country and another 446,700 in Canada because of possible overheating, which can pose a fire and burn hazard.

LG bets on pricey OLED technology as future of TVs

Aug 25, 2014

LG Electronics Inc. announced two new giant OLED TVs with ultra-high definition screens Monday, sticking with its strategy of using the exceptionally expensive OLED display technology.

User comments : 0