Samsung Chromebook Series 3 Review

Warning This article was written over six months ago, and may contain outdated information.

I’ve been out doing some freelance work lately and my wife needed a computer, so we bought a new Samsung Series 3 Chromebook. They’re inexpensive (£229), and as all she needs it for is internet access and light office work, it seemed a good fit. We’ve had it for a couple of weeks now, which seems like a fair amount of time for me to write a review.

First impressions

Let’s get something out of the way first: it *really* looks like a Macbook when you open it. The keyboard is basically a direct copy, and colour and dimensions are very similar to those of a Macbook. You’d think that with all of their legal problems, Samsung would know better.

The keyboard of a Samsung Chromebook

OK, looks aside, the first things you notice are that it’s very slim, and very light. It’s made of plastic, which helps to keep the cost down, but does make it feel a little cheap in places, quite noticeably when you click the trackpad. It boots in about 8 seconds (and closes down even faster), and is extremely easy to set up.

Hardware

For the price, the spec is pretty decent. On the machine there are two USB ports (1xUSB2 and 1xUSB3), HDMI out, an SD slot and a USIM slot. The 11.6″ screen has a resolution of 1366x768. It has dual-band Wifi, Bluetooth, and a pretty poor VGA camera.

I’m not sure of the exact speed of the Exynos processor, but it runs full-screen 1080p HD video with no problem, and WebGL performance seems to be acceptable (although one intensive demo did cause some screen corruption after it had been closed). There’s no fan noise at all, which is great, and the battery life is excellent, reporting around 6.5 hours on a full charge.

Software

Chrome OS is, basically, a browser. It has a kind of desktop, except you can’t do anything with it, like create folders or save files; I think it’s there just because people expect it to be. There’s a launcher bar along the bottom of the screen to which you can save app icons, but most apps are just bookmarks to websites, and the icons don’t provide any extra functionality.

A few apps open in a separate, non-browser window; a scratchpad, a calculator, a Photobooth-alike camera app, and the Files explorer. The file system is just a Downloads folder (there’s 16GB of SSD memory on board, although I’m not sure how much of that is free). Further storage is provided by Google Drive, and external memory drives.

I’ve yet to really test offline capabilities, but a lot of apps/websites simply won’t do anything. This really limits the utility; Gmail won’t even save a draft email if you have no connection. If you want to even check your emails when out of Wifi range, you’ll need a 3G dongle or SIM card.

As with the Chrome desktop browser, you can choose to switch Chrome OS to Beta or Dev channels, to get new features more quickly (at the possible expense of stability).

One interesting note: the Microsoft Core Fonts are mostly installed, except for Arial and Times New Roman, which are replaced by Arimo and Tinos, respectively, which have been chosen presumably because they have open licenses but the same metrics as their more famous counterparts. The Droid font family is also installed, and the UI uses Noto Sans.

Conclusion

Because of the inability to install a development environment or professional software means that this isn’t something that’s going to appeal to devs or designers — at least, certainly not as a primary machine.

It does have two advantages: it’s cheap, and portable. For what my wife needs, it’s perfect; and it’s a pretty useful secondary machine. In terms of utility I’d actually put it closer to a tablet; it’s suitable for media consumption, web browsing, and most standard office tasks.

5 comments on
“Samsung Chromebook Series 3 Review”

  1. Great review, thanks. I’m all up for working in the Cloud and I use Google Drive all the time… But when out an about the connectivity just isn’t there (I’d much rather have decent blanket 3G than even more pronounced coverage peaks and troughs with 4G).

    I recently tried to work on a Google spreadsheet through a tethered 3G connection from my phone. It was pretty much unusable as it went from 3G to Edge and plain old GPRS and back, along my train route.

    And docs (sorry, Drive) offline mode is read only — which is the major feature lack. If I could use all of the editing functionality offline and have it sync changes as and when I get a connection (à la Dropbox and, indeed, Gmail offline Chrome Web Store app) then I’d have probably bought one by now.

  2. Despite not being able to install a development environment, the lack of a ‘super’ on the keyboard is bizarre!

    c9.io, and I’m sure many other web based IDE’s support supers for shortcuts. Seems as though the Samsung Chromebook is not geared towards any sort of development environment.

  3. The ability to install ChrUbuntu though makes it a great cheap netbook. Currently have this device setup with a dual-boot. Im in engineering and on the linux side i can do everything i need.

  4. You can download offline versions of Gmail from the Google Chrome Web Store. Also download the offline version of Google Docs Text Document.

    Gavin Truex [June 16th, 2013, 01:45]

  5. Really great Review!!
    I didn’t use this machine or even buy one but am very curious of using it. I have passed over several reviews from users but this review gives me in dept about Chromebook. Now just in a minute, Does the USIM slot really works or really inserts a Sim Card because alot of Reviews didn’t mention it whether it works with any data carrier ?