Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Samsung Chromebook Series 5 Review

While not as minimalist as Google's pilot-program Cr-48 (which was done up in all black), the Samsung Chromebook Series 5 also takes a less-is-more approach. The plastic lid is done in solid Arctic White (it's also available in Titan Silver), with a chrome Samsung logo and the colorful Google Chrome insignia. The rest of the system is a matte black. It's elegant, but we wish it had the soft-touch rubber of the Cr-48. The corners of the Series 5 are also more rounded than the Cr-48, which is a design touch we also like.

Measuring 8.6 x 11.6 x 0.8 inches, the Series 5 easily slid into our shoulder bag. We really appreciated its light 3.2-pound weight after having to stand on a subway train for an hour and a half.

Keyboard and Clickpad
Like the Cr-48, the Series 5 has a chiclet keyboard, not unlike one you'd find on a MacBook, but with a few key differences. Instead of function keys, the top row has a set of keys specifically designed for web browsing. To the right of the Esc key are Forward, Back, Refresh, Full screen, and Window swap buttons, as well as display brightness and volume controls. To further enhance the web surfing experience, Samsung has eliminated Caps Lock and replaced it with a web search key.

Typing on the Series 5 is comfortable, and its large flat keys felt good under our fingertips. During the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, we reached our normal speed of 50 words per minute. 

The 3.8 x 2.6-inch smudge-proof clickpad on the Series 5 offers a lot of real estate, perfect for multitouch gestures. Two-finger scrolling and drag and drop were fast and responsive, However, we had to swipe repeatedly to move the cursor where we wanted it.
Boot Up
Click to enlargeOwing to its lightweight operating system and high-speed Solid State Drive, Samsung trumpets a boot time of less than 10 seconds and instant resume from sleep as one of the Chromebook's biggest selling points. On our tests, the Series 5 booted up in 14 seconds; it took 8 seconds to reach the login screen, and another 6 seconds to load the browser. For the record, that's on a par with the MacBook Air (15 seconds) and about 10 seconds faster than the Samsung Series 9.

Resuming from sleep took about 1 second, even with several tabs open. That's faster than both the Series 9 (4 seconds) and the MacBook Air (3 seconds).
Click to enlargeShooting for start speed rather than processing power, the Chromebook is powered by a 1.66-GHz dual-core Intel Atom N570 CPU, 2GB of RAM, a 16GB SSD hard drive, and integrated graphics. As a result, the notebook boots up in a zippy 14 seconds, but can't handle more than a few tasks at a time. A streaming 720p video began skipping and buffering after we opened seven tabs, a Gchat window, and started playing an MP3. By comparison, the AMD-Fusion powered ASUS Eee PC 1215B was able to stream video in 1080p with Firefox open to seven tabs, Chrome opened with eight tabs, and an MP3 playing at the same time.

With nothing else running, the Series 5's Intel integrated GPU can stream 720p video at a decent rate, but don't expect to play any graphically demanding games. The Series 5 scored a dismal frame rate of 4 frames per second (fps) on WebGL Aquarium, and that was with the test at its lowest setting, (one fish, no background or sunlight). The 1215B made the Series 5 look like a fish out of water, scoring 35 fps with one fish at maximum setting. Even with 1,000 fish at maximum setting, the 1215B managed 15 fps.
3G Connectivity
Our configuration of the Series 5 came with built-in EV-DO Rev. A from Verizon Wireless. Using, the Series 5 had an average download speed of 1.1 Mbps and an average upload rate of 0.69 Mbps. Surfing the web was reasonably quick, too: loaded in 2.5 seconds, loaded in 6.3 seconds, and The New York Times loaded in 2.7 seconds. We could also stream video smoothly using 3G. However, 1080p trailers were choppy, regardless of the connection.

With the Series 5, Verizon Wireless offers 100MB of free monthly data for two years. For those who need a larger plan, a 1GB monthly data plan costs $20, 3GB costs $35, and 5GB costs $50, all without a contract. Verizon also offers a one-day $10 unlimited option. We were able to check our data consumption by clicking on the wireless icon in the top nav bar. After a day of heavy use (which entailed a lot of streaming video), we were down to 50MB.