Notebookcheck

Review Samsung Series 5 Chromebook

Sebastian Jentsch (translated by Sarah Kate Jaceniuk), 07/14/2011

First Netbook. Is Google's Chrome browser enough to be happy in the Web-world? We logged into our Google account. How much Office is actually possible with this browser? Do Google Docs, Picasa and DropBox suffice? Found out in our review.

Samsung Chromebook 3G/HSPA: Ideal surfing-machine or useless browser-netbook?
Samsung Chromebook 3G/HSPA: Ideal surfing-machine or useless browser-netbook?

The first true netbook.  The netbook class developed as a simple mobile computer capable of carrying out marginal Office programs whilst serving as a player and web browser.  Since 2007, manufacturers have brought countless netbooks of this ilk to the market.  But have the Eee-PCs and the other Windows-minis really done their job?

Yes, yes they have.  But in serving the simple task of “Web-surfing”, the entire Windows infrastructure was dragged along in the process.  One should consider that in order to merely surf the Internet and read emails, the user had to, and still has to fight off viruses and Trojans, go along with Windows updates and put up with long booting times.  Couldn’t it be a bit simpler?

It can be with the Linus-based Chrome OS of our Samsung Chromebook (Series 5 500C21).  The user is confronted with nothing more than the familiar Chrome Web browser.  Is this enough for a fulfilling web-experience?  Can the Chromebook replace a Windows netbook?  Find out the answers in this review.

Case

built-in battery, no maintenance opening
built-in battery, no maintenance opening
rubber-lip fringed lid
rubber-lip fringed lid

The Chromebook is made to look the part of a stylish and minimalistic work device. The surfaces of the palm rests are pleasantly blunt, though they do attract fingerprints. The same goes for the white high-gloss lid with the Chrome logo. The shiny black, high-gloss bed for the keys as well as the TFT-frame lend it a touch of elegance without producing exaggerated mirror surfaces. The panel itself is matte.

When holding the chassis with two hands, we were only able to twist it a little bit. That is of course easier to do around the lid, but other than that it is relatively stiff. The surfaces of the lid can only be dented with a moderate amount of force. The base-unit’s stability is owed in large part to the securely-installed battery as well as the absence of a service flap. The lid’s hinges move easily and sit securely in their base. The user can open the laptop with one hand. The maximum opening angle is around 140 degrees. Unfortunately, the lid wobbles quite a bit on bumpy car rides.

Connectivity

The connections are noticeably minimalistic, something which reflects its intended application. Why would it need an Ethernet port when everyone goes on the Internet with WLAN or via 3G. Why would it need multiple USB ports when neither a printer (Cloud Print) nor a scanner can be hooked up to it. Thankfully the situation is different for the input devices and we tried out a USB mouse and keyboard.

The SimCard slot, mini VGA and USB are placed elegantly behind a rubber cover. This means that it can’t be lost as its fastened securely to the chassis. But we almost overlooked the CardReader on the lower front side of the Chromebook. A small plastic dummy occupies the home port for memory cards for digital cameras.

Front: CardReader MMC, SDHC, SDXC
Front: CardReader MMC, SDHC, SDXC
Left side: AC, Mini VGA, USB 2.0 (under the flap), headphone/microphone port
Left side: AC, Mini VGA, USB 2.0 (under the flap), headphone/microphone port
Rear: No ports
Rear: No ports
Right side: Reset switch, SimCard-Slot (under the flap), USB 2.0
Right side: Reset switch, SimCard-Slot (under the flap), USB 2.0

Communication

 

It has up-to-date wireless network solutions with a 3G modem and a WLAN card on the current 802.11 a/b/g/n standard. The SimCard is inserted on the right under a flap. Along those lines you simply insert the card and surf. We took the Chromebook out of its packaging in a train station and were online after just three minutes. The interplay of multiple network connections works splendidly. The network manager always looks for the fastest network.

Security

Security is a main theme of the Chromebook. As long as the user trusts secure data in the Cloud (server from Google and other functions), they could even loose their Chromebook and not have to worry about someone accessing their data. When the Chromebook is fully shut down (not just in Standby), all of the local data is deleted. Though the 16 GB SSD has a local data storage, it too is emptied as soon as we log out of our Google account.

The Chromebook has a TPM module for secure identification of the device. This hardware supported security (Sandboxing, Verified Boot and encrypting for cache data) should make the Chromebook attractive to businesses looking to use the devices as Thin-Clients.

Viruses and malware are a big issue for Windows devices. Not so for the Chromebook since the user doesn’t have the option of locally installing software. Applications from the Chrome Web Store aren’t installed locally but rather on the Google-server. Of course a Google account is needed for that. Automatic updates of the Chrome OS (around every 6 weeks) should ensure that the system not only remains protected, but also improves over time.

The guest mode allots users without a Google account to surf the Internet without leaving behind any trace. All cache data is deleted once the computer is shut down.

Accessories

The packaging includes a mini VGA on D-Sub VGA dongle. No recovery medium is included. The user can set this up on their own with a USB stick. Restoring the SSD is as simple as moving the small sliding bar under the right cover (next to the SimCard). After restarting, the operating system is restored as a functional version.

Warranty

The manufacturer warranty covers 24 months (including on-site). Samsung offers an at-cost extension of the standard warranty with Warranty-Plus. For around 50 Euros one gets a 3-year on-site collection service (from the purchase date).

Google says: safety is big
Google says: safety is big
VGA-Dongle
VGA-Dongle
instructions, warranty
instructions, warranty

Chrome Browser and Chrome OD

Applications on the Chrome (Linux-based) operating system are pure Web-applications.  If for instance you want to edit photos, you will have to look for a web service and set it up.  The Chrome Web Store is the best source for apps and expansions. A slow download is not necessary, as the apps are simply  linked/installed in the Cloud, or in other words on the Google server.

Video and Photo

We searched on YouTube and could watch 720p film trailers without visible jerking.  Films (1080p) from a USB stick could be played on Chrome’s own media player, but not without some jerking.  We used Picasa in our Google account for managing our photos. But, we weren’t pleased with the results as it didn’t even have the option of saving Picasa photos onto a USB stick.  We could edit pictures with Sumo Paint (a look like Photoshop).

Efficiency

Chrome throws in its own minimalistic data manager, which pops up when a memory card or a USB stick is inserted.  But it does not even allow to copy anything.  For the review’s screenshots we activated Chrome’s “Marking and sending of the screenshots” extension.  Frustratingly, prior to doing so we had to deinstall Awesome Screenshots and Display Capture as they weren’t working.

Mail and Office

An office device simply needs Google Docs and Gmail.  From our own Google Account were could create text documents and presentations.  Pictures could for instance be pasted as usual by Strg+V.  Excel-style lists or group discussions per Google Wave are also possible.

Sumopaint (photos)
Sumopaint (photos)
text document
text document
presentation
presentation
calender
calender
NBC Start page
NBC Start page
Picasa (photos)
Picasa (photos)

Input Devices

Keyboard

The keys have a medium hub, a clear pressure point and a solid stroke. At no point on the entire surface of the input devices could we detect any give or slack. The keys are spaced a fair distance from one another. The layout was turned completely inside out to fit its purposes as a browser. The double-activation by way of Fn keys (function keys) is dropped in the same way as the whole bar of F-buttons. These have been made into keys for volume and brightness adjustment, reload, forward/back, application-switch and power on/off, or control/activate. Other buttons or switches have been left out on the Chromebook.

Touchpad

Depending on preference, the multi-touch pad with the exceptionally large surface can be operated in one of two ways. Pressing on the surface produces a simple click, pressing with two fingers produces a double click. Those who prefer to click like in Windows can change the click in the Chrome settings by typing. There are no horizontal or vertical scrollbars. Scrolling can be done with two fingers.

In the front area of the pads there is one button (not two) for a simple click. The key offers a sufficient hub and clicks in a quiet manner. The matte pad-surface allows fingers to glide smoothly across it and remains sensitive all the way to the edge.

Keyboard
Keyboard
Keyboard in more detail
Keyboard in more detail
Touchpad
Touchpad

Display

The anti-glare LED panel (30.73 cm) has a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels (16:9).  The overall level of black is at 2.51 cd / m², which brings with it an exceptionally bad contrast value.  As a result, black is not deep black but rather has a noticeable gray sheen to it.

295
cd/m²
291
cd/m²
293
cd/m²
288
cd/m²
295
cd/m²
299
cd/m²
266
cd/m²
287
cd/m²
305
cd/m²
Distribution of brightness
Information
Gossen Mavo-Monitor
Maximum: 305 cd/m²
Average: 291 cd/m²
Brightness Distribution: 87 %
Center on Battery: 295 cd/m²
Black: 2.51 cd/m²
Contrast: 118:1

The brightness of the display certainly doesn't need to hidden with a measurement of 305 cd / m². The average over entire area is still at 291 cd / m².

Samsung does it right and equips its surfing machine with an anti-glare display.  This allows a reflection-free surfing outdoors in the sunshine.  Hard, direct sunlight like in our test photos doesn’t present a real limitation to the 12.1” panel.

side view, indirect sunlight
side view, indirect sunlight
view from above, sun from the side
view from above, sun from the side
front view, direct sunlight
front view, direct sunlight

The viewing angles of the Samsung mini are quite good in a horizontal direction.  Writing remains legible and colors are hardly distorted.  Vertically, the viewer’s eyes can diverge up to 20 degrees before the picture dims out.  With a 45 degree vertical variation, such as for instance when viewed from above, we experience massively inverted colors.

Samsung Chromebook Series 5 viewing angles
Samsung Chromebook Series 5 viewing angles

Performance

Samsung relies on an Atom N570  CPU with two cores (2x1.66GHz) for its 2011 netbook.  The Intel Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 3150  as well as a memory controller for DDR3 (1x2.048 MB) are integrated into the CPU.  The TDP is around 8.5 watts.  The CPU is something of a descendent of the often used Atom N550 (2x1.5 GHz), which is found in many consumer netbooks.  The memory of the Chrome OS (Linux) is only available through a single non-sensitive 16 GB Flash memory (SSD).   But this isn’t intended to save the user’s data.

We tested the application performance of the browser with the SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark 0.9.1:1517 ms (the smaller, the better). As a comparison, the Windows-based Fujitsu Stylistic Q550 (Atom Z670 1.50GHz) we tested at the same time needed 1907 ms (+25%). The result speaks for the energy savings of the Chrome OS on the Samsung.

We dared to carry out a further benchmark with the Peacekeeper (Futuremark) Browser Benchmark. The browser benchmark tracks its speed with computing Java script functions. We got 1.373 points (version 12) with the Chromebook. But the Windows System Stylistic Q550 with a very similar system (Atom Z670 1.50GHz, 30GB SSD, Intel GMA 600, Chrome Version 12) got an even better 1653 points. The Chromebook looses out in areas like social networking and complex graphics. This could be because of the slow GMA 3150 (200 MHz) instead of the GMA 600 (400 MHz). (see screenshots).

Verdict: We find little evidence of the mantra "without Windows it doesn’t surf faster". But the perceived speed is very quick. Even with ten or more browser tabs open, it is still capable of lithesome operation.

Browser Benchmark Peacekeeper: Chromebook
Browser Benchmark Peacekeeper: Chromebook
Browser Benchmark Peacekeeper: Fujitsu Stylistic
Browser Benchmark Peacekeeper: Fujitsu Stylistic

Emissions

active fan is available
active fan is available

System Noise

Samsung laptops often represented role models in terms of noise. The Chromebook also shows its good qualities in this respect. The flat netbook hasn’t been realized without a fan, something that hasn’t been achieved by any PC-manufacturer with the Dual Core Atom N570 (2 x 1.66). In low load operation (surfing, listening to music), the fan runs almost inaudibly with 30.3 dB(A). It never shuts of completely. There is no trace of the noice from an HDD, as it has a built-in SSD memory. It doesn’t have an functions like Silent Mode (influencing the fans) which until now has been typical for Samsung.

During an HD-film trailer and a simultaneously-run CPU stress test (based on the browser), the cooling system spins up to 33.2 dB(A). That is the highest noise level, but, it doesn’t stay on this level. In normal operation with websites and videos, it's especially pleasant and tolerable with a measured 31.3 dB(A).

Noise Level

Idle 30.3 / 30.3 / 30.3 dB(A)
Load 31.3 / 33.2 dB(A)
 
    30 dB
silent
40 dB
audible
50 dB
loud
 
min: , med: , max:    Voltcraft sl-320 (15 cm distance)

Temperature

The temperature always remains low or tolerable. The highest temperature we measured on the case was around 39 degrees Celcius. But for that we put the Chromebook under constant stress with HD-trailers (youtube) and processor load. During this manual stress test, the average temperature of the working area remained a mere 31 degrees Celsius.

Those who surf with the Samsung, check e-mails or watch video clips will be pleased by the pleasant temperatures between 25 (palm rests) and 38 (highest) degrees. In short: While the Chromebook shows that it is in active operation by warming up at some spots, this is thoroughly acceptable.

Max. Load
 39 °C35.2 °C27.5 °C 
 37.8 °C36.4 °C25.8 °C 
 27.3 °C27.3 °C25.4 °C 
Maximum: 39 °C
Average: 31.3 °C
27.4 °C34.1 °C27.9 °C
26.7 °C29.2 °C32.6 °C
26. °C26.7 °C27.1 °C
Maximum: 34.1 °C
Average: 28.6 °C
Power Supply (max.)  34.2 °C | Room Temperature 23.1 °C | Voltcraft IR-360

Speakers

The speakers of the Chromebook are located under the palms rests and bounce sound off the table surface.  The sound picture is strained and high-pitched.  Sensitive ears will quickly search for a headset due to this poorly balanced sound. There aren’t any sound improvements (SRS, Dolby), such as we know from Windows systems.  The little membranes remain stable (2 x 1.5 watts per canal) under a high volume.

For those looking to listen to music with the Chromebook, external speakers or a headset would be the best choice.  You cannot these to the combined headset/microphone jack of the 12-incher.  The volume/mute functions are controlled from keys located just above the keyboard.

Battery Life

Our multimeter measured only 0.4 watts (Standby) and 0.05 watts (off). The low current consumption at idle of 8.3 watts hints on a good battery life. If demands are placed on the Chromebook, for example with 1080p film trailers, the energy use rises up to 16.3 watts. The current consumption is similar to recently reviewed Windows laptops like the Samsung NC210-A01DE (7.5 - 15 watts) or the Toshiba NB520-108 (6.4 - 14.4 watts). AMD Fusion is also in that boat with 7 to 17 watts (Acer Aspire One 722, 11.6").

Power Consumption

Off / Standby 0.05 / 0.4 Watt
Idle 8.3 / 11.6 / 12.2 Watt
Load 15.4 / 16.3 Watt
 
Key: min: , med: , max:         Voltcraft VC 960

Because of the lack of Windows, as a necessary OS for our battery tool, we only performed a singel manual measurement. 7:20 hours (440 minutes) was what the 12-incher lasted when surfing through news sites. The brightness was set to medium level (around 150 cd / m²). Samsung talks about a ten-hour battery life, which is certainly attainable at minimum brightness and when idle.

Samsung promises that the integrated 6-cell battery (8200 mAh) provides a stable capacity of at least 80% after 1,000 recharges. Because of the fixed battery this is actually a necessity and not just a nice bonus - if it is true. Unlike in Windows, there are no energy profiles. To save power when on the move, users can manually turn off 3G and / or WLAN, dim the brightness or even turn off the display (dark screen). The Chromebook changes to standby mode when closing the lid. However, it doesn't offer any settings such as "standby after xx minutes".

Battery Runtime
WiFi Surfing
7h 20min

Verdict

Chromebook advantages
Chromebook advantages

Fun with the Chrome OS depends on what the user defines as fun and, above all, how much patience they have. A focus on web applications is necessary for saving images, sending e-mail and using any image-editing, which are implemented as web-tools or browser extensions. If you are a Windows user and think that in only a few hours, you can make the jump to using the Chrome OS, you're wrong. It was also frustrating when taking a simple screenshot, no Snipping Tool (or Ctrl + alt + print & v) is available and only after half an hour, a working extension was found. The next frustration followed straight after: The screen capture tool saved files on the local storage. But the Chrome file manager wouldn't allow these files to be copied onto the inserted USB stick.

Such experiences are indeed annoying, but not necessarily negative arguments against Chrome or Chrome OS. The experienced Windows users won't be able to wean themselves off the established OS structure in decades, in spite of the drawbacks (viruses, malware, resources, long boot time). Above all, the dependence of a fast Internet connection is likely to be for many a K.O. criterion. Because without Internet, the Chromebook nothing.

But, even from a  critic's point of view, the benefits of the Chromebook are obvious. Users can't access the operating system and therefore can't "break" anything. Nothing can be installed locally and updates happen automatically. With a good seven-hour run time, good input devices and a bright, matte display, the Samsung Chromebook is as good as a thin client for use in companies (web-based services). Consumers will have most fun on Chromebook when they use it purely for surfing, watching videos and writing e-mails.

Whoever wants to use the Chromebook for office tasks, which will need to be done in Google Docs with numerous extensions, should above all think twice here. For younger users, it should be easy getting used to this netbook. It's precisely these price-sensitive customers that opt predominantly for Windows netbooks, which can be had starting at 215 €. The Samsung Chromebook costs 399 Euro (WLAN only) or 449 Euro (+3 G).

Samsung Chromebook Series 5: Web-Surfer für experimentierfreudige Nutzer.
Samsung Chromebook Series 5: Web-Surfer für experimentierfreudige Nutzer.
In Review: Samsung Chromebook Series 5
Im Test:  Samsung Chromebook Series 5

Specifications

Samsung Chromebook Series 5
Processor
Intel Atom N570 1.66 GHz
Memory
2048 MB 
, 1 x 2048 MB DDR3
Display
12.1 inch 16:10, 1366x768 pixel, 300 cd/m², glossy: no
Mainboard
Intel NM10
Harddisk
16 GB SSD, 16 GB 
Connections
2 USB 2.0, 1 VGA, Audio Connections: Kopfhörer, Mikrofoneingang, über einen Anschluss, Card Reader: MMC, SDHC, SDXC, SD, TPM Modul
Networking
802.11a/b/g/n (a b g n ), 3G Modem
Size
height x width x depth (in mm): 19.9 x 294.2 x 219.5 ( = 0.78 x 11.58 x 8.64 in)
Weight
1.485 kg ( = 52.38 oz) Power Supply: 165 g ( = 5.82 oz)
Battery
Lithium-Ion, 6 cell 8200 mAh
Price
450 Euro
Operating System
Google Chrome OS
Additional features
Webcam: 1.3MPixel SVGA, Mini-VGA auf VGA D-Sub Adapter, 24 Months Warranty

 

[+] compare
Samsung and Google want to establish a new device class.
Samsung and Google want to establish a new device class.
The flat Chromebook has no access shutter
The flat Chromebook has no access shutter
and the battery is firmly built in.
and the battery is firmly built in.
The few connections are partially hidden
The few connections are hidden partially
behind rubber flaps (right + left).
behind rubber flaps (right + left).
We tested the 3G model (Price 449 €).
We tested the 3G model (Price 449 €).
The picture shows the power plug.
The picture shows the power plug.
At the front, we found a card reader.
At the front, we found a cred reader.
The small AC adapter weighs only 165 grams (40 watts).
The small AC adapter weighs only 165 grams (40 watts).
The key area is very shiny.
The key space is very shiny.
such as volume, next / previous tab or change.
such as volume, next / previous tab or change.
The F keys have been replaced by function keys.
The F keys have been replaced by function keys.
Because Windows is oversized and too insecure for the Web
Because Windows is oversized and too insecure for the Web
and small notebooks with the Chrome OS
and small notebooks with the Chrome OS
are the best companions in this web-generation.
are the best companions in this web-generation.
The handy 12.1" flat is 1485 grams
The handy 12.1-inch, flat is 1485 grams
about as heavy as a netbook in the same size.
about as heavy as a netbook in the same size.
Technically, it is also a netbook
Technically, it is also a netbook
with Intel Atom N570-based (dual core) and with 16 GB SSD.
with Intel Atom N570-based (dual core) and with 16 GB SSD.
The input devices are optimized for a browser (Chrome).
The input devices are optimized for a browser (Chrome).
The attached power cord is, however, to big.
The attached power cord is, however, to big.

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» Review Gigabyte S1080 Tablet/MID
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» Review Packard Bell dot SE (N550) Netbook
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» Review Toshiba NB520-108 Netbook
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» Review Samsung NC10-JP01DE Netbook
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Links

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Pro

+Handy, hard-wearing
+Bright display
+Easy-to-use touchpad
+Good keyboard
+Long runtime
+Good performance for the Web
+DAU safety
+High decree of Web & media capabilities
 

Cons

-Software infrastructure is still under construction
-Cloud-based operation needs to be rethought
-Poor contrasts
-Few connections
-Printer, scanner can't be directly connected
-Only wireless, no Ethernet

Shortcut

What we like

Mom and Grandma can surf with it without breaking anything.

What we’d like to see

A better data manager.

What surprises us

A PC on the table which can’t even be hooked up directly to a scanner or a printer.

The competition

Toshiba AC100-10V with Android 2.1; countless Windows-netbooks on AMD or Intel Atom basis, e.g. Acer Aspire One 522-C5Dkk, Samsung NC210-A01DE or Acer Aspire One 722-C52kk

Rating

Samsung Chromebook Series 5
06/30/2011 v2
Sebastian Jentsch

Chassis
87%
Keyboard
86%
Pointing Device
90%
Connectivity
50%
Weight
92%
Battery
94%
Display
70%
Games Performance
Application Performance
Temperature
90%
Noise
94%
Add Points
90%
Average
70%
85%
Netbook *
Weighted Average
> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > Review Samsung Series 5 Chromebook
Author: Sebastian Jentsch, 2011-07-14 (Update: 2014-07-23)