Review Samsung XE303C12-A01US Chromebook

Allen Ngo, 03/03/2014

Chrome is in. Despite its limited scope and continuing overlap with tablets and smartphones, the Chromebook is looking to stay and stand its ground. We take a closer look at the 11.6-inch Samsung Series 3 Chromebook equipped with the same processor as the Nexus 10. Can you go wrong with a $250 laptop?

Google's small class of Chromebooks has been growing slowly but steadily and doubling its US web traffic from 0.1 percent to 0.2 percent in the past half year. Not bad considering the obvious big name alternatives as the unique software and ultra-low prices of Chromebooks have managed to cut a sizable niche for schools and student users.

Available since early 2013, the Samsung Series 3 XE303C12 notebook is an 11.6-inch Chromebook running on the manufacturer's in-house dual-core Exynos 5250 ARM SoC with integrated Mali-T604 graphics. The model follows on the footsteps of the 2011 Series 5 500C21 and 2012 Series 5 550C22, but with a lower starting price of just $250 in the U.S.. Specs are thus at the budget level: 2 GB RAM, 16 GB SSD, 768p resolution display and limited connectivity options.

In this quick review, we provide a close look at the hardware abilities of the notebook. For more details on the Chrome OS software and its features, we refer to the our previous reviews on the HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook, HP Chromebook 11Acer C720 Chromebook, Google Pixel Chromebook and the aforementioned Samsung Chromebooks.

Case

The construction quality of the Samsung Chromebook beckons back to netbooks of old before the rise of tablets and Ultrabooks. The case material is all plastic with average rigidity and can feel quite thin in certain areas. The palm rests, for example, can warp visibly from pressure and so do the center of the keyboard and the outer lid. Side-to-side twisting of the base and display is possible as well, but fortunately none of these imperfections are major enough to interfere with typical day-to-day usage. For children who may be less careful, however, expect a dent or two down the line.

The simple chassis and small size have the biggest advantage of offering a lightweight notebook. At just 1.1 kg (2.4 pounds), the Samsung is lighter than the Pavilion 14, Acer C720, Google Pixel and both Series 5 models. Of course, the physically smaller screen size of the model in review more than likely contributes to this weight advantage, but it certainly shows how transportable and fit for traveling the Chromebook family can be.

Visually, the matte and smooth silver surface make the notebook easy on the eyes without any flashy styling or glossy reflections save from the Samsung logo on the outer lid. The uniform color and rounded edges and corners distance the Chromebook from the professional looks of the more boxy ThinkPads and Latitudes, which seems appropriate for the target audience and price range. When considering these two factors, we find the chassis to be suitable for light use.

Rounded edges and corners are fitting for a simple notebook in this price range
Rounded edges and corners are fitting for a simple notebook in this price range
All-plastic chassis is average in quality
All-plastic chassis is average in quality
Hinge opened at maximum angle
Hinge opened at maximum angle

Connectivity

Compared to the Series 5 Chromebooks, this 11.6-inch model has removed both the Ethernet and DisplayPort ports in favor of an HDMI port. The former is likely a cost-saving measure and latter switch to HDMI may be because of its wider reach and direct compatibility with more external monitors compared to DisplayPort. The model still retains 2x USB ports, one of which is USB 3.0 for devices that can take advantage of the faster speeds. Port placement makes it easy to reach what is needed, but it would have been nice to have one USB port on either the left or right-hand side for even quicker access.

We connected an external 1920 x 1200 monitor to test the operability of the HDMI port. The notebook recognized the connection instantly and automatically outputted to the display, albeit it will only support a resolution up to 1920 x 1080. Unlike our previously tested notebooks, this model automatically extends the desktop instead of simply mirroring it. In case if users wanted otherwise, the notifications bar now alerts the user of the external connection and provides quick options to mirror, orient or even make alignment adjustments as needed.

Front: No connectivity
Front: No connectivity
Rear: USIM, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, HDMI-out, AC power adapter
Rear: USIM, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, HDMI-out, AC power adapter
Right: No connectivity
Right: No connectivity
Left: 3.5 mm combo audio, 3-in-1 reader (SD/SDHC/SDXC)
Left: 3.5 mm combo audio, 3-in-1 reader (SD/SDHC/SDXC)

Communication

The lack of an RJ-45 port means that users will be relying on wireless solutions if dongles are not available. Fortunately, the model offers wireless-n and SIM support with Verizon, although the latter option is only available on the more expensive model with 3G support. We had no stability issues when connecting to a standard home WLAN network.

Accessories

The focus on portability and lack of a docking port lead to no major accessories for the Chromebook beyond generic USB docks or other devices. 

Warranty

The standard 12-month warranty applies in the U.S..

Input Devices

Keyboard

The Chiclet keyboard (28.0 x 11.0 cm) is the basic Chromebook fare with lowercase letters and no Function keys or numpad for simplicity. The top row of keys provide very useful inputs like brightness, volume, refresh and full screen that we wish all notebooks could include as dedicated keys. A gripe we have with the set up, however, is the large power key and its close proximity to the 'Backspace' key. Fast typists may find themselves signing out of their current account by accident instead of deleting those last few letters in their schoolwork or document. The small Arrow keys continue to be a disappointment, especially for a notebook heavily revolved around web browsing.

In terms of usability, the keys provide shallow travel with relatively soft feedback that can feel very similar to the keyboards of Samsung's premiere Series 9 notebooks. Thus, users who are accustomed to desktop or beveled keyboards may need some time to feel comfortable with the lighter keys of the small Chromebook.

Touchpad

The touchpad surface is on the large side (10.0 x 5.5 cm) for an 11.6-inch notebook and is almost twice as wide as it is tall. It is still a bit smaller than the touchpad on the larger Series 5 Chromebook, but the proportion is perfect for widescreen displays and much more appropriate than smaller and more square-shaped touchpads found on larger gaming notebooks.

The surface texture itself is the same as the surrounding chassis and inputs are registered reliably with no latency issues. Limited multi-touch is supported, such as 'back' and 'forward' commands by swiping left or right with two fingers or right-clicking by clicking with two fingers. The common multi-touch input for zooming is not enabled by default.

Clicking anywhere on the pad will register as a left click, which is counter intuitive compared to common Windows notebooks. Though the click is shallow, it provides solid feedback and an audible sound. Overall, the size and feel of the touchpad would certainly fit in a notebook class more expensive than a Chromebook.

Chiclet keyboard with standard Chrome OS layout
Chiclet keyboard with standard Chrome OS layout
Relatively large touchpad for a small notebook
Relatively large touchpad for a small notebook
Small Arrow keys can feel mushy
Small Arrow keys can feel mushy

Display

The common 1366 x 768 pixel resolution is expected for a notebook in this size and price range. Colors and texts display without any obvious issues on the matte screen. Some users may notice a slight screen-door effect even from a normal viewing distance, but this is common amongst budget displays.

Samsung rates the display for a brightness of 200 nits, which we can confirm with our own measurements. This is sufficient for indoor environments where 150 nits or less can still be comfortable. Contrast is unimpressive at about 300:1, but still sufficient for occasional videos.

218.8
cd/m²
225.3
cd/m²
227.4
cd/m²
207.5
cd/m²
214.9
cd/m²
208.7
cd/m²
208.1
cd/m²
211.9
cd/m²
198.2
cd/m²
Distribution of brightness
Information
X-Rite i1Basic Pro 2
Maximum: 227.4 cd/m²
Average: 213.4 cd/m²
Brightness Distribution: 87 %
Center on Battery: 214.9 cd/m²
Black: .668 cd/m²
Contrast: 322:1

Further color analyses with an X-Rite i1Pro Basic 2 spectrophotometer reveal a poor grayscale and a cool color temperature. Blue and magenta are represented the worst compared to red, green and yellow on all saturation levels. To the target audience, however, such inaccuracies will likely not be significant to the work involved or even noticeable in everyday use.

Grayscale
Grayscale
Saturation Sweeps
Saturation Sweeps
ColorChecker
ColorChecker
Difficult to view even on cloudy days
Difficult to view even on cloudy days

Outdoor usability is limited due to the average screen brightness. Even at the maximum brightness level, texts and images can become difficult to read unless if under shade. On the bright side, maximum brightness will not artificially drop if running on batteries. 

Viewing angles Samsung XE303C12-A01US Chromebook
Viewing angles Samsung XE303C12-A01US Chromebook

Viewing angle stability is the typical TN panel fare. Colors will degrade if viewing from below the normal much more quickly than from the sides or from the top. This can make the already small screen a bit more difficult to share with other viewers, but should not be an issue for the sole user.

Performance

The Samsung Series 3 Chromebook is equipped with a 1.7 GHz Exynos 5250 Dual SoC consisting of two Cortex A-15 cores and a Mali-T604 GPU. This is the same SoC that powers the Google Nexus 10 and, as a result, shows similar performance between the Chromebook and the tablet. The software overhead due to the differing operating systems, however, may not be the same. More benchmarks and results on both the CPU and GPU can be found in our Nexus 10 review.

The 2 GB RAM feels just right for a Chromebook. Multi-tasking between browsing, word processing and active videos is effortless and surprisingly smooth for a notebook at this price range. The simplicity of the Chrome OS software adds a natural, no frills feel to the user experience.

System Performance

Synthetic benchmarks such as Sunspider and Peacekeeper show that the Samsung Chromebook is similar in performance to competing Chromebooks, although the ULV 1.4 GHz Celeron 2955U in the Acer C720 edges out the Exynos SoC by a notable margin. The expensive Google Pixel and its Core i5-3427U CPU is still king and in a league of its own.

Subjectively, we found no slowdown or latency issues with moderate multi-tasking or 1080p Youtube playback. We played a 1080p video with a bitrate of ~16000 kbits/s from a USB source without any issues, but a 1080p video with a higher bitrate of ~40000 kbits/s will stutter enough to be unwatchable. 

Peacekeeper
Peacekeeper
Mozilla Kraken
Mozilla Kraken
WebXPRT 2013
WebXPRT 2013
Sunspider
--- (sort by value)
Samsung Chromebook XE303C12-A01US
774.3 ms * ∼7%
Google Nexus 10
1345.7 ms * ∼13%
Google Chromebook Pixel
225.2 ms * ∼2%
--- (sort by value)
Samsung Chromebook XE303C12-A01US
736.8 ms * ∼18%
Acer C720-2800 Chromebook
345.1 ms * ∼9%
HP Chromebook 11
704 ms * ∼17%
Google V8 Ver. 7 - Google V8 Ver. 7 Score (sort by value)
Samsung Chromebook XE303C12-A01US
4996 Points ∼27%
Google Nexus 10
2964 Points ∼16%
Acer C720-2800 Chromebook
10316 Points ∼56%
HP Chromebook 11
5394 Points ∼29%
Google Chromebook Pixel
12372 Points ∼67%
Peacekeeper - --- (sort by value)
Samsung Chromebook XE303C12-A01US
1005 Points ∼16%
Google Nexus 10
652 Points ∼11%
Acer C720-2800 Chromebook
2871 Points ∼46%
HP Chromebook 11
1069 Points ∼17%
Google Chromebook Pixel
3613 Points ∼58%

Legend

 
Samsung Chromebook XE303C12-A01US Samsung Exynos 5250 Dual, ARM Mali-T604 MP4, 16 GB eMMC Flash
 
Google Nexus 10 Samsung Exynos 5250 Dual, ARM Mali-T604 MP4, 32 GB SSD
 
Acer C720-2800 Chromebook Intel Celeron 2955U, Intel HD Graphics (Haswell), 16 GB SSD
 
HP Chromebook 11 Samsung Exynos 5250 Dual, ARM Mali-T604 MP4, 16 GB SSD
 
Google Chromebook Pixel Intel Core i5-3427U, Intel HD Graphics 4000, 32 GB SSD

* ... smaller is better

Storage Devices

Like other budget Chromebooks currently in the market, the Series 3 Chromebook includes a small 16 GB internal SSD. While users will undoubtedly lament the limited storage size, it also encourages said users to utilize other storage solutions including USB drives and cloud services. This is also an advantage from a security standpoint as valuable data will less likely be stored locally.

Still, we would have liked at least 32 GB of internal storage to fit more music and movies and expand the notebook to be a more multimedia-capable device. If Internet connectivity becomes unavailable due to location reasons, a larger local SSD would do wonders.

Emissions

System Noise

Similar to HP's recent Chromebook, the Series 3 Chromebook is fanless. The system is noiseless with no accompanying vent grilles due to the lack of active ventilation.

Temperature

Idling temperatures average about 25 degrees C on both the bottom and keyboard surfaces in a room temperature of almost 21 degrees. Temperature is uniform with no obvious hot spots.

Under high loads reproduced by multiple 1080p YouTube videos set on repeat, a significant change in surface temperature can be recorded on the rear of the notebook. Meanwhile, the quadrants closer to the user and the keyboard remain relatively cool in comparison, which should allow comfortable use even under heavy processing loads. The Series 3 Chromebook compares favorably to many other Chromebooks including the Pavilion 14 and the Series 5 550C22 despite having no system fans.

Max. Load
 33.2 °C37.4 °C31.8 °C 
 31.8 °C33.2 °C30.4 °C 
 25.4 °C27.4 °C25.4 °C 
Maximum: 37.4 °C
Average: 30.7 °C
40 °C38.4 °C32.2 °C
30 °C31 °C31.2 °C
28.2 °C28.6 °C28.2 °C
Maximum: 40 °C
Average: 32 °C
Power Supply (max.)  43.2 °C | Room Temperature 20.6 °C | Fluke 62 Mini IR Thermometer

Speakers

The dual 1.5 W speakers are located on the underside of the Chromebook nearest the two front corners. The reside under the only grilles on the chassis.

Sound quality is quite good for the size and especially the price. Bass is lacking, of course, but music feels otherwise balanced and without any static or artifacts at higher volume. However, Chrome OS offers no equilizer options by default and is instead limited to just volume and mute.

Battery Life

Samsung promises a battery life of up to 6.3 hours from the 2-cell 4080 mAh (30 Wh) non-removable Li-Polymer battery. Unfortunately, we were only able to replicate a close runtime by allowing the Chromebook to sit idle with disabled wireless and at minimum brightness - hardly an optimum setting. Instead, users should expect about 4 hours of continuous use according to our WLAN test at 150 nits (brightness setting 13/16) and our looping browser script to simulate typical browsing conditions.

The smaller battery capacity here compared to Samsung's Series 5 Chromebooks lead to lower runtime numbers for the Series 3 model. The Samsung 550C22, for example, clocks in at about 7 hours in the same WLAN test. The 11.6-inch Samsung falls somewhat short compared to the Pavilion 14 and Acer C720 Chromebooks as well, which lasted for about 9 hours and 4 hours, respectively, in the same WLAN test.

Battery Runtime
Idle (without WLAN, min brightness)
6h 01min
WiFi Surfing
4h 00min
Load (maximum brightness)
3h 10min

Verdict

Samsung Chromebook XE303C12-A01US
Samsung Chromebook XE303C12-A01US

On its surface, the Samsung XE303C12 Chromebook sounds like a fantastic deal for just $250. The notebook is powerful enough for simple multi-tasking and tasks like web browsing, video playback and word processing while being small and portable enough to be considered a travel companion. The low price and reliance on cloud-based storage also make the Chromebook an excellent secondary notebook for schoolwork or light office work and can even be considered disposable - at least as far as notebooks are concerned.

All the limitations of a Chromebook continue to apply. Potential buyers must keep in mind that Chrome OS is not compatible with Windows or Mac software or even apps and games from Google's own Play Store. Instead, users are largely limited to the Google Chrome Web Store, which can be either hit or miss in terms of content and options.

Do we recommend this Samsung model over competing Chromebooks? At $250 apiece, the similarly sized HP Chromebook 11 and Acer C720 all have so much in common that it can be hard to distinguish between one or the other. The HP has the brighter screen but lacks a dedicated HDMI, while the Acer has the more powerful processor but does not utilize a fanless design. The Samsung runs cooler than both the HP and Acer, but has a generally shorter battery life as well. Ultimately, users should pick the Chromebook that best fits their outdoor or indoor lifestyle and workloads.

The Samsung Series 3 Chromebook is now available on Adorama for $249

Comment this article:

In Review: Samsung Chromebook XE303C12-A01US
In Review: Samsung Chromebook XE303C12-A01US
The Samsung Series 3 Chromebook is now available on Adorama for $249

Specifications

Samsung Chromebook XE303C12-A01US

:: Processor
:: Memory
2048 MB, DDR3L
:: Graphics adapter
:: Display
11.6 inch 16:9, 1366x768 pixel, TN LED, glossy: no
:: Harddisk
16 GB eMMC Flash, 16 GB
:: Connections
1 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, 1 HDMI, Audio Connections: 3.5 mm headset , Card Reader: SD card reader,
:: Networking
802.11a/b/g/n (a b g n ), 3.0 Bluetooth
:: Size
height x width x depth (in mm): 18 x 290 x 209
:: Weight
1.1 kg Power Supply: 0.16 kg
:: Battery
30 Wh Lithium-Polymer, 2 cell, 30 Wh
:: Price
250 Euro
:: Operating System
Google Chrome OS
:: Additional features
Webcam: 0.3 MP, Speakers: 1.5 W x 2, Keyboard: Chiclet, Keyboard Light: no, 12 Months Warranty

 

Samsung Chromebook with Exynos 5250 APU
Samsung Chromebook with Exynos 5250 APU
The processor is very similar to the one used in the Nexus 10 tablet
The processor is very similar to the one used in the Nexus 10 tablet
Matte silver chassis is easy on the eyes
Matte silver chassis is easy on the eyes
Smooth surface makes fingerprints and dust easier to clean
Smooth surface makes fingerprints and dust easier to clean
The system is fanless and uses no vents
The system is fanless and uses no vents
Though not entirely taut, the hinges are sufficient at supporting the light display
Though not entirely taut, the hinges are sufficient at supporting the light display
All ports are located near or on the rear of the unit
All ports are located near or on the rear of the unit
The all-plastic case is only average in build quality
The all-plastic case is only average in build quality
Clean, simple look both inside and out
Clean, simple look both inside and out
Matte screen and edges feel very plastic and rather hollow
Matte screen and edges feel very plastic and rather hollow
Fanless design without ventilation grilles
Fanless design without ventilation grilles
Speaker grilles near the bottom front corners
Speaker grilles near the bottom front corners
Rear ports are easy to reach
Rear ports are easy to reach
SIM card slot on the rear of notebook
SIM card slot on the rear of notebook
Small AC adapter provides 12 V
Small AC adapter provides 12 V

Similar Laptops

Devices with the same GPU and/or Screen Size

» Review HP Chromebook 11
Exynos 5250 Dual, 1.044 kg

Devices with the same GPU

» Review Google Nexus 10 Tablet
Exynos 5250 Dual, 10.1", 0.603 kg

Devices from the same Manufacturer

» Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini Smartphone Review
Mali-400 MP4, Exynos 3470 Quad, 4.5", 0.12 kg
» Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 Tablet Review
Mali-T628 MP6, Exynos 5420 Octa, 10.5", 0.47 kg
» Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 Tablet Review
Mali-T628 MP6, Exynos 5420 Octa, 8.4", 0.301 kg
» Samsung ATIV Book 9 2014 (NP930X5J-K02DE) Ultrabook Review
HD Graphics 4400, Core i5 4200U, 15.6", 1.8 kg
» Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 10.1 Tablet Review
Adreno 305, Snapdragon 400 MSM8226, 10.1", 0.487 kg

Links

  • Manufacturer's information

Compare Prices

Pro

+Inexpensive
+Lightweight
+USB 3.0 and HDMI
+Easy to learn and use
+Reliable 1080p playback
+Good speakers
 

Cons

-Average build quality
-Chrome OS can feel limiting
-Small 16 GB internal SSD
-Average battery life
-No RJ-45 or DisplayPort ports
-Not bright enough to be used under direct sunlight

Shortcut

What we like

Inexpensive, easy-to-use and no frills notebook for anyone to use.

What we'd like to see

Longer battery life and a dedicated RJ-45 port. A larger internal SSD would greatly increase the media capabilities of the notebook.

What surprises us

A very capable Chromebook fit for traveling for just $250. Speakers are also good for the size and price.

The competition

Acer C720-2800

Google Pixel

HP Pavilion 14-c010us

Samsung Series 5 550C22

Rating

Samsung Chromebook XE303C12-A01US
08/14/2014 v4
Allen Ngo

Chassis
78 / 98 → 80%
Keyboard
86%
Pointing Device
90%
Connectivity
52%
Weight
74 / 78 → 91%
Battery
86%
Display
72%
Games Performance
45 / 85 → 53%
Application Performance
72%
Temperature
92 / 91 → 100%
Noise
100%
Average
77%
83%
Netbook *
Weighted Average

> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Review Samsung XE303C12-A01US Chromebook
Author: Allen Ngo, 2014-03- 3 (Update: 2014-07-23)