Samsung Series 5 Chromebook Review

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While Chrome OS itself will be a major focal point of this review, there's not much point in digging into the software without a solid piece of hardware to run it. We're pleased to say that the hardware of the Series 5 is seriously top-shelf, and really impresses.


It's important to point out the Wi-Fi only model of this machine runs $429. That's not "cheap." It's not even on the lower end of the pricing scale when looking at netbooks and other Atom-based machines. It's actually a solid chunk of change when compared to many other $299 netbooks with similar screen sizes and a non-cloud OS, like Windows 7. In fact, Samsung gets away with not even having a hard drive in this thing; being that it's mostly cloud-based, there's little need for an HDD to store things locally, considering that no file system (as we've learned to think about a "file system") is present here. In other words, there's no "local file storage," which is why there's no advertised hard drive capacity. The only storage here is a 16GB mSATA SSD to hold the essential files needed for Chrome OS itself to run.


In other words, you're paying a price premium for the hardware. But at least it's obvious. The shiny white lid is just beautiful (a darker hue will be shipping shortly), and it contrasts nicely with the black bottom and black inner portions. It's also wildly thin and incredibly light; just like you'd expect a netbook-class device to be. It's highly portable, but the 12.1" display gives you more screen real estate (and in turn, larger keys below it) than cramped 10" machines.

The display is encircled by a glossy black bezel and a 1.0MP webcam at the top, while the keyboard area is totally matte. There's a non-backlit keyboard that uses the standard "square key" layout instead of the suddenly popular "chicklet" variation. Beneath the keys is a very wide trackpad that resembles the glass trackpads on newer MacBook Pro machines. There's no right/left click buttons; the entire pad depresses, and it supports multi-gesture movements as well.


Along the right edge, you'll find a SIM card slot (for inserting your own AT&T, T-Mobile or other carrier SIM for global 3G use), and a single USB 2.0 port. The rear is home to no ports at all, while the left edge has an AC power input, a heat exhaust vent, a video output (a VGA dongle is included in the box), another USB 2.0 port and a 3.5mm combo jack that works as a mic input or a headphone port. The front edge is home to an SD card slot.


Back to the keyboard and trackpad -- Samsung really nailed these. The typing experience is excellent. It feels like we have more space to type on the Series 5 than on the XPS 15z or MacBook Pro. The key travel is ideal, and we had no issues all, even after writing this entire review right on the device. The trackpad is also a gem. It's HUGE, which is hard to find on a device of this size. The fact that the entire pad clicks down is also a boon, and it worked great in practice. The multi-gesture support was hit-or-miss, but mostly hit. We rarely had any wonky moments (but we did have a few!). That said, the two-finger scrolling on documents and Web pages worked well the majority of the time, and that's more than most sub-$500 machines can say. We should also point out that there are no palm rest stickers to speak of. This is hugely refreshing, and it's a movement that we wish would sweep the netbook/notebook industry.


The 12.1" panel has a 1280x800 screen resolution, which is par for the course. However, it uses a matte panel rather than a glossy one, which is remarkably easy on the eyes. It also has fantastic viewing angles, and it played back high-definition YouTube clips wonderfully. We really wish more companies would consider matte displays; they really are superior for those who use their machines in daylight, which is just about everyone we know.


All in all, we can't say enough good things about the hardware. It's rigid, beautiful, and well-constructed. It features a few subtle things that few other machines in this class feature, and it's those things that make using it such solid piece of hardware. Now, onto software.

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