It’s hard to believe that the Chromebook is still with us. If you recall, Chromebooks were birthed in a tumultuous time for the world. The country was in the midst of economic collapse and craptastic netbooks were the cheap hotness.
Today, netbooks are so worthless, some companies have resorted to giving them away with the purchase of an Ultrabook. Yet Google and its Chromebook science experiment is still kicking along. As they were at inception, Chromebooks remain low-end hardware coupled with an OS built almost entirely around the Chrome browser and are really best suited for those who live the Google lifestyle.
One of the best Chromebooks out there.
The latest iteration is the Samsung Chromebook Model No. XE303C12. It’s actually the third Samsung Chromebook. We reviewed the company’s first effort, the Chromebook Series 5, which sported a dual-core 1.66GHz Atom N5770, and found it wanting. Though not entirely the fault of the weak Atom chip, the Chrome OS was simply too limited in offline functionality and even many online functions didn’t quite work right when it was connected.
Samsung’s latest Chromebook is markedly different from the Series 5. The most noticeable change is the use of Samsung’s own 1.7GHz Exynos 5 CPU. This SoC CPU is based on the Cortex A15 and is an out-of-order design rather than the typical ARM design, which uses the slower-but-power-sipping in-order execution. To see how this ARM chip stacks up, we compared it to the Series 5 using the Atom N570 as well as the original Google CR-48 concept Chromebook running an Atom N455. The winner? Surprise, x86—the Samsung ARM chip slaps around both Atom CPUs like the Hulk smashing bad guys. Before ARM aficionados declare complete victory, we will note that we suspect the pricier Celeron-based Chromebook would eat the Exynos in one bite. Those Chromebooks are hardly cheap, though. Of course, the real problem is that discussing performance on a Chromebook is mostly academic. You don’t need much power to run a browser. Even the ancient single-core CR-48 is still quite usable.
It’s more about the presentation and the pricing. In presentation, Samsung does a relatively good job, though the easily scratched plastic shell doesn’t exude quality. The new Chromebook is Ultrabook-thin, weighs 2.5 pounds, and its 11.6-inch screen sports 1366x768 resolution—which is slightly higher than the Series 5 Chromebook. The big breakthrough for the Chromebook is its price. At $250, the Chromebook is almost a compelling mobile device.
We say almost because no matter what, Chromebook’s will always be limited compared to a PC or even a tablet. While the much lower price of the new Chromebook makes it pretty attractive, tablets and even convertible PC’s have been moving in price, too. When a quad-core tablet or a full-blown Windows 8 tablet can be had for $200–$500, the Chromebook is still only suited for those who can work around its limitation of requiring the Internet for full productivity.