Google's new laptop entry

Last reviewed: September 2011
Samsung’s Series 5 Chromebook
First look
The Samsung version of Google’s Chromebook was fast but limited.

Want to spend more time with your head in the "cloud"? Google has licensed Samsung and Acer to manufacture the first two Chromebooks, small laptop-like computers that depend on the Internet "cloud" for almost all of their functions and storage.

We took a First Look at Samsung's Series 5; a Wi-Fi-only model costs $430 and one that adds 3G access (a service contract is extra) is $500. Our early verdict: The one we tried, with 3G, is interesting but has significant limitations. We haven't fully tested the Chromebook yet. Our Select Ratings (available to subscribers) has top laptops and netbooks to consider. Here are the Chromebook details:

Quick starts

It starts up from a full shutdown in about 10 seconds and wakes up instantly from sleep mode. The only software installed on the computer is a special version of Google's Chrome browser, and everything works through it. The laptop weighs about 3.3 pounds and has a bright, crisp, 12.1-inch matte display. It has the latest Intel Atom dual-core processor, 2GB of memory, an HD webcam, and a 16GB solid-state drive. Two USB ports and an SD memory-card slot allow you to add storage.

Working online

When you open a new tab in the browser, you'll see links to online applications such as Google Docs, Google Calendar, and Gmail, as well as a Web Store from which you can access other online applications. The idea is to store everything online—documents, photos, music, and other files. But if you can't get online, your Chromebook doesn't do much more than a rock sitting on your desk. Google plans to enable applications to work offline.

Power plays

The Chromebook didn't have enough power to play videos in full-screen mode from a USB drive or from its hard drive. They stuttered and paused, and there were audio breaks. But videos played well in a small window. Battery life was about 8 hours, close to what's claimed and comparable to that of many netbooks.

Bottom line

The Chromebook is an easy-to-use laptop that could appeal to buyers looking for something bigger than a netbook and cheaper than a laptop. But we think it's too limited for most users. For better functionality, consider a more powerful laptop or a lower-cost netbook.