Monday, May 13, 2013

Samsung ARM Chromebook Review

The Samsung ARM Chromebook is one of a few ARM devices that I prepare Bodhi Linux images for. As such I've owned the hardware for almost six months now and during this time I've used it a fair amount. The goal of this post is to provide a comprehensive review of the product to see if it is something that could be useful to you.

Cost - 
Lets start with one of the first draws - the price point. The Chromebook comes in at under 300 USD. 250 USD plus shipping and handling to be exact.

Performance -
In terms of speed the Chromebook processor is snappy compared to other netbook offerings and ARM chipsets in general. The Chromebook sports the Samsung Exynos 5 1.7ghz dual core processor and 2gigs of DDR3 RAM. This coupled with the 16GB solid state hard drive allow the Chromebook to boot fully from a cold start in just a few seconds.

Under Chrome OS the Chromebook happily plays a variety of multimedia formats. Including 720p video files, 1080 flash streams, and Netflix.

Connections - 
In terms of "ports" the Chromebook sports two USB (one 3.0 and one 2.0), an SDHC card slot, HDMI video output, and a combination audio input/output jack. While all these ports are plenty functional I do have a few comments about them.

First - both USB ports, the HDMI and the power plug are all right next to each other on the back of the netbook. This means if you have all these ports in use at the same time space gets kind of tight (it also means if you have a clunky USB device it is going to block other ports).

Second - because the Chromebook has such little storage by default, it can be nice to use a SD card as extra space. Sadly, unlike most netbooks - when you insert a SD card into the Chromebook it does not go completely inside of the netbook. Meaning if you leave an SD card in the slot while transporting the netbook it is likely to get damaged.

Finally - maybe this one is just me, but I dislike not having traditional two ports for audio input/output. My traditional headsets do not work when using a Google hangout with this netbook.

Size & Feel - 
The Chromebook has an awesome form factor. Weighing in at just under 2.5 pound (about 1.1 KG) and having dimensions of 289.6 x 208.5 x 16.8 - 17.5 mm it is a sleek little device.

Personally I like Chicklet keyboards on laptops and the Chromebook keyboard is no exception for me. The keyboard layout on the Chromebook is one that is best described with an image though:

As you can see there is no super (or "Windows") modifier key, Capslock has been left off in favor of a "search" button, and while the top row of buttons may not read F1-F10 - under non-ChromeOS operating systems they return these values.

One design choice I found slightly odd with the Chromebook is that even though the hardware supports a "right" click function, all context menus within Chrome OS are called up with a two finger touch ("right" clicking in Chrome OS is no different than any other single finger touch).

Battery & Screen - 
The battery life on the Chromebook is one of the largest draws I think. It is easily one of the lightest pieces of hardware with a lengthy battery life. Through average web use the Chromebook sees just shy of seven hours of usage before you need to find an outlet.

While the screen resolution could be better, the Chromebook's 1366x768 screen resolution at least enables you to watch 720p video in their native quality.

Misc Thoughts -
I have had some trouble using the HDMI output on the Chromebook - the graphics drivers on Chrome OS seem to be fairly buggy. I've experience full system lock ups when attaching an external screen while the OS is running - but this does not happen every time and I cannot reproduce it consistently.

One that keeps me from using the Chromebook as my primary mobile computer over my old trusty Asus T101MT is that Dropbox does not create their software for ChromeOS or generic ARM Linux devices to date. I store a lot of data on this service and accessing it all via a web portal instead of having it sync to the system's local drive is very annoying. If you are open to using Google drive this is a non-issue, but I haven't had the time to make this jump as of yet.

Closing -
Who would I recommend the Chromebook to? Anyone who needs a device for accessing the web, but requires a keyboard to get their work done. If a large deal of your computing time is spent on Gmail, Facebook, Netflix, online shopping or Youtube then the Chromebook is the perfect device for you.

Who would I not recommend a Chromebook to? Someone that is looking to use it as their sole computer. While a lot of people use the web a lot - most people still have at least one or two desktop applications they need access to (such as my tie to drop box). Because of this Chrome OS's "web based" application eco-system currently still leaves some to be desired.

Do you own a Samsung ARM Chromebook? If so what are you thoughts on the device?

~Jeff Hoogland


  1. Nice article. I am keen to buy one, your thoughts were helpful. You should try Bittorrent Sync to replace Dropbox, there is a port for ARM:

    Haven't used the ARM version yet though, just x68. Maybe I should try on my RPi.

    Been testing it for a week or so, works relatively well. Need to have many peers to make it as fast as Dropbox though.

    How has the stability and hardware support matured on Bodhi? Still having some issues?

    1. Under Bodhi on the device everything short of 3D works. ARM GPUs are a closed source nightmare :o

    2. Have you looked at this post about trying to get hardware accelerations to work under ubuntu?

  2. I love my Chromebook and the only thing i still have not found is a web service for creating fairly advanced letters, broschures and other marketing material. For everything else it rocks :D

  3. If you could do a chroot equivalent for Bodhi like Crouton you cold have best of both worlds. I find that having crouton means i don't miss not having an off line OS. Drawback...have to be in developer mode.

  4. I have been using an XE303C with CHrUbuntu 12.04 as a secondary computer and I am very satisfied with it.

    It runs LibreOffice and Chromium fast enough to be a really useful addition to my desktop.

    I also miss file-syncing client (ownCloud in my case) but I make do with accessing it through WebDAV (with Krusader).

  5. Thanks for your post.
    I'm not much into the techie part, but I have no problems using DropBox on my Chromebook. Are you missing the desktop mirror of your Dropbox?
    Dropbox is actually in my opinion an old fashion way of file storage: you cant really collaborate and you still face problems with version numbering. I clearly prefer Google Drive. But thats maybe a more a matter of taste.

  6. I just got my chromebook a little while ago and am very impressed with it. I too was disappointed with how dropbox worked, but since my office uses google apps I had been meaning to move over to google drive anyways.

    I still do fine it to be just a bit underpowered. Video is full screen will stutter, too many tabs can cause odd issues, ect. But the battery life more than makes up for just about everything. Also the keyboard is pretty nice and it is one of the few non-mac laptops i have found where I don't absolutely hate the trackpad (it isn't the best trackpad in the work, but I don't hate it).

    I honestly think this could be someones primary laptop and can't wait to see what version 2 of this chromebook will be like.

  7. I have a chrome book, I think this is well worth the reasonable price especially for students like me