"Forget Google Chrome! This is pure Google Gold!"Let's take a look at a Samsung Series 5 Chromebook, one of a new range of laptops running the super fast integrated Google Chrome OS available for under £350.
If you're looking for a new laptop to replace your current one, you need to ask the question "what do I use it for?". If like most people these days you just want to be able to open the lid and instantly be online, ready to pickup your emails, check your Twitter Account and bust some moves on Angry Birds, then the Chromebook might just be for you.
Because the Samsung Series 5 runs the Google Chrome OS, there's no Microsoft Windows or Apple OS installed, and this makes it one very fast machine to boot up and within 12 seconds of turning it on from cold you're ready to go, but in sleep mode it's even faster, ready in about 2 seconds.
For those unaware of what a Chromebook is, in simple terms, it's a laptop running a dedicated web browser, so unlike a laptop running Microsoft Windows or Apple OS, you don't have lots of different application windows to switch between, so things are kept super simple.
But this isn't just a laptop for browsing the internet, oh no, no, no, you get instant access to the fantastic Chrome Web Store, which boasts over 30 million Applications, Games and Themes for you to enjoy, and most applications will install locally allowing you to access them when you're not online. In our experience, the Chrome Web Store is one of the easiest ways to install additional software, and for the novice, there's certainly no scary looking installation screens. Overall we were very impressed with the Chrome OS, and especially favored some of the sleek animation effects built in, in particular the zooming animation effect when turning the laptop on and off.
We did however find the Chrome OS a little sluggish at times and some games and applications became a little slow to startup and run, this could be down to the Intel ATOM processor that's inside, as we have found this processor to be a little slow in previous laptop tests.
Aside from being slightly slow at times, from the moment you take the Series 5 out of the box, you start to realise how light, small and compact the laptop is, and once you open the nicely designed white glossy lid (with a very cool 3D Chrome Badge) you start to see vital differences between the Chromebook and other laptops. The keyboard for one has been kept to a minimal design and many of the buttons you might be familiar with have disappeared and been replaced with special functions keys to help you navigate your way around. There is a tiny webcam built into the screen, which gave really good results.
Despite the screen only being 12.1" in size, it felt bigger and because Samsung have used a matte finish, reflections are seriously reduced, which is a massive help when working in sunlit conditions, the screen is also REALLY bright and 50% brightness was certainly more than enough for us. The screen is surrounded by a nice glossy border, but we were a little let down by the plastic surrounding the keyboard and mouse pad, which seemed to attract finger prints very easily. We did find it to be a little too plastic and often an annoying creaking sound is made when closing the lid or putting any type of pressure on the area surrounding the mouse pad, the mouse pad can take a little getting used to with the user required to press down on the pad to select anything, rather than simply tapping it lightly, although you do have the option of plugging a mouse in, maybe the most frustrating feature is having to press two fingers on the mouse pad to right click, although you're likely to quickly adapt to this way of use, we did later find an option hidden away in the settings which allows you to change the mouse pad, so instead of pressing, you can simply tap it. When you login to the Chromebook for the very first time, there's a helpful tutorial which helps you get to grips with the mouse pad.
The special function keys on the keyboard we found to be more useful than we first thought, with helpful buttons to move back and forth through web pages, reloading a website, changing the brightness of the screen and adjusting the volume level, Samsung have also done away with the Caps lock key and replaced it with a search button which takes you directly to your Chrome Dashboard, giving you access to all your installed and available applications. Some nice shortcuts have also been created, such as allowing the user to easily flick between tabs on the browser window by just pressing "Ctrl" and "Tab" keys.
Because this laptop contains a Solid State Drive, rather than the traditional hard drive, there's no moving parts, which means access to data is faster and there's no annoying fans blasting out trying to keep it cool, so instead you get the sound of a very quiet fan, which can only really be heard in absolute silence.
Now remember that this is a wireless laptop, which means you need to have a wireless connection to get online, but with most homes kitted out with a wireless router or access to a wireless hotspot, and most smartphone capable of a wireless connection, this isn't too much of a problem, although it would have been nice to be given an ethernet port to plug a network cable into.
Despite the few flaws we found, for such a small, light laptop, it's got a pretty decent spec and comes with a Intel ATOM 1.66Ghz Processor, 2GB of RAM, a 12.1" Screen (capable of 1280 x 800 resolution), 16GB Solid SSD Drive, a HD Webcam, 2 USB Ports, Memory Card reader and a battery which promises 8,5 hours of use (although we only managed just under 8 hours).
Looking around the side of the laptop, inputs are kept to a very minimum, with 1 port for your power adapter, 1 USB port and a headphone jack, there's also two cleverly secret compartments which easily open up to reveal another USB port and a mini port for a the VGA Dongle (which is supplied) on the left side, and a compartment containing a USIM Card Slot on the right side, there''s also a Multi Memory Card Slot on the front of the laptop. We really loved with ingenious use of these hidden compartments to help create a minimalistic look.
Overall, this is a great laptop and fully capable of performing 90% of the tasks the average user would need, so if you're looking for a lightweight laptop that is fast to boot up but want a bit of style for under £350, then the Samsung Series 5 will do nicely, certainly a good first attempt by Samsung.