Google Chromebook lacks luster -- and purpose

Samsung Chromebook Series 5 3G brings ho-hum hardware to the half-baked Chrome OS

Google thinks you should do all of your computing on the Web. To prove its point, the company has been working to replace traditional desktop software with Web-based alternatives, such as Gmail and Google Docs. When Internet Explorer and Firefox struggled to handle those complex applications, Google launched its own browser called Chrome, igniting a features war that has improved JavaScript performance and Web standards support in every major browser.

The very pinnacle of Google's vision of a Web-based world, however, must surely be Chrome OS, a new operating system built entirely around the Chrome browser. Laptops running Chrome OS, called Chromebooks, are designed from the ground up to be Web-connected in every way. Following a pilot program last year, the first Chromebooks are now shipping to consumers, so I decided to take one of the two new models -- the Samsung Chromebook Series 5 3G -- and see how well Google's device stacks up to traditional notebooks and traditional computing units.

[ Find out how Microsoft's and Google's suites stacked up in "Office 365 vs. Google Apps: The InfoWorld review." | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights via Twitter and with the Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

The verdict? The Chromebook is lightweight and inexpensive, and it offers a full-featured Web browsing experience. But its low-end hardware, lack of versatility, and primitive support for commonplace computing tasks such as printing, file management, networking, and media playback make it a poor choice for everyday use, particularly in a business setting. Read on for the details.

Chromebook: Like a netbook, but different
The Series 5's overall fit and finish is comparable to that of a typical netbook. Its plastic body doesn't suggest durability, the screen hinge feels weak, and the doors covering the ports on the sides seem ready to pop off at a moment's notice. All of its surfaces pick up fingerprints easily.

The 12.1-inch, 1,280-by-800 LED backlit display is plenty bright, and its matte surface shrugs off glare admirably, but it's prone to color shifts and washed-out blacks, depending on the viewing angle. It's not a bad screen, really, but it's nothing to write home about.

The Chromebook's keyboard is pleasantly full-sized, with generously spaced keys, although it's a little mushy. Likewise, the touchpad is large enough for even the fattest fingers, and its surface doubles as a clickable mouse button, although you can enable tapping if you prefer. Pressing with two fingers simulates a right-click.

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Test Center Scorecard
 
 20%20%15%20%15%10% 
Samsung Chromebook Series 5 3G865876

6.8

Fair

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