Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Initial Thoughts On The Samsung Series 5 Chromebook

Google has finally made good on their promise to deliver Chrome OS to the world this summer. Or they will, on June 15 when the first Chromebooks are available. Following the formal unveiling on day two of Google I/O, Samsung and Google held a joint event to further show off the hardware to a group of journalists.

First of all, the Samsung device seems far faster than the Cr-48. That’s a bit surprising since the specs are not all that different except for the fact that the Series 5 has a dual-core Intel Atom chip as opposed to the single-core one that the Cr-48 has. The RAM, SSD, etc, are the same. So apparently the chip does make the big difference.
Flash playback had also been a big problem with the Cr-48. On Series 5, Flash seems to work pretty well — even in HD on sites like YouTube and Hulu. Well, 720p anyway. 1080p produced quite a bit of lag, and yes, some serious undercarriage heat.

As for the trackpad, it’s also much improved. It’s not nice as nice as the glass MacBook trackpad, but it is able to track where you finger is moving in realtime (which the Cr-48 could not always do). It still feels a little cheap, but it works more or less as expected.

But the initial thing you will notice about the Samsung Series 5 is what a good first impression it makes. That’s because the thing starts up nearly instantaneously. Google is claiming an 8-second boot, we think it might be ever faster. Compare that to a Mac or PC which often takes several times as long (though the Macs with new SSDs are very fast as well).

Even better is that when you hit the login screen and enter your Google credentials (assuming you have them, of course), everything in synced within seconds. That means your bookmarks, passwords, and even extensions/apps hop over to the new machine seamlessly through the air. This experience was actually one of the cooler things we have seen in a while. Such integration will probably give a regular user that “magical” type feeling.

And let’s talk about the price, because that will be very important. While the Samsung models (and the even cheaper Acer model) easily beat any Mac laptop in price, they are in line with several PC notebooks already on the market. And because these Chromebooks are stripped of many of the features people typically look for when PC shopping, it will be interesting to see how these stack up on bestbuy.com and amazon.com (where they will initially be sold).

Getting below the $500 threshold was crucial, but they may need models half that price if they really want them to move against cheap PC notebooks.

The sub-$500 price was also critical to get below the iPad. At least at first, consumers are likely going to look at Chromebooks as cheap, secondary machines, and not full-on computer replacements. Fair or not, that will run head-first into the iPad market as well. So again, the cheaper Google can make these things, the better.

The truth is that, based on our initial impression, Chromebooks are likely to be good enough to replace a full-on computer for many users. There will be reluctance at first to accept this idea simply because change is hard. But if Google can break the Windows mindset — something that will be much easier said than done — you should see users start to move over.

Make no mistake, Chromebooks are a direct attack on Microsoft. Thanks to Chrome, Google Search, Gmail, etc, Google has all the data they need to know that people spend the vast majority of their time on computers these days in the web browser. So why not just cut out the middle man? Microsoft.

These initial Chromebooks are just act one of this melodrama. But it looks to be a pretty good act one.


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