Chromebook Series 5 review
Released after a long period of wait and “teased” by the prototype Cr-48, Chromebook Series 5 is actually the first netbook to be manufactured and deployed under the supervision of Google to reach a wide audience. For those that expect to find 4 other products behind this release, note that “Series 5” has more to do with the subsequent updates to the Linux based OS to which the netbook is bound to, rather than a sign of evolution in actual tech.
Another important aspect worth noting is that Google hasn’t suddenly become a manufacturer of hardware either, at least not in the traditional, volume sales sense. The Chromebook Series 5 netbook is manufactured and assembled by Samsung and all hardware components are produced by third party manufacturers.
The Chromebook Series 5 is available for purchase at a suggested retail price of $499, but in the meantime, since its release in mid 2011, Google has made the product available as a rental as well, for about $30.
What is Chrome OS?
The Chromebook Series 5 brings to the table a novel concept of operating system. Chrome OS is a very different beast compared to any other OSes out there and it marks a new breakthrough for what operating system environments are.
There are quite a few proprietary OS platforms out there at the moment, each one meant as a sort of safeguard for the devices they operate on and for the applications they permit to run, making both physical product as well as apps bound to the environment. Android OS, Apple’s OSes for mobile phones and Macintoshes, and a few other closed platforms, all safeguard manufacturer’s interests in keeping all profits at home. However, none of them bind the user to an online only environment, like Chrome OS does.
Chrome OS is a browser OS. The device – Chromebook – is used as a portal, much like a thin client to connect the user to the cloud, Google’s cloud. As a user you need to create a Chrome account, and once you’re logged in you can then start and use your machine.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this type of OS. On one hand your data is not bound to the physical device. That means that if it gets stolen, malfunctions or is simply not available, you can still get access to all your data. On the other hand, everyone who knows your password is able to log into your cloud account and use your data.
The OS kernel actually available on the Chromebook Series 5 is a heavily modified version of Linux, which theoretically would allow compatibility with many applications developed for distributions of Linux. Not the case though, Chrome OS is a locked down platform, allowing only access to applications available from Google, through its dedicated store.
At first glance, the Chromebook Series 5 doesn’t seem to have any distinctive feature, it sort of blends in with many of the netbooks available on the market. Size wise it’s a 12.1 inch round bodied mini laptop, which, once opened treats you with a slightly modified keyboard, sporting a few Chromebook specific keys.
Powering it is a common Intel Atom N 570 processor running at 1.66 GHz, a working memory of 2GB of RAM, having access to 16GB of dedicated SSD storage. The battery consists of 6 cells, and it should allow you an autonomy of up to 8, 8 and a half hours.
The screen is a matte LED backlit panel, indeed quite luminous as Google advertised, but a little too washed out and with good but unimpressive color display abilities.
Top center on the screen you can find a 1MP camera, and on the sides you have one USB port and a slot for a SIM card (on the right). On the left side of the device a headphone jack is available next to which the power adapter socket can be found, another USB port and also a proprietary video output, which, once coupled with the included dongle can connect to any VGA display.
The case is made out of plastic, which, is somewhere in the middle regarding its quality, it however makes for a sturdy case. Depending on how “brutal” you are with the machine you can expect squeaks and creaks and some other undesirable symptoms of not so good chassis materials.
The Chromebook Series 5 as a device is nothing spectacular. It uses the same kind of netbook tech that we have come to be used to, dependable but quite problematic when it comes to overall speed. So, if you are after performance, better forget about it. On the other side, much more interesting and novel, the device hosts a really innovative OS. The advantages are clear – save data in the cloud, access your data from other devices, and easily use one Chromebook for as many accounts as you want. Corrupting other users’ data or having access to it is not possible, as everything is stored online.
So, in conclusion, as a device, the Series 5 Chromebook is unspectacular, but as a platform, while showing clear signs of potential, a lot more refinement will be required to truly tap into the potential that the OS teases us with.