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Saturday
Dec222012

First Impressions of Google's ARM Chromebook

By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

Google's first ARM powered Chromebook, made by Samsung, is an intriguing new take at the personal cloud-connected notebook. Selling for $249 and available only in the US through online resellers like Amazon.com, Google says this is the Chromebook for everyone. Here  are my first impressions.

Out of the box, the 11.5 inch Chromebook looks like it might be made from aluminum but it is actually made from very rigid plastic. This is the first ARM Chromebook using Samsung's own dual-core 1.5 GHz Exynos processor (reportedly coming to mobile devices in 2013), which is a key component of a fanless, diskless and completely silent notebook. It is also thin and light at just 2.5 pounds.

The design of this ARM Chromebook owes a lot to the 11-inch MacBook Air, most specially the keyboard style, layout and placement. I use a 11-inch MacBook Air from time to time, and found that I could type on the Chromebook in relative darkness without missing a beat, the two keyboards are that much alike.

The construction and build quality of this Chromebook is impressive. It feels way more solid than many creaky notebooks that cost more and has an almost tablet-like vibe to how everything is integrated.

In terms of specs there's 16GB of flash storage, 2GB of RAM, a webcam, USB 3.0, USB 2.0, HDMI-out, SDCard slot and there's an optional dongle for Ethernet connections. Google gives users a 100GB free storage for two years with each Chromebook and also throws in 10 sessions of free Gogo inflight WiFi for use in planes, nice perk!

Booting up takes less than 10 seconds and since you're running on an OS based on the Chrome browser logging into your GMail account synchs everything you set up on any other machine. Being a heavy Chrome browser user, I was set up and good to go in under 5 minutes.

Now that the Chromebook now allows for offline work on Docs and basic image editing, the Chromebook isn't completely useless when there's no WiFi available.

I'm using a Roam Mobility Liberty Hotspot as my means of 4G-LTE access while in the US and it works just fine. The Chromebook seems to be better at picking up hotspots than many recent notebooks I'v, thanks to the dual band WiFi, which is great news. There's a SIM card slot as well which, while inactive in my WiFi-only model, indicates a 3G data version in the works.

I've had a few hours with the Chromebook and it's surprisingly capable. Performance is as good as or better than an entry level notebook with similar specs. The screen isn't super bright but it is good enough and it is matte and not glossy, big plus.

One issue that bothers me is how the screen goes to black when you push it all the way back for a better viewing angle. Pushing it forward fixes this but it feels like a defect like to video ribbon is getting caught somewhere in there. I've reached out to Samsung via email but the issue in question seems like it  might require a lenghty phone call. Thankfully, there's a one-year warranty on the Chromebook.

Since I already do most of my work in Chrome, I've found the Chromebook to be just fine for basic computing, blogging and Internet use (mail, Twitter, YouTube, online shopping, Google Plus). I haven't tried any of the web apps for editing photos or more demanding web design but will get to that in a full review. 

This is a pretty amazing computer for the price and It surprised me that everything has been running so smooth so far. This Chromebook is the most promising one yet.

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