The Samsung Series 5 Chromebook is the first laptop to use Google's Chrome OS operating system. The software strips away the familiar desktop, start menu and folder system, instead relying almost entirely on browser-based operation. Sadly Chrome OS is far from perfect, and Google may find it a struggle to convince users to take the plunge.
The Series 5 laptop itself is well-built, with a dual-core, 1.66GHz Intel Atom N570 processor, 2GB of RAM, and a beautifully bright and clear screen. The machine's super-fast start-up time is also pleasing, but its price tag may be too steep for many.
The 3G and Wi-Fi version will cost around £400 when it's released on 1 August, while the Wi-Fi-only model will set you back around £350 when it emerges on 1 July.
To begin with, we'll take a look at Chrome OS specifically. If you're after information about the Samsung hardware, feel free to skip forwards.
Is your head in the cloud?
Although it may seem odd initially, there are numerous reasons why you may wish to opt for an operating system based entirely around a Web browser.
Firstly, while you won't be able to install programmes such as Adobe Photoshop, Windows Live Messenger and Microsoft Office onto your hard drive, equivalent apps are available in the Chrome Web Store. These apps are downloaded to, and operate entirely within, the browser.
This system allows a relatively slow machine to perform processor-heavy tasks, such as video editing, as the remote servers that power the app perform the majority of the work -- all your computer needs to do is keep the browser open. It's a similar system to that used by game-streaming firm OnLive, which allows users to play demanding video games on low-end machines at home.
Since you no longer need to install programmes onto your hard disk, you should find that the Series 5 runs smoothly. It's certainly quick to start up, taking around ten seconds.
Another advantage of the cloud-based system is that, as no data files are stored locally on the laptop, it's less at risk from viruses that can sneak into your machine and tamper with user data. As such, the Series 5 doesn't come with antivirus software, which often noticeably hampers the performance of a computer.
Google claims that Chromebooks may actually perform better over time. The company says it will be able to automatically push out updates to Chrome OS that could lead to improved performance, boosting battery life, for example.
While there may be some good reasons to opt for a browser-based OS, there are sadly more -- and better -- reasons not to. The whole concept of operating permanently in the cloud -- a concept that the Series 5 is sold on -- is probably one that most users would find difficult to live with.
It's very easy to say "all your data is in the cloud", as though it's a positive point, but, in reality, who wants all their data stored online only? Such a system means you are totally dependent on having a reliable Web connection. You won't just have a more difficult time reading your documents if you don't have Internet access -- those files simply won't be available to you until you are next able to get online.
Certain Chrome Web Store apps, such as Angry Birds, allow the user to sync the app, so it can be played offline, but these apps are few and far between. Google Docs isn't even available offline, even though it has been promised for a while. If Google itself isn't even able to sort out offline editing, it doesn't bode well for lesser developers.
Google is likely to have its work cut out in trying to convince people to compute in the cloud. Many users will find it difficult to believe that an online service will keep their files totally secure, especially after the recent problems Sony has had with PlayStation Network hacks. Even Google managed to wipe the Gmail accounts of up to 150,000 users earlier this year, proving that the system still isn't flawless.
Also, bear in mind that you'll need a fat wallet to pay for all the mobile data you'll consume if you regularly use the Series 5 over a 3G connection.
The 3G-enabled version of the Series 5 comes with 100MB of data per month on a SIM card from Three. While this may be enough for some light Web browsing on a smart phone, it probably won't be anywhere near enough for use with the Series 5, especially if you make a habit of streaming video from YouTube or BBC iPlayer.
A Wi-Fi-only version of the Series 5 is available, but you'll have to be absolutely sure you'll never want to use it on the bus -- without 3G, you'll be scuppered.
Let's talk about hardware, baby
The Series 5 itself is an attractive laptop. Its 12.1-inch screen means it's a portable size, and it's only 20mm thick too. Weighing around 1.5kg, it isn't the lightest machine on the market, but you certainly won't feel like you have an anchor chained to you when you're walking around with it.
There's a limited number of ports -- two USB 2.0 ports, a combined 3.5mm microphone and headphone socket, a VGA out (with included adaptor), a slot for a SIM card, and an SD card slot.
The 12.1-inch screen is beautifully bright and clear. Colours are reproduced well and text is crisp and very readable. The matte coating keeps reflections to a minimum, which makes the Series 5 great for outdoor use.
The keyboard is wide, making use of all the available space. The isolated keys are easy to press and make typing over long periods very comfortable. Below the keyboard is a multi-touch, clickable trackpad that's larger than the one found on many bigger laptops.
As this laptop isn't bogged down with a bloated OS and power-hungry antivirus software, it manages a start-up time of around 10 seconds. It also wakes almost instantaneously from sleep mode -- something that's very handy if you need quick access to your emails.
The no-frills approach also helps to give the Series 5 a battery life of up to 8 hours of constant use. In our tests, we found that this figure was very achievable, and we were able to go a couple of days without charging.
Running in the middle of the road
Under the hood of the Series 5, you'll find a dual-core, 1.66GHz Intel Atom N570 processor, paired with 2GB of RAM. Those specs won't blow anybody's mind, but, considering the kind of tasks that can be performed on this laptop, you won't need much more power. A 16GB solid-state drive provides room for syncing offline apps -- here's hoping more of them become available soon.
Web browsing is a speedy affair -- the Series 5 is able to load a full page of photos without anything resembling a hiccup. Video streaming from YouTube is pleasant too, but only up to a 720p resolution. 1080p streams are practically unplayable. That will prove annoying if you were hoping to hook this machine up to a monitor.
We did encounter certain browsing issues along the way -- Facebook Chat didn't want to load for us, and, when we received Facebook notifications, the drop-down box wouldn't work. Still, we may have missed some important poking from our more annoying friends, but the browsing experience was mostly fine.
When you have a Web connection, you can access the many apps on the Chrome Web Store. There are browser-based versions of most types of common software to play with -- just make sure you don't lose your Internet connection.
As the OS is entirely browser-based, there's no folder system in which to save your photos and videos. If you plug in an SD card, though, a crude file explorer loads in a new browser tab, allowing you to view its contents and upload them to a Web service.
Browsing photos on a card is somewhat sluggish, though -- even more so when viewing high-res images -- and the Series 5 wasn't able to play back our AVI video file due to codec issues.
The Samsung Series 5 Chromebook is well-built and pleasingly portable, but Chrome OS feels more like an experiment than a finished, polished product. We reckon the price tag is also too steep for a no-frills laptop, especially when you can buy a decently performing netbook such as the Toshiba NB520 for about £70 to £120 less.
Still, all experiments have to start somewhere, and it's almost certain that we'll all be increasingly living in the cloud as technology marches on. We may well soon find ourselves looking back fondly at the Series 5 and musing "That's where it all began".
Edited by Charles Kloet