Samsung Chromebook XE303C12 Reviewed


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What if you use Google for everything, you’re hearing more and more about all this “computing in the cloud” business, and you need a laptop that doesn’t cost more than a car payment? Sounds like a reason to look at a Chromebook. I looked at purchasing one in the past but hesitated for various reasons. After having used one obtained from Staples for a few weeks, I have some new feelings about it.

First Impressions

To look at a Chromebook on Google’s site, you’d think it was made of nicer materials like the Nexus 7 or the Pixel. When I opened up the box, I was met with something that was surprisingly plastic. Once I got over the plastic exterior, I took another look and realized that, despite it being plastic, Samsung made it look pretty darn good. On the lid, I found embossed Google Chrome and Samsung logos and the frame looks and feels like it is constructed well. The bottom of the case features four barely raised soft feet to keep my desk from marring the Chromebook’s silver matte finish – and vice versa. Considerate design was evidenced on the interior surfaces as well, with an inset keyboard and softer raised portions of the case that prevent the keys from touching the screen. This, however, was overshadowed when I was greeted with the login screen only a few seconds after opening it up.

Hardware and Specs

Model: XE303C12-A01US
CPU: Samsung Exynos 5 Dual Core 1.7GHz (1MB cache)
Screen: 11.6 inch screen – 1366 x 768 resolution
Battery: 2 cell / Li-Po 4080mAh 30Wh battery (days on standby, 6 hours active use)
Memory: 2GB RAM (DDR3)
Drive Capacity: 16GB solid state
Weight: 2.43 lbs
OS: Google Chrome OS
Bluetooth: 3.0 for external keyboard/mouse
Wireless: 802.11a/b/g/n
Video Out: HDMI
Audio: Headphone/Mic combo
Speakers: 3W stereo
Keyboard: 74 key with function keys
Additional Input: 3-in-1 card reader (SD/SDHC/SDXC)
Webcam: 0.3 MP

The Pros

Instant On has to be my favorite feature of the Chromebook. After being powered off for two weeks, I opened it up and it booted to my login prompt in mere seconds. This is by far faster than any device has booted for me in the past. Coming in at a close second and pairing nicely with the boot up speed is the size and weight. It’s easy to take with me for quick use and I could see it replacing my iPad as my weekend traveler with a little more application support. Currently, there are just enough apps – and the right ones – to make the Chromebook an in-a-pinch replacement for my laptop. More on apps below. While it’s as portable as many subnotes, its keyboard breaks from the cramped stereotype and is comfortable to use. What it lacks in key quantity is makes up for in comfort and compensates with a healthy dose of preset multi-key combinations that can be previewed by pressing CTRL + ALT + ? at the same time.

As for the rest of the hardware, I was pleased to find USB 3.0 integrated as well as the option for HDMI output. Though I don’t know that I’ll use the USB 3.0 much on the Chromebook, the HDMI output will be a great way to share my screen with my TV at home or in hotel rooms. I’m not a fan of having a battery I can’t swap out, but it weighs very little and I was rather impressed with the battery life. In my testing, usage exceeded what I expected and then some.

I can’t talk about the pros without talking about the OS. I loved that, by virtue of it being a Chrome OS, I already had a profile ready to go. I needed only to log in with my Gmail account and my profile was saved on the Chromebook. Of course, this also provides access to your Google drive, email, etc., so there’s a Guest Access option so you can hand your Chromebook to a friend or co-worker while maintaining account security. This is all part of the whole Chrome OS paradigm. At the risk of being too simplified, Google made the OS incredibly intuitive. Taking a cue from Apple’s history, they made it easy for anyone to dive right in.

The Cons

The first impression of an overly plastic subnote was a hard one to get past, even though the Chromebook redeemed itself in many other ways. My second and much more notable gripe would be with the OS and it’s lack of app support. There’s a lot out there, but I’d love to see some headway made in regards to photo and video capturing and editing as well as a better way to SSH out of the box. Additionally, I was able to install the Spotify app, but it’s really just a wrapper to the web interface which means I get a “Spotify station” rather than my playlist. I’d love to see more vendor coordination for software that works well on Chrome OS. My last stab at Chrome OS focuses on the accounts. In my experience, I can log in with a Google account or as guest or not at all. The ability to create a local account while not online would be wonderful.

Moving back to hardware, I found a couple things specific, perhaps, to my machine and I found a couple cons with the hardware as designed. On my particular Chromebook, I’ve had issues with the “V” key to the extent that I have to consciously make sure the key press was recognized and often have to press it a number of times before it registers. Additionally, if I hold the Chromebook with one hand and my thumb places pressure near the touch pad, it affects the ability for the touch pad to work properly. The integrated webcam was unimpressive, producing only a 720 x 540 image, but this is likely perfect for use in Google Hangouts. Speaking of resolution, the Chromebook’s screen resolution is fine, but the HDMI output was reduced to 1024×768 and seemed to slow the everything down just a bit.

Conclusions

Most of my thoughts on the Chromebook are summarized in the video below, but I’ll recap below the video for the impatient.

Despite initial impressions, this is a computer that doesn’t exceed or fall short of expectations, but changes them instead. My gripes with the Chromebook were minimal with positives outweighing the negatives enough that I can’t see myself not wanting to take this computer with me to all the places it’s less convenient to take a heavier – and more expensive – laptop. At $249 online, it’s a great entry price and getting one from Staples means avoiding the wait.

Google I/O 2012 Introduces Glass, Nexus 7 and Nexus Q


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Like Apple’s WWDC event, Google I/O is always an event filled with announcements that they hope will keep us on the edge of our seats. While they’ve had some exciting announcements in the past, they’ve really brought their game this year. With announcements about the latest version of Android named Jelly Bean, new features for Google+, and the unveiling of their Nexus 7 tablet and Nexus Q social media player, the grand finale was really Sergey Brin’s special project, Google Glass skydiving in.

Google Glass

The presentation that really stole the show was Google Glass, but it was more for the presentation itself than the device’s current abilities. During a presentation on Google+ features, Google founder, Sergey Brin interrupts, wearing a Google Glass headset. He announces that he’s got a Glass device out on loan that’s being delivered and cuts to a Google+ Hangout with a bunch of skydivers in a plane, each also wearing a Google Glass headset. They skydive in, showing us their viewpoint from Glass’ embedded camera. This carries on to the package being then biked across a rooftop, scaled down the side of the building and then biked up to the stage. It was a new first for one of these events.

The video above shows Google Glass from the wearer’s point of view, using the device to get all kinds of information about things they see, in real time. When I first saw the promo video, I wondered if it was a spoof like the see-through iPhone 5 concept or just another example of Google’s sense of humor, but this thing is real. One thing I noticed during the real demonstration at I/O is that they gave a lot of attention to taking photos and participating in Google+ Hangouts with Glass, but didn’t once demonstrate any of the cooler augmented reality features we saw in the promo video. Google opened up a preview model for purchase to US attendees of the conference who would like to experiment and develop on it, so we’ll hopefully see more features before it’s handed over to the public. No word on when that might be.

Nexus 7 : Small In Size And Price

Tablets worth buying are often also priced around $400 and up. Google’s Nexus 7 tablet breaks the price mold coming in at $199. With that price, they decided to throw in a $25 Google Play marketplace credit to get started with some movies, TV, books, or magazines as well as a free copy of the latest Transformers movie. Not too bad for $200. The Nexus 7 will come with Android Jelly Bean and all the hackable possibilities it offers and it all runs on a quad core processor with a 12 core GPU. It looks incredibly fast and responsive, but it’s also pretty small. Easy to hold in one hand, it’s definitely big enough to not be compared to a phone, but still noticeably smaller than an iPad. Either way, it looks like a lot of fun.

Here’s Google’s introduction to the tablet:

Nexus Q : A Social Glowing Ball

Another product people got pretty excited about this year was the new Nexus Q, which seems a lot like the darker side of Apple’s Air Play. It’s a small, black, spherical computer that you connect up to your TV. The Q connects to Google’s cloud to sync up all your music and movies and your family and friends can even control it when they’re over. Google demonstrated at I/O 2012 how to tell it (via an interface on your phone or Nexus 7) to play your media in the living room or maybe in a bedroom. I assume that you’d need a device in each room for this to work. It looks like something from Star Wars and many have compared it to a bowling ball already on Twitter, but is it worth the $299 price tag? That’s yet to be seen. Below is Google’s promo video for Nexus Q.

Google presented some great hardware today, along with some pretty cool announcements about their software, including Events and new photo stream features for Google+ and Android Jelly Bean and it’s new smart “cards” that learn about the information that you want. It’ll be exciting to see what else they have in store for tomorrow and the year to come.

Google Brings Offers To Maps For Android


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If you’re a fan of offer sites like Groupon, you might already know that Google has it’s own discount offer site, Google Offers. While still in Beta, Google Offers has already shown me a few great offers, so what they’re doing now is great. Google is bringing Offers to your mobile Google Maps application.

Offers For Beginners

For those unaware, here’s a summary of how these offer sites work. A business decides to give a really good deal on their product or service and offers it through the offer site. The site then approves and features some of the better offers and puts these offers in front of people. Enticed by a great deal, consumers buy offers and redeem them with the company. Many of the consumers are first-time customers, willing to take a chance on a new product or service because the cost risk is greatly reduced. The company provides this discount in hopes that they will gain many new loyal customers. This works very well for dining because, as a consumer, you can try many new places without spending a lot.

Why Integrate With Maps?

That’s a silly question, really. Perhaps we should ask why it took so long. It makes a lot of sense to have offers available to you right in your map application while you’re on the go. I use a couple apps that show me where I can eat nearby, but it would be better if I could see what new places I can try at a discount nearby. Honestly, I’ve already been doing this to some degree with FourSquare. When I’m out, I always check for a special anywhere I am already going to be, but I often also look at who has specials near me. I can’t wait to see this with Google Offers.

What About Mobile?

Google is already rolling out the update for their Maps application in Android, but us iPhone users will have to wait for the update. How long? It’s unknown, but it’s no surprise that Google would favor Android users for this update. At least I can convince my wife to let me play with it on her Android phone while I wait.