Samsung Series 3 Chromebook – Initial Review

Samsung Series 3 Chromebook
Samsung Series 3 Chromebook

My review of the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook is based on having it for about 3 weeks. To understand why I really enjoy using the device, here’s a little background before jumping into the details of the review. I had been debating about getting a new computing device for a while now. I currently have a MacBook Pro that I absolutely love and does everything that I want still but it has a couple of shortcomings. The first is that the battery doesn’t last as long as it used to and the problem is compounded because I have 2 hard drives loaded in it. The other is that it gets hot to touch after a while. However, as a device that’s plugged in at my desk and hooked up to my Apple Thunderbolt Display, it still does it’s job incredibly well.

I needed a device that had the following attributes:

  1. Light – It’d be nice to be able to carry something that was less than a pound

  2. Decent keyboard – I want do some light work including writing out long email responses as well as moderate surfing for research. I also need to log on to servers to write SQL statements as well as do work with servers.

  3. Lasts for 5 to 6 hours without charging – I don’t want to be lugging a power cord

  4. Enough horsepower to write code – I don’t need to code daily but I do dabble in code from time to time

I debated among four devices – the MacBook Pro with Retina Display, MacBook Air, Microsoft Surface and a Chromebook of some sort and ultimately settled for the Google Chromebook. Among the Chromebooks, I debated between the Samsung Series 5, Acer and Chrome Pixel, Samsung Series 3 and settled for the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook.

The Chromebook comes with:

  • Samsung Exynos 5 Dual 1.7 GHz 1 MB cache CPU

  • 2 GB RAM

  • 16 GB HDD

  • 11.6″ 1366 x 768 Screen

  • 11.4″ x 8.09″ x 0.69″ big

  • 2.43 lbs

  • 1 x HDMI, 1 x USB 2.0, 1 x USB 3.0 ports

All in all, the specs for the Chromebook is rather unimpressive with the exception of the price and weight. It is very reminiscent of a small MacBook. The silver colour, the function keyboards at the top, the trackpad that has no buttons, and the trackpad navigation features (two finger right click, two finger scroll up and down) are all very MacBook’ish which made the transition very easy for me. While it does look like a MacBook, it lacks the finish of one. It feels extremely cheap and plasticky. As I got the Canadian version, it comes with an international keyboard that makes typing a bit frustrating for me.

Despite my negative remarks describing the product, it is truly an effective product for me. The Chromebook without any modifications is truly a browser attached to a keyboard. As I am someone that is deeply entrenched in web applications and sometimes very specifically Google web applications, this is a truly ideal device for me. I had originally purchased the Chromebook as a travel machine. Something that I would carry with me whenever I wasn’t at home given it’s lightweight and long battery life. I had only expected to do minor surfing on it, answer a few emails and use IM to quarterback the development from it while I was away from my primary laptop.

I find myself using the Chromebook around the house in the evenings. It’s nice to park my laptop at my desk and use this device to write my blogs, organize my thoughts and even plan my tasks. As I’m able to SSH from the Chromebook, it also allows me to do some lightweight work on my servers when I need to. Looking at my devices, the Chromebook fits between the Nexus 7 and the Macbook Pro. I like the Nexus 7 for consuming information like an e-reader and do light weight communication and my 15” Macbook Pro is meant to do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to programming or if I have to open up multiple screens at the same time for me to do intensive work.

There are other features I haven’t explored yet – such as the HDMI output, the USB 3 connector as well as using the SD card slot. It’ll be interesting to see if the 2GB of RAM starts to become a problem for more extensive use of the device.

To summarize, the Chromebook is a lightweight, cost-effective device if the majority of the work you do is via online web applications.

Apple vs Samsung – this is the real fight!

Mashable has recently announced that Samsung has sold twice as many devices as Apple in Q3 of 2012.It’s been pretty interesting how over the time the mobile argument has shifted from Apple versus Google to Apple versus Samsung. The Apple versus Google comparison didn’t make a ton of sense. Both Apple and Google are vastly different companies and you can tell by how they measure success of their mobile strategy. Apple measures success of their mobile strategy by the number of devices sold. Additions to iOS, introduction of the iCloud and Siri are all manoeuvres to retain or cause users to purchase new devices. Google measures their success by the number of accounts activated on Android devices. In order to facilitate this, Google gives away their software for free (OS and Tool sets), allows developers to publish their apps for free and more recently introducing high end hardware for cut throat margins.

The Apple versus Samsung argument is a (pardon the pun) closer apple to apple comparison. Both are hardware manufacturers who measure their success on units sold. And Apple has come out hard in their fight against Samsung – harder than they have against any organization. The most telling sign of course has been the $1B lawsuit that Apple levied against Samsung and won. There are a couple of interesting things about the lawsuit in general

It’s not about innovation

Both Apple and Samsung (through the Android ecosystem) have ideas that are not uniquely their own within their devices. Some really glaring things are the pull down gesture to show the notifications that are now on Apple devices have been a well-known Android paradigm since launch. The same can be said with putting icons on top of one another automatically creating groups has been a well-known Apple paradigm for a while now.

It’s not about money

Don’t get me wrong – $1B is a lot of money and I’m sure Samsung is not happy about losing $1B. But both Apple and Samsung are multi-hundred billion dollar companies. Apple doesn’t need the $1B to enhance their business and losing $1B will not hamper Samsung’s efforts in the market.

It’s about messaging

The one interesting thing to me that came out of the whole lawsuit was messaging. The message which Apple sent to the American people who is their power base is that Samsung is a copycat and a cheat; they are stealing and profiting on American innovation. At it’s heart, this is where Apple has been hurting the most. Apple has traditionally been the masters of brand and messaging. They have always been able to capture the imagination of their consumers by showing them how to purchase less than bleeding edge technology to its fullest. Samsung has copied much of Apple’s marketing playbook and has reaped much benefit from it.

So it will be interesting to see how this continues to play out. The end benefit though is better consumer products assuming that Samsung doesn’t get trapped in a quagmire of lawsuits

Google, Motorola and other madness this week

This has been a pretty mad week in technology starting with Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility for $12B followed by HP announced the folding of their PC business including their newly launched tablets featuring WebOS. There have been some articles about the Motorola purchase which I really enjoyed and some that I thought seem a bit short-sighted for various reasons. So here are some scattered thoughts about the events this week.

It’s all about defense
It’s really hard to imagine why Google would buy Motorola outside of its patents. While I wouldn’t second guess what Google’s patent defence would be or if I think it’s better or worse after the purchase, Google does believe that it’s worth $12B. Android is important to Google – not because of it’s $11M revenue through the Android Marketplace but it’s really important for their ad business. It’s the main reason why they got into it and then continues to give it away for free. The Android, Chrome and ChromeOS strategy all have the same goal which is really about further reach and control over how a user interacts with Google. It’s not difficult to recognize that the browser is quickly replacing the desktop when users aren’t mobile and users are consuming information on their mobile devices more and more each day. Outside of Microsoft’s accusation that Google intended to purchase Nortel’s patents to attack others, I haven’t been able to find an instance where Google attacked anyone based on patents outside of protecting others.

Strength in numbers
Android’s strength is in its ecosystem which is made of the OS, the manufacturers that use them, the software and the developers that develop the software. Android is important to Google and I would imagine even more important than Motorola. It is in Google’s best interest to keep the ecosystem they have in tact. If Google intends to get into the handset manufacturing business as an additional business, HTC would have been a much better buy. Google does not have the in-house expertise to turn around Motorola as a handset business. While I agree that Google may use the opportunity of owning Motorola to build phones in the way that they envision the phone, it by no means equate to other OEMs from creating other phones that are equally or are even more successful. That Nexus program to date proves that. The Nexus series are phones that are built very closely by OEM manufacturers to date starting with the Nexus One followed by the Nexus S but rarely are these phones the overwhelming favourites in terms of number of handsets purchased. In fact, the Nexus One was a complete flop. It is also the Nexus One experience that should indicate to both the market and OEM manufacturers that Google buying Motorola is unlikely a threat to their business. Building a business is much more than building a successful technical product – it’s also about marketing and partnerships. Google does not know how to do either well in the handset business and unfortunately (as I snakily remarked in my Google+ post) neither does Motorola.

Changing the game but not really
The OEM reaction of Google’s purchase of MMI is reminiscent of a two-year old child welcoming a newborn sibling into the family for the first time. The OEMs are tentative and cautious; they’re waiting to see what Google will do with MMI. On one hand, they’re a bit optimistic because the 25K odd patents could land an extra hand in protecting their Android investments. On the other hand, they’re also worried that Google might play favourites with Motorola by giving them special privileges. For Google to really protect Android, it will need the OEM support. Without OEM support, the number of Android handsets sold will plummet and likely resulting in the loss of developer interest and hence equating the demise of Android altogether. Motorola is nowhere near the top in terms of total number of Android handsets sold. It is in Google’s best interest to treat all their OEMs well if they intend to protect the Android platform. I think HTC recognizes this.

There’s plenty of room for everyone
For OEMs to compete with Apple, the only realistic choice is Android. No one is going to out-Apple Apple however the good news as the market has shown, not everyone wants an Apple. There are other factors that people look at when purchasing a phone including price point and form factor. While no one Android phone is dominant in market today, many companies, especially HTC and Samsung, have been able to make successful Android products that compete one another and make each of their parent companies money. Google is very interested in the number of devices activated; it is a metric they actively track. It is quite easy to imply that their own revenue is based on these activities and not so much from the revenue generated by manufacturers or from the marketplace.

I don’t get patents
I have to admit this – I don’t get the patent wars that we’re in. It’s obvious that it isn’t working and that it’s hurting innovation in the US especially at a time where innovation is one of the longer term answers to US economic success in the future. Some of the patent disputes are silly. I remember seeing this article and thinking to myself that yes, all tablets look like iPads but the author seem to also have missed that most devices look similar to each other long before the iPad. The Lenovo PC tablets look very similar to the Dell Latitude tablets that look very similar to the Asus tablets. It’s the nature of the beast. I’d hate to imagine if someone in home building patented open-concept homes or that cars have 4 wheels in the 1920s. Imagine how much further we’d be as a civilization.

WebOS is a failure of HP, not a failure of WebOS
Launching (or in this case re-launching) any new platform is hard. Even when Google first launched Android, it took many a year before it became the success that it is today. WebOS is a decent enough OS. While I read that HP spent a lot of money in terms of marketing it, I don’t think I’ve come across any ads for it. I suspect that HP marketed it like it was 1999 with tactics such as in store marketing, etc. The market has changed but HP hasn’t. I sincerely hope that someone else (even HTC) picks up WebOS. It deserves a much better fate than it got.