If you’re an 80’s kid like me, then you must have seen the original Ghostbusters movie. Aside from the actual creation of the Ghostbuster team, one of the other great sub plots was Sigourney Weaver’s character Dana Barett being taken over by a demon. In an especially memorable scene, Bill Murray visits Dana, who has turned a tad sexier and uninhibited and tells the Ghostbuster in no uncertain terms, that “There is no Dana, there is only Zuul.”
After spending a little one-on-one time with Samsung’s Series 5 Chromebook, I can almost hear this challenging piece of tech growling “there is no local storage, there is only a browser.” And I understand how Bill Murray’s character must have felt – strangely attracted yet not really sure what to make of it and if it would fit in my life on a full time basis.
Samsung’s Series 5 Chromebook has not yet made it to the Australian market (we’re looking at an early ’12 launch) and I was eager to take this cloud-based notebook for a spin. After a couple of days of use, I can see where cloud-centric platforms are headed, and how this could be a possible future of mobile computing. Although the Chromebook may not be a mainstream device just yet, it certainly makes a bold statement about PC functionality in the near future.
Samsung’s Chromebook is totally browser-based. The Chrome OS is an evolution of Google’s own Chrome browser; each tab is not just a website, but a web-powered application. To this day, programs are installed on your local computer, and if you don’t back up your computer from time to time, you could potentially lose all your work. With the Chromebook, the cloud is your storage space, and there are no programs to install, just apps and extensions to add to your browser.
The Samsung Series 5 Chromebook is, for all intents, a high end-netbook repurposed. It has a 12.1” matte display with 1280 x 800 resolution, which looks great in daylight (more notebooks should have matte displays), powered by an Intel dual core Atom processor, with 2GB of RAM and a quite tiny 16GB SSD drive for the operating system and some limited file storage.
The gloss white lid with the raised Chrome logo and rounded edges gives the Chromebook both a friendly and serious aspect. The contrasting black interior with the island keyboard, generous keypad and black frame around the screen keeps things simple inside. Samsung quote a battery life of over 8 hours, which I wasn’t able to test.
Just as the Asus Slider and Transformer took a standard keyboard and customised buttons for functions specific to the Android OS, the Series 5 has done the same thing, replacing function keys with common Chrome Browser functions such as back/forwards, refresh, group tab switching and brightness/volume controls.
Speaking of volume, you will probably want to keep the sound level low on this Chromebook as the sound is extremely flat. Playing any music clips from YouTube would not be advised because they’ll sound completely different to the quality you remember.
There are two words that the Chromebook says up front: “Trust me.” There is very little in terms of settings or control-panel type fiddling that can be done, just a few basic features to manage the user profile and notebook behaviour. (Handy hint: The one adjustment I made right away was the “touch-to-click” option for the touchpad – an option that most notebooks have as a default and is hard to break as a habit.)
The Chromebook is quick to boot up and shutdown, one of the first positive impressions of this notebook. Open the lid and it’s waiting for your login in a matter of seconds. Close the lid and it’s in standby mode in the same timeframe. It’s very quiet too, with no sign of fan noise, mostly due to the limited SSD flash storage it uses for the Chrome operating system and small amounts of file downloads that it permits.
Navigating the browser is the key to realising the potential of this Chromebook. Each tab is some kind of web address, even the settings page. Opening a new tab displays all the apps you have chosen to attach to your Chrome OS. Clicking one of those takes you to either the webpage or the app within the browser.
You can group tabs according to type of use as well. For example, you may have a bunch of social media pages that you want to keep track of, along with some business documents that you’re editing, as well as a few feeds from your favourite news sites. These groups can be switched between each other so you’re always dealing with groups of like sites.
So what is the beauty of the Chromebook? Because everything you are doing is on the cloud, there is no chance of losing your data even if something catastrophic happens to your notebook. You can just log onto another Chromebook and you’ll be back into your customised environment, with your particular apps and extensions beefing up your browser.
The other significant benefit is never having to update anything. Apps that you “install” will be updated automatically as code is written and launched via the app’s website. Antivirus is redundant because there’s nothing local to be at risk. Chrome OS itself is the only thing that will require updates, and that will be pushed through as a download to the device when required.
In many ways, most of what we do now is internet-based or internet-sourced. Facebook and other social media platforms, email, webchat, news feeds, and even games – most of this information is derived from data on the internet. The natural progression is for the PC makers to focus on the part of computing that most people do these days, which is live in the browser or use apps that filter content from the greater internet.
Who is the Chromebook for? Right now, I’d say corporations that want a low-maintenance, cost effective browser-based platform that utilises their own secure servers would definitely be interested. Indeed, Google have made moves in the enterprise space, recently updating Chrome OS to include VPN, secure Wi-Fi support and a new Citrix app that enables virtualisation, meaning access to a Windows environment through the Chrome browser.
Will the Chrome OS succeed? I think it will take time, but there is definitely room for this type of product for mainstream users in the future. That future is one where high-speed, ultra-reliable internet access sits alongside water and electricity as a utility, not a privilege. The NBN, a topic that deserves its own commentary in a future post, will assist in bringing us closer to a communications and entertainment backbone that anyone in Australia can draw on at affordable prices.
In this broadband Utopia, always being connected, and always flying at high speed for transfers and content consumption, will in many ways negate the need for reliance on local storage. Telstra is in talks now to become a secure cloud storage provider, and once large corporations like Telcos offer this service, the level of comfort will rise for a product like this.
Is Chromebook ahead of its time? A little. But by getting in the trenches now and learning from current usage patterns and having a base on which to improve hardware and software, a secure and easy-to-use cloud platform will emerge.
The Series 5 Chromebook is a great piece of technology. Those early adopters who want to embrace cloud computing and all its benefits and challenges will help create a more mainstream-accepted product offering in the not-too-distant future. I, for one, hope to spend a lot more time on this platform and report on its progress as Google rolls out updates and improvements to Chrome OS.
Are you a Chrome browser user? Can you see yourself moving to the Chrome OS in the future?
ritchie – thanks for this detailed look. I do feel cloud based computers will be a game changer. The big question is whether such a device can become our main computing platform. For example – the debate raging as to whether the normal user can ditch the laptop in favour of the Ipad as main computer. I suppose these cloudbooks will a have a stronger claim to main computer than the Ipad – since they update directly and not via another computer.
What about the price? And is there any particular benefit is keeping SSD drive at teeny 16GB ?
Great comments. Keep in mind the iPad will be able to be updated over the air once iOS5 is deployed, so it will also become a more compelling alternative.
In the States there are two versions of the Chromebook – Wi-Fi only is $429 and 3G is $499. The solid state drive is really just for the OS, not for storage, being that the functionality of the Chromebook is reliant on internet connectivity. Don’t forget the SD card slot can effectively upgrade the storage capacity to the size of the SD card that you choose to use.