The Series 5 550 is Samsung‘s new generation of Chromebook . Measuring 11.5’’ by 8.5” and weighing only 3.02 lbs, it easily fills the niche in between a traditionally sized laptop and a netbook. Though the casing gives the appearance of aluminum, the device (with the exception of the palm rest) is actually plastic. The “fauxluinum” on the outer casing is quite convincing, and had us guessing whether is it or isn’t it aluminum. It is easily resistant to fingerprints and smudges, and does not scuff easily.
The overall design is very minimalist. There is a small amount of chrome trim around the touchpad, but the overall design is simple and clean with the only pop of color coming from the Chrome logo on the lid. The design definitely takes a page out of the Apple handbook of style when it comes to the look and feel of the device. It sports a 12.1inch LED screen with a 1280 x 800 resolution, which is great both for word processing and browsing the internet. The screen is missing the traditional glossy sheen seen with most laptops and ultrabooks. This helps decrease glare and works well with the 300-nit brightness both inside and outdoors. The autobrightness, though responsive, can be aggressive at times, and I kept finding myself having the adjust the settings, which can be irritating and tiring. Unfortunately, we were unable to locate a way to turn the feature off.
Memory wise, the 550 is sporting a 16 GB SSD drive with 4 GB DDR3 memory. As expected, this is to be used as a cloud linked device, with all of your documents, photos, music, and files synced seamlessly to Google’s ever expanding cloud. The 550 is fast and seamless, even if I have 25 tabs open. As with all SSDs, the device will go from turned off to up and completely usable in a matter of seconds. No waiting for a computer boot, gaining back valuable minutes instead of staring at the screen waiting for things to happen.
Included for your ports selection is an ethernet port, 1 display port, a Microphone/Headphone combo, 4-1 multi-card reader (SD/SDHC/SDXC/MMC), and 2 USB ports (one on either side). The version that we were given for testing includes both Wifi(802.11 a/b/g/n), Gigabit Ethernet, and Verizion 3g. The Verizon 3g is optional.
Overall, it’s very well thought out hardware, except for one glaring issue: the speakers. The speakers are located on the bottom front of the device. If you attempt to use the speakers while on any surface other than one that is both flat and hard, the sound is easily distorted or muffled. When attempting to listen to audio while the Ultrabook is on your lap results in a very weird vibration. I understand that the designers had limited real estate to place the speakers, but this shouldn’t have been overlooked. The speakers themselves also suck. The sound is flat and slightly distorted, and there are breaks in the sound and quality when adjusting the volume.
They keyboard has 74 keys with plenty of function keys to easily control brightness, volume, go full screen, etc. The keyboard itself is excellent. The keys have the perfect bit of bounce and are nice and are quiet. My experience with touchpads has been very mixed so far, they are either great or horrible. The touchpad currently on the 550 falls into the realm of great. It’s light and responsive, and the built-in ability to personalize specific gestures is sadly missed in a touchpad of this caliber. You do have the ability to be able to change the scroll direction and adjust the sensitivity as you like, though.
Though the hardware (speakers aside) is great, what really matters about this device is the Chrome OS itself. Chrome OS is evolving from a basic browser to a full-fledged eco-system with thousands of apps and extensions that fill in the gaps of basic built in software. The apps also sync between browsers, so when you install something on Chrome it will show up on another device later. Unfortunately tweaking the device to your liking is where it gets trickie. There is no easy way to change the key bindings for specific functions
Is Chrome perfect? No, but it is moving in that direction by leaps and bounds. What truly makes Chrome OS shine is the seamless integration and syncing across almost any device. Some may say Chrome OS is pointless, that it isn’t needed, and will most likely fail. Though some critics present valid points, we are forced to remember that this same criticism was directed towards another “doomed to fail” Google product, Android. With th3 next generation on Chromebooks, Google is stepping out and it forces us to wonder, “is $550 a small price to pay for being part of another Google experiment?” I think so. The Samsung Series 5 550 is available for $449.99 for Wifi and $549.99.