The Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook is unlike any other laptop: it runs Google Chrome OS, which is almost all web browser. This barebones approach combined with a fast 16GB solid state drive, 4GB of memory and 1.3GHz Intel Celeron processor makes start up and performance super quick. Optional 3G means you can jump online wherever and start working with ease.
Because Chrome OS is simply the Chrome browser and little more, it’s very easy to pick up and use. Once you’re logged in, there’s very little that can go wrong. No blue screens of death, no whirring beachballs, no annoying paperclips onscreen trying to bug you. It works fast, and it works well. Turn it on and it’s ready to go in seconds. There’s little danger of a virus, since you can’t install anything anyway.
Speaking of which, Google’s overcome a lot of the problems of making the jump to a cloud-based laptop. You can still print from it using Google Cloud Print, most of your standard keyboard shortcuts work (Ctrl+C) and you even get little notifications popping up whenever you get a Gmail. Give this to a technophobic relative and they'll be merrily surfing away in no time at all.
Build quality of the Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook is solid. The 12.1-inch screen is sharp, the keyboard easy to hammer out an email or report on Google Docs with, and the battery life is impressive: we regularly got close to the quoted eight hours of use on a charge.
While the latest version of Chrome OS addresses a lot of the problems many struggled with - there is now a desktop similar to Windows 7, and you can work offline with lots of apps now - you can still only install web applications for Chrome.
Now, these are surprisingly varied, and it’s easy to run most instant messaging apps and edit pictures in the browser, or even play Angry Birds, but some things you take for granted on a computer are just impossible right now on Chrome OS. Spotify’s a no go, as are Skype phone and video calls - be sure to have a look on the Chrome store first to see what you need before making the switch.
And for all the intentional convenience of a browser-based operating system, it’s a bit of a pity that the Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook actually isn’t hugely portable. At 12.1-inches and 21.1mm thick, it’s not nearly as thin as a MacBook Air, or as small as a 10.1-inch netbook. Speaking of which, it’s still priced the same as a similarly specced Windows laptop, which is madness, since Chrome OS itself is supposed to be free of the licensing costs of Windows.
The bottom line
While there’s a lot to like about Chrome OS’ simplicity, the Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook is still a tad too limited for most casual users day to day. The inability to install applications you’d take for granted on Windows or Mac will send many up the bend. Add to that the surprisingly high pricetag, and it’s hard to argue space for this in your bag with so many stunningly affordable tablets out there. But if you can live with these limitations, and your whole digital life is already stored on Google, you can go ahead and add another star to the score.