The software: Chrome OS
We’ll come back to local storage shortly, but let’s deal with the most important aspect of the new Chromebook: Chrome OS. Arguably the biggest change is that there’s now a desktop - the OS doesn’t boot straight to a Chrome browser window.
The desktop makes Chrome OS feel a lot more familiar to Windows users, especially when it comes to launching apps. By default there are a few ‘pinned’ app icons at the bottom, but you can see them all by clicking the icon which looks like a white Rubik’s cube.
App icons are displayed in the same fashion as those in Apple’s Launchpad, but all run in a Chrome tab, since they are all still web apps. It’s now possible to resize these windows and run two side by side.
A new square icon at the top-right can be dragged down to minimise the window, up to maximise and left or right to make the window smaller. You can drag tabs out of a window to create a new window and resize them as you would in Windows. Although it’s a minor change, it makes a big difference to the Chromebook’s usability.
It’s clear that Google has put a lot of effort into the Chrome Web Store as there are many more apps to choose between than before. Without these, a Chromebook would be little more than a web browser. Of course, one of the biggest complaints about the original Chromebook was the lack of an offline mode.
To some extent this has been addressed with a collection of offline apps - a new category in the Chrome Web Store. These include several Google apps: Docs, Gmail, Calendar, Drive, plus unofficial apps for other services such as Google Tasks. There are also plenty of games, such as Angry Birds, so you can have some fun when there’s no internet connection.
You can also view (but not edit) files offline from the internal storage, a USB drive or an SD card. Chrome OS supports mp4 videos and documents including the latest Microsoft Office formats, PDFs and .txt files.
Photo formats include .jpg and .bmp but no raw files and can be edited offline - the altered images are saved in the Downloads folder. Edit may be too strong a word, though, as you can only crop, rotate and adjust brightness.
Offline support for Google Docs is brand new. You can view files synched in Google Drive but it’s only documents (not spreadsheets, presentations or other types) which can be edited offline. It’s a start, but it’s still a disappointing limitation.
Another disappointment is the rudimentary file manager. The contents of the internal storage are in the Downloads folder, and other drives are displayed below this in the left-hand pane. On the right, the actual files are shown, but you can’t do much management. It isn’t possible, for example to drag and drop a file from the Downloads folder to a removable drive. Instead you have to copy and paste it.
In Windows, one of the benefits of using Google Chrome is that it can print to any printer that’s installed on your computer. With Chrome OS, you can’t install a printer driver so you’re stuck with using Google Cloud Print.
This requires either a printer which explicitly supports Cloud Print or for the printer to be connected to a computer which has Cloud Print connector installed. Old network printers are, therefore, out.
When you choose print, you’re also given the option of saving the document as a PDF on Google Drive.
Thanks to the fact that the Series 5 550 Chromebook runs only web apps, there’s nothing to back up. Your documents are automatically backed up in Google Drive. When composing an email, you can attach files from Drive, as well as pin files (mark them) for offline viewing.
This also has the advantage that, should your Chromebook be lost, damaged or stolen, you can carry on from where you were simply by logging into your Google account when you get a new one.
Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550: Specs
- 1.3GHz Intel Celeron 867, dual-core
- Intel HD Graphics
- 12.1in (1280 x 800) matte display
- Google Chrome OS
- 16GB solid-state hard drive
- 4GB DDR3 1333MHz
- gigabit ethernet
- 1Mp webcam
- stereo speakers
- 3.5mm headset jack
- 2 x USB 2.0
- Kensington lock slot
- SDHC/SDXC card slot
- one-button, multi-touch trackpad
- 40W adaptor
- 51Wh lithium-ion, non-removable battery
- 292 x 217 x 21-31mm