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Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550 review:

Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550

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The Good 4GB RAM; improved Chrome OS; faster processor than the previous version.

The Bad relatively high price; need to always be online; limitations of Chrome OS.

The Bottom Line Solid hardware and a slightly improved Chrome OS aren't enough to save the Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550 from the hordes of similarly priced but more capable tablets and laptops. There are way too many caveats and compromises for us to recommend it.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

CNET Editors' Rating

4.5 Overall

Google's vision of a computer where everything was online turned heads in the tech world last year, when the first Chromebooks appeared. The real world? Less impressed. Apple's iPad proved a much more compelling idea for people spending their hard-earned monies, but Google, undeterred, has gone back to the drawing board and updated its Chrome OS.

This review (and its associated rating) is based on the forthright and informed opinions of our CNET.com colleague Scott Stein, who got to use the new Chromebook ahead of its launch.

Samsung's Chromebook Series 5 550 (no, the space isn't a typo) is the first on the market in the UK with the new OS, alongside the Chromebox mini-desktop. Older Chromebooks will receive the update "in the next few days", according to Google. It's available now for £380.

Should I buy a Samsung Chromebook 5 550?

For almost everyone, the answer is going to be no. There's nothing wrong with the hardware -- it's the limitations of the software and crucially the price that kill it. This isn't your father's laptop -- you can't install programs on it. No IM client, no Spotify, no Photoshop, no Steam, no alternative browser. You have to do everything via websites, web apps and Google's online services. For almost everything except playing back photos and movies from a USB stick, you need an Internet connection.

Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550 desktop
You can pin all your apps to your desktop, but you'll need an Internet connection to use them all.

And for £380, you could get a perfectly good, if basic, Windows laptop that can do all that stuff just fine. Or you could buy an iPad, which can do most of what a Chromebook can, but is much thinner and lighter, and has a much better app store. Compared to last year's Chromebooks, still on sale for around £300, it has a slightly faster 1.3GHz Intel Celeron processor and 4GB of RAM, as opposed to 2GB. The 16GB solid-state drive is the same.

If you only need a laptop for web browsing, emailing and writing documents, and you're reasonably sure of having Wi-Fi everywhere you'll use it, then this has its bonuses -- it's really fast to boot up (just 7 seconds the first time you turn it on) and there's none of Windows' fussing about security. Its limitations more than outweigh these good points, however.

Chrome OS update

Chrome's file support has been much improved since last year, with zip files, PDFs, MP3 and MP4, M4A, and most image formats all on board -- at least, you can read them from the laptop's drive. To edit them you'll need to upload them to Google Docs or another compatible online service (images can be lightly edited). Scott found he couldn't drag and drop files from an SD or USB drive -- you have to copy and paste, which is hardly intuitive. Still, it's a bit more than you can do with an iPad.

Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550 Chrome Web Store
There are tonnes of useful productivity apps -- and a few high-profile games -- on the Chrome Web Store.

The Chrome Web Store is the same as the one you access from Chrome on any other computer. It's growing steadily and even has some high-profile games, such as Angry Birds and Command & Conquer: Tiberium Alliances. It's nowhere near as comprehensive and rapidly changing as the iTunes App Store, but many apps are free, and some, such as Angry Birds, can be used offline, as they're downloaded to the SSD.

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