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Very long-term review: Samsung Chromebook || 90 percent of computing needs for $200-ish

Five years ago I bought the second-generation Samsung Chromebook 2 for business travel. Versus my primary machine — at the time, a conventional Windows laptop — the Chromebook was:

  • Half the size and weight,
  • Quieter and cooler,
  • Faster at startup (8 seconds!), and
  • Less expensive to replace if it was damaged or stolen.

It proved to be a fantastic purchase.

In fact, I’ve since bought two third-generation Samsung Chromebook 3’s — one last year for Amanda for $195, and a renewed model last week for $138 after water was sadly spilled on my Chromebook 2, frying the right-half of the keyboard. Otherwise, it was still running perfectly.

The Chromebook 2 and 3 are mostly identical.

Long-term review: Samsung Chromebook

For someone like Amanda, who has a normal 9-5 job, the Samsung Chromebook 3 ($220) is probably the only computer they need at home. It’s ideal for email, basic documents and spreadsheets, social media, and web browsing (including videos). It’d be ideal for my retired parents and school-age nieces and nephews, too.

For someone like me, who runs a small business and works from home, the Chromebook is an inexpensive and travel-friendly supplement to a Windows or Apple desktop or laptop computer. While it addresses 90 percent of my needs, it can’t run vital programs like Quickbooks or Lightroom, due to incompatible software or inadequate computing power, or both. Moreover, it’s an inefficient workstation relative to a dedicated setup: its performance is sluggish; its screen is small; and it’s missing a numerical keypad.

For me, the Chromebook is a supplement to my desktop computer, where the bulk of my work gets done.

On average, I use my Chromebook for an hour or two each day, mostly while working on the couch, at the dining table, or from the local library or coffee shop. It also goes with me to meetings, and I take it for both business and personal travel.

Working on the couch with BFF Oden

At just 2.5 pounds and 0.7 inches thin, it’s extremely lap-friendly and portable. (Last summer I actually carried it into the backcountry so that I could work on a guidebook at night.) It sips on the battery, getting up to 11 hours of life. It doesn’t overheat or have a fan like my old Windows laptop. And the HDMI, Bluetooth, and headphone jack give me enough connectivity options to make a slideshow presentation.

The Chromebook presents an excellent value. The base model Chromebook 3 retails for $220, though it’s now available for much less (about $150) since Samsung released the next-generation Chromebook 4 last month.

Product specs

  • 2 lbs 8.8 oz (1.16 kg) + 5.7 oz (161 g) for the charger
  • 0.7 inches thick
  • 11.6-inch screen (1366 x 768 pixels)
  • Processor: 1.6 GHz Intel Celeron
  • RAM: 4 GB DDR3 RAM
  • Hard drive: 16 GB to 64 GB Flash Memory Solid State
  • Up to 11 hours battery life
2 lbs 8.8 oz for the Chromebook 3
5.7 oz for its charger

Limitations

For a $200-ish device, the Samsung Chromebook is simply awesome. But it’s still true that you get what you pay for.

A Chromebook is optimized for the Google ecosystem, and most operations need to be doable in the Chrome browser. If you aren’t willing to give your data to Google or to adopt its platforms (e.g. Gmail, Drive/Docs), maybe it’s not the device for you.

The Samsung Chromebook also doesn’t look, feel, or perform like a premium product.

  • It’s made mostly of plastic, and is boring black.
  • The 11.6-inch screen is acceptable, but has less brightness and resolution than modern smartphone screens.
  • It’s slow while running multiple browser tabs or loading memory-heavy pages like an involved CalTopo map or lengthy document. And,
  • The built-in camera is very lackluster, especially in low light.

Some might disagree, but I like the keyboard and trackpad. In fact, 1.5 years ago when I bought an accessory keyboard for my desktop computer, I looked for one with a similar feel.

Higher performance Chromebooks are available. The flagship Google Pixelbook, for example, has a nicer construction, laptop/tablet conversion, touchscreen, and more computing power, RAM, and hard drive storage.

The Chromebook 2 had a rubberized finish, whereas the Chromebook 3 is a slicker textured plastic. I prefer the former.

Chromebook 3 versus Chromebook 4

The Samsung Chromebook 4 was released in early-October 2019, and currently is available only from Samsung and Best Buy. Read the press release.

Changes appear to be evolutionary. The fourth-generation devices are similarly sized and priced, but come with a sleeker aesthetic, military-grade construction, and some improved hardware.

At $230 retail, the base Chromebook 4 is a great buy. And now at about $150, the base Chromebook 3 is even more attractive. Personally, I went for the latter, knowing that it’s perfectly sufficient for how I use it.

Leave a comment!

  • What questions do you have about the Samsung Chromebook?
  • If you own one, please share your experience with it.

Disclosure. I strive to offer field-tested and trustworthy information, insights, and advice. I have no financial affiliations with or interests in any brands or products, and I do not publish sponsored content

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Posted in on November 6, 2019
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12 Comments

  1. Jacob Kaplan-Moss on November 6, 2019 at 4:44 pm

    Another point in favor of Chromebooks: they are substantially more secure, at a fraction of the effort, than a comparable Windows or Mac machine. I’ll spare y’all the geeky details but suffice to say that ChromeOS is designed be immune to the sorts of cruft, viruses, and spyware that infect other OSes.

    This makes Chromebooks fairly ideal for small businesses: they can get a level of security that would normally require a pretty good IT department just by accepting the few limitations of Chromebooks. A pretty great trade, in my book.

    • Andrew Skurka on November 6, 2019 at 7:04 pm

      Thanks for mentioning that, you’d be a person who knows.

      On a related note, it’s worth also mentioning that Google stops supporting devices when they turn five years-old, as explained here, https://support.google.com/chrome/a/answer/6220366?hl=en

      This is kind of crappy, since Chromebook technology is now slowly evolving so you could feasibly use a Chromebook for 5+ years without feeling like you were sacrificing much. Many devices will be replaced, destroyed, or stolen before this 5-year threshold, but many will not — I was still using my Chromebook 2 until last week, four months after it stopped getting updates.

      For the Chromebook 3, they’ll end support in June 2022.

      For the Chromebook 4, they’ll end support in June 2026. I suppose this is another reason to spend $70 more now.

      • Scott M on November 8, 2019 at 3:27 pm

        Google does seem to be flexible a bit as these dates get closer. I have a Toshiba Chromebook 2, which is hands-down the best computing device I have ever purchased, and it was supposed to lose support in June 2020, but it was extended last week to Sept 2021. https://www.androidpolice.com/2019/11/05/google-gives-most-chromebooks-an-extra-year-of-software-support/

        I agree with you on all points, and I have purchased multiple Chromebooks for my parents, wife and kids. Having said that, I did just purchase new iPad Air’s for my wife and I – the new iPad OS gives Chromebooks a run for their money albeit at a higher price point.

        • D Max on November 8, 2019 at 9:00 pm

          Toshiba Chromebook 2 is maybe one of the most underrated laptops ever. Great screen, keyboard, trackpad. Yes it’s plastic. So what. Glad to see they extended the end of life another year.

          • Scott M on November 14, 2019 at 9:37 am

            Yes, it has really stood the test of time – it is just as fast and functional as it was the first day I bought it. Too bad Toshiba got out of the Chromebook/Laptop business.



  2. Brandon C on November 8, 2019 at 5:21 am

    Great review of a severely underrated device. At one time I had a self-built desktop, Windows laptop, Chromebook, and a tablet but decided to pare down to just the Windows laptop as it checked the most boxes for what I need it to do.

    I sure do miss the startup time, battery life, and weight of the Chromebook, but its limitations on storage and running programs was a deal-breaker in the long run. Instead, I upgraded the laptop with a solid-state hard drive and 4x the RAM it came with which helped immensely and use an external monitor for dual screen viewing.

    Chromebooks continue to be on my radar, though, and I would certainly prefer it over a tablet (it also helps that it’s about $700 cheaper than a similar spec iPad).

  3. Vadim on November 8, 2019 at 1:54 pm

    Good stuff, Andrew. Girlfriend’s getting a chromebook (from your link :)) now!

    • Andrew Skurka on November 8, 2019 at 2:58 pm

      That’s a lot of pressure, hope she likes it.

      Thanks!

  4. Nate on November 13, 2019 at 10:24 am

    “If you aren’t willing to give your data to Google…”

    Some might not worry about this, thinking they have nothing to hide so who cares, but I think everyone should be aware and a bit concerned about the amounts of data Google collects about each person and how they are gathering that data throughout the world for God knows what purposes. Perhaps not at the moment, but all that data is being gathered and stored and analyzed. Don’t mean to sound too conspiracy theorist, but a Chromebook allows Google to collect everything you do on that laptop. I avoid it like the plague.

    • Andrew Skurka on November 13, 2019 at 6:55 pm

      A valid point and concern, which is why I thought it important to mention that.

      For now, at least, I’ve accepted that Google knows me better than wife does.

  5. Jeff on November 14, 2019 at 10:58 am

    Hi Andrew,

    I can’t tell from the photo, but does it charge using a USB-C? That would be a huge plus if I could use the same charger that my phone does.

    Does it also run Android apps? I heard some Chromebooks do but older ones do not.

    • Andrew Skurka on November 14, 2019 at 11:09 am

      I wish it were USB-C too, but unfortunately it’s not. It’s some kind of pin-style that I’ve never seen anywhere else.

      Some apps will run on it, but you’re more likely to load sites through the browser, as you would on a desktop.

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