The display, keyboard, and touchpad
I've played with plenty of cheap netbooks in this price range. Most of them aren't very good. Common traits include an overly thick chassis, a crummy keyboard with tiny keys, and a touchpad that's so frustratingly small, you might as well just carry a mouse.
The Samsung Chromebook isn't like that. In fact, this little laptop's build quality is pretty much impeccable considering the price. And the system is quite the looker.
This thing is sexy and razor-thin, at just 0.69". From far away, one might almost mistake it for Apple's 11-inch MacBook Air. Of course, the enclosure is made of plastic instead of aluminum, and the physical design is a little different. I'm sure it'll get added to the Apple v. Samsung lawsuit anyway, though. I believe Apple holds a patent on those rounded rectangles...
Samsung gets points here for making the most of the available space. The keyboard stretches as wide as the machine's body allows, and the touchpad is about as tall as it can be. I'm not hugely enamored with the touchpad, since it feels a little too tacky for my taste. My fingers tend to skip across it rather than glide along smoothly. The keyboard, however, feels great. It's clicky and rigid, and the keys are large enough that I didn't catch myself making too many typos.
Note the unusual layout, by the way. There's no Windows or Apple key to keep Ctrl and Alt company. A search key sits in place of Caps Lock, and the F keys aren't even F keys—they control either the Chrome browser or the machine's speakers and display luminosity. (The browser-specific buttons let you go back, go forward, reload, go full-screen, and switch between windows.) A power key sits at the far right, too, just like on Mac laptops.
Fun fact: if you push the power key while the Chromebook is running, the image on the display shrinks slightly, and you have a short time to let go and get back to whatever you were doing. If you keep pushing, the image stops shrinking for an instant and then rapidly disappears into a black void, which tosses you back to the log-in screen. Repeat the procedure, and the system shuts down. It feels a little less safe than a dialog box, but it does look neat.
The display is less praise-worthy. Its 1366x768 resolution allows for reasonable screen real estate, and the viewing angles are passable. However, colors look a little washed out, and the backlighting isn't terribly bright. Luminosity peaks out at 236 cd/m² according to our colorimeter. By comparison, the iPad 3's 9.7" screen puts out 435 cd/m², and that's despite a considerably higher pixel density. It's probably good Samsung went with a matte coating instead of a glossy one.
We ran our calibration utility to get a more empirical sense of the Samsung Chromebook's color output. Click the buttons above, and you'll see that even the $199 Nexus 7 shows a bigger chunk of the sRGB color gamut than the Chromebook. There isn't much of a contest versus the iPad 3, either.
Nevertheless, I'd say the Samsung Chromebook's screen is serviceable overall. It's certainly good enough to browse the web, look at family photos, do a little word processing in Google Docs, and watch YouTube videos of funny cats and bad Russian drivers. That's probably all most Chrome OS users are likely to do.
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