Samsung Chromebox £279
10th Jul 2012 | 16:06
A desktop Chrome OS PC - but can it cut the mustard?
There's no denying that the Samsung Chromebox XE300M22 faces an uphill struggle. We're increasingly accessing the internet through our mobile devices, from laptops to tablets and smartphones.
Sitting down behind a desk and in front of a monitor and keyboard to check our emails, read the news and message people on Facebook is becoming increasingly rare.
Google knows this, having an immensely popular mobile operating system, Android. It also has a far less popular PC operating system - Chrome OS, which is found on the laptop-like Chromebooks such as the Acer AC700 and the Samsung Series 5.
Priced at £279 in the UK and $329 in the US , the Samsung Chromebox is designed for the lower end of the market – think nettop – and its tiny size and simple interface could just make it a viable computer for people who value simplicity and surfing over file management and power.
Chrome OS is also the operating system for the Samsung Chromebox Series 3 XE300M22, a desktop-based PC that sits unobtrusively next to a monitor or TV to enable you to surf the web and perform some light tasks such as quick photo editing and word processing.
So the first hurdle the Samsung Chromebox XE300M22 must clear is our changing habits when it comes to accessing the internet. A pretty big hurdle, to say the least.
Chrome OS was primarily designed for mobile use, so it's lightweight and non-demanding of battery power. This means that for complicated tasks we'd most associate with desktop PCs - such as movie editing and media playback - Chrome OS isn't really up to the task.
However, there is one advantage to having Chrome OS on a desktop computer. Since Chrome OS relies so much on an internet connection, if you take a Chromebook somewhere without Wi-Fi or 3G, then many of the Chromebook's features become unusable. With the Chomebox, however, this isn't a problem, because it will be permanently in your house, connected to your broadband.
However, the modern house has plenty of little boxes attached to TVs and monitors as it is. Games consoles, Blu-ray players, set-top boxes and even the TVs themselves can access the internet through apps and web browsers.
So the second hurdle the Samsung Chromebox XE300M22 faces is to convince us that we need yet another box in our living rooms.
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If you're going to market a product to take up space in customers' living rooms, then you'll want to make it small, slim and attractive. This is clearly something that Samsung has grasped, because the Samsung Chromebox Series 3 is a good-looking device in a small chassis that won't look out of place under a TV in the front room.
While we've seen small-factor computers before, such as the Sapphire Edge HD, the Zotac Zbox nano XS AD11 Plus and the Apple Mac mini, the fact that they are running more traditional operating systems, be it Linux, Windows or OS X, means that they need extra power.
This extra power produces heat, which means these mini PCs aren't always as mini as they claim. It also means they either get hot quite quickly, or they produce a lot of fan noise - neither particularly attractive in a device that's meant to sit quietly under your TV.
Since Chrome OS is a lot less intensive than more traditional desktop operating systems, its specifications have been scaled back, requiring less power, and therefore producing less heat. This results in the Samsung Chromebox XE300M22 being a much smaller and almost completely silent machine, which won't distract you by whirring away in the corner of your living room.
But does the scaling back of specifications result in an under-powered machine? The Samsung Chromebox XE300M22 is the third series of Chromebox from Samsung, so components and the design have been refined.
In many ways the specifications are very similar to the Samsung XE550C22 Chromebook, with 4GB of DDR3 RAM, 16GB SSD and integrated Intel HD graphics. While the 4GB of RAM is very welcome, and keeps Chrome OS feeling quick, we were worried to see the same integrated graphics that are shared with the system memory.
As we found out in our Samsung Series 5 Chromebook XE550C22 review, the graphics struggled to play high definition content on its 12.1-inch display. Plugging the Samsung Chromebox Series 3 XE300M22 into a big high definition TV could prove even more problematic for media playback.
At least the processor in the Chromebox is more robust, with an Intel Celeron Processor B840 running at 1.9GHz, compared to the Samsung XE550C22 Chromebook's Intel Celeron Processor 867 with a clock speed of 1.3GHz.
Speaking of connecting to a high definition TV, the Samsung Chromebox XE300M22 comes with just a DVI port for video output. We'd have much rather seen an HDMI port, which would have made connecting it to an HD TV much easier. Instead you may need to invest in a DVI to HDMI cable.
The Samsung Chromebox XE300M22 also comes with a built-in mono speaker. At a rather weak 2W, it's not going to be good for playing media. The only other output for sound is through a phono port at the front, which is supposed to be for headphones. You can plug it into a speaker system, but since it's at the front it could look rather ugly.
Wireless support is built in, which gives you plenty of flexibility to place the Samsung Chromebox XE300M22 wherever you want it. It also has an Ethernet port for wired internet connections, which gives a faster and more reliable connection - but it's not quite as convenient as Wi-Fi.
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The Samsung Chromebox Series 3 XE300M22 comes with six USB 2.0 ports, with two situated on the front. This gives you plenty of options for connecting up devices, and the keyboard and mouse we attached worked straight away.
We connected up the Chromebox via DVI to our monitor, and running at 1080p resolution the interface looked clear and attractive.
The default theme is a bit grey, but that can easily be improved through changing the Chrome theme (much like you would with the Chrome internet browser on your regular PC) and changing the desktop background. It's quick to do, makes the Chrome OS more attractive and - probably most importantly - makes it feel more like a standard computer.
In the past, Chrome OS's different way of doing things could be quite confusing for people, essentially being one big web browser for using the internet and performing day-to-day computing tasks. Updates to Chrome OS have kept its unique browser-based and internet-orientated focus, while making it far more attractive and user-friendly.
The new desktop layout works especially well with the Chromebox, and the 4GB of RAM and speedy SSD keep the operating system running smoothly. High-definition content from the BBC iPlayer streaming service played very well on the whole, although there were minor instances of stutter.
However, as we suspected, the single mono speaker was utterly inadequate for playing sounds at any volume or quality, so you'd want to get a pair of speakers for media playback. Again, it's a shame that there is no HDMI port, which could have delivered both video and sound to your TV, rather than the video-only DVI port.
When running media from our USB flash drive, standard definition files played absolutely fine, but there were occasionally moments where image fidelity dipped. There was some more pronounced stuttering during high definition playback, but it wasn't enough to completely spoil our enjoyment.
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In the past, Chrome OS was hobbled by the fact that quite a lot of different file types couldn't be opened by the operating system. The situation has improved recently, but we still found that the Samsung Chromebox XE300M22 couldn't open certain files, such as .wmv videos.
Instead a message popped up telling us we needed to convert the file to something that could be opened on the internet. The lack of support for certain media files, along with choppy HD playback and poor built-in speakers, means we wouldn't recommend the Samsung Chromebox Series 3 as a media streaming device.
Of course for browsing the web, and using Google's robust cloud tools, the Samsung Chromebox Series 3 XE300M22 is very good, as you'd expect. Web pages open fast, and the whole experience is smooth and professional.
There's no denying that the Samsung Chromebox XE300M22 is an innovative product. But just because something is innovative, it doesn't mean that it's necessary. Our houses are filling up with internet connected devices already, so the Samsung Chromebox Series 3 had its work cut out to convince us to part with our cash and find another power socket in our homes.
While it's certainly a well-built product, we feel it just doesn't do enough to warrant a purchase.
The improvements to Chrome OS make the Samsung Chromebox XE300M22 a much more user-friendly device compared to previous generations of Chromebooks. The desktop-like experience is definitely an improvement on the browser window-only Chrome OS interface of the past.
Booting up and configuring the Chromebox is quick and easy, and the device on the whole is stylish.
The Samsung Chromebox XE300M22's web-0only way of doing things is a blessing as well as a curse. It keeps it fast, light and constantly up-to-date, yet it also limits what the Chromebox is capable of.
Media playback still isn't flawless, and poor built-in speakers and the lack of HDMI make this a bad choice for a media streamer - a pretty big problem if you're thinking of hooking the Samsung Chromebox Series 3 up to your TV.
Compared to the first generation of Chrome OS-powered devices, the Samsung Chromebox XE300M22 is a solid, yet unspectacular, desktop PC.
There's an awful lot of potential here, especially as our broadband speeds increase and more services take to the cloud. In a few years' time it's possible that we might look back on Chromeboxes and Chromebooks as trailblazers, brave devices that went into unknown territory and showed us which way the future lay. However, at the moment it's not quite there.
Desktop PCs may be declining in popularity, but the reason you'd choose one over a laptop or a tablet is for the flexibility and power that they offer. Playing the latest games or doing heavy duty video editing are tasks that can only really be done on desktops. So really, there's not much point in creating a desktop that is essentially the same as your laptop but without the mobility. Unfortunately, that is what Samsung has done.
The Samsung Chromebox Series 3 XE300M22 isn't much more than a Chromebook tied down to a desk. Who really needs that?