Update: We've added results from our Chromebook drop test (see durability and drop test section) in which the Samsung Chromebook 3 fared surprisingly well.
The $179 Samsung Chromebook 3 is a great little laptop for both school and entertainment, especially for younger kids and frequent travelers. This 11.6-inch notebook not only boasts a fantastic screen and nearly 10 hours of battery life but also comes with 4GB of RAM, so you can expect solid performance. And because its 32GB of storage isn't taken up by Windows 10, you'll find plenty of onboard storage for your personal files. For the price, the Samsung Chromebook 3 is the best Chromebook for those on a budget.
For a sub-$200 device, the Chromebook 3's build quality is surprisingly good, even though it's made of plastic. The textured "metallic black" looks classy enough for any setting. The chassis has a silky-smooth palm rest, as well as a gently rounded lip to keep your wrists comfortable. The subtle texture around the display helps minimize reflections from the glossy bezel.
The hinge is strong and flexible, with the ability to tilt the screen to 180 degrees. There is no flexing around its keyboard, which is a problem that plagues most other laptops in this price range. The Samsung notebook is small enough to tuck under your arm, and hardy enough to slip into your luggage for international travel.
The Chromebook 3 has the ports you need. On the left side, there is a battery indicator, a slim jack for the AC adapter, a USB 2.0 port, a full-size HDMI port and a microSD card slot. On the opposite side, you'll find a USB 3.0 port, as well as a combination audio and microphone jack.
Measuring 11.4 x 8 x 0.7 inches and weighing 2.5 pounds, the Samsung Chromebook 3 is practically the HP Stream 11's twin (11.8 x 8.1 x 0.7 inches, 2.5 pounds) but with a different operating system. The two 14-inch laptops in the group -- the Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14 (13.3 x 9.3 x 0.7 inches, 3.15 pounds) and the Dell Inspiron 14 3000 (13.6 x 9.6 x 0.8 inches, 3.5 pounds) -- are much bigger and heavier than their 11-inch rivals.
Durability and drop test
The Chromebook 3 did an excellent job in our Chromebook drop test, which involved dropping 11 of the most popular Chromebooks from 2.5 feet and 4.5 feet onto concrete and carpet. Samsung's laptop, although not technically ruggedized, didn't show any signs of wear after our first few drops. Only on the side drop from 4.5 feet did the Chromebook 3's bezel separate from the screen, but we were able to snap everything back into place and return the Chromebook 3 to near-new condition.
The real star of the Samsung Chromebook 3 is its exceptional screen. The Chromebook 3's 1366 x 768 LED display is brighter than its competitors', at 259 nits. That is more luminous than the 188 nits from both the Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14 and the HP Stream 11, as well as the 135-nit display on the Dell Inspiron 14 3000. Viewing angles are decent on the Chromebook 3, as you can clearly see all the colors on the screen from about 45 degrees on each side.
The colors on the Chromebook 3 are so realistic that they put other budget laptops to shame. Whereas most other panels in this class make everything skew blue and cool, the Samsung laptop delivered warmer tones that look more authentic and detailed.
In the Dunkirk trailer, only the Chromebook 3's panel showed the subtle hint of yellow sand and brackish green water in its opening sequence. I also appreciated the finer details of Vulture's metallic armor in the Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer, which was an improvement over the Stream 11's display.
The Chromebook 3's accurate hues are partly due to its near-perfect 0.2 Delta-E rating (closer to 0 is best). Its competitors' ratings, by comparison, miss the mark completely and all fall within the same range: 3.7 for the Stream 11, 3.5 for the Inspiron 14 3000 and 3.9 for the Ideapad 100S-14.
On the flip side, the Samsung laptop has the most limited color range of the bunch, reproducing only 63.1 percent of the sRGB gamut. The 11-inch HP display reproduced 77.5 percent of the gamut, the 14-inch Dell panel delivered 81.4 percent and the Lenovo's screen had the widest color range, at 83.5 percent.
The bottom-firing speakers on the Samsung Chromebook 3 are decent for the price. At least they are loud enough to fill a small room with sound, but they don't have the versatility and finesse of the Stream 11's DTS Studio Sound-enhanced speakers.
However, HP's system edged out the Samsung laptop on the jazzy "Summer Montage" from the La La Land soundtrack. The Chromebook 3's speakers distorted the trumpets whenever they reached the high notes, and the cymbals sounded more muddy than on the Stream 11.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Typing on the Samsung Chromebook 3's spill-resistant keyboard feels comfortable, as its keys are ever-so-slightly curved to fit your fingertips and keep your fingers oriented. The keys are well sized and take full advantage of the width of the device, which is good news for people with bigger fingers.
Both the Chromebook 3 and the Stream 11 have 1.2 millimeters of key travel (between 1.5 and 2 mm is ideal), but it takes 63 grams of force to actuate a key on the Chromebook 3, versus 69 grams on the Stream 11 (60 grams is the minimum we prefer). When I took the 10FastFingers.com typing test, I scored 76 words per minute with a 9 percent error rate. That is just a touch slower and less accurate than my normal 80 wpm and 7 percent error rate on my Microsoft Surface Pro 4's Type Cover.
My biggest gripe with the Chromebook 3's keyboard is its layout. I wish there were more distance between the power button and the rest of the keyboard. Because the Backspace key is just below the power key, you're just an accidental keystroke from accidentally shutting down the machine. I also wish the power key had an indicator light to let me know how long to press the button to turn on the device.
At 3.9 x 2.2 inches, the Chromebook 3's touchpad is generous for an 11-inch device. The material of the touchpad feels cool and smooth, like its palm rest. It's also highly sensitive, so we suggest lightly tapping the surface to navigate the device.
With a 1.6-GHz Intel Celeron N3060 processor, Intel HD Graphics 400, 4GB of RAM and 32GB of eMMc flash storage, the Chromebook 3 has the performance you need for handling web surfing and word processing. I had 10 web browser tabs open while I did everything from edit a couple of Google Docs to stream a concert from YouTube, and nothing fazed the device. I even watched a couple of 1080p movie trailers while all those other tabs were running in the background, and the Chromebook 3 still showed no serious lag, other than a second to reload a web page.
In the WebGL Aquarium graphics test, the Samsung laptop thoroughly trounced its competitors by rendering 2,000 fish in the tank at 23 frames per second. All of its similarly outfitted opponents did much worse: The Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14 wavered between 6 and 7 fps, while the Stream 11 notched 12 fps. The Inspiron 14 3000 came the closest, at 17 fps.
With its integrated Intel HD Graphics 400, the Chromebook 3 can handle some casual web-based and app games, such as Cut the Rope, but the 3D first-person shooter Web Quake slowed to a crawl in the middle of gameplay.
The Samsung Chromebook 3 can easily last a full workday on a charge. It clocked 9 hours and 44 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi). The Dell Inspiron 14 3000 was a close second with 9:01, and the HP Stream 11 posted a respectable 8:23. The Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14 flamed out with a time of 5:55.
Because the Samsung Chromebook 3 uses Chrome OS, there is ample free space on its 32GB eMMc flash memory for your files. Unlike Windows 10-based systems with the same storage capacity, the Chromebook 3 offers over 20GB of free space right out of the box, versus the measly 9.68GB available on the Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14.
While this free space means you'll have ample room for the latest OS updates and Chrome apps, you should still invest in a microSD card or use a cloud storage service such as Google Drive to store your photo or music collection.
Of all four sub-$200 laptops I tested, the Samsung Chromebook 3 is the only one with an HD webcam that offers live filters such as Vintage and Big Eyes to enhance video chats, and Multi-Shot mode for the camera. My test selfie with the 720p camera looked slightly noisy, but I could clearly see details like the blue flowers on my shirt and the folds in my black couch. The blue piping around my collar also looked accurate.
The underside of the Samsung Chromebook 3 gets a bit warm. After we streamed a HD video for 15 minutes, its underside reached a troubling 105 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a much higher temperature than our 95-degree comfort threshold. However, it never felt hot in my lap thanks to the insulating plastic chassis. The touchpad and keyboard were much cooler, at 81 and 91 degrees, respectively.
There are three variations of the updated Samsung Chromebook 3. Our $179 review unit comes with a 1.6-GHz Intel Celeron N3060 processor, Intel HD Graphics 400, 4GB of RAM and 32GB eMMc flash storage, and it's available at BestBuy.com and Samsung.com.
The two other configurations use the same Celeron processor and Intel graphics, but differ on RAM and storage capacity. There is a 16GB version of the Chromebook 3 for $170, and a $160 version with only 2GB RAM and 16GB of storage.
If you're interested in a higher end alternative of the Samsung Chromebook 3, consider getting the Samsung Chromebook Plus LTE. For $599, you'll get a stylish 2-in-1 laptop with an Intel Celeron 3965Y processor, 4GB of RAM, 32GB eMMC, a 12.2-inch, 1920 x 1200 panel and 4G LTE. It also includes a built-in stylus capable of capturing 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity with tilt recognition. On top of that, it features a 13MP world-facing camera with autofocus built into the keyboard.
Software and Warranty
Besides the standard Google apps, like Google Docs and YouTube, the Samsung Chromebook 3 doesn't have any preloaded software. You can download other apps, such as games and browser extensions, through the Chrome Web Store. According to Google, you'll be able to download some Android apps to the Samsung Chromebook 3 in the near future, but the Google Play store is currently in beta for this particular model.
MORE: Best Samsung Laptops
If you purchase this Samsung laptop, you would be entitled to an additional 100GB of free cloud storage on Google Drive for two years. But you'll have to claim this offer from Google's Chromebook Offers web page, as it's not preloaded onto the device.
Samsung provides a one-year warranty on parts and labor. If you want more extended protection, you have to purchase additional service through retailers such as Best Buy.
Everyone likes getting more for less. With the $179 Samsung Chromebook 3, you get the brightest 11.6-inch display in this class, speedy performance with 4GB of RAM, just about 10 hours of battery life and a fun webcam -- all for less money than the Windows-powered $200 HP Stream 11 costs. There are a few downsides, though including weak speakers and awkward key placement. You also have to be willing to live with the limitations of Chrome OS.
If your life and work are heavily tied to the Windows and Microsoft Office environment, then the $200 HP Stream 11 or $195 Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14 might make more sense. If you value a big and bright screen but you don't care too much about battery life, then the Lenovo Ideapad 100S-14 is a good choice. And if you want the best listening experience and at least 8 hours of battery life, then go with the HP Stream 11.
But if you're willing to give Chrome OS a try, this compact Samsung laptop is a solid choice for students and anyone who primarily uses their laptop to surf the web.
Credit: Keith Agnello/Laptop Mag