You can get some really cheap Chromebooks if you’re fine with getting an 11.6-inch display. While it’s not unnecessarily small, you might still prefer a bigger screen than that, all while still spending as little dough as possible. This $300 Toshiba CB35-A3210 Chromebook wants to fill the need for a cheap 13.3-inch model.
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About the Toshiba CB35-A3210 Chromebook
At $300, Toshiba CB35-A3120 Chromebook, as I’ve already alluded to, is one of the cheapest Chromebooks available with a 13.3-inch display. Not only does it have that going for it, but it’s also from Toshiba, a company which generally has a positive perception among consumers. Sounds like a recipe for success, right? Well, the lower price is probably indicative that some sacrifices had to be made, so we’ll be taking a closer look at its hardware to see if the sacrifices are too much to bear.
This Toshiba Chromebook comes with an Intel Celeron processor rated at 1.4 GHz, a 13.3-inch display with a 1366 x 768 resolution, 2GB of RAM, and a 16GB solid-state hard drive. There’s also 802.11n WiFi, an HD webcam, and an advertised 9 hours of battery life. Plus, two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, a combo headphone/microphone jack, and an SD card reader.
The one of main competitors for the Toshiba CB35-A3120 is the Samsung Chromebook 2. The Samsung Chromebook 2 (which we reviewed) is $100 more expensive, but it does come with very nice hardware (such as a 1080p display) and excellent build quality.
Next is the ASUS C300MA-DB01 Chromebook, which is actually cheaper than the Toshiba by about $30 when comparing on Amazon, but is likely more at full retail price. In terms of hardware, the ASUS includes a better wireless chip (802.11ac), but a weaker Bay Trail processor as opposed to the Toshiba’s more powerful Haswell processor. While we didn’t get to look at the ASUS C300MA, we did review the ASUS C200MA, which has exactly the same hardware, except for a smaller, 11.6-inch display.
The packaging for the Toshiba Chromebook is very simple and doesn’t look as overly organized as the packaging of other Chromebooks. You just have the Chromebook wrapped in a foam envelope, with some styrofoam bumpers. Next to that is the rather long power supply, as well as the owner’s manual and warranty information. Sadly, it wasn’t a very exciting unboxing — Toshiba didn’t put a lot of effort into making it a memorable experience.
Very much like other Toshiba laptops, this Chromebook features a finely-dimpled surface all around the exterior, and sticks with the same silver, matte color template on the interior surfaces. I do like that the ports have little icons on the bottom side of the Chromebook to indicate what they’re for, which is great if you decide to get this Chromebook for someone who’s fairly new to computing.
The first problem I’ve noticed is the build quality. While it doesn’t creak anywhere, the materials used feel very cheap. I know this is a not a high-end Chromebook, but other manufacturers have done a great job of making their Chromebooks feel great to use while keeping them very affordable. Here, it’s very apparent that you’re using a cheap Chromebook.
The unit we purchased didn’t sit firmly on a flat table — the nearest left corner was always floating a few millimeters above the surface, so each time I laid my hand on the left side of the trackpad to rest it, I’d feel the Chromebook tilt. It wasn’t a big deal at first, but it got very annoying very quickly. At the very least, I was expecting this Chromebook to sit snugly on a table. There were also issues with the display, keyboard, and trackpad, all of which I’ll address later.
Toshiba’s cost-cutting is most obviously through the CB35-A3120’s display. This 13.3-inch display has a 1366 x 768 resolution, which is not great, considering that a handful of 11.6-inch models also sport the same resolution. A resolution of 1600 x 900 pixels would have been nice — full 1080p resolution like that of the Samsung Chromebook 2 is ideal. The viewing angles weren’t all that great either; they were acceptable — if viewed from a sharp angle (about 30 degrees from a parallel axis, or 60 degrees from the perpendicular axis), you wouldn’t see a whole lot.
I was in for a scare when I first started this Chromebook. Everything was going fine, and after it had applied a system update, the screen’s backlight wouldn’t turn on anymore. It took several reboots and troubleshooting in a very dark room before the backlight eventually resumed working. Again, another sign of bad build quality.
Keyboard and Trackpad
At first, I thought the keyboard was complete rubbish. The keys provided very little feel, so on initial use, typing on that keyboard felt numb. They eventually opened up, but it didn’t give me a very good impression overall. Personally, I wish the keys would still have a little more travel, but otherwise they’re perfectly useable. It’s also the typical Chromebook keyboard layout, so there is enough space between the keys so you won’t have to worry about hitting neighboring keys.
I also had initial issues with the trackpad. It was terrible at recognizing my input correctly, and the surface also had some strange property which made it very likely for the cursor to “bounce” while dragging my finger across the trackpad. But after a software update, the trackpad input recognition improved significantly, and after a bit more use, the cursor also stopped bouncing for the most part. It then became a joy to use — there was barely anything wrong with it after those two issues were resolved.
Webcam and Microphone
The HD webcam performs well and seems to have a reasonable picture quality, so you can use it for video calls and the like without worry. The microphone is found in the standard location, and works as expected.
Although this Chromebook only comes with a dual-core Celeron rated at 1.4 GHz, I was impressed by its performance. This is because it uses the Haswell Celeron rather than the Bay Trail Celeron, so it does get a bit more performance than the ASUS C300MA. Loading webpages and videos was just fine, and 1080p videos played smoothly as well even though you won’t really see much difference between 720p and 1080p videos on the display’s 1366 x 768 resolution.
The CB35-A3120 also includes 802.11n WiFi, which is acceptable for a cheaper Chromebook, but the ASUS models features 802.11ac — so I was sort of hoping that Toshiba would have included it as well. In any case, wireless-N is still good enough for most people.
Most battery life claims are a bit exaggerated, and this one is no different. Instead of the advertised 9 hours of battery life, I was getting more along the lines of 7 to 8 hours with casual use, and a bit of video streaming on YouTube. That should still get you through most of the day, or at least lets you skip an outlet or two before you do have to recharge. This is still pretty good for a 13.3-inch model, as the larger displays usually require more electricity to operate.
Should you buy the Toshiba CB35-A3120?
So now that we’ve looked at all the components, how does the Chromebook fair as a laptop? The affordable price tag probably doesn’t justify some of the Toshiba’s shortcomings. Maybe I’m being unrealistic, but I would have preferred a 1600 x 900 pixel display, 802.11ac, and much better build quality.
I think above all, the build quality was what got to me the most. Every other Chromebook I’ve tested had better build quality than this Toshiba, and simply put me off using it.
MakeUseOf recommends: Look elsewhere for a 13.3-inch Chromebook. This Toshiba appears to have some potentially significant build quality issues.
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