Chromebooks have become a tech craze as of late, as they are lightweight, capable machines that have a long battery life. Best of all, they’re very cheap for a laptop. The only real downside to using a Chromebook is the restriction of only using the Chrome web browser, but nowadays, it’s not really an issue.
The first successful Chromebook was the Samsung Chromebook (read our review of the series 3 Chromebook), which provided good performance and amazing battery life thanks to the ARM-based processor, as well as great build quality at an affordable price. It’s been out for a while, and Samsung has finally released its successor, the Samsung Chromebook 2.
You can get the Samsung Chromebook 2 in two configurations — an 11.6-inch model ($319), which is the same size as the original Samsung Chromebook, and a 13.3-inch model ($399) for people who want their Chromebook to be more of a laptop replacement. We nabbed ourselves the 13.3-inch model right when it came out, and we gave it a thorough review to see whether it’s a worthwhile upgrade. At the end of the review, you’ll be able to enter for a chance to win one!
Regardless of the manufacturer, Chromebooks use the exact same software, so this battle is all about the hardware. For the price, the Samsung Chromebook 2 has pretty good specifications (Samsung Exynos 5 Octa 5800 2.0 GHz processor, 4 GB DDR3L 1600 MHz SDRAM, 16 GB SSD, 802.11ac) that stacks it up nicely against its competitors. The 13.3-inch model Chromebook 2 has to compete with the $267 Toshiba CB35 Chromebook as well as HP’s $290 Snow White Chromebook 14). Both of those models are cheaper, but by spending more money for the Samsung Chromebook 2, you’ll get a better screen resolution, a faster processor, more RAM, and a much lighter computer. The constant in this scenario is the screen size — roughly 13.3 inches. If you’re looking for the cheapest Chromebook to do the job, then the Toshiba CB35 might be your best bet. But just because you’re getting a Chromebook doesn’t mean you have to make sacrifices when it comes to the internals.
Inside the box, you’ll find the Chromebook, a few booklets to read (or throw away — it’s simple enough to operate), and the charger. Nothing else is included, and doesn’t need to be. Simplicity and the “let’s just get to work” attitude is palpable here.
The 13.3-inch Samsung Chromebook 2 is a beauty. The lid now features the same faux leather and stitching texture that the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro have, and it’s surprisingly not as tacky as you might think. Sure, including real leather would always be better, but this is a Chromebook we’re talking about — pricing is important. Nevertheless, it does make it look a bit more luxurious, and I wouldn’t mind carrying it around in the open.
At 12.72″ x 8.80″ x 0.65″, this Chromebook 2 is even thinner than a 13.3″ MacBook Pro Retina, and it weighs in at 3.06 lbs. Wireless 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0 are included, so you’ll be future-proof for a while. You’ll have 16GB of storage, which is a bit low but sufficient for any temporary downloads, considering apps run directly within the Chrome browser. Of course, Google always suggests that you download to your Google Drive, which is built-in, where you’ll receive 100GB of storage complimentary for two years.
The display on the 13.3-inch model features a crisp 1080p resolution. With 1080p, you can expect crisp text and all-around goodness that comes from such displays with densely packed pixels (165 PPI). Even the viewing angle is superb, which is something some Chromebooks seriously lack.
There is an issue, however. I’m not sure if a 1080p resolution in a 13.3-inch screen exactly qualifies to be considered HiDPI, but at 165 pixels per inch, it’s a pretty high resolution for that size, nonetheless. That being said, you may find yourself squinting a bit at the normal 100% zoom level. This can be fixed by changing the zoom level (which can be changed permanently by going in the browser’s settings), but it only fixes webpages and not the Chrome browser user interface elements such as buttons and the address bar. Since ChromeOS is based on Linux, and the Linux version of the Chrome browser doesn’t have any HiDPI support yet, I believe that is why this issue is occurring. When the Chrome browser receives HiDPI support for the Linux version at some point in the future, it should be resolved.
Performance is splendid. The Chromebook 2 has an octa-core ARM-based processor manufactured by Samsung, which includes four larger cores clocked at 2 GHz and four smaller cores clocked at 1.3 GHz. This configuration allows the Chromebook 2 to use the bigger cores for more intensive tasks to reap performance benefits while the smaller cores are for simpler tasks to save power. Playing a video on YouTube, which uses HTML5 and hardware acceleration, was no match for the Chromebook 2 — it only got a little warm even with its lack of fans, so no legs were burned during my testing.
Webcam and Microphone
The 720p webcam is more than enough for Google Hangouts and the like. The camera quality is what you’d expect — sufficient for the job so you don’t really have any complaints, but not spectacular. The dual-array microphone is also decent, so the person you’re speaking with can hear you clearly.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Whenever I come across a budget device, such as Chromebooks, I often have to complain about the quality of keyboard, the trackpad, or both. This is not the case for the Chromebook 2. The keys on this device are spaced comfortably far apart so that you won’t hit other keys by accident, and they even offer a little bit of concavity. The keys also had a good amount of spring to them, so it was a surprising joy to use.
The touchpad is not nearly as solid as the MacBook Pro’s trackpad that I’ve gotten accustomed to, but it’s still a very good one. It’s pretty large, yet it’s very sensitive and capable of understanding the right input. For example, it actually registers two-finger right-clicks well, instead of just moving the cursor a few inches across the screen.
There are two speakers, rated at 2W each, that are located near the edges of the Chromebook but facing downwards. The speakers themselves aren’t actually bad! They don’t provide an ear-opening (get it?) experience, but they sound pretty dang decent and even have a little bit of bass. Because of their downward angle, they do get a bit muffled at times, depending on what kind of surface you place the Chromebook on. I do wish that the speakers would face up rather than down, but it’s not too much of an issue.
Samsung estimates the Chromebook 2’s battery life at 8.5 hours, and I have to say that that number is pretty spot on. Of course, you won’t get that by playing YouTube videos at full brightness the entire time, but a good mix of tasks at medium brightness will get pretty close to 8 hours. For mobile warriors who are constantly on the Web, this Chromebook — with its 4700mAh lithium polymer battery — is a very good choice.
Overall, I really like the Samsung Chromebook 2. The bigger screen, higher specs, good battery life, thinness and lightness make it a fantastic companion. I can’t say whether it’s a true laptop replacement. The hardware is certainly good, and ChromeOS has received plenty of refinements since it first debuted.
Anyone who would like to use a Chromebook while on the go and still be productive with offline, desktop-grade apps should have a secondary system that they keep at home. However, for a Chromebook, this one is a very, very good buy.
MakeUseOf recommends: Buy — it’s one of the best Chromebooks currently out there!
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