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Samsung Chromebook 2 review: Compelling -- but not without compromise

JR Raphael | May 16, 2014
Samsung's newest Chromebook has a distinctive design and a roomy 1080p screen, along with a few drawbacks.

In terms of build quality, the Chromebook 2 is a definite step up from Samsung's past Chromebook efforts. It's still a plastic-centric construction, but it feels solid and less flimsy than its predecessor (as well as some of the other devices in its class from different manufacturers). It's not at the level of a design-focused system like Google's Chromebook 11 — and it's nowhere near the level of a high-end laptop like the Chromebook Pixel, as you'd expect — but for a $320-$400 computer, the Chromebook 2 is reasonably well assembled and pleasant to use.

At 12.7 x 8.8 x 0.65 in., the 13-in. Chromebook 2 is larger than the typical 11-in. Chromebook — naturally — but at 3.1 lbs., the device doesn't feel at all bulky or uncomfortable to use and carry. The size is actually a sweet spot between the compact-but-small-screened 11-in. form and the roomy-display-but-somewhat-unwieldy 14-in. option at the other end of the spectrum. (For perspective, HP's 14-in. Chromebook 14 is a full pound heavier than Samsung's 13-in. model.)

The 11-in. Chromebook 2, meanwhile, is comparable in form to the majority of the Chromebooks on the market, at 11.4 x 8.1 x 0.66 in. and 2.43 lbs.

The Chromebook 2 has a headphone jack and USB 2.0 port on its right side and an HDMI-out port, USB 3.0 port and covered microSD card slot on its left. The left side of the system also holds a proprietary charging port that — huzzah! — actually matches the proprietary charging port used on Samsung's 2012 Chromebook. In other words, if you have the older model, your existing charger will work with this laptop and vice versa.

Display, speakers and keyboard
One of the most distinguishing features of the Chromebook 2 — on the 13-in. model, at least — is its display: The system has a 1920 x 1080 glossy screen, making it the first Chromebook other than the top-of-the-line Pixel to go beyond the baseline 1366 x 768 resolution. (The 11-in. model has the more common 1366 x 768 resolution.)

The bump up in resolution makes a noticeable difference. Next to a typical 1366 x 768 screen, the 13-in. Chromebook 2's display looks extra crisp and clear. Even something as simple as text in a document appears less grainy, and watching 1080p videos on the device is a great experience.

The 13.3-in. display also provides a meaningful amount of additional real estate compared to the 11.6-in. standard, which makes the device feel pleasingly roomy — more like a traditional laptop and less like a netbook.

It isn't all good news, though. Samsung opted to stick with a lower-quality TN panel instead of going with a higher-end IPS display on this device — and even with the higher resolution, that puts a firm ceiling on the display's potential. Colors are grayish and dull, contrast is lacking and everything looks kind of washed out. Viewing angles, especially on the horizontal, are also rather poor; if you aren't staring at the display straight on, its picture becomes distorted and text is frequently difficult or impossible to read.

 

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