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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.

I've also found that the combination of the higher resolution and the TN-based display causes text to appear too thin and light for comfortable reading, even when you are at an ideal angle. I constantly have to zoom pages up to about 125% in order to make them minimally presentable, which is something I've never felt the need to do on any other system.

So you win some, you lose some. Personally, I find that the TN panel cancels out much of the benefit the higher resolution provides; even with its lower resolution, the IPS LCD screen on Google's Chromebook 11 is easier on my eyes. But it's all relative — and compared to the vast majority of entry-level Chromebook devices (which by and large utilize TN-based displays) the 13-in. Samsung Chromebook 2 is absolutely a step ahead.

Accompanying the display is a respectable set of stereo speakers, located on either side of the laptop's bottom surface. Because the bottom slopes up at its sides, audio played from the computer comes out loud and clear, even when the system is sitting flat on a table. The sound is full and as good as any non-front-facing laptop speakers I've heard.

The Chromebook 2's keyboard is another strong point: The plastic keys are soft and smooth with a subtle curve that makes them fit naturally under your fingers. They're nicely spaced out and responsive, too, making typing on the system a pleasure. It's a marked improvement from the keyboard on Samsung's last Chromebook effort and among the best keyboards I've used on a Chromebook in this class.

The same can be said for the Chromebook 2's trackpad: With its soft-touch plastic and reflective silver-trim border, the single-button pad has a high-quality feel for an entry-level laptop. Most important, it's accurate and easy to use.

The Chromebook 2 has a 720p webcam centered above its display.

Performance, battery life and storage
Performance on Samsung's Chromebook 2 is good — but not great. The laptop runs on Samsung's own Exynos Octa 5 processor (clocked at 2.1GHz on the 13-in. model and 1.9GHz on the 11-in. version), which is a distinct change from the Haswell-based Intel chips used in most current Chrome OS devices.

For context, the processor in the Chromebook 2 is the same type of chip typically used in smartphones and tablets. Aside from Samsung, all the major Chromebook manufacturers have moved away from that configuration and adopted Intel's newer chips, which promise superior performance and power management.

So does it actually matter? In short, yes.

First, the positive part: With its full 4GB of RAM, Samsung's Chromebook 2 generally manages to hold its own. The system doesn't feel sluggish or as if it's struggling to keep up, as its predecessor and other past-generation ARM systems often did. Even when you get to extreme levels of multitasking, with 15 to 20 browser tabs open, the Chromebook does a decent job of humming along. Opening new pages tends to get a little poky in that scenario, but navigating through and using the stuff you already have open remains relatively snappy and pain-free.

 

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