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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.

The problem is when you start making comparisons. Next to a Chrome OS device running a Haswell-based Intel chip and the same 4GB of RAM, Samsung's model comes up short. I tested the Chromebook 2 side-by-side with the Asus Chromebox, and with all things equal, pages consistently took a few seconds longer to load on Samsung's device and the system felt less speedy and responsive. It's not an enormous disparity, but it's definitely noticeable — and it was apparent whether I had one tab open or 20.

Here's where things get really crazy: Even next to a Haswell-based Chrome OS device with 2GB of RAM, the 4GB-packing Chromebook 2 can't quite keep up. With half the amount of RAM in place, the Haswell-based Chromebox still pulled up pages faster and outperformed the Samsung system, even when numerous tabs were running.

And then there's the issue of stamina: Samsung promises up to 8.5 hours of battery life on its 13-in. Chromebook 2 and up to 8 hours on the 11-in. model. During my time with the 13-in. version, however, it hasn't come close to hitting that estimate. In real-world use, with varying amounts of multitasking throughout the days, the laptop has given me between 5.5 and 7 hours of total on-screen time per charge.

Considering that the current crop of Haswell-based systems actually delivered 8 to 8.5 hours per charge in my real-world evaluations — and the next generation of Intel-powered systems promises even greater battery life than that — this level of endurance is a little disappointing, to say the least.

On the plus side, the Chromebook 2 runs completely silently and the laptop barely gets warm.

Last but not least, the Chromebook 2 comes with 16GB of internal storage (along with the aforementioned SD card slot for external storage expansion). The laptop uses the type of eMMC-based embedded flash memory typically seen in smartphones and tablets instead of the regular solid-state drive used in most Chromebooks these days. Curious as that may be, though, it's hard to detect any real-world impact from the change.

Bottom line
The 13-in. model of Samsung's Chromebook 2 comes so close to being the midrange Chromebook the world's been waiting to see. It has a distinctive design, roomy 1080p display and solid construction with an excellent keyboard and trackpad.

But the laptop is held back by a handful of significant issues: the use of a TN panel instead of a higher-quality IPS display, performance that's decent but not as good as comparable Intel-based devices and battery life that doesn't come close to what the competition provides.

So all considered, is the Chromebook 2 right for you? Here's what I'd say: On the 11-in. front, you'll get more bang for the buck with one of the current Haswell-based systems. You might also want to wait a month or two to see how the next-gen Intel models, which are slated to arrive this summer, stack up. Without the 1080p display — and with the below-average performance and above-average price tag — the smaller Chromebook 2 is tough to recommend for most consumers at this point.


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