Chrome OS might not be a true Windows or Mac killer yet, but Samsung's stylish Chromebook 2 makes a more compelling case than ever. This elegant ultraportable sports a crisp, full-HD display; a handy preinstalled software suite; and all the endurance you need to get through a workday and then some. However, $399 is pricey for a Chromebook. Is it worth paying the premium over HP's and Toshiba's latest offerings?
The Chromebook 2 borrows the LuxuryLite look of Samsung's Galaxy Note 3, sporting a silver, faux-leather lid with a tactile Chrome logo emblazoned on the top left and a reflective Samsung logo in the middle. The overall design, especially the tapered sides, are reminiscent of Samsung's premium notebooks.
Once you open the Chromebook 2, you'll see a charcoal-brushed bezel, which surrounds the notebook's 13.3-inch display and features a 720p webcam at the top. That same dark-gray finish spills onto the deck, which features a set of black island keys and an LED power indicator on the top left.
The laptop's underside is mostly bare, sporting small stereo speakers on the left and right edges, and four rubber bumpers to keep the Chromebook in place.
Measuring 12.72 x 8.80 x 0.65 inches, the Chromebook 2's elegantly curved edges are thinner than those on the HP Chromebook 14 (13.56 x 9.44 x 0.81 inches) and the Toshiba CB35-A3120 Chromebook (12.9 x 8.9 x 0.8 inches). At 3 pounds, the Samsung Chromebook 2 is also lighter than the 4.4-pound HP 14 and the 3.3-pound A3120.
Sporting a 13.3-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel display, the Chromebook 2 is significantly sharper than 1366 x 768p competitors, such as the HP 14 and Toshiba Chromebook. When browsing websites such as TomsGuide.com and ESPN.com on Samsung's Chromebook, we enjoyed rich colors and sharp text. However, don't expect wide viewing angles from this system; we had to push the display pretty far back to get the best picture.
The 1080p trailer for "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" looked satisfyingly vivid on the Chromebook 2. From a graffiti-laden city block to the individual hairs and facial creases of the film's apes, Samsung's notebook presented each scene in crisp detail.
The Chromebook 2's display brightness averaged 214 nits on our light meter, making it a bit brighter than the HP 14 and A3120 (both 209 nits) and barely dimmer than the 216-nit ultraportable average.
The Chromebook 2's small stereo speakers are fine for providing some background noise, but don't expect high fidelity. We heard clear lead vocals and lead guitar when jamming Jenny Lewis' "Just One of the Guys," but the song's background vocals sounded tinny, and bass was barely present.
Hip-hop songs, such as 50 Cent's "Animal Ambition," were similarly uneven, as the song's vocals and haunting bass line sounded crisp. The track's synth and drums were too muddy.
The Chromebook 2's sound output of 86 decibels (measured by a tone played from 23 inches away) outcranked the 82-decibel average for ultraportables, but Samsung's notebook wasn't quite as loud as the Chromebooks from HP (89 dB) or Toshiba (94 dB).
The Samsung Chromebook 2's heat levels were mostly manageable in our testing, though you might want to be careful if you're using the notebook directly on your lap. After the Chromebook streamed 15 minutes of HD video, its touchpad and G and H keys reached a fairly comfortable 81.5 and 87 degrees, respectively. However, the notebook's underside reached a hotter 99.5 degrees, which is above our 95-degree comfort threshold.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Chromebook 2 sports a nicely spaced set of black island keys, featuring a dedicated row of Function buttons for website navigation, full-screen mode, switching windows, and adjusting brightness and volume. The notebook's keys have a nice snap to them, but their short travel of 1.09 millimeters (1.5 to 2 mm is better) make them feel too shallow for our liking.
Despite this, we were able to type at a brisk 85.5 words per minute with 98 percent accuracy on the KeyHero Typing Test, besting our usual 75 wpm.
The Chromebook's 4 x 2.6-inch touchpad provides a satisfying click, though its single-button design lacks any designated areas for left and right clicks. While two-finger scrolling is enabled, you can't perform other multifinger gestures, such as pinching to zoom.
Ports and Webcam
The Samsung Chromebook 2 features a fairly standard gamut of ports, including a DC-in, USB 3.0 port and HDMI port on the left side, and a USB 2.0 port and headphone/microphone combo jack on the right. Interestingly, Samsung opted to include a microSD card reader on the left side instead of a standard SD card slot. We prefer the latter.
The notebook's 720p webcam is a serviceable selfie taker. The hues of our skin tone and purple dress shirt were reproduced nicely, though we noticed some obvious pixelation in facial details like our beard and hairline.
MORE: Best Chromebooks 2014
Chrome OS makes the desktop experience as minimal as possible, with a menu button and app icons taking up a small corner on the bottom left, and a widget for time, Wi-Fi and Settings on the bottom right. Clicking on the latter allows you to switch Wi-Fi networks, toggle Bluetooth, adjust volume, shut down, sign out and pull up the full Chrome OS settings menu.
The Chrome OS Menu button acts like a simplified version of the Windows 7 Start button, as clicking it will allow you to browse and open all of your installed Chrome apps. Shortcuts for Chrome, Gmail, Google Search, Google Docs and YouTube are present on the taskbar by default, and you can add any other shortcuts you'd like by simply dragging down their respective icons.
If you log in to Chrome OS using your Google account, you'll receive notifications for things such as weather, Hangouts messages and even Amazon shipments right from your dashboard. If you utilize Guest mode, you'll be limited to Chrome, Store, Get Help and Files, and you won't be able to install apps or download files.
You can augment the Chromebook 2's app selection via the Chrome Web Store, which currently features about 33,614 apps, according to ChromeOSApps.org. While the Web Store is a ways behind the 100,000-plus apps available on Windows 8, you'll still be able to find favorites such as "Angry Birds," "Cut the Rope," Spotify, eBay and Pandora.
The Web Store sorts its apps into convenient categories, so you'll be able to browse specifically for apps that work offline, are business-oriented or are compatible with Google Drive. The store also provides recommendations based on how you use your Chromebook.
While Chrome OS is largely a Web-based operating system, its app ecosystem is gradually growing to support offline use. There are more than 100 programs in the Chrome Web Store's Offline Apps section, which features apps like Cut the Rope, Google Keep, Kindle Cloud Reader and Google+ Photos.
You can use default Chrome apps like Gmail and Google Docs offline, but you'll have to first enable offline functionality in each program while you still have a connection.
With our Chromebook 2's Wi-Fi turned off, we were able to enjoy a few rounds of "Cut the Rope" and edit documents offline in Google Docs. Apps like photo viewer 500px provided very limited offline use,as we were locked out of browsing pictures in the Popular, Editors', Upcoming and Fresh tabs without a connection.
Powered by a 2.1-GHz octa-core Samsung Exynos 5 processor and 4GB of RAM, the Chromebook 2 allowed us to perform everyday tasks with ease, despite falling behind on some synthetic tests. We did notice some slowdown when playing "Cut the Rope" while simultaneously browsing a dozen Chrome tabs and streaming music on Spotify, but things smoothed out after a few seconds.
The notebook booted Chrome OS in a zippy 6 seconds, tying the HP 14 (1.4-GHz Intel Celeron 2955U) and launching significantly faster than the 11-second boot time of the Toshiba A3120 (1.4-GHz Intel Celeron 2955U) and the 11-second ultraportable average.
However, the Chromebook 2 fell behind the HP Chromebook when loading websites over the same Wi-Fi connection. The Samsung loaded ESPN in 6.8 seconds and Yahoo.com in 7.2 seconds. By comparison, the HP Chromebook took 4.3 seconds to load ESPN and 2 seconds to load Yahoo.
The Samsung also fell behind the Chromebook competition various synthetic benchmarks. On the Peacekeepeer browser test, which measures browser speed, the Chromebook 2's score of 1,365 was eclipsed by the HP 14 (2,771), Toshiba A3120 (2,920) and the 2,203 category average.
Lastly, we loaded WebGL Cubes, which renders 150,000 rotating cubes with three lights. This test offloads much of the computation to the graphics. The Chromebook 2 averaged 9 frames per second (the animation was quite choppy) versus a much smoother and faster 30 fps for the HP Chromebook 14.
Samsung promises 8.5 hours of battery life with its latest Chromebook, and the notebook lasted even longer in our testing. The Chromebook 2 endured a whopping 9 hours and 34 minutes on our battery test (Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits), outlasting the HP 14 (7:57 at 100 nits), Toshiba Chromebook (8:02 at 40 percent brightness) and the 8-hour ultraportable average.
Software and Warranty
Compared to Windows and Apple machines, Chromebooks are typically light on preinstalled software. However, the Samsung Chromebook 2 ships with more than $100 worth of extra applications, including collaboration tool Wunderlist Pro and LittleBridge.com's language learning app.
One of the more intriguing preinstalled apps is AirDroid, which lets you access your Android device on your Chromebook. The app looks like a desktop, but in a browser window. Here, you can view and download files from your phone or tablet, receive notifications -- such as new emails -- on your Chromebook, and send and receive SMS messages.
Probably the coolest feature is the Camera app, which lets you remotely view and control the camera on your Android phone using the notebook.
You can also download Android apps to your Chromebook, but you can't play them there. Bummer.
Another useful feature is that the app lets you tether your phone, either as a portable hotspot or via USB.
The Chromebook 2 comes with a free trial of AirDroid Premium, which costs $19.99 per year. This lets you transfer files up to 100MB in remote connection mode, dial phone numbers remotely, connect up to six devices, and see through your Android camera remotely.
The Samsung Chromebook 2 includes a one-year standard parts and labor warranty.
Our 13.3-inch Samsung Chromebook 2 sells for $399 and comes loaded with a 1920 x 1080p display, a 2.1-GHz Samsung Exynos 5 octa-core processor, 4GB of RAM and 16GB of flash storage.
The $319 11.6-inch variation has the same RAM and storage, though you get a less-sharp 1366 x 768p display and a 1.9-GHz version of the Exynos 5 CPU. The smaller model is available in black and white, while the 13-incher ships exclusively in titan gray.
The $399 Samsung Chromebook 2 looks slick, boots quickly and has everything you need to make the most of Google's budding Chrome OS. Its full-HD display puts it a step above many Chromebook competitors, and its lightweight design and 9.5-hour battery life make it an ideal companion for the road.
However, the sleeker body and sharper screen don't come cheap, as this machine costs $100 more than the HP Chromebook 14 and Toshiba Chromebook. Most importantly, the Chromebook 2's ARM processor is slower than Intel Haswell-powered competitors. The Samsung Chromebook 2 is one of the sharpest, slimmest and longest-lasting Chromebooks yet, but the Toshiba Chromebook is still the best value.