They're starting to look more and more like mainstream laptops. For its first Chromebook, Toshiba skipped past the common 11-inch design and headed straight for a roomier 13-inch display. This $279 laptop boasts a colorful screen large enough for productivity and entertainment and impressively long battery life. Add in powerful speakers and you have an excellent value for those willing to leave Windows behind.
The Toshiba CB35-A3120 Chromebook reminds us of a low-cost MacBook Air. Its plastic silver exterior is encased in a textured material that makes it easy to grip. Upon opening the Chromebook, you'll see with a smoother metallic design that blankets the entire keyboard deck and display bezel.
Measuring 12.9 x 8.9 x 0.8 inches, the Toshiba CB35-A3120 Chromebook is understandably smaller and thinner than the 14-inch 13.66 x 9.7 x 0.83-inch HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook. The 11.6-inch Acer C720P is the smallest of the three, measuring 11.34 x 8.03 x 0.78 inches.
At 3.3 pounds, the Toshiba Chromebook is a bit lighter than the 3.8-pound HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook but heavier than the 2.98-pound Acer C720P Chromebook. The 13-inch MacBook Air, by comparison, weighs 3 pounds.
Click to EnlargeThe Toshiba Chromebook's 13.3-inch 1366 x 768 pixel display offers crisp and colorful images. When watching a trailer for "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," the red in Peter Parker's spidey suit looked vibrant, as did Electro's luminous radioactive blue body.
Viewing angles were sufficient for crowding your friends around the screen to view videos. However, the display became dimmer the more we turned it at a right angle to our face.
At 183 lux, the Toshiba Chromebook's display is less bright than the 251 ultraportable category average, but it still outshines the HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook (143 lux) and the Acer C720P Chromebook (161 lux).
For a notebook of its price, the Toshiba Chromebook's audio surpasses expectations. Listening to mellow songs such as "Simple Song" by The Shins was pleasant, and we clearly heard the singer's soft vocals, guitars churning in the background and sifting melodies. Rougher tunes such as "Cherub Rock" by The Smashing Pumpkins still sounded clear and defined, but were slightly fuzzy during heavier parts like the chorus. Still, we were pleasantly surprised by the Toshiba Chromebook's full-bodied sound.
The Toshiba Chromebook can pump out boisterous sound. The notebook reached a blaring 94 decibels LAPTOP Audio Test, which is far above the 85-decibel ultraportable category average and the Acer C720P Chromebook (91 dB).
Keyboard and Touchpad
Click to EnlargeThe Chromebook's island-style keyboard is spacious, giving typists more real estate versus the layouts you'll find on smaller 11-inch Chromebooks. We also didn't notice much flex. However, key travel was shallower than we'd like. As a result, we typed 53.98 words per minute with 98.43 percent accuracy using the Typing Test KeyHero challenge. That's a bit slower than our 62 WPM personal average speed on a desktop computer.
Click to EnlargeLike all notebooks powered by Google's OS, the keyboard features a dedicated row of keys for specific commands. This makes it easy to navigate back and forward within a browser, refresh the Web page, enter full screen mode, and adjust display brightness (among other tasks) with just a single keystroke.
The Toshiba Chromebook's 4 x 3.75-inch touchpad is the perfect size for its keyboard deck. Using the touchpad, gestures such as two-finger scrolling and pinching to zoom were a breeze. We also appreciated the tactile feedback of the touchpad's click buttons.
Heat and Webcam
Click to EnlargeToshiba's Chromebook can keep its cool under pressure. After streaming a Hulu video for 15 minutes, we measured a temperature of 77 degrees Fahrenheit on its touchpad and 86 degrees both between the G&H keys and on its underside. All are well below our comfort threshold of 95 degrees.
The notebook's 720p camera snapped clear and colorful images. When taking a selfie, we appreciate the level of detail in the roses on our dress and the red tint in our hair. There was a small amount of noise and pixelation in the image, especially in our face, but the photo was generally clear.
The Toshiba Chromebook comes with all the ports you need to get work done and transfer files. On the right side, you'll find a headphone jack, two USB 3.0 ports and an HDMI-out port. The left side houses an SD Card slot, a port for its charger and a lock slot.
Click to EnlargeChrome OS is the simplest operating system you'll find on a notebook. The entire interface consists of a plain desktop with icons in the lower left and right corners. On the left hand side, you'll find an icon that triggers the Chromebook's app launcher, which houses any apps associated with the Google account you use to log in to your device. There's also a shortcut to the Google Chrome browser right next to it.
The right hand side displays the timestamp and battery and Wi-Fi indicators, similar to a Windows desktop. Clicking on this area will let you manage settings, which include turning off Wi-Fi, logging out of your account, adjusting settings for the Chrome browser and shutting off the notebook.
Chrome OS is a stripped-down, bare-bones operating system ideal for those who are connected to the Internet most of the time. If you usually use your notebook for checking email, browsing websites, working in Google Drive and streaming video, you should be able to get by just fine with a Chromebook. And, since apps that live in the cloud are heavily sandboxed, Chrome OS is very secure.
Click to EnlargeChrome OS currently has 33,614 apps, according to ChromeOSApps.org, a website that keeps track of apps for the platform. This is far fewer than the more than 100,000 apps available for Windows 8.
Although the app store seems fairly small compared to other more seasoned operating systems, you'll find recognizable names including "Angry Birds," "Bejeweled" and The New York Times. Google divides its Chrome Web Store into a few different categories, such as Business Tools, Education, Lifestyle, News & Weather, Games and Utilities.
However, some apps that live in the Chrome Web Store aren't compatible with the OS. For example, when searching for "Plants vs. Zombies" and "Need for Speed," we received an error message that said "installation not enabled." This means that these aren't Web apps that work with Chrome OS.
MORE: The Best Chrome Apps
Many Chrome OS apps live in the Chrome browser, but Google has made an effort to make Chrome OS apps feel more like a traditional desktop with packaged apps. These apps run in their own window on the Chrome OS desktop outside of the browser. Packaged apps include photo-viewing app 500px, "Tank Riders," Pocket and Any.do.
Click to EnlargeOne of the biggest drawbacks to the Chromebook platform is its limited use when offline, but Google has been working to address that concern. The Chrome Web Store features 34 packaged apps in the "For Your Desktop" section, which means these apps will work without an Internet connection.
That doesn't mean the experience won't be limited in certain cases, however. Simple games like "Angry Birds" worked just fine offline, but we could only access the Flow feature in 500px rather than the full list of options, which includes Editors' Choice, Popular, Fresh and Search.
It's also important to note that you'll have to toggle some settings in certain apps to get them up and running offline. For example, you must grant access for Gmail to work in offline mode before you lose your Internet connection, and you have to enable Offline Mode in Google Drive as well. Luckily, enabling these settings just once allows you to access Gmail and Google Drive without a Wi-Fi connection.
Click to EnlargeThe Toshiba Chromebook performed smoothly during everyday use. When streaming music on Spotify, browsing six tabs in Google Chrome and playing "Tank Riders" outside of the browser, we didn't experience any hiccups. It took a brisk 11 seconds for Toshiba's Chromebook to load Chrome OS. That's slightly slower than HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook (9 seconds) and the Acer C720P (8 seconds), but still faster than the 16-second category average.
The Toshiba Chromebook's 1.4-GHz Intel Celeron 2955U processor with 2GB of RAM and 16GB SSD provided good performance during various synthetic benchmark tests. The system scored 2,920 during the Peacekeeper browser test, which is much higher than the 2,101 ultraportable category average and the scores of the Acer C720P Chromebook (2,749) and HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook (1,422). The Acer C720P has the same processor as Toshiba's Chromebook and a 32GB SSD, while the HP Chromebook packs a 1.1-GHz Intel Celeron 847 CPU and a 16GB hard drive.
Click to EnlargeToshiba claims that is Chromebook offers up to 9 hours of battery life, and we believe it. The laptop's 4-cell, 52-Watt-hour battery lasted a very long 8 hours and 2 minutes streaming Hulu video with the screen at 40 percent brightness. That's nearly 2 hours longer than the Acer C720P Chromebook (6:18). The HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook's 4-cell 51-Watt hour battery lasted 5 hours and 29 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi). You should expect even more endurance from the Toshiba if you're performing less taxing activities like surfing the Web.
Click to EnlargeThose seeking the simplicity of a Chromebook paired with a big enough screen to be your primary laptop will be very pleased with the Toshiba Chromebook. For $279, this notebook's display and audio quality both impress. We especially like the more than 8 hours of battery life. Our only complaint is the slightly mushy keyboard.
If you don't mind giving up some real estate, you could get the smaller 11.6-inch Acer C720P Chromebook for $300, which comes with a touch screen. The new $299 HP Chromebook 14 (which we haven't yet reviewed) offers a bigger 14-inch display and Haswell CPU, but it weighs about a pound more. Overall, Toshiba's Chromebook is now the one to beat.