Now is the time to seriously consider a Chromebook. Not long ago these machines were little more than cheap netbooks running Google's OS. But Chromebooks are getting better in almost every way, and the new Toshiba Chromebook 2 is proof. Starting at $249 ($329 as tested), this system features a stunning 13-inch 1080p display in a slimmer and lighter frame than the original. Toshiba also offers Skullcandy-powered speakers and close to 8 hours of battery life. If you like the simplicity of the Chromebook concept but want a more premium experience, you've come to the right place.
Editors' Note: Toshiba has released an updated version of the Chromebook 2. Read our review of the Toshiba Chromebook 2 CB35.
The original Toshiba Chromebook was an elegantly designed device, and yet the Chromebook 2 bests that version in every way. Similar to the original, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 is made of a silvery, textured plastic that's easy to grip. The body has a slightly angled look toward the front where it opens to reveal the display and keyboard. The original Toshiba Chromebook had this type of design as well, but in the slimmer, lighter frame of the Chromebook 2, it's more noticeable and gives the device a stylish, edgy look.
The keyboard deck is made of a smoother plastic, which not only was comfortable on my wrists, but also made the interior appear sleeker and more high-end than its price would suggest.
Measuring 12.6 x 8.4 x 0.76 inches and weighing 2.95 pounds, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 is slightly thinner and lighter than the original (12.9 x 8.9 x 0.8 inches, weighing 3.3 pounds), as well as the Acer Chromebook 13 (12.87 x 8.96 x 0.71 inches, 3.1 pounds) and the HP Chromebook 14 (13.56 x 9.44 x 0.81 inches, 4 pounds).
|Toshiba Chromebook 2 Size|
|Dimensions||12.6 x 8.4 x 0.76 inches|
Keyboard & Touchpad
Click to EnlargeThe Toshiba Chromebook 2 has a chiclet-style keyboard that mimics the look of a MacBook Air. We measured a key travel of 1.2 mm, which is slightly less than the average range of 1.5 to 2 mm. Although I found the layout comfortable, I scored a somewhat sluggish 76 words per minute on the TypingTestOnline.org challenge. My average is 90 wpm.
In general, the 4 x 2.8-inch touchpad responded well to my finger swipes and movements, although the cursor was a little sluggish at times.
Click to Enlargeou can get the Toshiba Chromebook 2 with either a 1366 x 768 screen for $249, or a 1920 x 1080-pixel screen for $329. The 1080p version also has IPS (in-plane switching) technology, which is designed to enhance color reproduction and improve viewing angles.
|Toshiba Chromebook 2 Display: Test Results|
|Benchmark||Score||How it Compares|
|Brightness||339 nits||Very Strong|
|Color Gamut (sRGB)||98.5 percent||Very Strong|
|Color Accuracy (Delta e)||1||Strong|
Our review model had the 1080p IPS display, which is truly lovely, with bold colors, sharp details and great viewing angles. I had to turn the Chromebook 2 nearly 90 degrees before the image quality degraded. When watching the trailer for Fury, I could clearly see the dirt that caked soldiers' faces, the vivid colors of fiery explosions and all of the detailed grittiness of the battlefields.
The Chromebook 2's display boasts excellent color reproduction. Based on our colorimeter readings, the screen can reproduce 98.5 percent of the sRGB color gamut. That's far better than the 65 percent ultraportable average, not to mention the Acer Chromebook 13 (58.1 percent) and the HP Chromebook 14 (61 percent).
Click to EnlargeThe Chromebook 2 also produced very accurate colors, as evidenced by the screen's Delta-E score of 1 (0 is best). That's much better than the Acer Chromebook 13 (11.4) and a slight improvement on the HP Chromebook 14 (1.3).
It's also a bright display: Pumping out 339 nits, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 easily outshone the ultraportable category average (216 nits), as well as the Acer Chromebook 13 (222 nits) and the HP Chromebook 14 (209 nits).
Click to EnlargeToshiba partnered with Skullcandy to bring specially tuned speakers to the Chromebook 2. And boy do they crank.
When I played Kiesza's "Hideaway" at maximum volume, I could hear the entire track clearly from across my apartment. The background of the track was a little muffled, but it wasn't too scratchy, and the vocals were powerful and crisp. On Barcelona's "Background," I could hear all the resonating piano chords, and the lead singer's voice was soft and melodious.
On the Laptop Mag Audio Test, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 reached 93 decibels, just louder than the Acer Chromebook 13 (91 dB) and much louder than the HP Chromebook 14 (82 dB).
Ports & Webcam
Click to EnlargeThe Toshiba Chromebook 2 has a standard array of ports. On the right side is a combination mic/headphone jack, USB 3.0, HDMI and a security lock port. On the left side is an SD Card slot, a USB 2.0 port and the charging port.
Selfies taken with the Chromebook 2's HD webcam looked a shade darker than normal, and there was massive pixelation around the edges of my eyes, nose and mouth. Large text in a sign behind me was legible, but smaller, thinner text quickly became blurred.
After streaming Hulu for 15 minutes, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 stayed pretty cool, measuring 88 degrees Fahrenheit on its underside. That's well below our acceptable threshold of 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The device's touchpad reached only 73 degrees, while the space between the G and H keys hit 78 degrees.
Click to EnlargeGoogle's Chrome OS offers a clean, minimal desktop experience. Once you've powered up the Toshiba Chromebook 2 and signed in with your Google account, you're met with a bare desktop with small icons on the bottom right corner for notifications, time, volume, Wi-Fi and settings. On the bottom left side is Chrome OS's icon bar, with a square-grid icon that opens to show all of the apps you have installed. Next to that Start menu-esque icon are shortcuts to apps such as Google Chrome, Gmail and Hangouts.
MORE: Best Laptops 2014
While there is a Files app to access the things you've downloaded from the Web, there is no stationary "desktop" as you would find on a Mac or a Windows-based notebook. Most apps appear as a tab in the Chrome Web browser; however, a few, such as Evernote, show up as standalone windows.
Click to EnlargeThe Chrome Web Store breaks apps down into categories like Education, Games, News & Weather, Social & Communication, and Utilities, to name a few. As ofthis review, there were 33,614 apps available in the Chrome Web Store, according to ChromeOSApps.org, a website that keeps track of the platform.
While that's not close to the 100,000 apps available for Windows, you'll be able to find some pretty compelling options, including Evernote, Spotify, Instagram, Bejeweled, Netflix, Feedly, DropBox and Picasa.
Offline Experience & Desktop Apps
Click to EnlargeSince Chrome OS is essentially a browser-based operating system, the majority of apps and extensions available require some kind of Internet connection. If most of your laptop activity is on the Internet (like mine is), then this limitation may not bother you. However, in areas with spotty or no Wi-Fi, you'll have to work with the offline functionality offered by Chrome OS and its apps.
Some apps have offline capabilities, including Angry Birds, Evernote, Duolingo and Vine. You can also program apps such as Google Docs and Google Drive to work offline, to a certain extent. For example, for Google Docs, you'll have to activate the Drive setting, which syncs all your documents for offline access.
Click to EnlargeThe Toshiba Chromebook 2 is powered by a 2.58-GHz Intel Celeron N2840 processor; our review model has 4GB of RAM and a 16GB SSD hard drive, with 100GB of Google Drive space. The Celeron processor booted Chrome OS in a quick 8 seconds, which is right in between the Acer Chromebook 13 (7 seconds) and the HP Chromebook 14 (9 seconds).
Overall, the Chromebook 2 ran Chrome OS well, with little to no lag when loading videos or playing music. When I was multitasking, going in between many Chrome tabs with multimedia playing in some, each Web page took just a second or two longer to load than usual.
MORE: 5 Best Toshiba Laptops
We saw similar results in Peacekeeper, which measures browser performance. The Chromebook 2 scored 1,462, which is better than the Acer (1,244) but not quite as good as HP (2,771).
If you're looking to play games on your Chromebook, this is not your best option. On the Web GL Cubes test, which renders 150,000 rotating cubes with three lights to test graphics quality, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 notched 11 frames per second, which is just over half that of the Acer's 20 fps.
The Toshiba Chromebook 2 didn't fare well on the OortOnline.Gl test either. On this test, which shows a time-lapse animation of a year in the Oort Online game, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 scored 1,380, which is nowhere near as strong as the Acer Chromebook 13 (3,690) or the HP Chromebook 14 (2,940).
The Chromebook 2 has a 3-cell/44Wh lithium polymer battery that Toshiba claims can run up to 9 hours on a full charge. On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi at 100 nits), this laptop lasted 7 hours and 49 minutes. That's a bit shy of both the Acer Chromebook 13 (8:08) and the HP Chromebook 14 (7:57), but not by much.
|Toshiba Chromebook 2||7:49|
Both Toshiba Chromebook 2 models are powered by 2.58-GHz Intel Celeron N2840 processors, and come with 4GB of RAM and 16GB SSD hard drives with free 100GB of Google Drive space for two years. The starting Toshiba Chromebook 2 model features a 1366 x 768 screen and will cost $249. You can opt for the 1920 x 1080, IPS display for $329.
Click to EnlargeThe Toshiba Chromebook 2 is one of the best Chromebooks money can buy. Its 1920 x 1080-pixel display is bright and colorful with wide viewing angles, and the Skullcandy-powered speakers offer plenty of punch. I also really like the sleek design, comfortable keyboard and long battery life.
For $30 less, the Acer Chromebook 13 offers better graphics performance and slightly longer endurance, but it's display isn't nearly as vibrant and its design not as attractive. If you're willing to spend a bit more for a Chromebook, the Toshiba Chromebooks 2 is the one to buy.