With the proliferation of powerful apps available online (office suites, music apps and email clients to name a few) the Chrome OS platform is becoming robust enough for customers to take Chromebooks seriously. Toshiba has armed the Chromebook 2 CB35 ($330) notebook with a 13.3-inch full-HD display, an Intel Celeron 3215U processor and 4GB of RAM. While those features are on a par with the average Chromebook, the CB35's lengthy battery life and brilliant, accurate screen make it stand out from the competition.
Similar in form to the 2014 Toshiba Chromebook 2, the CB35 has a dimpled texture on its plastic shell and smooth edges that make it easy to pick up and hold. The only visible difference compared to last year's model is the CB35's darker, Ice Silver color (last year's had a whiter lid).
The CB35's smooth, silver deck may be plastic, but light bounces off of it in the way you would see on a much more expensive laptop.
Measuring 12.6 x 8.4 x 0.76 inches, the CB35 is thicker than the Acer Chromebook 13 (12.87 x 8.96 x 0.71 inches) and the Samsung Chromebook 2 (12.72 x 8.80 x 0.65 inches). But while those laptops are slightly thinner, the CB35 weighs 2.97 pounds, making it lighter than the Acer (3.31 pounds) and the Samsung (3 pounds), though just barely.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Toshiba has given its Chromebook the kind of keyboard we hope to find on most laptops. Its keys have 1.53mm of travel, and require 54 grams of force to actuate. Taking the 10FastFingers typing test, I was able to click up a storm of 68 words per minute with flawless 100 percent accuracy.
This laptop's touchpad performed equally well, with speed and responsiveness. When clicking down, the pad felt reliable and well-made.
The CB35 comes with a full-HD (1920 x 1080) IPS display that is one of the two standout features of the device. When I watched the 1080p trailer for Tom Hardy's upcoming film Revenant, the display showed an incredible amount of detail, from the hairs on a sweater-vest to Hardy's practically poreless skin.
Far and away the brightest Chromebook we've seen, Toshiba's notebook delivered an average brightness of 378 nits. The Acer Chromebook 13 (222 nits) and Samsung Chromebook 2 (214 nits) are relatively dim in comparison.
Not only is the display impressively bright, but the CB35's screen was also able to render a wide range of colors, displaying 109.8 percent of the sRBG gamut. That's much wider than the displays of both the Acer (58.1 percent) and the Samsung (57.4 percent).
The CB35 is also highly accurate, scoring 0.87 in the Delta-E test (where lower scores are better), which is far better than the average display on a thin and light notebook (3.62).
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The only criticism I have is its limited viewing angles. Though its display renders images beautifully when viewed straight ahead, the colors degraded when I rotated the system 45 degrees to the left or right.
With stereo speakers that Toshiba says are "tuned by Skullcandy," the CB35's speakers have enough volume to fill up a room. Its speakers handled highs well on everything from the guitars on Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher" to Young Thug's verses on Jamie xx's "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)." Unfortunately, the low end was muddied on songs like Jay Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild."
Ports and Webcam
On the left side of the Chromebook 2, you'll find the port for the proprietary power connector, a USB 2.0 port and a memory card port that supports SDHC, SDXC (up to 2TB), Mini SD and Micro cards. On the right side, you'll find the headphone/mic, a USB 3.0 port, an HDMI port and the security lock slot.
The CB35's HD webcam takes colorful, yet highly noisy photos. Even though it doesn't capture much in the way of detail, it's on a par with most notebook webcams.
For the most part, you won't feel the burn while using the CB35. After 15 minutes of streaming HD video, the notebook's touchpad (80 degrees) and the area between its G & H keys (86 degrees) both stayed under the 95-degree-Fahrenheit threshold we consider comfortable. The CB35's underside, though, broke that limit, heating up to 97 degrees.
Powered by a 1.7-GHz Intel Celeron 3215U processor with 4GB of RAM, the CB35 is swifter than you'd expect a Chromebook to be. I was able to smoothly jump among a dozen tabs -- including simultaneous streams from Spotify and YouTube, as well as TweetDeck and a Google Doc -- with Cut the Rope running in the background.
Google's Chrome OS is the lightweight, minimal alternative to OS X and Windows. After logging into the CB35 with your Google account, you're greeted with a desktop background of an idyllic seaside sunset and relatively few icons in the lower corners of the screen.
On the left side, there's a magnifying glass icon to open search (on both the CB35 and Google), and app icons for Chrome, Picasa and Gmail. Clicking on the magnifying glass will bring up your most commonly used apps and show you that Google Now cards are on deck.
The latest version of Chrome OS includes voice control, so if you have a Chrome tab or the launcher open, you can say, "OK, Google," to bring up the voice assistant.
In the other corner, you have a notification counter, the time, an up-arrow icon that calls a menu of settings, and indicators for volume, Wi-Fi connectivity, battery life, keyboard layout and your user avatar.
Once you log into the Chromebook using your Google account, the CB35 will automatically load whatever apps you have previously used. In my case, that consisted of Google's own productivity and Play apps, the hit games Bejeweled and Plants vs. Zombies and standards such as Word Online, Netflix and Spotify.
In the Chrome Web Store, you'll find tens of thousands of apps. There are photo-editing apps in the Picture Perfect section, apps and games brought over from Android and, dozens of games for when you're without an Internet connection in the "No Wi-Fi? No problem" section. Other categories in the Chrome Web Store include Business Tools, Social and Communication, Lifestyle, Productivity, and Education.
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Poking around, I found some of the apps I use every day, like Feedly, a popular RSS feed reader that users have turned to in the years since Google Reader was put out to pasture. TweetDeck, the power-user client for Twitter, is also in the store.
Avid Google Docs users will find the ability to save documents for offline particularly important if they're ever without connectivity. But you'll need to make sure that setting is enabled in Google Drive in advance. Some, but not all of the apps in the Chrome Web Store have similar offline capabilities.
Unfortunately, the store still has some catching up to do if its goals include parity with Windows and OS X. As you might have noticed, the games I've mentioned are all a little old. Hits like Crossy Road are not here, and neither is the Steam gaming platform. You won't find apps from Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, either.
Toshiba's being modest when it claims that the CB35's 3-cell 45-watt-hour battery should last up to 8 hours and 30 minutes.
On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi at 100 nits), this Chromebook lasted 10 hours and 5 minutes. That's longer than the Samsung (9:34), the Acer 8:08 and the category average (7:36).
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Those looking for a 13-inch notebook built to surf the Web and take advantage of Google's apps should definitely consider the Toshiba Chromebook 2 CB35 ($330). Compared to other Chromebooks, its display is brighter and more accurate, and its battery lasts longer by a significant margin. Google Docs aficionados will also see this as a great deal, thanks to this notebook's quality keyboard. The Acer Chromebook 13 ($229) may be more affordable, but the Toshiba is much more well-rounded, and more than worth the premium.