Forget Samsung's previous Chromebook efforts, this is how it should've been doing things all along
Following nearly a month delay, we finally have our hands on the brand new 13-inch Samsung Chromebook 2. Samsung is going for a premium look and price (at least among Chromebooks) with this model, packing a new Exynos 5 Octa ARM processor, 4GB of RAM, 16GB of storage and 1920 x 1080 display along with a Chromebook industry-topping $399 price tag.
With a new range of inexpensive, powerful and (most importantly) fanless Intel-based Chromebooks on the horizon from a variety of competing manufacturers, Samsung has its work cut out for it with this new pair of ARM-based Chromebooks that still have to shake the stigma of poor performance and battery life.
This Samsung Chromebook 2 is a brand new device, not to be compared with its first couple of rounds of ARM Chromebooks. It's sleek, powerful, well-built and has a beautiful display. Only time will tell how the ARM processor holds up with performance and battery life, but our first impressions are pretty strong. Read along and see our first look at the Samsung Chromebook 2 (13-inch).
Hardware and design
The Chromebook 2 matches the current styling of Samsung's other laptops, with an understated and simple look punctuated by a sweeping curve that goes along the sides of the base. It's notably thinner than my Acer C720, but considering its 13-inch screen you shouldn't be surprised that things are flattened out a bit inside. This 13-inch model comes in a subtle "Luminous Titan" color that's really a semi-gloss grey all around, along with a black keyboard and a bit of shiny chrome trim around the large trackpad (more on this below). The one place where the Chromebook 2 stands out from Samsung's other laptops is the faux leather lid (complete with fake stitching), something cribbed from the Galaxy Note 3 and its recent lineup of tablets.
Around the edges you'll find a normal set of ports. The left edge holds the power plug — a standard single laptop prong — along with a USB 2.0 port, full-sized HDMI out and a MicroSDcard that's annoyingly hidden behind a removable flap. The right edge is mirrored with a lock slot, a USB 3.0 port and a headphone/mic jack. You'll also notice a distinct lack of fans around the body as its ARM processor doesn't require them.
I could personally go for a lid without the leather, but it actually is far less gaudy in person than you would expect. The added bonus is a bit of extra grip when opening and closing the lid, and it should be a bit less susceptible to piling up fingerprints like a normal hard plastic lid would. The design is very sleek and sophisticated overall, and although you can clearly see the MacBook design creeping in (as is the case with so many laptops nowadays), I don't think anyone will have a problem showing off the Chromebook 2. The one downside to be found here is the overall heft of the laptop — even without fans or a bevy of ports, the Chromebook 2 comes in at 3.10 lbs. That's more than the all-metal MacBook Air and considerably more than your average 11-inch Chromebook.
Display, keyboard and trackpad
The big thing the 13-inch Samsung Chromebook 2 has going for it is the 13-inch display and associated size increase of the keyboard, trackpad and battery. With a vast majority of Chromebooks hitting the 11-inch form factor, having the larger display makes the Chromebook 2 feel a bit more like a "real" laptop and not an auxiliary device. On the display front it lets Samsung go up to a 1920 x 1080 LED panel with 250 nits of brightness, and underneath the hood it has a 35Wh battery that promises 8.5 hours of battery life.
This is a pretty wonderful-looking display. While it may not be quite as bright as others (the HP Chromebook 11 sports 300 nits of brightness), the pixel density, colors and viewing angles (at least side-to-side) are quite fantastic. It's taking some getting used to the smaller interface elements on this pixel-dense screen, but I'm already liking the additional room I have to work with when using multiple windows. Unfortunately there's no native way to scale the interface to be larger other than selecting a lower resolution in the settings (which looks quite awful, honestly). Interestingly there's an option to set the resolution to 2160 x 1215, which makes the interface even smaller, but will be nice for the super pixel density buffs out there.
Typing this whole post on the Chromebook 2 has been a breeze. The keyboard is large and has a standard Chrome OS layout, and the keys themselves are just slightly textured. They're just a little softer than I'd like, but nothing I can't get used to over time. The trackpad is huge — precisely the same size as a 13-inch MacBook, in fact — and is a clickpad-style with no distinct buttons. The chrome surrounding the trackpad is a big ugly, but doesn't change usability — after I warmed up with it I can say it's a step in the right direction, but isn't ready to dethrone the best glass trackpads out there. Scrolling is still a tad odd, and I find my fingers getting hung up on it. I'll need more time to get acquainted with this one.
A quick note on the speakers — they're actually quite loud, sound good and don't distort even at very high volumes. You can see the pair of speakers underneath the front of the laptop, and they actually have a bit of room to breathe as they're right next to the rubber feet that keep the laptop lifted off of the table its sitting on.
First performance impressions
The one big question I had waiting for the Chromebook 2 to arrive was performance, as I didn't have the best experience ever with the HP Chromebook 11 or original Samsung Series 5 ARM-powered Chromebooks. When it announced the Chromebook 2 Samsung claimed a 125 percent boost in performance over the previous model, and in my short time using the Chromebook 2 I feel like they undersold the performance difference. The laptop is super quick to boot up and log in, tabs load and perform quickly and there's absolutely no lag moving between windows and multitasking. I do notice the same slow tab loading when opening Chrome with a handful of pinned tabs all at once, but nowhere near the issues of previous ARM Chromebooks.
It'll take more time to see how the Exynos 5 Octa (5800) holds up over time, however. Performance seems roughly comparable to the Intel Celeron (Haswell) Acer C720 I have now, but that's about to be a generation old with Intel announcing new fanless Chromebooks that are quickly arriving this summer. Battery life was also a weak point with the older ARM Chromebooks, so we'll have to see how Samsung's claims of 8.5 hours of battery hold up on the Chromebook 2. Again with this industry-topping $399 price, it may not be enough for the Chromebook 2 to just be "adequate" in terms of performance and battery.
Right now you can color us impressed with the huge leap in materials, build, performance and display on the Chromebook 2 from Samsung's earlier offerings. We're not ready to go all-in on loving this thing until we properly put it through its paces, but we like the first impressions that we're getting from the start.