Samsung Chromebook 2 (13-inch)

A laptop with a premium price that doesn't offer a premium experience

When it comes to making Chromebooks, Samsung was there from the very beginning. Following in the Google CR-48's footsteps, Samsung entered the market in mid-2011 with the first Chromebook from a third-party manufacturer, the Series 5. This 12-inch laptop weighed over three pounds, had a woefully under-powered Atom processor and cost far too much for anyone's consideration at the time. Samsung kept at it, following up with a revamped Series 5 and all-new ARM-powered Series 3 a few months apart in 2012, making clearer value propositions as Google's Chrome OS came into its own. And that was it, Samsung didn't make another Chromebook again for well over a year.

Coming out of nowhere, really, Samsung announced two brand new Chromebook models — simply dubbed "Samsung Chromebook 2" — in February of this year. The laptops are nearly identical to one another but come in 11-inch and 13-inch (which we have here) varieties, showing no physical similarities to past Samsung Chromebooks, instead borrowing design elements from its recent Windows laptops and the faux leather from the Galaxy Note 3. They sport higher-resolution screens, large trackpads and all-new Exynos octa-core ARM processors under the hood.

Those changes also bring bumped up prices, too, with the 13-inch model coming in at $399 — a price that tops all available Chromebooks aside from the Pixel. Samsung's definitely going at the "premium" Chromebook market in a real way this time around, but can it succeed with its first device in well over a year? We dive into that question with our full review of the Samsung Chromebook 2 (13-inch).

About this review

This is the 13-inch model of the Chromebook 2, which has 4GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. Though there is also an 11-inch model of this laptop, the differences between the two are slim. The smaller version has a slightly lower screen resolution, slower processor clock speed and smaller battery. For all intents and purposes, performance between the two should be the same.

Hardware and internals

Samsung Chromebook 2 (13-inch)

One glance at the spec sheet for the Chromebook 2 tells you that this is a big departure from the lower-end components found in Samsung's previous Chromebook efforts. The 13-inch model of the laptop has a 1920x1080 LED display, 4GB of DDR3L RAM, 16GB of storage and a top-of-its-line Exynos 5800 octa-core processor running at 2.0GHz (a step above what you find in Samsung's latest Tab S tablets). It also has USB 3.0, a MicroSD card reader, HDMI out, a full-sized keyboard and trackpad, stereo speakers, 802.11ac Wifi, Bluetooth 4.0 and just about every other spec sheet entry you could wish for (aside from more storage, possibly).

Category Features
Display 13.3-inch 1920x1080, 165 ppi, LED
Processor Exynos 5800 octa-core at 2.0GHz
Memory 4GB DDR3L
Storage 16GB internal, MicroSD expandable
Connectivity 802.11ac/n/g/b/a Wifi, Bluetooth 4.0
Ports 1x USB 2.0, 1x USB 3.0, HDMI, headphone/mic
Battery 4700mAh / 35Wh Lithium-Polymer
Dimensions 12.72 x 8.80 x 0.65-inches
Weight 3.06 lb

Moving from internal to external attributes, the Chromebook 2 is a very good looking device. Samsung employed the same curvature to its chassis as many of its latest Windows laptops, which brings the front of the laptop down to a narrow point and puts a nice curve to a thicker base at the back of the machine where the ports are. You'll find a MicroSD card slot, full-sized HDMI port, USB port and power plug on the left edge, with the headphone jack, another USB port and a security lock slot on the right. The use of a MicroSD card slot is clever, as it goes under a flap in the side and can be used as semi-permanent storage without fear of it being pulled out accidentally. There's also a distinct lack of any vents or fans around the machine due to its ARM processor, which is a bonus in terms of looks and rigidity.

It's a whole lot of matte gray plastic, but it looks good.

This model is the "Luminous Titan" color — which is just a fancy way to say "gray" — that's exclusive to the larger model, and if you want basic white or black you'll have to step down to the 11.6-inch variant. The matte gray plastic extends from the bottom of the laptop up to the front, around the screen and even into the trackpad, which is surrounded by a rim of shiny chrome plastic to distinguish it a bit. The keyboard contrasts with the whole look with a matte black color for the keys.

The lid, as you may have noticed by now, is adorned with the same gray plastic stamped out in a faux leather pattern, complete with fake stitching around the edges. I don't like the look any more here than I do on Samsung's phones or tablets (which is not very much), and I actually think it makes the laptop look cheap and chintzy. But what can be said for the texture is that it doesn't pick up smudges or dirt and is easy to grab onto when you're carrying the laptop without a bag or case. I call that a wash, really — though I still wish it didn't look like an animal was harmed in the creation of my laptop lid.

Not as light as it looks, but at just over 3 lbs you can't complain much.

The Chromebook 2 is quite solid and well built, with tight seams to the plastic and minimal flex in the chassis. It is a bit on the heavy side at 3.06 lbs, especially considering that high-end 13-inch laptops out there today are made of metal and glass with full fan systems and often weigh less. It is lighter than the Toshiba and HP 14 Chromebooks, I'll give you that, but maybe I'm just spoiled by the 11-inch models out there that are closer to 2.5 than 3 lbs.

Display quality

Samsung Chromebook 2 (13-inch) display

This is only Chromebook you can buy right now with a 1080p display. It's a welcomed departure from the 1366x768 panels you see in other Chromebooks right now, but sadly this isn't the nicest display we've seen by a long shot. While the resolution is more than sufficient, giving you crisp image quality and absolutely no grain in images, because it's a TN (Twisted Nematic) panel its vertical viewing angles are quite poor.

Colors and brightness distort heavily with the smallest movement, making it tough to use on irregular surfaces.

Tilting the screen just barely too far back or forward causes colors and brightness to distort heavily, often making it tough to find just the right spot for it — particularly if you're working with the laptop on your lap or in a moving train, bus or car. Horizontal viewing angles are quite good, thankfully, but we'd still prefer if Samsung would've stepped up to an IPS display considering the Chromebook 2's price.

In terms of colors and brightness, these are a couple more positive marks for the Chromebook 2. Colors are accurate and crisp, again so long as you're viewing it at a proper angle. The brightness is rated at 250 nits by Samsung, which is a notch below the 300 nits offered by other Chromebooks, but is adequate for all situations aside from outdoor work in bright sunlight.

Doesn't matter who's to blame, the interface is just far too small on the Chromebook 2.

Coming back to the resolution, while 1080p sounds great it introduces an interesting problem on this particular Chromebook. At 13.3-inches the resolution of 1920x1080 produces notably small interface elements within Chrome OS — the system tray, buttons, interface chrome and tabs are all dramatically smaller than on lower-resolution devices. Unlike Windows and OS X, Chrome OS has no built-in adjustable interface scaling that lets you natively manage how big the interface is, either, giving you few options to remedy this issue. You can manually set the resolution lower, which looks horrible, or set web pages to automatically zoom in to 110 or 125 percent, but that only somewhat fixes web pages and not the rest of the interface.

I can put some of the blame on Samsung for choosing a high resolution that isn't well supported in Chrome OS, and the rest of the blame on Google for not providing native interface scaling. But in the end it doesn't really matter where the blame lands — the combination doesn't produce a good experience, even for someone like me with above-average vision.

Keyboard, trackpad and speakers

Samsung Chromebook 2 (13-inch) keyboard

Chrome OS keyboards all have the same web-centric layout, with the only differentiators between models being the spacing, materials and key travel. The Chromebook 2 has an adequate keyboard, with keys that are plenty springy but a tad shallow, though I had no problem typing just as fast on this keyboard as I do on any other. The keyboard also isn't backlit, which again is a bit of a shame considering the price of this machine that comes in a good $100 more (a lot when you're talking about ~$299 computers) than its competitors.

The keyboard and trackpad are on the shallow side, but are more than acceptable.

You'll find a larger-than-average trackpad underneath the keyboard, which is smooth and responsive to multi-finger gestures but just like the keyboard is a bit shallower in its clicking than I'd like. There are cases when you have the laptop propped up on your lap or on a small table and the minuscule flex of the chassis is enough to make the trackpad button less responsive due to a lack of travel. The shallowness in the keys and trackpad make it seem as though Samsung shot to shave thickness on the Chromebook 2 without seeing how it affected usability.

You'll find stereo speakers under the front corners of the Chromebook 2, which put sound out through a pair of rather large speaker grilles that get nicely elevated off of tables by the rubber feet on the bottom of the laptop. The speakers have a pretty good range of sound that's particularly better than what you find on laptops with internal speakers (no matter their size), though you won't get much bass out of these small units. Not adequate for dance parties, but plenty good for some leisurely music listening when you don't have headphones handy.

Performance and real world use

Samsung Chromebook 2 (13-inch)

Samsung made the choice once again to go with its own ARM processor in the Chromebook 2, despite the general consensus surrounding its previous Chromebooks of being terribly underpowered. The Exynos 5800 octa-core (in the big.LITTLE configuration) running at 2.0GHz is generally powerful on its own, but just doesn't possess the power to be a laptop-class processing unit.

Samsung needs to stop putting ARM processors in Chromebooks until it figures out performance.

Just like every ARM-powered Chromebook before it, the Chromebook 2 offers subpar performance across the board no matter the activity. While basic scrolling, tab switching and interacting with pages is just mildly slower than your average Chromebook, the real issues set in when you're trying to multitask with multiple refreshing pages or any sort of background streaming processes.

Attempting to refresh one page while working in another makes your current tab grind to a crawl. If you want to refresh more than one tab — or launch your browser with several pinned tabs — you're going to be measuring that completion in minutes rather than seconds. Running streaming music from Google Play Music or Pandora drops even scrolling performance under acceptable levels. Something like Chromecasting a tab with a streaming video is only possible if it's the only thing the computer is doing.

If you only run a few tabs at once and don't stream music, you'll limit your frustration.

Just about the only situation in which you don't notice the ARM chip's sluggishness is while running two tabs and doing nothing more than scrolling through one of them. Anything more causes slow-downs to the point of frustration, and that goes directly against the idea of a hassle-free Chromebook. Having a fanless machine is nice, but being able to use your laptop without wondering why it's so slow is even better.

(My hope is that the 11.6-inch model fares slightly better considering it has a lower resolution display, but it also steps down to an Exynos 5420 at 1.9GHz. And considering how poorly the HP Chromebook 11 performed with an Exynos 5200 and the same resolution, I'm not holding my breath.)

Battery life

Samsung Chromebook 2 (13-inch) battery life

ARM is supposed to provide better battery life, but the Chromebook 2 is right on par with its Intel brethren.

The upside of power-sipping ARM processors is supposed to be battery life, but yet again the promise comes up short on the Chromebook 2. The purported battery life of "up to 8.5 hours" is a bit of a stretch, as I regularly experienced somewhere in the four to six hour range of mixed usage. With basic usage at 75 percent screen brightness with about a dozen tabs open (standard for me) the Chromebook 2 took roughly three hours to hit the 50 percent battery mark. Streaming some Google Play Music (or a World Cup match on watchespn.com) cut into that battery life pretty heavily, as did bumping up to full brightness on the screen.

You probably won't see the quoted 8.5 hours, but you can expect five or six.

These are pretty middle of the road battery life numbers, and considering the large 4700mAh battery in the Chromebook 2 we expected a bit more out of it. This is roughly the life I see from my Acer C720 Chromebook, though that does it with a 3950mAh battery, brighter display and a dramatically higher-powered Intel Celeron processor with no performance issues.

In order to see the advertised 8.5 hours of battery life out of the Samsung Chromebook 2, you'll likely have to keep the number of active tabs down to under five, limit streaming and keep the screen brightness below 75 percent. Not too much to ask depending on what your usual computer usage patterns are, but this is far from being an all-day computer without the assistance of a power outlet.

Bottom line

Samsung Chromebook 2 (13-inch)

Considering that Samsung is asking a relatively high $399 for the 13-inch version of the Chromebook 2, I'm struggling to see many reasons why it should be a first-choice Chromebook for many people. If you're absolutely stuck on getting a Chromebook that's larger than the hyper-portable 11-inch models, just about any model that's running an Intel processor — such as the aforementioned Toshiba and HP 14 models — will offer up better performance with similar battery life at prices over $100 less than the Chromebook 2. Of course those models are slightly heavier and don't offer 1080p displays, but as I covered previously the resolution ends up being more of a hassle than a nicety.

If you're stuck on the look and feel of the Chromebook 2 and aren't scared off by the potential issues introduced by an ARM processor in your laptop, I think that the 11.6-inch model will be a better choice all around. You're going to get battery life and performance that are on-par with this larger version, a screen resolution that is plenty good for the size that doesn't create usability issues, and it comes in at just $299 — a full $100 less than the 13-inch variant.

It doesn't seem to make much sense to charge a premium for a subpar experience, and that's what Samsung is doing with the Chromebook 2. A price tag of $399 is a lot to ask for a Chromebook nowadays as the market starts to see more and more entries from a variety of manufacturers, and Samsung's going to have to change its strategy a bit if it wants to create an all-around Chromebook that's a great choice for more than a few niche users.

 

Reader comments

Samsung Chromebook 2 review

53 Comments

I'm holding out for a good premium affordable Chromebook (not the Pixel) but they can't seem to put it all on one Chromebook. Something is always missing.

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Me, too. And exactly.
It's a shame. I had the Pixel and it was fantastic, but I'm not sure any Chromebook needs that kind of spec. Also, Chromebooks would fly off the shelves if Google would just let the buyer use Google Play Android apps on the Chromebook...Maybe call it the ChromeTab.

I sort of want a Chromebook. The whole lack of printer support is holding me back though. I don't want to buy a cloud printer and don't want to have to rely on a windows computer. I wish they could implement printing the way linux does it with cups or something. It is the only reason I cannot recommend Chromebooks to my family as well.

Once the time comes to upgrade printers it will make more sense since I'll make sure to buy a cloud printer but to buy a new printer AND chromebook doesn't make sense to me and defeats part of the purpose of a chromebook which is the price. I may as well spend the money on a nice windows ultrabook at that point.

You can pretty easily integrate most any "dumb" printer with Google Cloud Print using a cheap ($35) Raspberry Pi device. Instructions easily found via your favorite search engine. And getting a Raspberry Pi gives you nice coolness karma.

Considering you can buy a more than acceptable HP printer with cloud support for +/- $100 these days, I have little sympathy for you. "I don't want to buy a cloud printer" is not the Chromebook's fault. I use my Chromebook with Google Cloud Print regularly and it works great.

Any chance of a Toshiba 13.3" Chromebook review anytime soon? I'm getting one shorty and its a toss up between the Toshiba and the Acer C720

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We have to evaluate what our next Chromebook review will be, considering the Toshiba has been out for some time now and we're ready for the new wave of Chromebooks with next-gen Intel Broadwell processors in them.

I'm happy to answer any questions on the Toshiba. I've had mine since they were released and have been more than pleased with it.

Thanks for the offer :) It's a toss up between the Toshiba and Acer - prefer a larger screen so will go for the Toshiba :) I guess I'm joining the Chromebook party late :)

The Toshiba was my first Chromebook and I already had a 10" tablet with a detachable keyboard, so I didn't see where an 11" Chromebook was going to improve rather than augment my arsenal.

I'm a professional and the primary use for the Chromebook was going to be home surfing, so I went for the big screen. It does travel with me long distances, but I rarely commute with it in a messenger bag, for example, hence why 13.3 was preferred to 11.6.

The keyboard is nice, the trackpad is nice, I never hear the fan is supposedly inside it. The battery life is AMAZING - I'm usually getting over 10 hours of use. I have noticed that Advertisement Heavy web sites (the new AC is guilty of this) can lag scrolling a little bit while all of the ads load, otherwise it's super snappy.

It's been fantastic. Remote desktop has been valuable in those extreme situations when I must have a desktop (certain MS Office specific tasks and some emergency Lightroom touch up work), otherwise I haven't regretted it. Because of it's long battery life, I even use Google Movies and download multiple movies for long plane rides - it has been able handle up to three between SF and Amsterdam in one charge.

Thanks very much for your personal insight, I can't wait to get my hands on it :) thanks again

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Great article Andrew. You addressed all my current issues with my HP 11 with regards to this Chromebook (tabs, multitasking, chromecasting, streaming, etc).

I have this nostalgic feeling around the HP 11. I liked the form factor, the USB charging and the screen. It's a shame the casing was a little cheap and the processor was so underpowered.

I still live my HP 11. Had it since release in the UK and use it all the time for web stuff and letters. Also hangout chats and never once complained about the under power of it. For what I think it was designed for as a web book device its awesome. For anything like games etc. Use you mobile device and or ps4 xbox one. :-)

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That's where my experience has differed than yours. I never expected to play games on the HP 11. Hangouts have been near impossible & Chromecasting likewise. Opening & maintaining more than 3 tabs seems to be a very sluggish experience (Google.com, Gmail, Feedly & a blank tab). I might do a factory reset & see if my experience differs.

I too love the form factor. The USB charging was the only reason I bought this over the Acer model released around the same time. I figured it would be one less charging brick to lug on the road. I can handle the "cheap" like case (especially for the price), the processor is the buzzkill.

$399 Windows machines are really crappy and what if you don't want to deal with all the Windows issues? Windows is powerful but it definitely has tons of drawbacks if you don't need all that power.

That's not really true anymore. Low end Windows laptops have gotten a lot better. They're more than capable of doing the same simple tasks that a chromebook is limited to.

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Really crappy? You mean, like being able to open 50 tabs in chrome, watching streaming video without stuttering, and being able to print. Oh, and you can run full fledged office and games? Good point. Pure crap.

I haven't seen a $399 windows machine that's worth a damn. And considering there are better Chromebooks than this for less money, there really aren't any Windows machines that can compete there.

This review reinforces what others have said in their reviews of the newer Samsung Chromebooks. The samsungs are simply average Chromebooks with hefty pricetags. This 1080p version, for $400, is NOT a good purchase. The Haswell chromies are so much better than the Samsung arm versions. Samsung is relying on brand name only, and it's producing inferior products.

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I got the HP Chromebook 14 a couple of weeks back and couldn't happier, I even sold my windows laptop and best of all it was only $199 through Buydig on eBay.

I'll never own a windows laptop again and I'm even considering the LG ChromeBase to replace my desktop.

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Even I can do about 85% of my work on a Chromebook. Plenty of people can do that much or more without a "real" computer.

Also I think you're overestimating the number of people who game on a PC.

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Where do you do the other 15% of your work? On another computer? Sweet! So for all the people that buy an awesomely priced chromebook have to buy a SECOND computer to do everything. And since all the windows $399 computers are crap - they have to spend what - $499 or buy a Macbook for $899 or more. Your logic is strong.

Don't you write articles for a living? Or is this Androidcentral.com thing just a part time gig/hobby?

If AC is your work, it's little wonder you can do 85% of it on a Chromebook.

I can do 95% of my work on my mobile phone but that doesn't mean it can replace my full Windows laptop. That other 5% is ridiculously important.

I was considering a chrome book, but after playing with Android pc, I've been won over. Full Android is a much better experience..ie HP Android 14" Slatebook and HP 21" Slate Android pc are awesome..

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It depends on your usage case. For example, right now I'm listening to (ignoring) a college seminar in another tab. I cannot access these seminars on Chrome for Android. Having a non-mobile browser is certainly nice for a lot of things.

Why do manufacturers go with TN screens. Their viewing angels are always bad. Also is Samsung trying to just sell its name to people? Ugh.

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I'm wondering how this will compare to the core i3 chromebook from Acer thats being released soon, and also how it holds up against the Asus c300 with baytrail M processor. The Asus chromebook shows better battery life then both acer and samsung but I wonder how the processor holds up to its rivals. Price wise it competes really well, but I'm wondering how it deals with multi tasking.
Would that be next on your review list?

This has been a great review to read, and I haven't found any other reliable reviews that give as much details as you can find here. It really made me reconsider my future chromebook.

Considering that the current-gen Acer C720 with a Haswell Celeron completely destroys the Chromebook 2 in terms of processing power, the i3 and Baytrail versions to follow it will beat this one even further.

As for future reviews, we'll see what comes out first of the new generation of machines.

Hi,Andrew! Wondering when we might expect the next round of Chrome machines? I imagine they might have something new by Christmas, but I'm eager to see what improved specs may be available for Chromebooks and Chromebase. Thanks, h

I have had my Dell Chromebook 11 for 2 1/2 months now and I love it! I got the one with 4 GB of memory as all the reviews seem to say that with these haswell chip Chromebooks the biggest bottleneck was the 2 GB of RAM and not the Celeron processors. I have never noticed any real slow down, and I use it for work and personal stuff. When I absolutely need to do something in office or use SQL, I remote into my computer at work with Chrome Remote Desktop, and it works great. The only time I had an issue with this was when I tried using it on a Southwest flight.

I know the Dell is a bit hard to get right now, as they are specifically targeting the education market, but if you can get your hand on one I highly recommend one.

Just bought my first Chromebook, C720. Looked like the "new" Toshiba with the 13.3" screen was in a sweet spot, but ultimately decided that $199 was the best price point for trying Chrome OS.

My whole family has been thrilled with it, the long battery life, 7 second boot time and light weight has made it a popular machine.

And to the person above who mentions gaming? You can't run any decent games on a 399 windows laptop either. My kids have a PS4 and XBox One for gaming and my son is going to build a dedicated gaming desktop PC with specs to run the latest games in high resolutions/rendering. Lots of windows machines in my house, and even the Core i5 machines won't run modern games with out the latest and greatest video cards.

I really like my Samsung Chromebook. In fact, I prefer it over my laptop when traveling, and for my niece to use when she visits. However, recently it's unable to keep up with my scrolling and the battery has declined. I'd like to upgrade, but I won't be getting the faux leather Chromebook 2 (although I like the slimmer design). I'm hoping for better performance in the $250 price range.

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