If you haven't noticed by now, Chromebooks are definitely A Thing™. Unfortunately, until about the last year they have typically been low-end machines that didn't offer much to get excited about in terms of component quality or features. Models like the Dell Chromebook 13, Acer Chromebook R13 and ASUS C302 are changing that, and the latest in the line of "dang that's a nice looking laptop" category of Chromebook is the new Samsung Chromebook Pro.
The new model — and its lower-end variant the Chromebook Plus — was developed closely with Google to provide hardware closely tailored for the ideal Chrome OS experience, and the result is a laptop that will hit all of the big points for most people. A thin-and-light body, brilliant QHD display, powerful internals, USB-C ports and the addition of a fantastic stylus brought over from the Galaxy Note line of phones and tablets.
Google and Samsung are extremely excited to bring this new Chromebook to the market, and we're just as excited to tell you about it. Read on for our complete Samsung Chromebook Pro review.
About this review
I (Andrew Martonik) am writing this review after 12 days using a pre-production version of the Samsung Chromebook Pro. The laptop was received running the Beta channel of Chrome OS, and was updated several times throughout the review. It was provided to Android Central for review by Google.
Worth the money
Samsung Chromebook Pro Hardware and display
Modern mid-range Chromebooks have all started to boil down to a similar set of hardware features. They're relatively thin and light, have a fully rotating hinge to put them in a "tablet" mode (and therefore have touch screens), and they charge over USB-C. Those are all super useful features that people are looking for, and the Chromebook Pro executes on the combination swiftly.
Note: Because this is a pre-production model, the silver color you see here is actually the color for the cheaper Chromebook Plus model — the production Chromebook Pro will have a darker finish.
The magnesium-alloy body lacks outstanding visual flourishes and may not be particularly eye catching at first, but its solid build and well-sculpted corners are definitely worthy of a laptop of this price. It's impressively thin at just a little over half an inch (roughly 14 mm), and it does so without any sort of "wedge" design, but instead being the same thickness throughout.
The Chromebook Pro is also impressively light for a laptop of its size, coming in at just 2.38 pounds. I set my standard for an acceptable weight of a laptop in this class at 3 pounds, and much of the competition has pushed over that mark. Not only is the light weight important for daily usability and portability, it's a requirement if you're going to be flipping around this screen and holding it up in your hands.
One of the best indications that the Chromebook Pro was worked on closely with Google is its 3:2 aspect ratio display. This extra-tall display format was used on both of its Chromebook Pixels and also its Pixel C tablet to confusion at first, but has since converted many to love it. In general I'm a big fan of the taller display, as it simply gives you more vertical room to read and work online with less scrolling and page zooming.
I'm a big fan of 3:2 displays, and this one's great.
Beyond the aspect ratio, the panel itself is magnificent. With a 2400x1600 resolution and 400 nits of brightness it is quite easily the best I've seen on a Chromebook, and pushes toward the quality I look at daily on my 2016 MacBook Pro. Lines are super crisp, colors are great and viewing angles are solid as well. The screen is incredibly responsive to both touch and pen input.
The only downside I experienced that has a direct correlation to the screen size was using the Chromebook Pro on an airplane. If you're stuck in a less-than-forgiving economy seat and the person in front decides to recline, that tall screen will immediately take away your ability to work on a tray table despite the diagonal size of the screen being a relatively small 12.3 inches. A small trade-off, really, but worth noting if you were capable of sliding a smaller 16:9 laptop on a tray table to work in flight.
Some cost cutting
Samsung Chromebook Pro Keyboard and trackpad
In order to fit high-end specs, a great case and brilliant display into a laptop for just $550, something else had to give. In this case, it was the quality of the keyboard and trackpad.
The keyboard gets the job done, and I really don't feel like my accuracy or speed have taken a massive hit compared to other laptops, but the feel and feedback of the keys is well below my threshold for actually enjoying using the keyboard. Despite being a full-sized laptop, the individual keys are a bit on the small side and therefore tougher to hit accurately (particularly if you have larger hands like myself). Bigger of an issue is the key travel, which is plenty long but mushy with no clear or satisfying "click" at the end of the travel to know you've registered a press. You can also quite easily press down on the side of a key and not get full travel, which is less than ideal.
The keyboard and trackpad are clear areas of cost savings.
The keyboard also isn't backlit, which is a feature that is definitely desired by those who are paying $500+ for a laptop but is hardly a given. It's a shame to not have it, but then again there are bigger keyboard issues to fix here first.
By the same formula, the trackpad is serviceable but far from ideal. It's about the minimum size I'd want to use on a modern laptop, particularly in terms of its height for being able to scroll vertically with two fingers. The surface is a smooth plastic that just doesn't have the right friction for precise mousing — there's too much drag for when you just want to move your cursor a little bit. I know Chrome OS can absolutely handle high-end precision trackpads and offer a great experience with the right hardware, and so this really comes down to the hardware itself.
The touch screen of course helps alleviate some of the trackpad issues as it can often be quicker to just lift up a hand and poke the screen, but I don't ever want the inclusion of a touch screen to mean I have to put up with a subpar trackpad for a majority of my interaction with the laptop.
Samsung Chromebook Pro Daily use
One of the great features about Chromebooks is that any modern model will operate in exactly the same way in terms of software, leaving the differences in hardware to be the only experience differentiators.
|Display||12.3-inch 2400x1600 (3:2) LCD|
|Processor||Intel Core m3-6y30
Intel HD Graphics 515
Stereo 1.5W speakers
|Ports||USB-C (2), headphone/mic, microSD card|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11ac dual-band, Bluetooth 4.0
|Battery||39 Wh (5140 mAh)
|Dimensions||280.8 x 221.6 x 13.9 mm
Plenty of performance for any Chromebook buyer.
The internals do a great job of pushing around Chrome OS on this high-res display, and performance was just fine even for my generally high-demand workload of a dozen Chrome tabs and a couple other apps. Aside from a few hiccups the Chromebook Pro handled everything I threw at it. I'm not going to tell you this can go toe-to-toe with higher-end laptops, but it'll perform right on par with other thin-and-light models in this price range. There's more than enough power here for anyone who is looking at a Chromebook.
Android apps continue to feel like a work in progress.
You get complete Google Play access right out of the box here, and it continues to be a mixed bag of experiences. A vast majority of the time I get excited about using a "proper" app just to be disappointed by the experience and simply go back to the website instead. Google Docs, Gmail, Slack, Authy, Hangouts and the like are all better handled in the browser still — I still have yet to find an app that can have its window dynamically resized, and there are often issues translating the touch-designed interface to a mouse and keyboard. More involved apps like photo editors, games and specific utilities are the area where Android apps are a must-have on Chrome OS — the only issue is they're just not optimized for this platform yet.
The only difference internally with the $100-cheaper Chromebook Plus model is the processor, which steps down to an ARM OP1 hexa-core. Samsung is making the same claims on battery life, and the rest of the laptop is identical, but without evaluating how that processor performs I can only make definitive claims about the Chromebook Pro here. That being said, if the ARM processor can hold its own, $450 for the Chromebook Plus is a great deal for this level of hardware.
The first Chromebook with a stylus
So yes, there's a stylus here ... and it's an S Pen in all but name. The same size, features and technology are at play here as they were in the Galaxy Note 7, straight down to the push-button release to pop the pen out of its silo on the side of the laptop. It has pressure sensitivity, though the pen itself doesn't have to be recharged, as the screen's digitizer layer takes care of all the heavy lifting.
The stylus performs exactly as it does on Samsung's Note line of products, including its full palm rejection and smooth tracing of your movements. Google claims the operating system is doing some clever algorithmic work to help keep the line as close to the physical stylus tip as possible, and to my less-than-discerning eye I was happy with how it tracked.
The core of the experience is a small system tray icon that holds a "stylus tools" menu — you can tap it at any time to reveal its options, or it'll auto-expand when the stylus is removed from the laptop. It gives you quick shortcuts to take screenshots, take notes, use a laser pointer mode (for when you're projecting or Casting your screen) or use the stylus as a magnifying glass.
A stylus that will have Note fans feeling all warm and fuzzy.
Notes are instantly opened in Google Keep (there's that Google integration) and synced to all of your other devices. The individual notes that include drawing aren't in any way proprietary, either — you can continue to write and draw on other devices with your mouse pointer or finger. Google Keep includes a handful of basic brush types and a variety of colors to work with, and also uses optical character recognition so you can search and find notes even if they only have hand-written words in them. Google also keeps a list of good stylus-enabled Android apps that all work on the Chromebook Pro.
The inclusion of the pen is a great combination of work from both Samsung and Google, as Samsung provided its pen technology and digitizing layer in the screen while Google made sure the core Chrome OS stylus support was up to speed for the task. The result is a stylus that works across the entire operating system in a seamless fashion, meaning other companies could easily add a stylus to their Chromebooks in the future without extra software work.
A 39 Wh (that works out to 5140 mAh) battery is the power plant for this laptop, which is comparable to the competition while subsequently coming in at a lighter overall weight. With the Chromebook Pro having a more power-hungry Core m3 processor with the same battery size as the Chromebook Plus I was initially worried about battery life, but there isn't too much to be concerned about here.
You'll get a solid 8 hours of battery out of the Chromebook Pro.
As is typically the case there's far more to the battery life story than just the processor and battery size — how bright you set your screen and just what you're doing on the laptop can be just as big of influences. Samsung doesn't actually make any claims on its website about battery life, so I can simply tell you it's averaged out to about 8 hours per charge in my nearly two weeks using it daily. If I just tooled around with a couple Chrome tabs and didn't do much else I could push 10 hours, or if I really hit it hard I could drain it in just 5.
Samsung includes a compact 30W charger that plugs directly into the wall without an extension cable, though the charge cable itself is six feet long. The cable is integrated into the brick so you're stuck with that six feet of cable, but it's probably enough for most people.
Thankfully the glory of the USB-C interface is you can use other chargers with the Chromebook Pro, as I often did. I used my MacBook Pro's charger, my Pixel XL's power brick and cable, and even just plugged it in to a multi-port charging hub on my desk. The chargers all provide different outputs and therefore have an influence on the charge rate of the laptop (and it'll even tell you it's charging slowly on sub-30W chargers), but I far prefer the flexibility over being locked into a single charger.
What a Chromebook should be
Samsung Chromebook Pro Bottom line
2017 is shaping up to be a very strong year for Chromebooks, and not just in the low-end and education-focused markets. Alongside the Acer Chromebook R13 and ASUS Chromebook C302, the Samsung Chromebook Pro is another fantastic choice for those who are willing to spend a bit more to get a solid laptop with the features, hardware quality and performance you expect out of a nice laptop.
Sure the keyboard and trackpad could improve, but of course there are always shortcomings on laptops in this price range. I can also go on and on about how Android apps just aren't quite there on Chrome OS, but that isn't something specific to the Chromebook Pro.
This is far and away the best Chromebook Samsung has ever made relative to the competition at the time, and considering how strong the market has become that's an extra bit of praise. It's extremely thin and light without feeling cheap, has an excellent display and plenty of power for any Chromebook user while hitting a reasonable price point of $550. It also has the added bonus of a stylus that performs just as well as Samsung's Note line of phones and tablets.
The only question for me is whether or not the Chromebook Pro's Intel Core m3 processor is worth the $100 bump in price over the Chromebook Plus model with an ARM chip. Assuming that performance holds up on the Plus, this hardware is even more enticing at just $450. Either way, this line is an excellent one-two punch that brings Samsung back into the conversation of lust-worthy Chromebooks while also diversifying Google's overall Chromebook market with two more great choices.
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