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Review: 6 business-class Chromebooks test their mettle

Woody Leonhard | Dec. 11, 2014
I've spent the last three weeks taking six business-oriented Chromebooks through their paces. I started out as a skeptical Windows-rules-them-all kind of guy: I've been using Windows since the early days, and I've rarely strayed from the ghosts of my Windows masters. By the end of my Chromebook experiment, however, my old biases were shaken.

The unit measures 13.54 by 9.44 by 0.7 inches tall, so it's a bit smaller than the Acer Chromebook 13. At 3.78 pounds, it's a bit hefty. Blame the larger screen.

The 14-inch, 1,366-by-768 screen is a sizable chunk of real estate, but unfortunately marred by the old-fashioned resolution and TN technology. Color reproduction seems muddy at best, and like so many other Chromebooks, it offers a very limited viewing angle. HP has a 1,920-by-1,080 touchscreen version due to arrive soon (model K4K23UA), for $100 more.

There are reports that future version of the HP Chromebook 14 G3 will support mobile broadband, but I haven't seen an official announcement about when, where, what kind of broadband, or how much it will cost.

The battery gave up after 6.5 hours in my YouTube torture test — reasonable for a 14-inch display. On the port side, my machine came with two USB 2 and one USB 3 ports. There's a MicroSD slot and a full-size HDMI port. Wi-Fi support comes in the full 802.11a/b/g/n/ac spectrum, 2x2 MIMO.

I didn't like the keyboard. The keys have a typical Chiclet feel — mushy, short throw — and the tray underneath the keyboard flexes too much for my taste. With my typically ham-fisted, fast touch-typing, the keys bounced up and down like a Willy's in four-wheel drive. Your mileage may vary, of course, particularly if you're a two-finger typist. The touchpad works well.

My test machine, with 1,366-by-768 display, 2GB of RAM, and a 16GB flash drive, retails for $299, but it's widely available for about $270. Move up to 4GB of RAM and expect to pay $30 extra. The 4GB RAM version with 32GB flash lists at $349. The model with the better screen — 1,920 by 1,080, touch — is listed at $429, but as best I can tell none have shipped to date. HP says the end of December.

Samsung Chromebook 2 (Intel XE500C12)

Samsung's first-generation Chromebooks blazed new trails and proved surprisingly successful, but they shipped with an unusual chip, the ARM-based Exynos 5420 (Exynos 5480 for the 13-inch model), manufactured by Samsung itself.

With the latest generation, which started rolling out in October, that's changed. The Samsung Chromebook 2 reviewed here runs on a Celeron N2840. While Acer and HP have jumped from Celerons to ARM chips in their latest generations, Samsung has jumped in precisely the opposite direction.

Samsung chromebook 2 (Intel XE500C12)Samsung Samsung Chromebook 2

Be careful when ordering. Confusingly, Samsung has released Exynos devices with the "Samsung Chromebook 2" name. If you're looking for the newer, Celeron-based Samsung Chromebook 2 models, make sure of the specs.

I tested the 11.6-inch Celeron-based Samsung Chromebook 2 specifically because its 13-inch counterpart isn't out yet. Specs on the widely anticipated 13-inch model haven't been released, but presumably it too will run on a Celeron chip, sans fan, and pack the same, well-received 1,920-by-1,080 screen as its older cousins.

 

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