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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.

With a Google Octane 2.0 score of 7,900, the Celeron-fueled Samsung Chromebook 2 shows it can keep up with the pack. Unlike the two Nvidia Tegra K1 systems in this roundup, the Samsung was fully capable of coping with my fast touch-typing while many tabs were open. I've read about lag problems with some machines, but I didn't see any at all on this one.

The 11.6-inch TN screen won't win any awards, much less any converts, but color renders reasonably well, with not-at-all-gray blacks, and the viewing angle isn't as truncated as in competing small screens. Text at default sizes can be read without squinting. The screen isn't that bright — it's listed at 200 nits, which is unexceptional — but there's little glare.

The faux stitched-leather case, identical to Samsung's Galaxy and Note cases, goes a long way toward making the all-plastic exterior seem "professional," for lack of a better term. The unit is small and remarkably thin, measuring 11.4 by 8.06 by 0.66 inches. It's light, too, at 2.65 pounds.

My only gripe with the exterior design: You can't tell when the battery is charging without prying open the lid.

There's a full accoutrement of ports: one USB 2, one USB 3, a MicroSD slot, and a full-sized HDMI port. Wi-Fi support covers all the bases with 802.11b/g/n/ac and a 2x2 antenna.

The keyboard is usable, albeit not exceptional, with good throw and light feedback. At least the carriage under the keyboard doesn't bobble under heavy typing, as is the case with the HP Chromebook 14 3G.

The Samsung Chromebook 2 11-inch lasted 6.5 hours on my YouTube battery battering — not great, but not bad.

Samsung lists the 11.6-inch machine with 2GB of RAM and 16GB flash (model XE500C12-K01US) at $230. I've seen it a little cheaper at online retailers. Be sure you get the newer Intel version.

Toshiba Chromebook 2 CB35

Toshiba makes two Chromebook 2 models, one with a typical ho-hum TN screen running at 1,366 by 768, the other with a gorgeous 13-inch IPS screen running at 1,920 by 1,080. Both models run a Celeron N2840 chip. The ho-hum one (with 2GB of RAM and 16GB flash) costs $250; the glorious one (with 4GB of RAM and 16GB flash) costs $80 more.

In a strictly Chrome OS world, the one with the infinitely superior screen and double the amount of RAM — the CB35 — is the one you want. But in the real world, where that $330 price tag starts bumping up against decent Windows 8 machines, the choice isn't so easy.

I can say without fear of contradiction that the 13.3-inch Toshiba CB35 1,920-by-1,080 IPS screen is the finest Chromebook screen on the market (except for the Chromebook Pixel, at four times the price). Rich colors, real blacks, and a wide viewing angle will keep your eyeballs coming back for more.

 

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