The Chromebook has found its sweet spot, and it's around the $279 range where the Toshiba CB35-A3120 Chromebook resides. It sure isn't down in the dumps with the $200-or-so cheapies, with their clackety plastics and sorry little screens. Nor is it in the 1-percenter fantasyland of the gorgeous and expensive Chromebook Pixel. The $250 Samsung Chromebook 3 is nice, and if you jumped to $300 you could get an 11-inch touchscreen in the Acer C270P, or a 14-inch (non-touch) display in the HP Chromebook 14. But for $279, the Toshiba CB35-A3120 is nearly as good as those higher-priced competitors. It's also a notch better than the like-priced HP Chromebook 11, despite the latter's many charms (and much simpler name).
What the Toshiba CB35-A3120 has over the HP Chromebook 11 are a much larger, 13.3-inch LED backlit display, a mobile-friendly Intel Celeron 2955U (Haswell) processor, and a 52Wh, 4-Cell Li-Ion battery. Performance is good, scoring 2910 in Peacekeeper. The battery lasted almost 7 hours in our tests--nearly identical to the HP Chromebook 14's result (also sporting Haswell, plus a 51Wh, 4-cell battery), and noticeably longer than what the HP Chromebook 11 achieved with its ARM processor and 30Wh battery.
The CB35-A3120 also trumps the Chromebook 11 in connectivity, sporting two USB 3.0 ports (the HP has just USB 2.0) as well as an SD card slot, headphone jack, and HDMI-out port. Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0 are built-in, and a webcam and microphone sit atop the display. Built-in stereo speakers deliver tolerably tinny sound.
I always feel cramped on the 11-inch displays of most low-end Chromebooks. The wide, 16:9 aspect ratio of the CB35-A3120's display keeps the device compact (8.9 by 12.9 by 0.80 inches), unlike the decidedly bulkier HP Chromebook 14. The 1366-by-768-pixel resolution is nothing special, nor is the occasionally choppy-blocky video playback (it supports 720p), but this is typical for the price range, unfortunately.
At this price you also get a "Sunray Silver" plastic chassis whose dotty-textured surface is both attractive and easy to grip. I dislike the slight bendiness to the display lid, but the bottom half is nicely stiff. The 3.3-pound weight is very easy to tote.
Most low-end Chromebooks have crummy keyboards: hard plastic, hard travel. The CB35-A3120's island-style keys are hard, but the softer travel was a pleasant surprise--heavy typists will appreciate the difference. The top-row function keys and lower-right cursor keys are half-sized, but usable. The clickpad is roomy and pretty responsive.
The Chromebook's other features include 2GB of DDR3L 1600MHz memory and a 16GB SSD. You get 100GB free on Google Drive but for only 2 years, so prepare for the end.
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