Computers

Published on July 24th, 2015 | by Gavin Cullen

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Toshiba Chromebook 2 Review

2011 saw the birth of the Chromebook – small, lightweight laptops running Google’s Chrome OS.  Since then, Chrome OS and it’s associated hardware in the form of Chromebooks have proven to be something of a slow-burner.  In 2013 they accounted for 21% of the North American laptop market – that was 2.9 million units.  In 2014, sales of Chromebooks had increased by 79% to 5.2 million units.  This year, 7.3 million Chromebooks are expected to sell and the ultra-cheap devices are proving to be big sellers with online retailers like Amazon with a lot of penetration into the growing education market.

With all those big numbers, we thought that it was about time that GD took a Chromebook for a spin to see what all the fuss is about.  Our friends over in Toshiba kindly obliged by sending us over a shiny, new Toshiba Chromebook 2, unsurprisingly the follow-up to the Toshiba Chromebook.  I’ve been lucky enough to be using the machine for the past couple of weeks, and I have to say, I’m impressed!

So, the numbers first, and there’s a LOT packed into this slick little package:
– 13.3″ screen with a 1920×1080 IPS display,
– dual-core Intel Celeron N2840 2.16GHz,
– 4GB of RAM,
– 16GB SSD for built-in storage,
– Intel HD Graphics,
– 802.11ac+agn wifi connectivity
– Bluetooth 4.0,
– SD Card Reader,
– HDMI port,
– one USB 2.0 & one USB 3.0 port
– and of course a headphone socket.

All of that weighs just 1.35kg with a recommended retail price of just €349!

DESIGN

The Toshiba has a standard laptop shape and design, with curved corners, a tapered base and a plastic silver case with a gridded dot pattern giving a quality textured feel.  There’s certainly a MacBook Air look to the machine, so much so that when my wife first saw it, she thought I’d finally joined the Fruit Cult.

Slick & silver.

The Chromebook 2 is a smart size at 320mm wide, 214mm deep and 19.3mm thick.  It will easily fit into any standard laptop case or bag and as previously mentioned weighs just 1.35kg.  This laptop doesn’t just look like a MacBook Air, it’s around the same size as the 13″ version as well.  Given the price difference, I think that’s an incredible achievement by Toshiba.

The fact that there are plenty of connections on both sides (left – charging port, USB 2.0, SD Card slot, right – Kensington security lock, HDMI-out, USB 3.0, headphones) also makes the overall design impressive.

Left Ports on Toshiba Chromebook 2.

Right ports on Toshiba Chromebook 2.

One thing I will say is that being so small, the laptop didn’t feel very sturdy, in particular the screen section.  It bent easily in hand, and flexed substantially when minor pressure was applied to it.  If you’re the sort of person who tends to put your laptops through heavy-use, this might be something to take note of.

PERFORMANCE

The Chromebook boots very quickly (which is to be expected given the on-board SSD and lightweight OS) and overall performance impressed.  The Intel Celeron N2840 handled every regular task thrown at during my time using the laptop and only struggled when I deliberately put it under pressure (more of that shortly).

The Toshiba comes with 100GB of free cloud storage via Google Drive which had unfortunately been snapped up by a previous reviewer.  In addition to the on-board 16GB SSD and the SD Card slot, this means that there’s ample storage options available for all users, especially given that being a Chromebook, most of your files will be stored in the cloud.  Our machine had 4GB of RAM making it the Full HD model.  There is a HD model which has just 2GB of RAM, but given my experience, I’d recommend the Full HD model.

The Chromebook 2 easily handles HD video and I experienced no issues on regular, everyday tasks.  Streamed and on-board video content worked well and looked great on the screen.

Being a curious sort, I decided to see how much pressure I could put on the Toshiba.  With 30 Chrome tabs open, there was no perceivable change in performance.  When I hit 50 open tabs, I did see some stuttered cursor movements and a bit of lag between typing and the characters appearing on-screen – but, hey, 50 tabs!  I’d expect my Windows 7 laptop to be the same.  As a further test, I opened some videos on Vimeo and ran them at full screen, full HD.  At three open videos, I started experiencing a lot of lag and slow-play, with the base getting quite hot.  But when I closed one, everything returned to normal.

30 Chrome Tabs is just fine.  50 is just mean.

I decided to stop being mean to the little Chromebook 2, and to be honest, are you really going to be watching two or more full HD videos at the same time on a 13.3″ screen?  No you’re not.

The latest version of wifi, 802.11ac+agn is packaged in the machine and I had no issues with connectivity on a variety of networks during my time with the laptop.  It also comes with Bluetooth 4.0, which I tested and found it to be as easy-to-use as expected.  I can’t see a huge use for Bluetooth, but I might be being unimaginative and it’s always nice to have the option.

SCREEN

The screen.  WOW, THE SCREEN!  It’s a 13.3″, 1920×1080 IPS screen and it is nothing short of stunning.  It genuinely feels as if it should be on a laptop at least twice the price.  It’s lovely and bright with up to 300 nits (if you really must know), the colours are rich and vibrant and the blacks look black and impressive (grey blacks are a real pet peeve of mine).  Indoors, you won’t need to up the brightness at all, but outside in the sun, you will have to use all 300 of those nits.  There does seem to be a coating on the screen which reduces sun glare,  but I couldn’t find any definite confirmation on that.

Bond looks great on the fantastic screen!

Another screenshot of SPECTRE (I'm pretty excited about the movie in case you hadn't guessed).
The Toshiba is great for watching movies, HD TV and video and has a decent viewing angle (four of us watched the new Bond trailer on it with no complaints).  The HD model mentioned previously comes with a 1366×768 display for a cheap price, but unless you’re really stuck for cash, go for the Full HD model.

SOUND

On laptops this size, the sound is usually, being kind, abysmal.  There are smartphones with better speakers and sound drivers.  However, Toshiba have paired up with Skullcandy to tune up the sound and this partnership works well.  The speakers themselves are cunningly concealed underneath the keyboard (a genius idea and one I can’t believe I haven’t seen on laptops before now).  The sound is clean and crisp and perfectly acceptable for watching TV and videos.  If you’re looking for a full-on, surround-sound experience whilst watching Avengers Age of Ultron, you’re going to be disappointed – but seriously, this is a €349 Chromebook dude, what are you expecting?

Skullcandy branding . . . & great sound too.

The sound through the headphone socket is also excellent and easily drowned out the ambient nerd noise that is prevalent here in GD Towers.  Music sounded great and using a Chrome app like Audio EQ, you can really get the most out of it.

BATTERY

Toshiba claims that the Full HD Chromebook 2 will give up to nine hours of usage on a single charge.  And their claims are bang on – I actually got a little over nine hours of web browsing, Google Apps (Drive, etc) and music streaming with a little bit of video thrown in.  Impressive.

The laptop also charges pretty quickly getting a 30% charge from a flat battery in a little over 30 minutes.  As with most smaller laptops, the battery is sealed into the unit and not replaceable (for the average user).

KEYBOARD & TRACKPAD

Chromebook keyboards tend to be a little different to regular Windows and Mac keyboards – there’s no Delete, Print Screen or Caps Lock buttons.  But other than that (which provided no issues to my usage of the laptop), the keyboard is pretty standard.  The keys are black tiles, of a good size, well-spaced and I found typing on the Chromebook 2 easy.  This whole article was bashed out on it with no problems.

There's a couple of decent little speakers hidden under those keys as well!

Above the numbers are ten function buttons flanked at the left and right ends by an Escape button and the Power button respectively.  There are clear, easy-to-understand icons on the function buttons such as an arrowed loop for refresh and speakers to mute, raise and lower speaker volume.

Easily understood icons on the function keys.
I’m not a trackpad fan so can’t really comment fairly on the efficacy of the Toshiba’s.  I plugged in my laptop mouse (it travels everywhere with me) immediately and only used the trackpad a few times.  That being said, when I did use it, it seemed to be accurate and responsive, which is what you want in a trackpad I suppose.  I did note that there are a number of gesture controls supported by the trackpad and I particularly liked the swipe down with three fingers to show all the windows and apps you have open at any one time.

Great three finger swipe function shows all open windows & apps.

SOFTWARE

Okay, I’m presuming most of you know what a Chromebook is, and that it runs a completely different type of operating system to the standard Windows and Mac machines?  Basically, Chrome OS runs web apps as opposed to the programmes found on the more common operating systems.  The whole system is built around getting the maximum out of Google’s Chrome ecosystem.  This means that you have to have a reliable internet connection and a Google account to use a Chromebook properly.

Whilst there are a few apps that are available offline such as Google Drive and GMail (with the GMail Offline app), these will only update (make changes to documents, send and receive emails) once you log on.  I thought that this method of working might end up restrictive, but given how ubiquitous an internet connection is these days, I didn’t find it limiting at all.

Selection of native Google Apps.

The Chrome OS itself is very easy to use and has a short learning curve.  If you already use Google Chrome as your browser, you’re halfway to becoming an expert.  The Toshiba Chromebook 2 also comes with a lovely little in-depth user guide with plenty of excellent hints and tips.  And the internet is packed with further tips and tricks for Chromebooks if you want to expand your knowledge and expertise.

Selection of other Chrome Apps.

The Chrome Web Store has a huge amount of apps currently available and it is expanding daily.  There are a few notable absences, such as Skype and VLC Media Player, but Google Hangouts is a viable Skype alternative and the Chromebook 2 was able to handle any video formats I played without any problems.

The apps available in the Web Store cover pretty much any eventuality you’re likely to have using a small, lightweight laptop, from document and spreadsheet creation and editing to minor photo and video editing.  Now you’re not going to cut your five-hour epic masterpiece on a Chromebook, but you can make that phone footage you shot a Longitude look good.  Unless you shot it in portrait.  Nothing’s going to save that.

Front page of the Chrome Web Store.

If you like customising your own laptop, there are plenty of themes and backgrounds available, which are easy to browse through and apply.  Additionally, the Chromebook 2 has excellent multi-user functionality, allowing different profiles but also providing a Guest Browsing feature which allows web browsing and file downloads but doesn’t permit app installation.

The status bar in Chrome is called the Shelf and can be situated on the left, right or bottom of your screen according to your taste.  I found it a little unusual that there was no option for the top of your screen, but I guess that would add clutter to the top, especially if you have multiple tabs open.  A Start button-esque launcher sits on the bottom left of the Shelf which gives you access to all of your apps.  On the bottom right, there is a Status Tray, showing time, wifi connection, battery and your Google profile pic.   Clicking on that opens up a settings menu which includes Bluetooth connectivity and further, more detailed settings.

Status Bar or Shelf showing Launcher, Favourite Apps & Status Tray.

CONCLUSIONS

The Toshiba Chromebook 2 is a cracking little machine.  If you’re a very mobile user, flitting from office to office or location to location, you could do a lot worse than using Chrome OS.  And if that’s the case, then the Chromebook 2 should be at the top of your list.  It’s a superb device at a great price, with the look and screen of a far more expensive laptop.  In fact I liked it so much, I think I’ll be picking one up myself shortly.

PRICING & AVAILABILITY

The Full HD Toshiba Chromebook 2’s recommended retail price is €349 and it is available from Curry’s/PC World and PowerCity.  The Chromebook 2 is also available from online retailers, but prices, taxes, shipping charges and warranties may vary, so caveat emptor!

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About the Author

Gavin has been working in the TV industry in Ireland & the UK for over 15 years & recently produced TV3's The Gadget Buzz, Ireland's first & only TV show dedicated to all things "gadgety". Admitting to being a 60th level nerd, Gavin fits a love for gaming (computer & tabletop), comics & Lego into his busy schedule. He insists that "gadgety" is a real word.



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