I was a little surprised by the arrival of a brand new Chromebook with a Samsung badge on the lid. The Korean giant was a great friend to Google in the earliest days of its web-based operating system, releasing a stream of consumer-ready Chromebooks, including the first sub-$250 Chromebook worth buying.
But Samsung recently announced it would dramatically cut back its Windows laptop production, and the company even gutted its European Chromebook output. Here in the States, however, we’re still getting Chromebooks from Samsung—and pretty nice ones at that.
The latest in the Samsung Chromebook line is the Samsung Chromebook 2. I tested the XE500C12-K01US model, which features a 2.16 GHz Intel Bay Trail chip, a regrettably paltry 2GB of RAM, a 16GB flash drive, and a 1366 x 768 pixel 11.6-inch display.
The hardware does not put this in the top caliber of Chromebooks, but on the plus side that power-sipping Bay Trail chip does give this Chromebook close to the nine hours of battery life Samsung claims.
The other main selling point here is the low price. Samsung is offering the Chromebook 2 for just $250, which is a good deal given the new chip and impressive battery life.
The ports on the Samsung are close to what you’ll find on other Chromebooks—a USB 2.0 and headphone jack to the right, and then a USB 3.0 port, a full HDMI port, and a microSD card slot to left. The latter is somewhat unusual as most Chromebooks offer full SD card support. The micro means you’ll likely need a USB-based SD card adapter to dump photos from your camera card.
On the plus side, the microSD slot has a nice cover and the card disappears into it, making it easy to slap a 128 GB microSD card in there to act as a semi-permanent second storage drive.
Samsung has done a nice job of making this thing feel solid. There’s a somewhat cheesy faux-leather textured surface on the top (complete with fake stitching) but underneath that is a well reinforced frame that gives this model a sturdy feel often missing in Chromebooks.
That solid feel helps make the keyboard a bit nicer as well, and there’s none of the mushiness at the center that often plagues keyboards in all plastic cases. The chiclet style keys here have a nice feel that’s on par with the industry-leading keyboard on the Lenovo I reviewed earlier this year.
The big downside to this Samsung is the 2GB of RAM. That’s sufficient for light use like checking your email, browsing the web, and editing documents. But it will feel limited if you’re going to be watching a lot of videos, using the web-based version of Photoshop, or installing Android applications (of which there are, currently, few, but which looks to be a way of extending Chrome OS in the future). Samsung makes a $300 Chromebook 2 with a slightly better processor and double the RAM, and the $50 price bump is almost certainly worth it here.
Another potential downside to this cheaper Chromebook is the display. Yes, 1366 x 768 packed into 11.6 inches is technically HD, but it still looks pixelated next to your phone. It’s also not an IPS display so you get all the washed out color and limited viewing angles that come with older, TN panel displays. The display makes sense at this price point, but it would be nice if Samsung had a more expensive model with a higher resolution IPS display—the displays in the $300 machines are the same as this one.
In general Chrome OS is what it is. You’re either comfortable with that, or you stopped reading at the headline. That said, there is one new bit in here (or at least new to me): the Chrome Help app.
The Chrome Help app is still technically a beta, but Samsung has included it anyway. It connects you to a live help and troubleshooting chat system. There’s even video chat available, which lets you activate remote access and share your screen for troubleshooting purposes. That might be a selling point for those who want some tech support for their new Chromebook, but screen sharing with unknown parties ranks high on my list of supposedly fun things I’ll never do.
If your top priorities in a Chromebook are price, speed, and battery life, this is a model to consider. The 2GB of RAM could be better, but for general around-the-house use—basic web browsing, editing documents, battling the email inbox, and so on—it will suffice. Considering there are Samsung models with the Exynos 5 Octa processor and a full 4GB of RAM inside that are only $50 more, one of those machines would be better for anything more than the basics.