Review: Toshiba Chromebook 2

Buying a Chromebook is an exercise in compromises. Want a solid construction and a nice display panel? You’ll probably have to sacrifice something like battery life, or the quality of the trackpad. Or, perhaps you want a bigger screen? There are a few models out now that offer 13-inch and even 15-inch 1080p screens. I tested Samsung’s 13-inch Chromebook 2 last month, and while the screen was great, the price was too high. All these compromises!

While it’s not perfect, the new Toshiba Chromebook 2 manages to do what the similarly named Samsung Chromebook 2 could not: deliver a really nice 13.3-inch 1080p screen while keeping the price reasonable. If you’ve been waiting for a decent screen to arrive before you test the Chromebook waters, this is a machine to check out. (Acer also makes a 13-inch 1080p Chromebook, and we’re looking at that one next.)

I tested the Toshiba CB35-B3340, which features a 2.58 GHz Intel Celeron N2840 processor, 4GB of RAM, 16GB SSD—you also get two years of a 100GB Google Drive account included for free, which helps underline the whole Chromebook philosophy. There’s also one USB 2 port, one USB 3 port, an HDMI port and a pretty decent gesture-enabled touchpad. Those are quite solid specs for the price, and they’re backed by two outstanding features: the 1080p display and the Skullcandy audio. The Toshiba Chromebook 2 retails for $329.

The result is that Toshiba’s Chromebook is an excellent machine for watching movies when you’re away from your TV. The sound is great—well, great within the obvious limitations, as this is still a laptop—and the screen is bright and clear, with vivid colors, nice deep blacks and the wide viewing angles you’d expect from an IPS display. It is still a glossy screen though, so bright sunlight is not your friend.

I should note that Toshiba also offers a 1366×768 model for $250, if you just don’t want to pay for the 1080p screen. And note that while the resolution is lower, it’s still an IPS display and should be considerably nicer than the washed out TN displays in many Chromebooks. (For further proof of this, check out the Lenovo Yoga 11e Chromebook, which has the lower-res display, but also uses an IPS panel.) However, if you can afford it, the better resolution is well worth the money.

The sound is also noteworthy, having been “tuned” by Skullcandy, which, if nothing else, resulted in Skullcandy’s logo getting slapped prominently just below the keyboard. Whatever “tuned” may mean, the audio output is really great, and not at all tinny or flat the way laptop speakers typically are. If you really crank it up, you can feel the bass through the keyboard.

The keyboard itself is the standard Chromebook layout with chiclet keys. You can re-map it however you’d like. Physically, it’s on par with pretty much every other Chromebook I’ve used—nothing special, but no real annoyances either. The same is true of the trackpad. It works, but it won’t draw any accolades.

Overall, the build quality of the Toshiba is excellent. The case is sturdy and doesn’t flex at all when being carried with one hand. In fact, if someone handed me the case with all logos removed, I never would have guessed it was a Chromebook. It has the look and feel of a much higher-end laptop. The 13-inch screen does of course make it bigger and heavier than the more common 11.6-inch Chromebooks. Again, this is a trade off. But in my opinion, the slight increase in size and weight are well worth it for the vastly better display.

Despite my enthusiasm for the display and speakers, the Toshiba is not without its downsides. Foremost, performance suffers. The 4GB of RAM is a nice step up from the typical 2GB that ship with low-end Chromebooks, but the Bay Trail processor used here doesn’t have the power of Haswell-based devices like the Acer C720.

In real-world terms, that means if you’re flipping between tabs when you have six or seven of them open, you will notice some lag. I also experienced stuttering in some WebGL demos. Suffice to say that if browser-based gaming is your primary use for a Chromebook, you should look at a machine with a beefier processor. On the bright side, the Bay Trail chip is excellent at power management, and you should consistently get more than 8 hours out of the battery.

So I still haven’t found the perfect Chromebook. The Toshiba almost cuts it, but as with the previous machines I’ve reviewed, I still think the best Chromebook is an amalgamation of several. For example the Toshiba would be greatly improved by adding the screen flipping capabilities in the Lenovo n20p, especially since movies are actually watchable on the Toshiba, unlike on the Lenovo. That said, based on the price, the battery life, and the quality of that big, lovely screen, the Toshiba is my new favorite Chromebook.

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