Chromebook 2014 Review: Samsung, Dell And Toshiba Deliver Lean Laptops

Chromebooks are the perfect go-anywhere laptops. They're lightweight, inexpensive and built for the web. Chrome OS is easy enough for non-tech savvy people to use and enjoy, and it's still powerful enough for the most grizzled technologist. Long battery life and desktop-ready access to the web makes it more powerful than any tablet you can find, and it doesn’t need no touchscreen.

  • The Dell Chromebook 11 is so light that you can put it on just about anything and it’ll practically float. And at $300, even if something happens to it, it isn’t so bad to buy another.

    Dell Chromebook 11

    The Dell Chromebook 11 is so light that you can put it on just about anything and it’ll practically float. And at $300, even if something happens to it, it isn’t so bad to buy another.

  • The 1080p display on the Chromebook 2 makes it perfect for streaming full-HD video, and the lightweight and thin frame means yes, you can lie on the couch watching TV on it.

    Samsung Chromebook 2

    The 1080p display on the Chromebook 2 makes it perfect for streaming full-HD video, and the lightweight and thin frame means yes, you can lie on the couch watching TV on it.

  • For outdoors use, the Toshiba Chromebook is the brightest of our test units. Read and watch video with ease on it.

    Toshiba Chromebook

    For outdoors use, the Toshiba Chromebook is the brightest of our test units. Read and watch video with ease on it.

  • The Chromebook comes in many flavors, but always 11-inch or 13-inch frames. And they’re almost always simple; that’s the point.

    3 flavors of Chrome

    The Chromebook comes in many flavors, but always 11-inch or 13-inch frames. And they’re almost always simple; that’s the point.

  • Samsung’s Chromebook 2 feels great to hold thanks to the thin body and leather-bound cover, which is stunning to feel and see.

    Chrome, with a touch of leather

    Samsung’s Chromebook 2 feels great to hold thanks to the thin body and leather-bound cover, which is stunning to feel and see.

  • Toshiba’s Chromebook has a dimpled cover and silver frame, though it’s more like a traditional laptop than any of the other Chromebooks.

    Traditional design

    Toshiba’s Chromebook has a dimpled cover and silver frame, though it’s more like a traditional laptop than any of the other Chromebooks.

  • Dell’s Chromebook 11 is fast and small, and feels great to type on and to use. It may look a little plain, but don’t let that fool you.

    Making Chrome look good

    Dell’s Chromebook 11 is fast and small, and feels great to type on and to use. It may look a little plain, but don’t let that fool you.

  • Welcome to the era of the browser. Nearly all desktop computing goes through Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or Safari. Everything's on the web, and there's a website for everything. So your next laptop may very well be an inexpensive, lightweight Chromebook.

    And there's nothing wrong with that.

    Google's Chrome OS is a lightweight operating system that disregards nearly everything Microsoft and Apple have spent years building into Windows and OS X, respectively, in favor of the almighty browser. Forget applications; ChromeOS is all about apps and extensions. Storage is limited to 16 GB on the laptop, and it doesn’t matter because everything is saved in the cloud. Updates are automatic and no-hassle, requiring just a 10-second reboot every month or so.

    See also: 6 Chrome Extensions to Help You Maximize Google Drive

    Can you switch to Chrome? Absolutely. I've done it for a full month with three different Chromebooks and it's been great. Unless you live in pro-tools such as Photoshop, you can do just about anything on the web, so why bother spending extra money for antiquated, bloated and expensive laptops?

    Chrome everything

    Want to try Chrome OS before purchasing one of the most inexpensive computers in stores? Just open up the Chrome browser. That's Chrome OS. It makes the entire system so easy that your grandmother can use it. No, really, stop looking for expensive age-appropriate computers and look at a Chromebook.

    Initial setup is a breeze. Log in with your Google account. That’s it.

    All of your preferences, extensions and profile data automatically downloads to the computer in seconds. Everything else is the browser experience we’re already acquainted with: the omnibar search+URL tool, the extension buttons beside it and the gateway to the Internet… plus all the sites you'll be visiting.

    What about all of those built-in operating system functions so many of us are used to, such as Notepad/TextEdit, photo previewing and Solitaire? If it isn’t already built-in, extensions are available. Create and edit documents with Google Drive, which works both online and off and automatically synchronizes to your already-existing account.

    Basic photo viewing and editing functions are built right into the Chromebook, and a file system is there for saving and storing documents and media straight to the computer just like you would on Windows or OS X. Or you can save straight to Google Drive, with the 100 GB of free data most Chromebooks offer.

    Google Chromebooks

    Although Chrome OS is consistent, Samsung, Toshiba and Dell serve up different Chromebook experiences.

    Image: Mashable, James Pikover

    Even with all of this, Google makes it simple to use a cloud-based app for pretty much everything. Listen to your music through Google Play, view and edit photos and video through Google Drive or Google+, monitor your calendar with… you guessed it, Google Calendar. And if you don’t have internet, no problem. Offline versions are available for just about everything.

    Except the web. For now.

    Worried that you won’t be able to do everything that your current machine can handle? Even with lower-end processors, little RAM and very little storage, the Chomebooks we tested are faster and easier to use than many laptops. The operating system is so lightweight that even with cheap parts — some smartphones are more powerful than our tested laptops — Chromebooks are often just as fast as full-fledged laptops. We could barely tell the difference. Plug in a second display via HDMI, run dozens of tabs and get cranking.

    Laptops, Chromed out

    To test the current state of the Chromebook, we played with three recent Chromebooks available: the Samsung Chromebook 2, the Dell Chromebook 11, and Toshiba Chromebook. (Zero points for original names.)

    Samsung Chromebook 2

    The 1080p display on the Samsung Chromebook 2 makes it perfect for streaming full HD video.

    Image: Mashable, James Pikover

    Samsung's Chromebook 2 is a leather-bound 13-inch laptop with style and finesse. As the priciest of the bunch at $400, the Chromebook 2 is the only laptop running on Samsung's own central processing unit (basically the brains of the computer) and it shows. It's slower than the competition, chugging along with occasional stops and pauses during anything from basic typing to loading web pages. It’s not slow… it just gets winded quickly and needs a breather every few minutes or so, and more often under a heavy workload. And that's not just because it boasts a bigger 1080p HD display.

    The Chromebook 2 is, of the bunch and compared to plenty of standard laptops, a work of art. Leatherbound and thin, it’s classy in a Mad Men sort of way. You want to be seen with it. It looks good and feels even better in the hand and bag. Of the tested laptops, it’s the best for multimedia thanks to the bigger, glossy full-HD display and higher-quality speakers. A free year of Wunderlist Pro and eight hours of continuous battery life should help get all of your tasks done before the day’s end.

    Dell's Chromebook 11 is the smallest, but call it David because it packs the biggest punch. I've clocked over nine hours of continuous battery life for productivity, meaning a constant network connection and plenty of web browsing and multimedia playback. Plus unlike the larger Samsung, the Chromebook 11 doesn't sputter. It runs buttery-smooth.

    The 1,366 x 768 pixel resolution display is much smaller than the average laptop not named MacBook Air. For an 11-inch screen that's just fine. If it ever feels cramped, just plug in to an external display (Chromebooks support one external monitor with a resolution of up to 2,560 x 1,600 display). The Chromebook 11 is still fast even with two dozen tabs open while streaming full-HD video.

    Dell Chromebook 11

    Dell's Chromebook 11 is fast and small, and feels great to type on and to use. It may look a little plain, but don't let that fool you.

    Image: Mashable, James Pikover

    The quality of the screen isn't the best, but it's certainly good enough for basic video playback, productivity and outdoor use. The small size, lightweight chassis and long battery life make it a great companion machine.

    It’s almost too easy to carry everywhere. I’ve taken it to the beach, coffee shops, parks and more without a bag. Also, at $300, it’s so inexpensive that I’ve never worried about it. Everything is saved online, so even a spill in the ocean is a purely monetary loss, and a light one at that.

    Last but not least, Toshiba's Chromebook shares almost identical components to the Dell except for a 13-inch screen. Like the Dell, it sells for $300, though that’s $20 more than the equivalent model. Toshiba only offers 2 GB of RAM on their Chromebook, compared to 4 GB on the Samsung and a 4 GB option on the Dell.

    Toshiba’s Chromebook, however, feels like the cheapest of the bunch. The keyboard and trackpad aren't as good as on the Samsung or Dell, the 1,366 x 768 display produces slightly worse picture quality, and battery life hovers just under the Samsung at seven and a half hours. Less RAM also makes it slower than the Dell, though it doesn’t sputter like the Samsung.

    Toshiba Chromebook

    Toshiba's Chromebook has a dimpled cover and silver frame, though it's more like a traditional laptop than any of the other Chromebooks.

    There is such a thing as too much Chrome

    Life with Chrome isn’t a complete one, though it’s pretty close. Anyone living a completely web and cloud existence will fit right into a life inside the browser. However, a few basics are still either absent or just blatantly worse on ChromeOS that should give you pause.

    The first is printing: If you haven’t set up a cloud-printing destination through another computer, the Chromebook can’t print locally. You must have another computer available, and you must set your printers up for cloud printing through Chrome or else it won’t work. Sure, you can always print to a FedEx office or save it to a PDF, but that’s it. For anyone who needs to print and doesn’t want a hassle, wait for Google to provide the feature.

    Display quality on both the Dell and Toshiba Chromebooks was also lacking, especially when compared to today’s top tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab S or iPad Air. Sure, the tablets are more expensive, but one of the biggest benefits of the Chromebook is that as far as media-streaming websites such as Hulu are concerned, it’s a full-fledged computer. For the few video services that don’t offer free streaming to a tablet, the Chromebook sounds perfect — except that the screens are better for basic web browsing, not watching a movie.

    Speed is also an issue. Spend some time loading up image-heavy websites and you’ll notice that Chromebooks are slower than normal computers. All of those cat GIFs take more time to render because of the low-end central processors. In many cases, the iPad Air is faster than any Chromebook. Spend a few minutes on Mashable or Reddit and you’ll notice an immediate difference between the two. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, though. The iPad is more expensive, but then the question is why not just get an iPad or an Android tablet?

    The ultimate desktop web experience

    Tablets are hot and all, but they’re far from perfect. There’s a clear difference between devices such as the iPad and Galaxy Tab S versus a Chromebook: Tablets are mobile and touch-friendly devices, while Chromebooks are inexpensive web-portal powerhouses. Every tablet running a mobile operating system is severely handicapped compared to a Chromebook. The Chromebook, meanwhile, is a slim PC made for just about anything — on the go, at home, the office or the couch.

    In fact, the Chromebook is exactly what Microsoft is trying to do with the Surface Pro 3, albeit with the full power of Windows 8. Except that the Surface 3 is not a web-first device. In fact, that’s what every other computer, tablet and smartphone miss, and what Google has embraced so cleverly.

    Samsung Chromebook 2

    The Good

    Good 1080p display Wonderfully light and great to carry with the leather cover Great keyboard and trackpad

    The Bad

    The most expensive Chromebook you can buy CPU is sluggish compared to less expensive Chromebooks

    The Bottom Line

    Pricey compared to other Chromebooks, and a bit slower, but the HD display and great design make it a very good laptop.

    That makes every single Chromebook we tested, regardless of hardware, more potent at getting you online and staying there. It’s cloud-first, connected-first, online-enabled and ready to kick ass on the web. And there is power in that connection which no other computer, smartphone or tablet has.

    I would take a Chromebook such as the Dell Chromebook 11 over a traditional laptop any day of the week. The convenience and capabilities of the Chromebook is night and day over a heavier, bulkier and more expensive machine. And I’d take it over a tablet too, albeit not for video. The days of streaming video from a laptop are long since past.

    Dell Chromebook 11

    The Good

    Over nine hours of battery life Light on the wallet and in the bag Great build quality Fast as a whip

    The Bad

    Design is on the thick side

    The Bottom Line

    The best Chromebook you can buy today.

    So now that you believe in Chrome, what should you get?

    Dell’s Chromebook 11 is the best option. Great price, great quality and great performance make it the most balanced and most comfortable machine to use.

    Samsung’s Chromebook 2 comes in two flavors: 11-inch and 13-inch. I tested the 13-inch and it's just past the "if it breaks I’ll just get another one" price point, plus the occasional slowdown is a major trouble point. The bigger, better high-resolution screen does make up for the difference though.

    With the next school year coming soon, and plenty of summer deals, now is an excellent time to invest in a Chromebook. Even if you have a laptop that you use daily, keeping one of these babies around for even infrequent use is amazingly convenient.

    There has never been a better time to go Chrome.

    Toshiba Chromebook

    The Good

    Very bright display that’s great for outdoor use Wonderfully light and great to carry with the leather cover Inexpensive...

    The Bad

    ...but feels cheap with a mediocre trackpad and keyboard Only 2GB of RAM available

    The Bottom Line

    A solid machine that by comparison falls to the wayside with cheaper parts and less memory.


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    Source : http://mashable.com/2014/08/24/chromebook-2014-review/

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