Toshiba Chromebook 2 Review: A Sequel That Doesn't Suck

The Chromebook gots its start in 2010 with the CR-48, Google's prototype that shipped to tens of thousands of early testers. The hardware was pretty meh and ChromeOS was far from polished. When I first heard about Chromebooks, I thought they were pretty stupid. Why would you spend about the same money as a Windows laptop on something that is basically just an Internet browser?

Of course, the Chrome Web Store was still relatively new, and Google's vision of operating in "The Cloud" had yet to be fully realized. Today, I spend about 95% of my time in the Internet browser, and Google has slowly, but surely roped me in. From Gmail to Drive to Hangouts to Chrome, it's become a big part of my digital life. ChromeOS pulls all of that and more into an experience focused on speed and simplicity.

The Toshiba Chromebook 2 is one of several new options with a 13.3-inch display, and this year brings an even sleeker design with the option of a Full HD IPS display. It starts at $249 with a 720p display, and jumps to $329 with the Full HD display, and double the RAM at 4 GB.

Design

The Toshiba Chromebook 2 is gorgeous, and easily the best looking Chromebook on the market. After all, let's be honest: it looks a heck of a lot like a MacBook Air. It features sharp, curved edges, and the lid is covered in lots of tiny dimples that give off a cool look. The bezels around the display are smaller than last year, and it doesn't have a low cost feel whatsoever.

With the lid closed, it's 0.76 inches thick, and weighs three pounds. Coming from the smaller 11.6-inch Acer C720 Chromebook, I can barely tell a difference as the Toshiba packs on just a quarter of a pound. There are two USB ports, a 2.0 and 3.0, an HDMI out, headphone jack and SD card reader for more storage.

Keyboard And Touchpad

As someone who writes a lot, the keyboard is an absolute joy, and I had zero learning curve coming from the Acer. The keys have a little bit of a spring to 'em, and even with big hands it's comfortable to use. The touchpad is large, and very accurate. As with other Chromebooks, you can use two fingers to swipe or scroll, which really grows on you.

Display

Easily the star of the Toshiba Chromebook 2, it is absolutely worth the extra cost to go Full HD. Being an IPS display, colors and viewing angles are superb, and I was surprised at how bright it gets. I can comfortably keep the brightness at around 20%, which definitely helps with battery life.

One minor annoyance is that ChromeOS doesn't properly scale yet in 1080p. I have good vision, but often find myself having to zoom in once or twice on webpages because the text was so small. This is something that Google is aware of and working on, and some say that switching to the beta channel fixes the problem.

Performance

There was some controversy with Toshiba opting for an Intel Bay Trail processor versus a Haswell-based processor. However, a Bay Trail processor has two big perks. It uses just 7.5 watts of power under full load, and is fanless. Even after several hours of continuous use, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 barely gets warm.

Yes, the Bay Trail definitely scores lower in benchmarks, but in normal everyday use, the performance concerns weren't there. On multiple occasions with 10+ tabs open, there was no lag switching to and from, and 1080p video plays perfectly with no stuttering. If you rely on a lot of graphic-intensive applications, you'll definitely feel a difference, but for everything else, it's more than acceptable.

Webcam/Microphone

Onboard is an HD webcam and dual mics for clearer, crisper audio. The video/image quality is on par with other laptops, and the audio quality is pretty solid. You won't be blown away, but you won't be disappointed, either.

Speakers

Toshiba teamed up with Skullcandy for what it says is "some serious sound," and they're about 80% there. The speakers are actually hidden inside the keyboard, and get fairly loud. The sound quality is still a little tinny though, and bass is virtually nonexistent. However, you'll probably use headphones most of the time, and you get 60 days free of Google Play Music All Access.

Battery Life

Toshiba claims up to nine hours with the Full HD model, and 11.5 hours with the 720p model. On the very first go, I got 8 1/2 hours with 15% battery left. 'Nuff said.

Final Words

The Toshiba Chromebook 2 is the pinnacle of the Chromebook line, and in my opinion, is currently the best value in laptops, period. While the Acer Chromebook 13 costs about $50 more with a beefier NVIDIA Tegra K1 quad-core processor, the display lags behind as it's a TFT panel. And to be honest, it looks like shit compared to Toshiba's offering.

My biggest gripe was the ugly "Free 100 GB of Google Drive" sticker that layed across the top of the keyboard. It consisted of what I believe to be super glue, and took about five minutes to rip off, and another minute or two to wash off the devil residue.


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