If there's one consistent trend we see with Chromebooks, it's the concept of compromise.
You know what I'm talking about, right? Every Chromebook that comes along seems like it could almost be the one that gets it right -- the one that finally gives us a midrange experience for our favorite cloud-centric platform.
Sure, it's good to have inexpensive options on the low-end of the spectrum. And yeah, who wouldn't love the technological wonder that's the pretty-but-pricey Pixel? But for anyone looking to spend more than $300 and less than $1300 for a proper midrange system, the options are pretty limited. And by "pretty limited," I mean "completely non-existent."
Well, guess what, gang? The trend continues with our latest Chromebook contender, Samsung's long-awaited Chromebook 2. And this one comes So. Damn. Close to hitting that elusive midrange pocket -- hell, you can almost taste it. (Spoiler: It tastes curiously like silicon.)
Think about it: The Chromebook 2 has a solid construction and distinctive design. It's no Pixel, of course, but it feels noticeably nicer than many of the entry-level options out there. And it has a 1080p display, making it the first Chromebook besides the Pixel to dance into high-res territory.
If it had just two other qualities, it could be the midrange system we've been waiting to see:
1. A better processor
Look, I'm no spec-head; I'm all about real-world experience. I don't care what's inside a device so long as it works well and its performance is up to par.
That's where I struggle with Samsung's decision to put an ARM chip inside the Chromebook 2. Yeah, yeah -- Samsung makes those chips and so it makes sense from a business perspective. From a consumer perspective, though, one thing's painfully clear:
This system just isn't up to the level of the Intel-based competition.
It's extreme enough that, as I noted in my Chromebook 2 review, even a Haswell-based Intel Chrome OS device with half the RAM delivers better real-world performance. That's pretty freakin' crazy, you guys. And that's not even taking into account the issue of stamina, which is also a very apparent limitation of Samsung's current setup compared to the competition.
Now, throw a Haswell-based Intel chip -- or, heck, one of the higher-end Core i3 chips set to start hitting Chrome OS devices this summer -- inside this same laptop? Now, that'd be a system on its way to earning a "midrange" title.
2. An IPS display
No question, a 1080p display is a nice step forward from the 1366-x-768 territory nearly all Chromebooks cling to -- but even with that bumped-up resolution, having a lower-quality TN panel puts a firm ceiling on how meaningful the step can be. It's kind of like the old "lipstick on a pig" analogy. (No offense to our four-legged friends; I have many pig acquaintances who are perfectly lovely people. Er, pigs, I mean. Let's move on.)
Yes, a 1080p TN display looks better than a 1366-x-768 TN display -- but within that TN standard, "better" can only mean so much. As I note in my review, I actually find the IPS screen on the Chromebook 11 to be easier on my eyes, even with its lower resolution.
Keep the 1080p but put it on an IPS panel, and -- combined with the chip fix mentioned above -- this Chromebook would be a midrange force to be reckoned with.
Back to reality...
Maybe these changes would increase the cost of the Chromebook 2, but let's face it: Four-hundred bucks for a Chromebook already ain't cheap.
As Chromebooks continue to grow in popularity, I'd bet manufacturers would be surprised how many people would be willing to spend a little more for a true midrange system. And best of all -- for the moment, at least -- they'd be the only ones to even offer that option.
Maybe one day.
For now, we'll just have to keep waiting -- and, in one way or another, keep compromising.