Samsung Chromebook 2 review: Compelling -- but not without compromise

Samsung's newest Chromebook has a distinctive design and a roomy 1080p screen, along with a few drawbacks.

samsung chromebook 2

Boy, oh boy -- Chromebooks have come a long way.

Just a few short years ago, Google's Chrome OS was a rough-around-the-edges platform with a small selection of nearly indistinguishable devices. Fast-forward to today and the operating system has evolved into a polished ecosystem with a rapidly expanding array of hardware choices.

The latest entrant to the field is Samsung's Chromebook 2, the company's follow-up to its popular 2012 Chromebook. With the Chromebook 2, Samsung is attempting to step up its game with a distinctive design and the option for a large display with better-than-average resolution.

Samsung Chromebook 2
Samsung Chromebook 2

You can get the Chromebook 2 in a 13.3-in. model for $400 or in a more typical 11.6-in model for $320. I tested the larger iteration, but keep in mind that size and display are the only significant things that set these two apart.

The products were originally set to launch in April, but Samsung tells me both devices are now expected to start shipping on May 26.

So what's the new Chromebook 2 like to use, and is it the right laptop for you? Let's find out.

Body and design

Chrome OS is basically constant from one device to the next, so there's not much new to say about the software side of the experience here. (Samsung has preloaded a couple of apps on these devices, which is a tad unusual -- but it's really not a big deal.) If you aren't already familiar with Chrome OS, you may want to glance over my previous coverage for a quick primer.

With software out of the equation, hardware is what truly sets one Chromebook apart from another -- and the first thing you notice about Samsung's Chromebook 2 is without a doubt its physical design. The lid of the laptop utilizes the faux-leather (but actually plastic) notebook-like look introduced with Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 phone, and it works surprisingly well in this context.

Samsung Chromebook 2
Samsung's Chromebook 2 sports a faux-leather look.

The fake stitching effect is still a little tacky, to be sure, but all in all, it's not a bad look for a laptop -- especially relative to the entry-level Chromebook category, where most devices have generic and underwhelming plastic shells. I should note that the 13-in. model has a gray color scheme while the 11-in. version of the device comes in a less subdued black or white motif. Based on my time with Samsung's Note 3 products, I'm a bit skeptical as to how the design will look with those less gentle hues, but in gray, at least, I've been pleasantly surprised.

In terms of build quality, the Chromebook 2 is a definite step up from Samsung's past Chromebook efforts. It's still a plastic-centric construction, but it feels solid and less flimsy than its predecessor (as well as some of the other devices in its class from different manufacturers). It's not at the level of a design-focused system like Google's Chromebook 11 -- and it's nowhere near the level of a high-end laptop like the Chromebook Pixel, as you'd expect -- but for a $320-$400 computer, the Chromebook 2 is reasonably well assembled and pleasant to use.

At 12.7 x 8.8 x 0.65 in., the 13-in. Chromebook 2 is larger than the typical 11-in. Chromebook -- naturally -- but at 3.1 lbs., the device doesn't feel at all bulky or uncomfortable to use and carry. The size is actually a sweet spot between the compact-but-small-screened 11-in. form and the roomy-display-but-somewhat-unwieldy 14-in. option at the other end of the spectrum. (For perspective, HP's 14-in. Chromebook 14 is a full pound heavier than Samsung's 13-in. model.)

The 11-in. Chromebook 2, meanwhile, is comparable in form to the majority of the Chromebooks on the market, at 11.4 x 8.1 x 0.66 in. and 2.43 lbs.

The Chromebook 2 has a headphone jack and USB 2.0 port on its right side and an HDMI-out port, USB 3.0 port and covered microSD card slot on its left. The left side of the system also holds a proprietary charging port that -- huzzah! -- actually matches the proprietary charging port used on Samsung's 2012 Chromebook. In other words, if you have the older model, your existing charger will work with this laptop and vice versa.

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