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.

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Display, speakers and keyboard

One of the most distinguishing features of the Chromebook 2 -- on the 13-in. model, at least -- is its display: The system has a 1920 x 1080 glossy screen, making it the first Chromebook other than the top-of-the-line Pixel to go beyond the baseline 1366 x 768 resolution. (The 11-in. model has the more common 1366 x 768 resolution.)

The bump up in resolution makes a noticeable difference. Next to a typical 1366 x 768 screen, the 13-in. Chromebook 2's display looks extra crisp and clear. Even something as simple as text in a document appears less grainy, and watching 1080p videos on the device is a great experience.

The 13.3-in. display also provides a meaningful amount of additional real estate compared to the 11.6-in. standard, which makes the device feel pleasingly roomy -- more like a traditional laptop and less like a netbook.

It isn't all good news, though. Samsung opted to stick with a lower-quality TN panel instead of going with a higher-end IPS display on this device -- and even with the higher resolution, that puts a firm ceiling on the display's potential. Colors are grayish and dull, contrast is lacking and everything looks kind of washed out. Viewing angles, especially on the horizontal, are also rather poor; if you aren't staring at the display straight on, its picture becomes distorted and text is frequently difficult or impossible to read.

I've also found that the combination of the higher resolution and the TN-based display causes text to appear too thin and light for comfortable reading, even when you are at an ideal angle. I constantly have to zoom pages up to about 125% in order to make them minimally presentable, which is something I've never felt the need to do on any other system.

So you win some, you lose some. Personally, I find that the TN panel cancels out much of the benefit the higher resolution provides; even with its lower resolution, the IPS LCD screen on Google's Chromebook 11 is easier on my eyes. But it's all relative -- and compared to the vast majority of entry-level Chromebook devices (which by and large utilize TN-based displays) the 13-in. Samsung Chromebook 2 is absolutely a step ahead.

Accompanying the display is a respectable set of stereo speakers, located on either side of the laptop's bottom surface. Because the bottom slopes up at its sides, audio played from the computer comes out loud and clear, even when the system is sitting flat on a table. The sound is full and as good as any non-front-facing laptop speakers I've heard.

The Chromebook 2's keyboard is another strong point: The plastic keys are soft and smooth with a subtle curve that makes them fit naturally under your fingers. They're nicely spaced out and responsive, too, making typing on the system a pleasure. It's a marked improvement from the keyboard on Samsung's last Chromebook effort and among the best keyboards I've used on a Chromebook in this class.

The same can be said for the Chromebook 2's trackpad: With its soft-touch plastic and reflective silver-trim border, the single-button pad has a high-quality feel for an entry-level laptop. Most important, it's accurate and easy to use.

The Chromebook 2 has a 720p webcam centered above its display.

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