24 hours with the new Toshiba Chromebook 2: An affordable champ gets even better

Today's lesson: It doesn't take much to breathe new life into an already-excellent product.

New Toshiba Chromebook 2

Toshiba's Chromebook 2 has been my go-to Chrome OS recommendation for a while -- and for good reason: The system provides a great all-around experience without breaking the bank. It's meaningfully nicer than most entry-level Chromebooks, but at $330, it's still quite affordable.

Now, Toshiba's stepping things up with a new model -- without stepping up the price. The soon-to-ship second-gen Toshiba Chromebook 2 follows the same blueprint as its predecessor, only with a couple significant changes on the surface and under the hood. And, worth emphasizing again: It's still $330.

I've been using the new Chromebook 2 for all of my work over the past day. Here's a quick look at what I've discovered so far.

A word of warning

One quick note before we dive in: Toshiba's new Chromebook is confusingly called -- wait for it -- the Toshiba Chromebook 2. Yup, just like its predecessor. Why not the Toshiba Chromebook 3? You've got me.

General befuddlement aside, the danger here is that it could be all too easy to buy last year's model when you mean to buy this new one, especially since the two systems look almost identical at a glance. Toshiba tells me this page on its website will have purchasing info for the new model soon. Other parts of Toshiba's site still feature the older Chromebook 2, as does Google's Chromebook site as of this writing. I've seen the new device listed on Amazon, though only from random third-party sellers and at inflated prices thus far -- so I wouldn't advise jumping on those offers.

If nothing else, take note of this: The base $330 version of the new Chromebook 2 is model CB35-C3300. If you see a system with any model number other than that, it isn't this device.

First up: What's familiar

Okay -- onto the good stuff. I can actually make this super simple: The new 2015 version of Toshiba's Chromebook 2 is basically just like last year's model, only better.

We'll start with what's the same: The new Chromebook 2 has the same plastic construction as its predecessor -- not premium, by any means, but slightly better build quality than most systems in this class. It feels relatively solid and sturdy.

Crucially, it has the same excellent screen -- a point that really makes the system stand out from the bulk of affordable Chromebooks. We're talkin' a 13.3-in. 1080p IPS display that's bright, vivid, and easy to read at any angle. It's a huge contrast to the lower-quality (and often lower-resolution) TN panels we see on a lot of laptops, which tend to be dull, grainy, and generally just awful-looking in comparison.

New Toshiba Chromebook 2 Hands On

Hi, that's my hand. How are you?

Toshiba's new Chromebook also packs the same outstanding speakers as the original Chromebook 2. They're hidden beneath the keyboard, and they sound great -- I mean, really great. Loud, full, and just generally the way laptop speakers should sound. Honestly, they're better than the speakers on most systems that cost three or four times as much.

Finally, you've got the same 16GB of internal storage along with an SD card slot for external storage expansion and 100GB of extra cloud storage from Google Drive for two years. Oh, and the same selection of ports: one USB 3.0, one USB 2.0, and a dedicated HDMI-out port. No USB Type-C here; the pricey (but magnificent) Pixel is currently the only Chromebook to boast that distinction.

Next: What's different

So that's all the same -- and that's a good thing. There are really just two areas that separate the new Chromebook 2 from the previous model, and one of them addresses the original model's main weakness.

I'm talking about performance: While the original Chromebook 2 was what I'd consider "good enough for most" when it comes to speed, it wasn't exactly the fastest Chromebook around. With just one or two tabs open at a time, it'd do fine (hence the "good enough for most" designation) -- but if you ever got into more intensive levels of computing (you know, if you're a crazy person like me who tends to keep a ton of stuff open at once), it'd start to struggle.

The new Chromebook 2 is a whole new beast in that regard: With a fifth-gen Intel Celeron 3215U processor and 4GB of RAM under its hood, this thing has been able to keep up with me admirably over the past day -- humming along and staying speedy even with as many as 15 to 20 tabs open at a time. (It does literally hum a bit, incidentally, as the new processor has a fan and isn't dead-silent like the last one. Not a big deal, really, and barely noticeable to me -- but if you have Superman-level hearing, well, consider yourself warned. Also, shouldn't you be out saving the world instead of sitting on your haunches and reading about laptops? C'mon, buddy. Get your act together.)

Toshiba is offering an option to get an even more powerful Core i3 chip inside for an extra hundred bucks, but the real-world difference from one level to the next isn't generally significant enough to be worth the bump in cost for most people. And this is coming from a guy who keeps 20 tabs open at a time.

(I'm not going to get into the subject of stamina just yet, by the way, as a single day's experience doesn't always tell you everything you need to know on that front. For now, I'll just say that Toshiba lists the laptop as having "up to 8.5 hours" of battery life -- but based on my first day of use, I wouldn't necessarily count on reaching that full amount.)

The final area that's improved is the keyboard, which is now subtly backlit and has softer, nicer-feeling keys. 

Caution: Comparisons ahead

And that, my friends, is all she wrote -- the tale of my first 24 hours with the new Toshiba Chromebook 2. Toshiba's held the affordable Chromebook crown for a while now, and it looks like the company smartly stuck to its winning formula while refining a few of its device's weaker areas.

Of course, the land of midrange Chromebooks has extra competition this year -- most notably from the new Dell Chromebook 13, which is similar to the Toshiba but with more premium materials and the promise of better build quality (and a higher price to match).

I'll be looking at that system next and then doing some direct and more long-term comparisons of this fall's new Chromebook contenders -- including Acer's upcoming touchscreen convertible device -- later this month.

Make no mistake about it: 'Tis the season for exciting new releases, and the Marshmallow-scented sea of Android isn't the only place seeing the love.

UPDATE: Review: Dell Chromebook 13 vs. Toshiba Chromebook 2

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