Chromebook Reviews

Review: Samsung Chromebook Pro brings touch computing up a notch

The convertible laptop/tablet comes with an excellent touch display and a built-in stylus.

samsung chromebook pro

For the most part, Chromebooks -- laptops that use Google's Chrome OS -- have been marketed as either lightweight and inexpensive student systems or low-end secondary machines for travel or family use. With one or two exceptions (such as Google's Pixel), the emphasis was on cheapness of both price and materials.

Lately, however, more vendors have been introducing Chromebooks meant for mid-level business use. For example, the recently-released Acer Chromebook R 13 is a solid convertible that can handle day-to-day computing tasks (its sibling, the Acer Chromebook 14 for Work, is aimed even more directly at a business usership).

Back in January during the CES trade show, Samsung announced two new laptops in this class: the Chromebook Plus, which will ship with an ARM processor, and Chromebook Pro, which is pretty much identical except that it will be powered by an Intel Core m3. I spent a couple of weeks with a pre-production model of the Pro; I was assured that, except for the color of the unit (it is silver, while the final will be black), it was identical to a production unit. And I've got to say, I was impressed.

Like the Acer R 13, the Pro is a convertible, meaning that its touchscreen display can bend 360 degree, from a "closed laptop" position to a traditional typing position,  further back to a "tented" presentation position, and finally all the way back to a tablet position.

The Pro comes with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. There is a USB-C slot on the right edge of the keyboard, along with the power and volume buttons; the left edge has a second USB-C slot, a headphone/mic jack and a microSD slot.

Interesting display

Instead of the usual 16:9 aspect ratio that most laptop displays (and TV manufacturers) offer, the 12.3-in. Pro display (like that of the Chromebook Pixel ) comes in a squarer 3:2 aspect ratio, one more conducive to browsing or document creation.

The display takes a little getting used to if you're used to the wider screens, but as a business laptop, it works well. And because the convertible is not as wide as most 12-in. laptops (closed, it measures 11.06 x 8.72 x 0.55 in.), I found it easier to hold in its tablet configuration.

The 2400 x 1600 Quad HD LED display did a fine job with several Netflix films and YouTube videos; the color was bright and rich, and it handled action and low-light scenes with little problem. The two stereo speakers located on either side of the bottom of the keyboard had good volume and reasonable fidelity.

And when you watch videos on long flights, you'll able to do so confidently. In our battery test, which involves constantly running a variety of videos at 75% brightness, the Chromebook Pro lasted a little over 6 hours and 40 minutes; with normal usage, I wouldn't be surprised if you got at least a couple of days out of it before it needed recharging.

Slotted stylus

Another feature that distinguishes the Pro (and the Plus) is the inclusion of a simple stylus, about 4-3/8 in. long, which pops out of a slot on the right side of the keyboard. 

According to Samsung, the new systems use a machine learning algorithm that pulls data from Google's indexing and OCR cloud databases to make handwritten notes searchable and to reduce latency (the time lag between when a pen touches screen and the "ink" stroke appears). I must admit I was skeptical, but much to my surprise, when I searched for words included in written notes on Google Keep (using my not-especially-clear handwriting), it worked nicely. (I also searched for some words that were not in the documents, and none of them came up in the search.) 

The experience of using the stylus on the touchscreen was also impressive; the screen is very responsive and the act of drawing or writing -- which can be awkward if there is any kind of discernible time lag -- was smooth and felt very natural. There was still some lag, occasionally, but less than I've experienced on other touch systems, and that could improve by the time the Pro ships.

That being said, the small size of the stylus makes it less than ideal for taking more than a few quick notes -- after a few minutes, my hand started feeling cramped. As a result, if you plan to do any extensive writing or drawing (and considering how well it feels to write on the display, you might), I'd invest in something more comfortable to hold.

Performance and other features

The Pro's all-metal chassis is sleek and attractive, and felt as though it would last, although the cover and bottom did bend in slightly when pressed. The keyboard had a good, solid feel and I had no trouble using it through long typing sessions; the medium-sized touchpad, while not as large as on most premium systems, was also comfortable to work with. 

The Pro scored 20781 on the Octane 2.0 performance benchmark, which is in the general neighborhood of other Chromebooks running Intel Core m3 processors; I didn't experience any lag or other problems, even when running 10 or more browser tabs.

Finally, Samsung's new Chromebooks are part of the generation that will work with Android apps; the review unit used a beta version of the App Store, but according to Samsung, the App Store for Chromebooks will have come out of beta by the time the Pro ships. While some Android apps may not be a perfect match for a larger display, the few I tried worked well.

Bottom line

In the weeks that I worked with the Samsung Chromebook Pro, I found it an excellent go-to computer for both travel and at-home use. 

It is not inexpensive for a Chromebook -- it will be priced at $549 when it ships at the end of April (the Chromebook Plus, which will be available this coming Sunday, will list at $449). But for a good looking and performing Chromebook with a durable metal frame, comfortable keyboard and excellent touch display, along with the included stylus, you may find it worth the cost.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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