James Cridland

48 hours with a Samsung Chromebook Plus

This is one of those reviews aimed at someone who knows what a Chromebook is, but wonders what this one’s like. I use a Chromebook as my main machine, and don’t really intend to do the whole “explaining what a Chromebook is” thing here.

I picked up a Samsung Chromebook Plus on a trip to Los Angeles, walking to the nearest Best Buy to see what it was like, and then buying one on the spot. Things that strike me:

The screen

  • The aspect ratio: It’s a slightly unusual 3:2 configuration, which makes it slightly deeper than a normal laptop. This suits me very nicely, and gives me a little more room to see everything. In tablet mode, it works, too — the Asus Chromebook Flip that I used to have was too narrow.
  • The resolution: It’s a “retina” type screen. It runs 2400x1600; but Chrome OS works perfectly in higher DPI modes now, so at the default 1200x800 screen resolution everything is sharp and beautiful. It’s stunningly good. Think of a new MacBook, and then you’ll get the idea of how this screen looks. It’s lovely.
  • Touch: touch works really well on Chrome OS now. It’s particularly useful when scrolling web pages, and clicking links or buttons. It’s an addition to controlling things with the touchpad or keyboard, and for that, it works really very well.

Android apps

  • I had a ChromeOS device before — the Asus Chromebook Flip — that ran Android apps. It was impressive, but for some reason it seems to be more seamless on this device: I think because the DPI of Android and the DPI of Chrome OS seem similarly configured on this screen. It’s still slightly odd and clunky, but Android apps don’t feel huge on the screen as they did with the Flip. They run quickly and well.

The build quality

  • Everything is rounded and feels sturdy, even if much of it isn’t actually metal but is metallic-looking plastic. (Update: it is actually metal). It feels very thin. The keyboard feels kind of okay; I was a bit concerned at the strangely small ‘delete’ key, but I’ve not noticed it annoying me. The trackpad is okay, too. Neither are astonishingly good, but neither are very bad either.
  • The USB-C ports — there are two — are very welcome indeed. Now I’m running USB-C on my phone, MacBook and Chromebook, I’m a happy man.
  • The battery life: I’m getting around eight hours on it, and that’s more than enough for me. Just like the Flip, it’s very good for this.
  • The power: many of the reviews spent a lot of time on the relative under-powered-ness of this device. I’ve not seen any issues with the speed of it — it works great with streaming video and with anything complicated I want to throw at it. I’ve no doubt that it wouldn’t cope very well if I had 15 tabs open, but I very rarely do. It’s very good. There is no overhead from this retina screen that I can see.

The not-so good

  • The pen. It’s a bit pointless, to be honest — there’s quite a nice painting app built-in from Samsung, and it uses Google Keep to store handwriting notes, but there’s a lot of lag when writing, and it often just doesn’t work very well. I think it’s a bit of a gimmick.
  • The power button. In tablet mode, I’d like to use my left-hand to hold it, and my right-hand to press buttons on-screen, like a right-handed person would. This means you want to hold the unit by the “Samsung” larger bezel with your left-hand, which means the power button is at the bottom of the unit, and you’ll hit it on your belt when you rest it on your lap and the screen will go off.
  • Tablet mode in general. It’s fine, except when it isn’t. For example, if you try to reply to an email in Inbox By Gmail, the on-screen keyboard comes up and hides, um, the reply pane that you’re trying to type in. There are a few other things like this, too, which you’ll bump in to: and then you’ll be flicking the unit back to laptop mode relatively quickly. This isn’t unique to this device, but it is a little annoying, if I can be honest.
  • The speakers. They’re tinny and weedy, but then, what do you expect, I suppose.

All in all, though — this is a very nice machine with a beautiful, beautiful screen. If you’re tempted with the Asus C302, which has a slightly better reputation in /r/android, then do yourself a favour and see the screen of the Chromebook Plus first. Your eyes will thank you.

Now to put that Chromebook Flip on eBay, I guess…