This is the Samsung Chromebook 2, and golly does it look sexy.
Whether you knew anything about entry-level Chromebooks this is a head turner no matter what, or at least a striking choice among more plebeian plastic models. It makes perfect sense for Samsung to portray this as premium because their original incarnation was pretty much the staple for Google’s affordable laptop alternative, and heavily promoted in early advertising campaigns – we even reviewed the original long, long ago.
However, with so much choice now available the successor (aka the XE500C12) has much to prove, and we have to start with the looks itself. There’s simply no avoiding that while the Chromebook 2 at its core is an modest update that remains lean at 11.40 x 8.06 x 0.66 inches (LWH) and weighing only 2.60 lbs, the shell is a stylistic departure that makes other Chromebooks blush with envy. The details are largely limited to the lid that is wrapped in a leatherette finish with stitched edges and spruces up an otherwise plain look, although elegant its faux material is reminiscent of a knockoff Prada bag. It might not come off as luxurious to the most jaded but the construction cleverly conceals the chassis underneath, which is made of a reinforced metallic frame that has little flex.
For everybody else though, looks will go far in this Chromebook’s favor. Because of that exterior it’s a little easier to forgive the WXGA (1366×768) 11.6” Twisted Nematic (TN) panel which is a perfectly viewable screen, and simply just that. The webcam is equally adequate and just enough for a Google+ conference or other compatible apps, but it’s the dual speaker performance that gets bumped down to a 2-Watt arrangement for flat mediocrity.
The chiclet keyboard roughly mirrors the original with only a few visual changes mostly with the ‘|’ ‘\’ and ‘ENTER’ keys conforming to a more common QWERTY layout, aside from the usual Chrome OS omissions of the Windows/Command and Caps Lock keys. More demanding typists will like the instant familiarity and solid feel despite the short travel, it’s just like the 2012 model we reviewed oh so long ago and remains one of the best functional attributes here too. Even the trackpad is untouched and still worthy of praise, you’ll get the exact same gesture features for single and two finger controls and silky smooth tracking.
You’ll notice that the ports have been sensibly relocated from the rear to each side. On the left is a USB 3.0, regular HDMI port and a microSD slot, and a USB 2.0 and headset jack. You’re more or less covered for connectivity but some will lament the downsizing of the SD slot, a noticeable change since full size has been the norm for Chromebooks, but makes sense because smartphones and other laptops have already adopted the smaller format anyways.
I was ready to methodically say the Samsung Chromebook 2 is the same in performance, but considering that this updated model ditches the lethargic Exynos CPU for a 2.16GHz Intel Celeron N2840 – the result is a bump above the ASUS C200 and Lenovo N20p thanks to a peak turbo boost speed of 2.58GHz – but still maxed out at 2GB of DDR3L memory. We had to stick to recorded SunSpider benchmarks which for the XE500C12 scored at 537.9 +/- 3.2%, which makes it the quickest Chromebook we’ve currently reviewed, and benefits from all the typical Chrome OS features (immediate boot times, cloud functionality) but sometimes falters. The small allotment of RAM is mostly to blame for occasional buffering during Netflix and laggy web browsing under the conclave of open tabs.
Knowing that, it’s quite a saving grace that the battery is so damn good, lasting well over 9 hours and 20 minutes with our standard rundown/time-wasting test. It doesn’t beat the ASUS C200 we had but the Samsung Chromebook 2 was willing to take on more demanding workloads, a fair tradeoff. There’s also a number a bundled apps such as the subscription-based AirDroid companion which provides partial smartphone integration for text messaging and “find my phone” abilities through your Chromebook, and WunderList for list-making and daily task collaboration. And if you somehow screw up your device you also get the Google Help app does exactly what it sounds like for instant customer support and a year warranty.
At first, I thought the Samsung Chromebook 2 (XE500C12) was just coasting off of the superficial décor and not much else, thankfully there’s more to this laptop other than looks. The plentiful battery life and above average usability is great, although some will say that Chromebooks in general should be a little cheaper for what you get. The larger 13.3-inch XE503C32-K01US (which I briefly played around with beforehand) is even better with a substantially nicer 1920×1080 display and a marked improvement over our tester, but is criminally expensive to recommend for its intention. For this current generation though, the 11.6″ Chromebook 2 is one of the smarter purchases you can make.