Samsung’s latest Chrome OS laptop might be one of the company’s best to date. The Samsung Chromebook 2 with a Bay Trail processor hits a pretty sweet spot between price, performance, and portability… although it does have a few quirks.

This $250 laptop runs for up to 9 hours on a charge, packs enough horsepower for most common computing tasks, and has compact design, measuring about two third of an inch thick and weighing about 2.6 pounds.

matte

It’s not the fastest Chromebook around, nor does it get the longest battery life. But it has a good, non-glare display, decent build quality, and a few nice touches including USB 3.0 and 802.11ac WiFi.

The new model also gets better battery life than the Samsung Series 3 with an ARM-based processor I reviewed a while ago. Its closest competition is probably the Asus C200 Chromebook, which is also a bargain at $249. But Samsung’s new Chromebook has a few things going for it that could make it a better choice for some folks.

Samsung loaned me a Chromebook 2 to test for a few weeks for the purposes of this review.

Overview

Samsung was one of the first companies to launch a Chromebook, and over the past few years the company has updated its line of Chrome OS laptops several times, initially offering with more powerful hardware, and then models with longer battery life and other improvements.

In 2012 Samsung also launched the first Chromebook featuring a low-power dual-core ARM-based chip instead of an Intel processor. It was a slim, light, and affordable laptop… albeit one that offered less-than-stellar performance.

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ARM-based Chromebooks aren’t exactly uncommon these days, but Samsung stepped up its game this year by launching new models with octa-core processors and 4GB of RAM, including a 13 inch model with a full HD display.

The Samsung Series 2 Chromebook with an Intel Bay Trail processor featured in this review is part of the same family as those octa-core ARM-based models with Samsung Exynos chips. It’s the same size and weight as the 11.6 inch model and features a similar case design. But the Intel version sells for $50 less than the cheapest of the new ARM models.

This Chromebook features an 11.6 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel matte display, an Intel Celeron N2840 dual-core Bay Trail processor, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of solid state storage.

It has 2 watt stereo speakers, a 720p webcam, 802.11ac WiFi, 1 USB 3.0 port, 1 USB 2.0 port, HDMI output, and a microSD card slot that’s covered by a plastic door.

The Samsung Chromebook 2 measures 11.4″ x 8.6″ x 0.66″ and weighs about 2.65 pounds.

A note about Chrome OS

In case it’s not clear by all the mentions of “Chrome” so far, this is a laptop that ships with Google’s Chrome operating system. It’s basically an operating system built around the Chrome web browser and the idea is that you run most apps inside a web browser.

That doesn’t mean you need an active internet connection to get anything done. Chrome OS has come a long way in recent years and there are a number of apps in the Chrome Web Store which work whether you have an internet connection or not. You can download and install productivity apps, games, image editors, and even email apps for offline use.

Adobe has even come up with a way to let you run Photoshop on a Chromebook.

front

Chrome OS still might not be the best choice for everyone. With just 16GB of built-in storage, there’s not a lot of room on a Chromebook for your documents, movies, or other files. It might not even be enough space to install the growing number of offline apps for Chrome.

There are some apps that also still don’t work in Chrome. You can use Microsoft’s Office Web Apps (or Google’s web-based alternatives to Excel, PowerPoint, and Word), for instance. But if you want access to the full Microsoft Office experience, you’ll need a Windows or Mac computer.

chrome os

Still, as someone who spends about 90 percent of my computing time interacting with a web browser whether I’m using Windows, Ubuntu, or Chrome OS, I find Chrome OS to be pretty useful. It’s a light-weight operating system that boots almost instantly, resumes from sleep even more quickly, and runs securely since the operating system is updated automatically as are apps. And since apps run in a sandboxed environment they’re generally pretty safe from malware – you can run Chrome OS without an anti-virus software.

In some ways the small amount of local storage is also a good thing: as with most Chromebooks, when you buy a Samsung Chromebook 2 you get 100GB of Google Drive cloud storage for free for 2 years. And if you save most of your data online, you won’t lose it if you misplace, lose, or damage your laptop or if you just leave it at home and need to log onto another computer.

Design

At first glance, the Samsung Chromebook 2 looks like a laptop with a solid metal unibody frame. Actually, like a lot of portable notebooks these days, it looks a lot like a Macbook Air.

open

But while the computer has a metal frame, it has a plastic case and a fake leather lid. It sounds tacky… but honestly, the lid looks better in person than I thought it would when I saw K T’s hands-on post earlier this year.

While I don’t think anybody will confuse the Chromebook 2 with a high-quality laptop as Samsung suggests,the textured plastic lid doesn’t collect fingerprints the way glossy plastic laptop lids often do.

The 11.6 inch matte display looks pretty good when viewed from the front or even from the sides. But if you tilt the screen back too far, colors start to look washed out so that images or videos start to look like photo negatives.

bad angles

Even on the highest brightness setting, the Samsung Chromebook 2 screen isn’t all that bright. But it’s certainly bright enough for basic tasks, and its matte screen doesn’t reflect glare so the laptop’s easier to use outdoors or directly under a light bulb than a model with a glossy, shiny display.

angle_02

On the left side of the notebook is a USB 3.0 port, an HDMI port, and a microSD car reader. There’s a USB 2.0 port and a headset jack on the right side.

ports_03

Like most Chromebooks, the laptop has a keyboard with dedicated keys for back, forward, refresh, and other Chrome functions above the number row, where you’d normally find Fn keys on a Windows laptop. It’s a full-sized, comfortable keyboard but if you do push down near the center you can feel a bit of flex.

keyboard_02

Below the keyboard is a large touchpad which supports multitouch gestures including two-finger scrolling and clicking.

The stereo speakers are on the bottom of the computer, near the front where the case curves up a bit so that they won’t easily be covered when the laptop is on a table or on your lap. They’re not bad sounding for laptop speakers, but if you’re going to watch a lot of videos or listen to a lot of music, you might want a pair of headphones or an external speaker.

speakers

I paired the Chromebook 2 with a Bluetooth speaker (the Logitech UE Mini Boom) and streamed music for a few hours while working and didn’t experience any problems.

The laptop’s Intel Celeron N2840 processor is a low-power chip with a 7.5 watt TDP. It doesn’t generate a lot of heat, allowing Samsung to use passive cooling. There are no vents in the case, and no noisy fans. But while the bottom of the Chromebook 2 can get a little warm, the notebook never got particularly hot while I was testing it.

Performance

The Samsung Chromebook 2 boots in a few seconds, resumes from sleep even more quickly, and connects to the internet almost as quickly as you can open the laptop’s lid.

netflix

Once you’re online, web pages open quickly and I’ve had no problem surfing the web with a dozen or more browser tabs open. I was also able to stream HD video from YouTube, Netflix, and other online video sites.

Chrome OS provides a pretty zippy experience even on entry-level hardware, so the Chromebook 2 doesn’t feel particularly slow… until you compare it with a device with more powerful hardware.

Benchmarks

The Acer C720p Chromebook, for instance, outperforms this model in benchmark tests thanks to its faster (and more power-hungry) Intel Celeron 2955U Haswell processor. And the Acer C720 with a Core i3 Haswell chip or the Google Chromebook Pixel with a Core i5 Ivy Bridge processor are even faster.

That doesn’t necessarily mean those models can run apps that the Samsung Chromebook 2 cannot… they’re just generally a little more responsive. The Chromebook 2 feels pretty fast. Those models feel faster.

Not surprisingly, the Samsung Chromebook 2 with an Intel Celeron N2840 processor scores a little higher in benchmarks than the Asus C200 Chromebook with a Celeron N2830 chip… but the differences are pretty small.

Both chips are are low-power, dual-core 64-bit processors that use around 4.5 watts of power during normal use. The main difference is that the processor in the Samsung Chromebook 2 has slightly higher burst speeds for CPU and graphics performance.

sunspiderGenerally if you get a Chromebook with an Intel Bay Trail or Haswell processor, I think you’ll probably be pretty satisfied with the performance offered by Chrome OS.

The same might not be true if you opt for a model with an ARM-based chip. The 2012-era Samsung Chromebook and the more recent HP Chromebook 11 both feature Samsung Exynos 5250 dual-core ARM Cortex-A15 processors and while they’re fast enough for basic tasks, they can feel sluggish at times, especially if you’re doing a lot of multitasking.

I haven’t personally tested the newer Samsung Chromebooks with Exynos 5 octa-core processors or Acer’s new Chromebook with an NVIDIA Tegra K1 processor, so I can’t really speak to those models.

Samsung says the Chromebook 2 with Bay Trail should get up to 9 hours of battery life, and in my tests it seems like the laptop really is good for around 8 to 9 hours of run time under normal conditions.

power cable

That’s not quite as good as the 12 hours offered by the Asus C200 Chromebook, but it’s a lot better than the 4.5 hours I squeezed out of the HP Chromebook 11.

The biggest question is whether it’s enough better than the 7.5 hours I managed to get from the Acer C720p Chromebook to justify opting for a Chromebook with an Intel Bay Trail processor rather than a more powerful Haswell chip. I’ll leave that for you to decide… but if you’re a fan of Samsung’s designs, this might be as good as it gets for now: the company doesn’t currently offer a Haswell model.

Notes for advanced users

Find Chrome OS a little too limiting? No problem. It’s pretty easy to load Ubuntu (or Debian, or other operating systems) on the Chromebook 2.

First you’ll need to enable developer mode. You can find instructions for doing that at the Chromium website (the steps for the Bay Trail Chromebook2 are the same as for the ARM-based model).

When you first switch to developer mode the Chromebook will wipe any data in local storage. But the beauty of Chrome OS is that once you login with your Google account, the Chromebook will automatically grab all of your apps, search history, and preferences from the cloud and you’ll be back to where you were in no time.

Once developer mode is enabled you can open a command shell by hitting Ctrl+Alt+t and typing “shell” without quotes.

terminal

From here you can enable support for booting from a USB or run other commands. Unless I’m mistaken, it doesn’t look like this Chromebook supports legacy boot mode, so the simplest way to install Ubuntu or Debian is to use a script such as crouton which loads Ubuntu alongside Chrome OS.

This lets you run Chrome OS and Ubuntu simultaneously and switch back and forth between environments by hitting the Ctrl+Alt+arrow keys.

Since Crouton installs Ubuntu using chroot, the operating system borrows all of its graphics, wireless, and other drivers from Chrome OS. This means you don’t even need to re-enter your network password to connect to the internet from Ubuntu. Once the operating system’s installed, just launch it and you’re already online.

You can find more detailed instructions for doing all of this at the github page for crouton.

When I tried installing Ubuntu 14.10 with the Unity desktop environment I ran into some problems with the system crashing or freezing from time to time. So I wiped that chroot and tried again with Ubuntu 14.04 and the LXDE desktop environment. That worked perfectly, allowing me to load the GIMP image editor, LibreOffice suite for editing documents, and even the Firefox web browser.

lubuntu_03

If you prefer some native desktop apps to their web-based equivalents, installing Ubuntu on a Chromebook lets you have the best of both worlds.

Want more memory or storage? Tough. Well, probably.

Intel’s Celeron N2840 processor supports up to 8GB of RAM, but Samsung doesn’t make it easy to open up the case. There are 9 screws holding the bottom of the laptop together, but when you take them off there’s a series of plastic clips which holds things pretty firmly in place.

bottom

I wasn’t confident I could open the case without breaking something, and since I have to send this notebook back to Samsung when I’m finished I gave up. But if the Samsung Chromebook 2 looks anything like the Asus C200 under the hood, there’s a chance the RAM and/or storage might be soldered to the motherboard which would make it almost impossible for users to perform upgrades by themselves.

Verdict

Samsung’s Chromebook 2 with an Intel Bay Trail processor is a small, inexpensive, and speedy-enough-for-casual-use laptop with a fanless design for quiet operation.

It has a matte display, which some folks will consider a plus, but it has limited viewing angles and doesn’t get as bright as some other laptop displays.

The notebook gets great battery life, running for nearly 9 hours on a charge.

ports_01

Overall, I’m pretty impressed with this laptop… but it’s worth noting that the Asus C200 Chromebook offers very similar specs, longer battery life, and nearly-as-fast performance for about the same price. In fact, since the Asus model has been on the streets a little longer, you can already find it on sale from time to time for as little as $199, which makes that laptop about $50 cheaper than the Samsung Chromebook.

Samsung’s Chromebook 2 is a bit thinner than the Asus C200 (0.66 inches rather than 0.8 inches), but it’s also a little heavier (2.65 pounds, compared with 2.4 pounds). The differences are small enough that you probably wouldn’t notice them unless you put the two machines side-by-side.

All told, I think both laptops are pretty great options. If you want a thinner machine with a matte, non-glare display, choose the Samsung Chromebook 2. Want longer battery life and a display that’s shinier, but also brighter? Choose the Asus model.

Think you might need a faster processor or a system that’s easier to upgrade? Check out the Acer C720 Chromebook with a Celeron or Core i3 Haswell CPU.

It’s nice to be spoiled for choice.

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18 replies on “Samsung Chromebook 2 (Bay Trail) review”

  1. I’ve been using this device for 3 weeks, but I can tell some words about it.
    I’ll begin with weak sides. RAM. WHY 2GB? 4GB would be awesome. I would have easily paid for it. Hard dive is too small. Suitable only for storing docs and pics.
    Now stong sides. Quite comfortable keyboard, so I type on it well and fast. Wi-Fi module works as it has to be. I didn’t have any issue during exploitation. Screen is OK. Hard drive works fast.
    As for price, http://cent.im/popular/257/samsung_chromebook_2 it goes nearly the same as some Toshiba and Acer models.
    Summary: it’s worth buying for simple tasks.

  2. I have the Arm OctaCore version. It works great to run Ubuntu side by side as mentioned here.
    The Intel version has only 2GB RAM compared to 4GB on the Arm models.
    I grabbed two of the Arm machines that were on sale before Samsung exited the Nordic laptop market late 2014.

  3. I am looking forward to the review of the new Toshiba Chromebook 2 with the 1080 p ips display. I picked one up on a lark–its an amazing display. Its not the fastest computer but its not massively flawed like the original chromebook 11 though…

  4. The benchmarks scores for both the Acer C720 and the Pixel are out of date. My Pixel currently scores ~21000 and Haswell based machines (C720’s and Chromeboxes) around 12000 on Octane. This is why I’ve gone C720p as opposed to Lenovo n20p when buying our latest batch of Chromebooks for school.

    1. Octane 1.0 and Octane 2.0 are very different. Relative benchmarking is still correct (comparing Octane 1.0 scores for various devices). No one expected Octane 2.0 when 1.0 was in use… my rule of thumb is that if “2.0” is not specified, I assume that it is a 1.0 score.

  5. This demonstrates that TN panels are going to continue to be used at this price point for the foreseeable future. 🙁

  6. Nothing on the market beats the acer c720. I have tried the demo of toshiba ips and I was underwhelmed with the screen and the cheap build quality that makes the c720 seem like its made out out of gold. I was however impressed with the baytrail processor. It was faster than I thought it was going to be. Hopefully asus has been listening and releases the perfect chromebook with hawell, ips, UPWARDS speakers, and good batter life under 400. If not acer will probably release the next acer c720 model with upgrades next year. If nobody releases the perfect chromebook I will just stick with my acer and swap out the batter when I need to. I am not going to keep on shelling out 200 plus bucks every year for the latest model with flaws.

    1. People forget the Dell 11 CB is still out there. Haswell processor, 4GB RAM, excellent build quality, better than Acer. Good sceen as far as CB screens go. $299 at Dell or Newegg. I had an Acer C720 and I think the extra $100 for the Dell is worth is.

  7. This fails the test that most chromebooks do: Is it better than an Acer C720. At $50 more, with worse performance and similar battery life, the answer is clearly ‘No!’.

  8. By the looks of that flap on the side, I assume the sd cards seats completely inside and is then concealed by the flap? That is a nice touch for leaving a card in at all times if for nothing else than storing music and movies for offline use and temporarily dumping pictures from a camera.

    Does the Asus 200 also seat flush, or does it stick out a noticeable amount?

  9. So…is there any new chromebook that is out…or coming out that is better than the C720 in terms of cpu performance? Doesn’t seem like we’re getting better specs on these little cheap laptops…only worse. Is there one I should be watching for besides the C720? 4GB and dual boot capable preferred.

    1. No, and there won’t be. At least until Broadwell is fully released (2015). Even then, I’m not sure we’ll see a $200 broadwell chromebook; it seems that the atom-celerons are the new low-end, and I feel there’s a good chance any low-end broadwell CPU device will be priced a level above them (eg, $250/$299). Although *hopefully* Acer will do a c730 that is a direct haswell>broadwell replacement and keep the price.

      There IS the i3 c720 that is a bit faster than the regular one, but much worse value. The 4GB c720 is where it is at for value IMO. And has been for a long while.

  10. I think 16Gb storage is OK on a Chromebook. 32 Gives a nice bit of headroom but 16 is fine. It’s a different paradigm from Windows or OSX. The idea is not to keep permanent storage on the system but instead use the cloud. ChromeOS doesn’t suffer bitrot and sludge accumulation like Windows has historically either.
    Perhaps Win8+ will be better in this regard. It’s my primary worry about the Windows systems designed to compete with ChromeOS and Android using similar hardware and pricing.
    I guess we’ll find out in a couple of years.
    For Chromebooks I don’t plan on replacing my c720 Acer until the common chips come back up at least on par with the 2955 Haswell which is its beating heart. I also don’t plan to buy again without an IPS or similar quality display. I’m hoping next years crop delivers in both areas. I’m guessing the Baytrail successor will get us about to 2955 performance or close enough. And hopefully more besides Toshiba and Lenovo will catch on that better screens are a good idea.

    1. The immediate Bay Trail successor, namely Braswell and Cherry Trail, will focus more on closing the graphical performance gap, along with making the platform cheaper and more profitable, than significantly improving CPU performance but will be closely followed by the complete architecture update in about half a year later with the Goldmont architecture based Broxton platform…

      Mind, Intel is fairly behind in terms of graphical performance compared to the competition and even the 2955U in the C720 is not really any better in that regard but Braswell/Cherry Trail will not only move on to the same 14nm FAB as Broadwell but will also be basing its GMA on the same Gen 8 GPU and scaled to 8/16 EUs… The 2955U’s HD GMA is only scaled to 6 EUs with Gen 7 GPU for a basic comparison, while the present Bay Trail GMA is scaled to 4 EUs and also Gen 7 GPU…

      So the upcoming Braswell/Cherry Trail’s will exceed the 2955U in GPU performance, maybe even rival the Ivy Bridge’s HD4000, which is also Gen 7 with 16 EU’s (Braswell/Cherry Trail’s max configuration), but only shorten the gap in CPU performance with the 2955U by less than half… Though, it will also increase the gap in cost difference as they’re implementing a bunch of changes that will make it cheaper for the OEMs to make devices based on the ATOM and it will still consume less power as well… So we should see a bigger price difference, even though Chromebooks are subsidized too…

      While Broxton should be the big update with a complete architecture advancement that should finally close the CPU performance gap between the ATOM and the present Haswell cores, not counting Broadwell and future Core series advancements, and further advance the GMA to gen 9 GPU for another big graphical increase…

      So, considering we won’t really be seeing Braswell/Cherry Trail updates until the second half of 2015 that we’re looking at nearly two years before we can really say there will be a mobile ATOM that could really be better in every way but they may be good enough within a year… especially, with a lower pricing factored…

      Assuming a better Broadwell counterpart doesn’t come out first… of course… as a small update to the 2955U already exists with the 2957U, which unlike most Core based Celerons has Virtualization, Wireless Display, Quick Sync enabled and a slightly improved GMA with 10 EUs instead of 6… and a Broadwell update should further advance it…

      Though, with Hyper Threading still disabled, it means a quad core Bay Trail can still perform about as well in multi-threaded applications but they tend to stick to dual cores for Chromebooks… and non-Chromebook laptops aren’t subsidized… thus the rarity of seeing a ATOM based Chromebook truly compete with the C720…

      1. Still Cherry Trail won’t defeat the AMD Mullins in GPU performance, except the E1, which is allways a monocore.

        1. Sure, AMD isn’t in danger of losing their GPU performance advantage any time soon, but it’s going to be a lot closer than it has been before…

          Back when AMD first introduced Brazos they enjoyed a multiple times GPU performance difference vs Intel netbook ATOMs, a massive 4-9x difference depending on which one ranging from the C-Series Ontario to the E-Series Zacate… but that advantage has usually been countered by a significant difference in power efficiency in Intel’s favor and lack of any real CPU advantage in AMD’s favor…

          Mullins and Beema are the first AMD APUs to finally get into the same power efficiency range, and really close the CPU performance gap as well, as Intel’s offerings but Intel still holds a efficiency advantage and it doesn’t help that AMD isn’t providing their SoCs much support for mobile devices…

          Like, Mullins technically supports Connected Standby but AMD doesn’t provide the driver support to enable that feature and the company is on record stating they have no immediate plans for the mobile market…

          So, while they have both started to really close the gaps in their respective advantages/disadvantages but overall, with the mobile market still dominating the present device markets, you are still far more likely to see a Intel based device than a AMD based device… Especially, in tablets and smaller mobile devices… and you can rule out any phone or similar mobile devices for AMD…

          While Intel’s next update is due out in less than a year after Cherry Trail/Braswell that is suppose to be significant increases in both CPU and GPU performance but AMD isn’t expected to offer a similar advance in that time frame… In fact, they’re staying on the 28nm FAB for at least another year and may switch tactics and switch to ARM based Cores as they have already started to do for their server system offerings…

          So we may see something similar to what Nvidia is doing with their Tegra series from AMD but it’s more likely AMD will seek their own niche market rather than focus on competing with Intel going forward… and that is basically what AMD reps have been stating so far…

          1. Actually AMD stated that they will give Mullins their 2.0, on the other side Beema is replaced by Carrizo-L

            Meanwhile VIA is another one who Intel is not looking since their last processor who are in test is already figthing with the Athlon 5350 and that is a LOT.

            An nVIDIA with their Tegra K1 were strong, but with their X1 they will be stronger.

          2. The X1 definitely looks interesting, at least as a general computing device SoC solution that can also apparently be scaled up to multiple SoCs (the car navigation system demonstration used two X1’s) but Nvidia has pretty much given up on phones and similar small devices… but they’re one of the few really pushing the limits right now on the upper range for ARM SoCs…

            As for AMD, I’m aware what they stated but the Mullins 2.0 update isn’t expected until at least next year… Note that it isn’t shown on their 2014-2015 Roadmap…

            http://www.cpu-world.com/news_2014/images/L_AMD_mobile_roadmap_2015.jpg

            Only the present Mullins is shown through 2015…

            While AMD’s focus with Carrizo is mainly on competing with Intel’s Broadwell U, it won’t go into any desktops (that’ll be fore Godavari) but it can do things like smoothly decode H265 while a equivalent low powered Broadwell U would struggle under a similar load… Most of the new features AMD is touting as bringing to market over the next year are primarily for Carrizo…

            http://www.extremetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Carrizo-FIVR.jpg

            The Carrizo-L update for Beema is a much more minor update in comparison and that leaves very little for any update for Mullens… It’s probably safe to compare what they have planned to what happened when AMD rolled out the Brazos 2.0 update…

            Mind also, most of their ARM plans were made after they initially made plans for the 2.0 update for Mullens… Meaning those plans may have changed and could even easily be cancelled by now as it would hardly be the first time AMD has cancelled or outright replaced one of their planned updates… So I would only count on the Kaveri and Beema updates to Carrizo and Carrizo-L respectively… and only the Carrizo to be a significant update…

            AMD also has been pretty quite on their progress with ARM based server systems, like virtually no mentions of the systems they had planned for release by the end of 2014, which they had described as key to gaining market share… So they’re either dealing with delays again, or waiting for better results before they make any new announcements, or are working on something else and are waiting for it to be ready before they make any new announcements…

            In any case, the original assessment seems the most likely if we are ever to see AMD really make any serious attempts towards the mobile range of the mobile market, but we’ll see…

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