Chromebooks are a bundle of contradictions, budget laptops that are both weird and brilliant, underpowered yet potent. They pack basic computing functionality into the Chrome OS, a web browser masquerading as an operating system. The search giant’s OS and mobile computer spec are just a few years old, but companies like HP, Samsung and Acer already have several models on the market.
The other firms may have a headstart but the Toshiba Chromebook has come out swinging, the first with a larger 13.3-inch screen, plus two USB 3.0 ports.
Size and speedy ports aside, the Toshiba Chromebook is nearly identical to its competitors on paper. Looks, however, are a different story.
Save for the Google branded HP Chromebook 11, these frugal Google machines are largely lacking in personality. The 11.6-inch Acer C720 Chromebook is a nondescript merging of gray and black plastic pieces. The 14-inch HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook rocks smudge-prone glossy plastic all over.
An all-plastic, silver-gray frame, the Toshiba Chromebook sports a pocked surface on its lid and underside. Toshiba hasn’t pulled off anything extraordinary here, but rather employed its trademark budget design from its Windows 8 machines. While it generally looks bland next to slightly more stylish low-price laptops, it stands out among the largely drab Chromebook lineup.
A chrome Toshiba logo and a glossy Chrome logo make the final touches on the outside. Opening the lid reveals a rather plain-looking keyboard deck and bezel, but it’s the matte plastic that I appreciate most throughout. Not only does it give a slightly soft shine, it’s almost impervious to fingerprints and smudges. It’s details like this that go a long way in design.
An answer for everything
If you’re new to the Chrome OS, it might surprise you how much you can get done just working out of Google’s browser, nearly everything you’d normally do on a Windows or Mac machine. Granted, it all happens at the mercy of your Wi-Fi connection (like the MacBook Air, there’s no ethernet port on this Chromebook), but a sub-$ 300 laptop that can do almost everything a $ 1,000-plus notebook can remains impressive.
Full disclosure: I’m already a big time Googler. Gmail is my email of choice, and I left Microsoft Office for Google Drive years ago. Let’s just say I didn’t need much evangelizing on Google Services to understand the Chromebook’s appeal.
But what seals the deal for new Chrome OS users is how many of your daily apps have fully capable web versions, personal and work essentials like HipChat, TweetDeck and Spotify. However, some of the biggest names, like Photoshop CS5 have no web client, so you’ll need to warm up to a web-based alternative to fill the gaps (Pixlr). To get all your basic functionality can take some resourcefulness, but it’s certainly possible.
A native FTP client and VPN are the biggest gaps for professional productivity on Chrome OS, as well as . Beyond that, Chrome OS has an answer for every situation a Windows or Mac user could throw at it, as far as app support is concerned. Now, let’s see how Toshiba’s machine stacks up against the rest of the Chromebook pack.
On paper, the Toshiba Chromebook hews closely to the competition. 13.3-inch might be big for a Chromeback display, but the 1366 x 768 resolution of its LED backlit TFT panel is par for the course. It matches the Acer C720 Chromebook’s 11.6-inch screen and the HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook’s 14-inch display.
So the specs are similar but the dimensions vary and that’s naturally what you’d first. At 12.9 x 8.9 x 0.8 inches (W x D x H) and 3.3 pounds, the Toshiba Chromebook isn’t the lightest of the bunch. But again, this is the first Chromebook in this particular form factor.
Acer’s 11.6-inch Chromebook comes in at 11.3 x 8 x 0.8 inches and 2.76 pounds, while HP’s 14-incher measures 13.6 x 9.4 x 0.81 inches and weighs 4.07 pounds.
Basically, If you want something even lighter than the Toshiba Chromebook you’ll have to drop to 12.5 or 11.6 inches. Again, this machine is otherwise largely identical to its competitors – the devil lies in the details.
This is the Toshiba Chromebook configuration sent to TechRadar:
- CPU: 1.40 GHz Intel Celeron 2955U (dual-core, 2M Cache)
- Graphics: Intel HD Graphics
- RAM: 2GB DDR3L
- Screen: 13.3-inch, 1366 x 768, LED-backlit TrueBrite TFT screen
- Storage: 16GB SSD (100GB of Google Drive for two years)
- Ports: 2 USB 3.0, HDMI, SD card reader, headphone/mic jack, security lock slot
- Connectivity: 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
- Camera: HD webcam with integrated microphone
- Weight: 3.3 pounds
- Size: : 12.9 x 8.9 x 0.8 inches (W x D x H)
All of these incredibly low-power (and arguably underwhelming in any other setting) pieces of hardware can be yours for the equally low-power price of $ 279 (about £167, AU$ 309). Given the Chromebook’s inherent simplicity and heavy focus on affordability, there are no configuration options on offer here. What we got is what you can buy – which is not the case with Acer and HP’s Chrome products.
If you’re glancing across the aisle, both Acer and HP’s competing Chromebooks offer the exact same processor, amount of RAM, starting solid-state drive capacity, wireless connectivity options (save for one) and a webcam/microphone pairing. Internally, the differences here are quite subtle.
The Acer C720 is more petite, but it matches the Toshiba Chromebook processing power and storage for $ 80 less at $ 199 (around £119, AU$ 220). And, if you’re a stickler for on-board storage, you can double the SSD capacity to 32GB for $ 249 (about, £149, AU$ 276) – still cheaper, but still smaller.
On the other hand, the 14-inch HP Chromebook goes for $ 299 (around £179, AU$ 331), with a $ 349 model featuring 4G connectivity also available. (That’s 200MB of free data every month, powered by T-Mobile and exclusive to the US.) This clamshell also comes in three glossy colors: white, teal and a coral-like red.
Keep in mind you’ll get 100GB Google Drive storage for two years with any Chromebook you buy. Once that expires, you’ll have to pay $ 4.99 a month for access to that space 24 months down the line. Otherwise, I wouldn’t exactly count on that storage; it’s a nice perk, but Google is counting on you chugging the Kool-Aid for years down the line.
At any rate, Toshiba’s Chromebook offers twice as many USB 3.0 ports as its rivals, though it didn’t take much; two is still double when the average is one. Save for size and speedy inputs – which should come in handy for those external hard drives – these Chrome machines are evenly matched as far as specs are concerned. Let’s see where those internals get you during everyday use.
Since this is a relatively new operating system we’re dealing with, there aren’t many – if any – synthetic benchmarks to measure this machine’s power. So we’ll be relying on my own observations after a week with the plastic framed power sipper. That’s right, this thing can go all day.
Given that Chrome OS is basically a launcher for the Chrome browser, I ran all of my usual apps through Google Chrome tabs to test the machine’s battery life. Running over 15 Chrome tabs, including TweetDeck, two email clients, a private chat web app, and Spotify’s web player, the Toshiba Chromebook lasted 6 hours and 16 minutes. This test was conducted at about 70% screen brightness and with audio streaming to a Bluetooth speaker.
That’s not quite as lengthy as Toshiba’s claim to 9 hours, but most definitely demands your attention. Lasting over 6 hours running all of these tasks is a feat that most laptops only aspire to. Granted, we’re looking at a laptop running a barely-HD screen and one of the most power-friendly processors around.
If you were to disable Bluetooth and turn down the brightness a few notches, I’d say you might squeeze out another 30 minutes or more out of this Chromebook. Plus, I found that it charges super fast – about 90 minutes from around 5% to full.
Low-power in more ways than one
While testing the battery, I couldn’t help but notice that Chrome OS is most certainly not without its limitations. Stressing Google’s browser as much as I did produced some nagging issues, like skipping audio, unresponsive pages and slowdown when switching between open tabs.
I even noticed that Chrome, at least on Chrome OS, only keeps so many tabs active at one time. As I switched between several browser tabs during my testing, some tabs had to load their contents again before I could interact with them. In one instance, many of my tabs simply crashed.
Considering this laptop goes for less than $ 300, it’s tough to knock it too harshly for these hangups. For the general user – say, one rocking just one email client and doesn’t bother with TweetDeck – this should be more than enough oomph. But if you’re an internet power user like me, you might be staring at more spinning half-circles than you would like.
Unsurprisingly substandard screen
As with most Chromebooks, save for Google’s Chromebook Pixel and the Acer C720P Chromebook’s touch screens, Toshiba’s entry is packing a just passable panel. At 1366 x 768, 720p video looks just fine on this display. Watching video at 1080p on this machine is a waste of a buffer.
That said, colors tend to hang on the blue side of the spectrum, which does wash out some red video and web pages. But, for under $ 300, you’re getting a laptop that can play Netflix and Hulu Plus in HD (technically) with acceptable results. However, with rather narrow viewing angles and middling brightness, you might want to watch alone.
Just as the Toshiba Chromebook might struggle meeting the needs of the beastly browser user, this device is not intended for media mavens.
Shockingly solid inputs
Chromebooks might be budget devices, but Toshiba has its priorities straight, loading its Chromebook with a with a surprisingly snappy keyboard and smooth, responsive clickpad. Putting crummy inputs on a productivity machine like this would be a crime, a felony, even, but Toshiba is 100% not guilty here.
Toshiba wisely centered the plastic clickpad, leaving room for both palms on either side of the keyboard deck. While the keys have slightly squishy travel, they’re well-spaced and textured to prevent your fingers slipping around.
As with all Chromebooks, the top row of keys, basically your function buttons, are all dedicated to browser commands and Chrome OS functions. That makes sense, but I’m not so sure of the thinking behind swapping the Caps Lock key for one that summons the marginally useful app menu. I do like the over-sized Ctrl and Alt keys, though.
I witnessed zero issues swiping to and fro on this Chromebook’s plastic clickpad, something I wish I could say about every Toshiba laptop I’ve used over the years. It even performed Chrome OS’s small suite of multi-touch gestures without a hitch.
Unlike most mainstream laptops, you won’t find any bloatware on a Chromebook. Hopefully Google will remain firm on this as the Chrome OS grows out of its early years.
Google doesn’t allow for bloatware from its manufacturing partners, at least not yet. Then again, Chrome’s app ecosystem is still nascent, given it’s dependency on web apps. I wasn’t struck as hard by this, since the majority of my everyday apps have web-based versions, and I’m a heavy Google Drive user.
Until we start seeing more dedicated apps for Chrome OS. Google Drive will be your Microsoft Office or Apple iWork replacement. That’s fine, since Drive remains unmatched as a cloud-based solution for real-time collaboration.
For absolutely nothing, you get access to a rather robust word processor, a presentation creation tool, a spreadsheet app (which does pale in comparison to Excel for power users), a form creator and a Paint-like drawing tool. All of these web-based apps are enhanced by real-time collaboration through live editing, chat and comments systems. Some of these apps also allow for offline use, with your changes uploaded once you’re connected.
In a few (very small) ways, the Toshiba Chromebook is the first of its kind. This is the first 13.3-inch variety of Google’s laptop, not to mention the first Chrome OS notebook to come from Toshiba. It’s also the first with two USB 3.0 ports – this early in the game, Toshiba should take any firsts it can get.
Sure, this wouldn’t be the most attractive machine if it were a Windows laptop, but its build stands out among its bland brethren. And besides, that isn’t what you come to a Chromebook for. It’s the dirt cheap price, frankly. For me, it’s also the no-nonsense experience of it all.
Google understands that the majority of the time spent on computers is with internet-based apps and services. The company has done a great job of instilling that philosophy in its partners, and Toshiba is no exception. Actually, this may be the best budget laptop I’ve ever tested from the Japanese firm.
Surprisingly, the build quality on display here is impressive, managing a sturdy build in a plastic frame with even a bit of style. So the lid is a tad wobbly with its two plastic hinges, but what do you want for under $ 300? Besides, the keyboard and clickpad didn’t disappoint – something that’s common in the budget space.
While this Chromebook’s battery life misses Toshiba’s mark, I’m still quite impressed. Even for such a low-power system, 6 to 7 hours of endurance is longer than most Windows laptops can claim. Another plus is how quickly this Chromebook charges, meaning less time tethered to an outlet overall.
As far as software goes, Chrome OS has an answer for almost all of your everyday apps and services. The Chrome Store is slowly growing to meet needs beyond that of the general user.
So, what’s missing? On the software side, an FTP client would be nice, especially in my line of work. How do you think these pictures and screenshots got here?
Moving to hardware, I wouldn’t expect much more from the screen that sits on a sub-$ 300 laptop, but a little color correction could go a long way. Couple that with a somewhat dim maximum brightness and narrow viewing angles, and there are few issues for Toshiba to touch up here next time.
This Chromebook wasn’t too hard to stress out, either. My everyday workload seemed to be too much for this machine, given its dependence on the Chrome browser in lieu of dedicated apps. That said, my experience might be different from most. If you only browse with, say, no more than 10 tabs open at a time, then you’re in good shape.
The 13-inch MacBook Air Toshiba’s Chromebook is most certainly not. This laptop isn’t super stylish, nor is it the portable powerhouse you’re looking for. But what Toshiba managed to accomplish in style and build for under $ 300 is undoubtedly impressive.
If you’re a media nut or one who often beats up their browser, this Chromebook (or probably any, for that matter) is not for you. In either case, I’d suggest going for a budget machine packing an Intel Core i5 chip (Haswell).
The Toshiba Chromebook is what I like to call the perfect Baby Boomer laptop, not to mention the mileage students would get out of this machine. Looking for an incredibly affordable mobile computer that does, well, what you do most on the computer? This Chromebook is a wise choice.