Toshiba Chromebook 2 Subjective Evaluation

Laptops for the most part pretty much live and die by their subjective evaluation. No matter how good the specs might look on paper, if the actual user experience ends up falling short then at best we have a laptop that can only be recommended with some qualifications. For the Toshiba Chromebook 2, the biggest qualification in my book is going to be Chrome OS; if you’re okay with the limitations (and benefits) of Chrome OS, there’s nothing else on the Toshiba Chromebook 2 that’s going to be a problem. Let’s quickly cover the major items in a bit more detail.

Starting with the display, again, it’s awesome. When we get to the raw numbers we’ll find that it’s not perfectly calibrated, but it’s far closer than any other Chromebook we’ve looked at. It also has a great contrast ratio (above 1000:1) and the colors make images and videos a completely different experience compared to something like the Acer Chromebook 13. Just look at these pictures for an example of what I’m talking about:


Toshiba Chromebook 2 1080p on Left; Acer Chromebook 13 1080p on Right.

Using a camera to take a picture of a display is never a great way of doing things, and I did have to Photoshop the images a bit, but even so the results are telling. You can see immediately that the colors are different, even from the front-on view, but what really causes havoc on the Acer LCD is the poor vertical viewing angles. From above the TN display looks washed out, while from below it experiences a horrible color shift even to the point of inversion. The Toshiba with its IPS display doesn’t have either problem. In other words, the display is a winner and if you’ve been looking for a Chromebook with a good display that won’t cost too much (e.g. not the Pixel), this will do quite nicely.

The speakers in the Toshiba Chromebook 2 are decent and can get loud enough that watching YouTube videos in a group setting isn’t a problem. Toshiba partnered with Skullcandy on the speakers, and for a Chromebook this is probably as good as you’ll get. Interestingly, the speakers are fully enclosed in the case with no visible grille (the Acer Chromebook 13 takes a similar approach), but it doesn't seem to affect sound quality negatively, or at least it's no worse than other laptop speakers. The headphone output was also clean and got plenty load.

The keyboard and touchpad for their part work well, though there’s nothing exceptional about them. Key travel is a bit shallow in my opinion, but it’s better than the C720 in overall feel. The touchpad tends to work fine most of the time, but as with the Acer Chromebook 13 there are times where lack of performance can make the touchpad feel sluggish.

Interestingly, some of the worst offenders for sites that feel slow happen to come from Google, with Drive (and Docs, Spreadsheet, etc.) in particular being quite the sluggish experience. Open up AnandTech.com and everything loads and scrolls beautifully, but Drive makes me immediately yearn for a faster system. That’s sort of the irony of the whole Chromebook experience for me: Google’s own cloud-based tools can be some of the most demanding in terms of performance, and yet they’re the tools you’re almost forced to use on Chromebooks, which are frequently underpowered compared to other computing options. Then again, Office 365 running on my Core i7-4770K desktop feels sluggish compared to Office 2010 running on the same system, thanks to the gussied up animations; sometimes, less is more.

Moving on, build quality is decent but pretty much what you’d expect from a $300 laptop. The chassis is primarily made of plastic and if you press hard enough there’s a bit of flex, but nothing to be concerned with for most use cases. (I'm not sure I'd want a bunch of middle school students cramming this sort of laptop into a backpack, though.) It is also interesting to notice the difference in size between the Toshiba Chromebook 2 and the Acer Chromebook 13; both sport 13.3” 1080p displays, but the Acer chassis is about half an inch deeper and wider. I still prefer the feel of the Acer Chromebook 13 keyboard, but it’s really more like a 14” chassis with a 13.3” display, and there’s no real reason for the added size.

We’ve mentioned the performance aspect and wondered if there might be cases where the slow graphics could become a concern. On that subject, while normal 1080p YouTube videos played fine, 1080p60 videos are pretty much out of the question. You’d think simply dropping half the frames could address the problem, but on the 1080p60 videos I tried, stutter was so bad that in some cases frame rate was in the low single digits. 720p60 didn’t have a problem, at least, but that’s less than half the resolution of 1080p60. The Tegra K1 in the Acer CB13 by comparison was able to decode 1080p60 YouTube videos, as was the Haswell-based Celeron 2955U in the Acer C720 (albeit at the integrated screen’s 1366x768 resolution). Perhaps it’s possible to get 1080p60 working better with some additional software/driver updates, but at present you’ll be limited to 1080p30 or 720p60, at least for YouTube videos.

Finally, let’s quickly touch on battery life. Chromebooks in general do well here, and the Toshiba Chromebook 2 is no exception. If you’re looking for a laptop that can last eight hours off the battery, it will suffice. However, the “up to nine hours” is very much the best-case, and it’s probably at 100 nits screen brightness. We’ve tested a few other Chromebooks that do better, and the Acer Chromebook 13 in particular offers a lot more battery life in an otherwise similar package. It could be that the higher quality 1080p IPS display simply uses more power than the 1080p TN panel in the Acer CB13, but more likely is that the Tegra K1 is simply a more efficient SoC.

Overall, from a subjective viewpoint the Toshiba does very well, especially for an inexpensive laptop. There are no show stoppers, and the only potential gripes are going to be the slightly lower than typical battery life as well as the inability to handle certain graphically complex tasks like 1080p60 YouTube content. There are situations where Tegra K1 is clearly the better SoC, though outside of a few edge cases it mostly feels like splitting hairs. For people willing to live within the Chrome OS ecosystem, this is my favorite Chromebook so far, though the upcoming Acer Chromebook 15 still holds a lot of potential.

There’s also still that question of price – the Acer Chromebook 13 gives you basically everything except for a good screen; is the extra $80 for 4GB RAM and a high quality screen worth the cost? On most laptops I’d pay $100 for a good screen in a heartbeat, but here the difference is a 25% increase in price, and for some that will be too much to take. However, when you consider the fact that the screen is the part you interact with the most on a laptop, it’s a justifiable expense, especially for anyone that intends to use the device on a daily basis. There are far worse ways to spend an extra $80 when it comes to upgrading components in a laptop.

Finally, for those interested, along with a complete gallery of our test laptop, we've opened up the chassis to see what's inside the CB35. It's not particularly hard to open the chassis, as you simply need to remove the ten screws on the bottom, but note that two screws are hiding under the pads at the front of the chassis. Once inside, well, there's really not much to do. The RAM and storage aren't user upgradeable, so short of replacing the battery at some point there's no reason to open things up.

Toshiba Chromebook 2 with 1080p IPS Toshiba Chromebook 2: A Beautiful Display
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  • w_barath - Thursday, February 12, 2015 - link

    If you use crouton [ https://github.com/dnschneid/crouton ] to run your favourite supported distro under ChromeOS in a chroot, then you can use these tips: [ https://github.com/dnschneid/crouton/issues/1336 ] which I posted on the crouton GitHub page.

    This provides you with scaled virtual resolutions from 1280x720 up to 2732x1536, and also frees up between 400 and 700M of RAM, making the experience much more like a native installation. The main limitations of running under ChromeOS are A) lack of native WIFI control from the chroot, and lack of certain kernel modules so for example I'm unable to run the Arduino development stack on the C720, and I've heard that some multi-function storage devices and printers are unsupported, and things like DVB. My Wacom devices are perfectly supported though. Inkscape and Gimp run delightfully. Inkscape at 1920x1080 is a lot more useable than at 1366x768! Fonts are still quite legible at 1821x1024, and Netbeans IDE is a lot more pleasant to share the screen with Firefox at that resolution.
    Reply
  • jasperjones - Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - link

    Two things regarding your Chromebook reviews:

    1.) Your usual argument is that Chromebooks are suitable for moderate tasks/light users. However, CBs are also interesting for power users (which use it as a secondary/tertiary device). I suspect many power user opt for Linux on CBs. So it would be nice if you commented on Linux compatibility in the reviews. (I know, power users are capable of researching this themselves. Still, it would be nice to have thoughts on this in a concise review.)

    2.) Even for non power users, the issue with Chromebooks is that, due to limited local storage, you are basically forced to rely on "the cloud." I would like to read more about that aspect of the Chrome OS in reviews.
    Can I encrypt my data before uploading it? Or am I forced to give my unencrypted data to Google (and possibly intelligence agencies, too)?
    Reply
  • savagemike - Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - link

    I always laugh about it being qualified for 'light work' too. A lot of businesses run on Google services and applications. Contrary to much marketing hype you don't need Microsoft Office to get by.
    You'd have no problem running a small business or being part of a big business (depending upon their tool set) or writing the great American novel on a Chromebook. It's quite capable of quite heavy lifting.
    Reply
  • chlamchowder - Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - link

    I think it all goes back to relying on the internet (probably the most controversial thing about Chromebooks). Privacy is a concern, but speed is too. Fast internet is often ridiculously hard to get or very expensive, unless you're on a university campus or a corporate network. Internet access while commuting is even worse.

    Linux on Chromebooks - Limited local storage would present plenty of problems, and I wouldn't want to compile big projects or edit images on generally weak Chromebook processors. It might be tolerable for web browsing, but Chrome OS gives you that anyways. How is this better than running/dual booting Linux off a $300 laptop (or a refurbished cheaper one)?
    Reply
  • SM123456 - Saturday, February 14, 2015 - link

    @clamchouder

    You haven't actually used a Chromebook then.

    An average broadband speed is more than adequate, and other than for video streaming which understandably needs a bandwidth to suit the download bandwidth of the video stream. For people on the move, Chromebooks will also work well on a cell net Internet connections tethered to a mobile phone. For example Gmail and Google Drive, Docs, Sheets etc. have an offline mode which do not require Internet connection, and has transparent syncing to the internet when bandwidth permits. This and the online mode is far more efficient than Windows for syncing up to the Cloud, because unlike Windows applications where you have to download, edit and then upload the whole document file, Cloud based Chrome apps only download and upload the characters on the screen and the keystrokes corresponding to changes. This is how for example Google Docs continually saves your document to the cloud every 3 seconds as you work, which means you will never ever lose more than 3 seconds worth of work on a Chromebook come fire, theft, or damage - even if while you are typing your Chromebook is grabbed by thief or run over by a steam roller in mid sentence, and since the files are redundantly backed up in multiple geographically locations, even fire, earthquake or a tactical nuclear strike won't cause your data to be lost.

    Again, you don't need more than an average broadband speed, and apart from video streaming, it works well on cell-net Internet access tethered to a mobile phone, and you can work offline on most apps that you would use while travelling - Gmail, Docs, Sheets, Google Drive, viewing PDF, Word, Excel, image files, movie and audio files etc. . I don't know where you live, but in all but a very small number of locations, in most countries, Internet broadband connection is not only cheap, but essential for business, leisure, or anything else for that matter - if you can't get an Internet connection, it isn't worth getting a computer or starting a business. Cellnet Internet may be expensive in some places, but in most places they are not expensive for the convenience you get, and these are only required when you are on the move and you want access to the Internet - you would normally use a WiFi router at work and home to access your LAN and Internet at office and home, and one of the many WiFi access points found in restaurants, hotels, airports, airplanes, trains, stations, service stops etc.

    Chromebooks will run all Windows, OSX, and Linux apps out of the box without any setup. The best way to do this is to run them the same way as Chromebooks run all web apps - in the cloud or on a server on the LAN/WLAN - run Windows/Linux/OSX on a hot and heavy mains powered server (or old PC serving that purpose), and use the free Chrome Remote Desktop to connect in remotely. This works very well on an average broadband connection - no lag or stutters. For business/university/school use you would use Ericom Access Now, or an RDP Chrome App to access local servers without having to connect to the Internet https://www.youtube.com/user/ercm231?v=OkSn8xhl8e0
    If access is via the LAN/WLAN alone, it is always lightning quick.

    If you want to run Windows/Linux applications with really high end 3D graphics CAD workstation class graphics, then you need to use virtualised server GPU solutions like servers with nVidia GRID vGPU cards and VMWare/Citrix.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RbP5jsoyxOY
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYefdXMSGn0

    Using a Chromebook - Acer Chromebook 13 as shown in the first video, beats the living crap in terms of performance out of running it on a $1700 hot, heavy, and noisy high end Windows CAD workstation laptop with a battery life of less than 2.5hrs in CAD use. It simply cannot match the performance of the high end mains powered server and server GPU cards at the back end used by the Chromebook solution, nor the light weight, and the 11 hour in CAD use battery life, security, stability, ease of use, and much lower cost of maintenance and manageability of the Chromebook plus back end server solution.

    Besides that the best way to run Linux is as a server, and the cheapest way to run Windows desktops (in terms of maintenance staff salaries which is horrendously expensive for Windows desktops), and most secure way to run high maintenance Windows desktops is to run it virtualised on a Linux server - and use a Chromebook front end. Linux is a natural as a server, not so good as a local desktop, especially when installed on a low end limited resource Chromebook or a slow $300 Windows netbook with limited SSD storage or a a slow $300 budget Windows laptop with a large but very slow mechanical hard drive.
    Reply
  • mbhatia - Saturday, October 17, 2015 - link

    Can someone please assist me advising how I can lock an OFFLINE folder/file etc in a Chromebook...on an attached SD card etc. One needs to remain stuck in there because of the low internal memory and I while the Cloud portion of the chromebook is secure, anyone can take out the SD card and access the contents of an unsecured folder. There are apps for this Android and Windows and making a secure drive etc in Mac... how do I achieve something so basic in a Chromebook? This is the only piece of the puzzle missing for me in adopting this full time and loading it up with my data. Reply
  • Insomniator - Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - link

    Even at only $300 it bothers me to see you'd have to be concerned with video settings when playing something as basic as a Youtube video. I feel like that should not be an issue in 2015, even given the budget/basic segment this device is targeted for.

    The GPU should most definitely at least be able to play video at the displays intended resolution and refresh rate... its not like that is so hard when it is already mentioned that the previous chip is 2-3x faster. Just seems like a very odd and poor choice by Toshiba here.
    Reply
  • dli7319 - Monday, February 16, 2015 - link

    Part of the problem is that the html5 player is not wall optimized. On my FHD Toshiba CB2, I can play 1080p60 Youtube videos using their flash player and even 4k videos recorded from my OnePlus One locally but Youtube's default html5 player will stutter and lag all over 1080p60 or 3840p30 videos. Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - link

    Jimmy, who's recently pushed aside his core 2 duo laptop with its 480GB hard drive, returns home after using his Nokia 1020 for recording video. He plugs in the phone, that has the best phone cam you can buy (He likes shiny things), then drags across the video (I hope the Chromebook can access the device otherwise he's back to his Core 2 duo).

    A few seconds in and the device is full.

    Chromebooks = Pointless. They're only really suitable for people that MUST have the latest techie fad that others are talking about. Sure, yeah, ok, they're actually not THAT bad but lets not pretend here... 16GB storage is pathetic for a laptop based device. If this were windows it would be laughed out of the page even with 32GB of storage.
    Reply
  • iMPose - Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - link

    If Jimmy A) likes shiny (expensive) things, and B) bought the 1020 because it has the best camera you can get on a phone, and C) needs a computer on which to store/manipulate large video files, then he is not the target customer, and I suspect he already knows this.

    And that's OK. Chromebooks aren't for everyone. Don't discount a product simply because it doesn't fit your needs. Some people don't need more than a cheap, speedy laptop for web browsing, etc.
    Reply

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