The Chromebook category sure is getting crowded these days, and Toshiba is back in the ring with the new and improved CB35-B3340 Chromebook 2 ($329.99). Despite having a 13-inch HD display, the Chrome OS laptop is sleeker and slimmer than its predecessor, the Toshiba CB35-A3120 Chromebook, and the integrated speakers are upgraded as well, courtesy of Skullcandy. It’s not enough to topple our Editors’ Choice Chromebook, but the Toshiba Chromebook 2($288.50 at Amazon) is a solid competitor in an increasingly competitive category.
The new Chromebook 2 is thinner and lighter than its predecessor, which is pretty impressive, considering it not only retains the same 13.6-inch display, but also upgrades it to a full HD In-Plane Switching (IPS) panel. The plastic chassis measures just 0.76 by 12.76 by 8.4 inches (HWD) and weighs only 2.95 pounds—smaller and lighter than the Acer Chromebook 13 (CB5-311-T9B0)( at Amazon), which measures 0.71 by 12.9 by 9 inches (HWD) and weighs 3.31 pounds.
The 13.3-inch display with 1,920-by-1,080 resolution looks fantastic. It’s not the first Chromebook with a full HD panel—the Acer Chromebook 13 (CB5-311-T9B0) also has a 1,920-by-1,080-pixel display—but it’s still impressive. Colors are bright and clear, the screen handles dark colors and grays fairly well, and viewing angles are pretty good, though there’s some minor color shifting when viewed off-center. For those who want to save a few bucks and don’t necessarily want or need full HD, there is a 1,366-by-768 version available for $80 less. The laptop also has stereo speakers, tuned by Skullcandy, making the Chromebook 2 the first Chromebook with a branded sound system.
Our review unit also came with a pair of Skullcandy Crusher( at Amazon) headphones, which are sold separately, but did give us a chance to test the sound, which purportedly includes optimization for Skullcandy headphones. The sound quality from the speakers alone is fairly good, with moderate volume and more bass than I expected from such an inexpensive laptop, but Toshiba boasts that Skullcandy headphones also get some extra optimization. I’m a little iffy on that particular claim, since the included headphones have built-in amplification, making it difficult to tell what, if any, improvement is offered by the Skullcandy sound.
The full-size keyboard is a basic
chiclet-style affair. It has Chrome’s unique layout, which replaces the Caps Lock key with a dedicated Google search button, and has a row of Chrome function keys instead of the usual F1-F12. The accompanying clickpad is also quite good, with decent tracking and support for all sorts of Chrome gestures, like two-finger tapping (instead of right-click) and scrolling. Truth be told, the more often I use Chromebooks, the more I find myself wishing for some of these same intuitive controls in Windows.
You get an adequate collection of ports. On the right are an HDMI-out port, a single USB 3.0 port, a headset jack, and a Kensington lock slot. On the left are a USB 2.0 port and an SD card slot that includes support for several SD formats (SDHC, SDXC, etc.). Unlike many of the 11- and 12-inch Chromebooks, this system has a deeper card slot, letting you insert a card and leave it, for more local storage.
Internally, the system has the 16GB of storage typical of most Chromebooks, since Google pushes cloud over local storage. The Acer Chromebook C720P-2600($299.00 at Acer) is an exception, with 32GB. The Chromebook 2 also offers dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which is the fastest commercially available standard, a welcome feature on a laptop that is so dependent upon online services. There’s also Bluetooth 4.0.
Google Chrome comes preinstalled in the Chromebook 2 , and it only requires logging into your Google account to give you access to all of your Google Drive files, Chrome bookmarks, and the same preferences and history as your usual Chrome browser. Google encourages cloud storage by offering you a free 100GB of additional Google Drive storage (good for 24 months) with purchase of the laptop, and a 60-day trial of Google Play Music All Access. Toshiba covers the Chromebook 2 with a one-year warranty.
Like other Chromebooks, the Chromebook 2 offers fast boot times, easy system sharing, and relatively nimble browsing. It’s outfitted with a 2.58GHz Intel Celeron N2840 processor and 4GB of RAM, which is a pretty big step up from the 2GB usually included in systems at this price. The extra memory makes for smoother browsing and less stuttering when streaming media, a difference most easily seen when I compare it to the Samsung Chromebook 2 (XE500C12-K01US)($309.78 at Amazon), which has the same model processor, but only 2GB of RAM. The Intel Celeron CPU doesn’t disappoint either, and the system manages to keep going with minimal lag, even when I have several tabs open, including streaming audio.
The system lasted 7 hours 4 minutes in our battery rundown test. This puts it within minutes of the previous model, the Toshiba CB35-A3120 (7:10) despite the fact that the new system has a smaller battery and the higher power draw of the full HD display. But while seven-plus hours is respectable for any system, it does fall behind the Acer Chromebook 13 (8:20) and the category-leading Asus C200( at Amazon) (11:14).
The Toshiba CB35-B3340 Chromebook 2 is an improvement in quality over its predecessor, with a higher-resolution display, better sound quality, improved components and performance, and a smaller physical size. But while it’s definitely a step forward for Toshiba, the category is more crowded and competitive than it has ever been. The Acer Chromebook C720P-2600 remains a top pick for inexpensive Chrome OS laptops, thanks to more local storage and a touch screen, and the HP Chromebook 11 (Verizon LTE)($249.99 at eBay) retains the Editors’ Choice crown, thanks to its integrated LTE.
Toshiba CB35-B3340 Chromebook 2
The Bottom Line
The CB35-B3340 Chromebook 2, Toshiba’s second inexpensive Chrome OS laptop, is a solid system with a full HD display, Skullcandy speakers, and 4GB of memory, but it doesn’t stand out in this increasingly competitive category.
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