Toshiba is the latest company entering the Chrome OS(s goog) market with its Chromebook 13. With more Chromebooks than ever, how does Toshiba think it can stand out from the crowd? A larger but still mobile experience is the answer as this is the only Chromebook currently available with a 13.3-inch display.
I’ve been using a Chromebook 13 review unit as my full-time, primary computing device for nearly a week to see if Toshiba delivers. Here’s what I found.
The screen is the visible difference
Overall, the Chromebook 13 is extremely similar to its peers. Look at the Acer C720 series or the HP(s hpq) Chromebook 14 and you’ll find very similar packages with the main difference being the display size. Acer uses 11.6-inch displays while HP chose a 14-inch panel for its Chromebook. All of these use the same Intel(s intc) Celeron chip based on the Haswell architecture, so performance is nearly identical.
Clearly, Toshiba felt the market needed a Chromebook in between the 11.6-inch and 14-inch screen sizes and I agree. Smaller Chromebooks can feel a little cramped while the larger HP may be too big for some. The 13.3-inch screen on Toshiba’s Chromebook feels just right for all day use to me. Note that the Chromebook 13 weighs 3.3 pounds; step up to the slightly larger HP Chromebook 14 and you’ll be toting a heavier 4.08 pound laptop.
For a closer look and a size comparison between the Chromebook 13 and other currently available models, here’s a short video:
You don’t really get more room to work on the larger screen as compared to the smaller options, though. Toshiba’s display has the same 1366 x 768 resolution that’s become a de-facto standard for most Chromebooks, so everything is just a little bigger. I think that’s a missed opportunity; the company could have offered a premium model, for example, with a higher resolution display. And Samsung’s new Chromebook 2 — coming in April with a 13.3-inch screen — will have full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080.
As far as the screen itself, it’s good, but not great. I like the brightness and clarity. The display gets a little washed out when viewing at wide angles, however. It’s not an issue when sitting right in front of the Chromebook 13. Showing a web page or video with someone else sitting alongside you is where the problem creeps in.
The rest of the hardware is what you’d expect
Inside is a fairly standard Chromebook configuration, as mentioned prior. An Intel Celeron 2955U powers the laptop and is paired with 2 GB of memory. Again, that’s a missed opportunity: you can purchase an Acer C720 with 4 GB of RAM for less than this Toshiba Chromebook. However, even in my pretty busy workflow, with 8 to 10 browser tabs open throughout the day, the Chromebook 13 performed well. If you’re a Chrome power user that keeps a dozen or more tabs open daily, you could see some slowdown and page refreshing but for most people, 2 GB of memory is adequate.
Toshiba includes 16 GB of internal flash storage and the device comes with 100 GB of free Google Drive storage for two years. An SD card reader and two USB 3.0 ports adorn the sides and there’s also a full-sized HDMI port for connecting the Chromebook 13 to an external monitor. A pair of speakers sit under the unit but are fitted in the front right corners; based on the laptop’s wedge design, the sound is piped out nicely and the speakers are reasonably loud yet a little tinny. The integrated webcam works well for images and video chats. Wireless connectivity comes through the 802.11 a/g/n Wi-Fi radio and Bluetooth 4.0.
Since the laptop has a large display, there’s plenty of room for the keyboard and generously sized trackpad, which supports multitouch gestures. The keyboard isn’t backlit but does have all of the standard Chrome OS shortcut keys. The island style keyboard is a little mushy in my experience, however, I can type relatively fast on it and I don’t feel cramped. The trackpad took a little while to get used to as feels like thin plastic and makes a loud clicking sound when pressed. It’s not terrible, but I wouldn’t call it a standout trackpad.
Performance and battery life
Since it is a Chromebook, Toshiba’s new laptop runs Chrome OS. So you can’t install traditional apps but instead have a browser, web services and the ability to install web apps from the Chrome Web Store. As a full-time Chrome OS user, that works well for me and I’m easily productive with the Chromebook 13. From a benchmark perspective, the device tests well.
On the SunSpider benchmark, where a lower score is better, the Chromebook 13 earned a score of 312.5 milliseconds. That’s nearly as fast as my Chromebook Pixel which costs $1,000 more and scored 279.1 milliseconds. An Octane test, where higher numbers are better, yielded a score of 10,418 compared to the Pixel’s 17,298. Based on those numbers and actual experience, I’d estimate the Chromebook 13 gets you about 65 percent of the Pixel’s performance for a small fraction of the price. Toshiba’s Chromebook is also about twice as fast the currently available ARM-based Chromebooks.
I had no stuttering or lag when playing HD videos on YouTube or Netflix either. And 720p videos look nice on the large display.
The laptop also excels in the battery department although it didn’t quite live up to Toshiba’s claim of up to 9 hours. I routinely had to plug the Chromebook 13 in after 7.5 to 8 hours of use. That’s a small shortfall to the claim and still provides what I’d call “all day” battery life. Your run time may vary based on the activities you do and your preferred screen brightness. My work was done with the screen set at 70 percent brightness.
Plastic, plastic, plastic
The biggest issue I have with the Chromebook 13 is the overall build. The entire device is plastic, as are others in this price range. The plastic just feels thinner and cheaper by comparison. You can easily flex the display by twisting on the top two corners, for example. The wrist rests give in a little when placing your hands in a typing position. And I can easily flex the base of the device by pushing down along the left and right of the keyboard. It just feels cheap.
Granted, this Chromebook has an MSRP of $299 direct from Toshiba and can be found online for $279 or less. So you shouldn’t expect a titanium or aluminum case in the Chromebook 13. Compared to other Chromebooks, however, the casing material just seems a smidge flimsy.
To buy or not to buy
Would the plastic feel stop me from buying the Chromebook 13?
Probably not, especially if I wanted a larger display and this one hits the sweet spot for me. However, we now know that for $100 more next month, Samsung will be offering a Chromebook with a better 13.3-inch screen.
The big difference and unknown there is that Samsung’s Chromebook 2 will use a ARM-based processor, not one from Intel and we don’t yet know how it will perform. For now then, the king of 13.3-inch Chromebooks is Toshiba.