Launched at CES 2017 during the Samsung press conference, the Samsung Chromebook Pro is a 12.3” thin & light laptop that introduces two “firsts” to the Chrome OS world: the ability to run Android Apps acquired via the Google Play store, and handwriting support with a digitizer. These features are powered by an Intel processor and packed into an all-metal chassis. The Samsung Chromebook Pro is the first of a new class of Chrome OS laptops. Let’s see what it can do.
Industrial design (very good)
The Samsung Chromebook Pro is a clamshell Chrome OS laptop, but you would immediately notice that it has many design elements coming from Samsung’s tablet line of products (itself inspired by phones), including the Galaxy TabPro S, which is a Windows 10 tablet.
The round edges and general thinness (display and main body) are very distinctive of the mobile heritage that Samsung likes to bring into the world of PCs. The Chromebook Pro is very agreeable to hold, as there is not a single sharp edge on the device.
At 2.38Lbs (1.08 Kg), this is a very light computer that you can carry around with ease and comfort. You back and shoulders will thank you!
Because it swivels at a complete 360-degree, the Samsung Chromebook Pro can turn into a very nice Chrome OS tablet. The way it is designed makes it feel very natural to hold when in tablet mode. Of course, it is relatively thick when compared to native tablets, but it is thin enough not to feel a bit odd like some laptops do in that mode.
As a true Multi-Mode portable, it can also be used in Stand, Tent, Tablet and Laptop modes. In stand mode, the keyboard should be disabled to avoid accidental key-presses.
Keyboard and trackpad
There are three things that are the foundation to any PC experience: Display, Keyboard, Trackpad. These are the “do not fail” pillars. The Chromebook Pro keyboard is a full-size one, and has the same layout as defined by Google (no CAPS key, etc…).
The travel key is more than 1mm, and it feels very standard. The keys are mostly flat, but comfortable to type on and offer a good grip.
The trackpad is about 100x55mm and is comfortable even if we’ve seen larger ones in the industry. Since Chrome OS doesn’t heavily rely on gestures, it’s not a problem at all. The trackpad seems to have a glass surface and is very nice to use. It is also very responsive.
The thing with ultra-thin design is that you need to make choices about which ports to embed. There is simply not enough height for a standard USB Type A connector. Instead, there are two USB C connectors (5 Gbps speed), one on either side. Of course, there’s a 3.5mm connector as well, along with a Volume rocker, the Power control, and the integrated stylus.
The lack of USB Type A (Standard) can be an issue if you forget your adapter and need to use a USB key, or connect to a printer for some reason. However, finding a cable is not difficult, and if you bump into this problem, it is probably worth getting a handful of cables or adapters to disseminate in your frequent locations and bags. You can get USB-C to USB-A (female) adapter from Aukey for ~$5 a piece
Invisible from the outside, this laptop has a TPM module for security, and an accelerometer + gyroscope sensor.
Stylus: a first for Chrome OS
Yes, you read that right: the Samsung Chromebook Pro has a stylus that fits into the right side of the chassis. it is well-designed and has a “clicky” back which has no real purpose, except to tell you that you have pressed it hard enough to insert/remove it, and it is also fun for those who like to click it with the thumb.
The pen’s tip has also been optimized for having a good feel. I do not use the word “natural” because it never feels like a real pen. However, it is not slippery and doesn’t feel weird. It is good enough that you will not think about how the pen feels on the surface.
The stylus is large/wide enough to write with reasonable comfort, thanks to the flat design that makes it feel as if it was a (round) pen with a large radius. I do not have any issues with taking notes or drawing schematics over multiple briefings or meetings.
Speakers (mild power)
Two speakers are located on the bottom side of the laptop. They are decent, but not all that powerful. If you watch movies in a quiet environment (home, closed office), it is perfectly fine, but at my (quiet) desk, I already have the volume set to “maximum” (it was at a maximum on Netflix too). The speaker is ~20 inches from my ears.
Samsung is often synonymous with “excellent displays”, and this time again doesn’t disappoint. The company is offering a high-quality 12.3” high PPI display (2400×1600) that uses what looks like an IPS LCD technology (good colors, wide view angle).
Learn more: What is PPI?
This screen has a 3:2-inch ratio which is more commonly known in the context of 35mm photos. In any case, the display is more “square” than 16:9 displays which are elongated to match movies. 3:2 has the advantage of being better for anything that uses vertical space, like web pages, email clients, books… most reading-based activities will benefit from a 3:2 ratio.
"EXCELLENT"The display delivers rich colors, especially in moderate ambient lighting. The maximum brightness that we measured is 533 NITs, which is excellent and means that you can easily work in a bright environment (outdoors) and scene with high brightness can be reproduced vividly.
In a dark room, the black levels (how deep blacks are) could be better – especially against the OLED display of the Galaxy TabPro S, but LCD technology can only go so far on that front. Nevertheless, it is very agreeable to use this Chromebook for video streaming in bed.
Learn more: LCD vs. OLED. Which is Best And Why?
Different applications will react differently to the 3:2 ratio. Netflix simply adds black border at the top and bottom for wider content (no cropping). YouTube does the same. Nothing unexpected here, but some video apps can decide to crop to 4:3 ratio, which is closer to 3:2. In both cases, I recommend using web experience, instead of the Android app. The web version is better and smoother.
Since the display has a higher resolution than 1080p (1920×1080), you can use 1440p or even 4K video streaming on Youtube. Both are absolutely beautiful. 1440p at 30FPS is completely fluid/smooth. 4K mostly works, but you can expect some hiccups here and here (I do not think it is my WIFI or Internet since 4K works fine on all other systems).
Software: run Android apps!
What Chrome OS is and how beneficial it is has been well documented. This Chromebook has every benefit regarding cloud-connectivity, ease of use and security as previous models. However, it is the first commercial product to run Android Apps out of the box, and this is a huge deal. Google started testing its Android container for Chromebooks around the last quarter of 2016.
"ALLOWING CHROMEBOOKS TO RUN ANDROID APPS IS AWESOME"Chromebooks have always been extremely simple and secure. However, that security existed because it was not possible to install apps, and offline capabilities were limited. In short, it had great pro and cons. In the past, some tasks that do not have good web implementations were off limit for Chromebooks users. Google worked very hard to remove the friction, and allowing Chromebooks to run Android apps is awesome.
This will close the gap between regular PCs and Chromebooks for many applications. Skype, (simple) Video editing… there are a ton of tasks that you would prefer doing with an app. Now, you can.
Android apps already run in a container, so they are quite secure. There is also a permission checker that will ask the user for access to resources when needed. While you cannot reproduce everything your Windows/Mac laptop can, Chrome OS has muscled up big time when it comes to app availability.
Stylus user experience (good)
Out of the box, you can take written notes using Google Keep. This works very well, and the ink speed and responsive is very decent. You can write, and draw. It is even possible to run a character recognition algorithm to extract text (and make search easier) if you want to. Keep in mind that this is running on a low-power CPU.
The second option I used is Microsoft’s OneNote, which is very popular as well. In OneNote, the ink is not as fast, but it is still very usable for schematics. Because the ink is slower, writing in rapidly using small characters is not ideal, and you must slow down your note taking. With Google Keep, the ink is fast enough to make small notes writing “OK” – although it could be better.
Obviously, a faster computer would have less ink lag, but you would also enter a different category of computers that cost much more.
Performance for the price: very good.
Let’s be clear, Chromebooks are not about “absolute performance” and winning benchmarks. I will go over the system performance just to give you an idea of what you are dealing with.
The Samsung Chromebook Pro is powered by an Intel Core m3-6Y30 processor (the same used in the Galaxy TabPro S), so it is optimized for low-power rather than peak performance. There’s 4GB of RAM (LPDDR3), which is more than enough for Chrome OS since it is pretty light (unless you open dozens of web Tabs…). This processor can run Windows 10 decently.
Chromebooks can be built with many types of processors, but a lot of them come with the same Intel Core m3-6Y30 as this computer. I have seen some that use a Core i3-5005U, which is a little slower.
More powerful alternatives can be found with the Core m5-6Y57 and Core m7-6Y75. The m7 is significantly faster (~20-25%) and HP is one of the major OEMs to use it. However, configurations with this CPU cost $800+ more than their m3-6Y30 versions (usually there is 8GB of RAM too). This is a very steep price for this kind of performance jump.
At the end of the day, this computer offers very good performance for the price, and that is probably what most people search when they look at it.
With a battery capacity of 39 Wh, the Samsung Chromebook Pro ($549, 2.38 lbs) is close of the 45Wh of the HP Chromebook 13 ($599+, 2.86 lbs) but the heavier Dell Chromebook 13 (~$640, 3.23 lbs) features a 67 Wh battery.
If you compare between those three, Dell sacrifices some portability for a better Wh/Lbs and better Wh/Price. If you have more extreme battery needs, this may be a good option to look at, if you don’t mind the extra weight.
As it stands, I found the battery life of this computer to be very good. It can be left for nearly a week without charging. Using it, the battery didn’t plunge, and with my particular usage maybe I would get 6 hours of continuous use which I consider to be very good. Keep in mind that OEMS have battery benchmarks that are often not realistic.
Since Chromebooks are heavily reliant on wireless Internet, your battery life would be affected by your network and display brightness conditions. For comparable performance, the battery capacity remains the most potent of all battery indicators.
At $549, the Samsung Chromebook Pro provides an excellent Chromebook user experience, a terrific design, and a very nice user experience. The ability to run Android apps should extend the reach of Chrome OS to a new group of users who could not do everything they wanted online. Google nailed it with this feature, and we expect it to get even better in the future. Add the sigital stylus to the mix and the Samsung Chromebook Pro makes Chromebook history.
"THE SAMSUNG CHROMEBOOK PRO MAKES CHROMEBOOK HISTORY"Price aside, this computer gives very good absolute web performance. Browsing it with feels fast and smooth. Sometimes more so than on a more powerful laptop. Keep in mind that as you open more browser tabs, hardware resources will eventually be scarce. In any case, it is fair to say that it performs better (for web browsing) than a Windows laptop of the same price.
It is always important to evaluate if a mix of online and Android apps can get the job done for your specific use case, but if that is the case, you should consider the Samsung Chromebook Pro.