Premium laptops running Google’s Chrome operating system used to be rare, but 2018 has seen several intriguing options. One of those is a refreshed Samsung Chromebook Plus V2. It sports peppier internal components than its predecessor, a sturdy 2-in-1 convertible design, and an integrated active stylus. The LTE-equipped version I’m reviewing here goes for $599, a $100 premium over the base model, which makes it expensive for a Chromebook but otherwise a good value for the features that you get. Drawbacks include a cramped, uncomfortable keyboard and touchpad, but there are also nifty fringe improvements like a unique webcam mounted on the keyboard deck. Overall, it’s a good premium Chromebook in an increasingly crowded field.
Sturdy…But Heavy, Too
Not much is beguiling about the Chromebook Plus V2’s physical design, but at least the drab gray exterior feels sturdy enough when you pick it up. Unfortunately, much of that sturdiness is due to the laptop’s 3.06-pound, rigid chassis. That’s about average weight for a premium Windows convertible with a 13.3-inch screen like the Lenovo Yoga C930, but the Chromebook V2’s 12.2-inch full HD display is more than an inch smaller.
More disappointing, the Chromebook Plus V2 is well heavier than its predecessor, which weighed just 2.43 pounds. Much of this is likely due to the additional hardware, including the LTE modem and the new second camera on the keyboard deck. If you’re not interested in these and other improvements in the V2, it makes sense to consider the original Chromebook Plus while it’s still on sale to lighten your load.
It’s a shame that Samsung couldn’t offset the heft of the new design by using lighter-weight alloys for the chassis, but doing so would have likely pushed the Chromebook Plus V2’s price above its current already borderline-lofty level. The result is a laptop that feels unnaturally heavy for its size.
That said, a benefit of the Chromebook Plus V2’s smaller display compared to the more conventional 13-inch screen size is a compact chassis that makes it relatively easy to wield in tablet mode with one hand, as long as your grip is strong. The laptop measures 0.7 by 8.19 by 11.34 inches (HWD), making it imperceptibly larger than last year’s model but on par with other 12-inch convertible Chromebooks like the Acer Chromebook Spin 11 and the Asus Chromebook Flip.
The display itself is a joy to look at, especially taken against the low-resolution, non-touch screens that grace most of the $500 laptop crowd. There’s none of Samsung’s signature AMOLED screen technology like you’ll find in the Samsung Galaxy Book2, but in this case, I’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference. The Chromebook Plus V2 screen’s full HD resolution and glossy finish make the colors quite vivid, and I found the color temperature to be slightly warmer (that is, with more of a reddish tint) than most other laptop screens I’ve seen recently, which should result in reduced eye strain. Be warned that if you don’t like warmer colors, Chrome OS doesn’t let you adjust color temperature other than in the special “Night Mode” setting.
If you’re considering buying the original Chromebook Plus for its lighter weight, note that it also has a higher-resolution (2,400-by-1,600-pixel) display in the rather rare 3:2 aspect ratio. I actually prefer the 16:9 aspect ratio of the Chromebook Plus V2 for taking notes in portrait orientation in Tablet mode, since you can see more of what you’ve jotted down without scrolling or flipping to a new page.
Two hinges allow the lid to rotate 360 degrees, so you can use the Chromebook Plus V2 in Laptop, Stand, Tent, or Tablet mode. Once you rotate past 180 degrees, the operating system automatically shifts into Tablet mode, which banishes the cursor and offers up the onscreen keyboard whenever you select a text field. I appreciate that Samsung placed rubber feet on the the keyboard deck to prevent sliding around on a tabletop when it’s in Stand or Tablet mode. The Chromebook Plus V2’s sturdy design also means that the screen bounces very little when you tap on it or write on it with the included stylus.
When you’re ready to use the stylus for drawing, sketching, taking notes, or other similar tasks, you can pop it out of its internal niche on the right edge of the laptop. It’s not a full-size pen, and it feels flimsy, even bending slightly if you try to force it in the slot incorrectly, but it’s remarkably full-featured for being included on a $600 laptop at no additional cost. There’s pressure sensitivity, a fine tip, and excellent palm rejection when you’re resting your palm on the screen while you write.
Second Camera, Generous I/O
One of the key additions to the Chromebook Plus V2 is a second camera. In addition to the main camera located above the screen, there’s a second one in the upper left corner of the keyboard deck, near the Escape key. This is especially useful for students who are taking notes in class in Tablet mode and need to capture a quick snapshot of the teacher’s whiteboard scribblings before he or she erases them.
The keyboard camera has a resolution of 13 megapixels (MP), which makes for reasonable-quality still photos in good lighting conditions. The top camera has a lower 1MP sensor, but in my testing it offered better video quality than the keyboard cam, which should come in handy for Skype video calls.
Unfortunately, the keyboard and touchpad are both cramped and uncomfortable to use for extended sessions. Although sturdy, the keys have very shallow travel, and they’re smaller than the keys on 13-inch laptops like the Yoga C930. I typed about half of this story on the keys before giving up in frustration. Note also that, like on other Chromebooks, the standard keyboard layout differs from a typical Mac or Windows layout. Instead of a Command or Windows key to the left of the space bar, you get giant Control and Alt keys. The top row of function keys offers the standard brightness and volume controls, but it also features Refresh, Back, and Forward keys for navigating through web pages, a nod to the web-centric nature of Chrome OS.
The touchpad is small and lacks physical buttons. Worse, there’s very little in the way of customization options, such as multi-touch gestures or sensitivity levels. This is mostly a limitation of Chrome OS, and it is similar to what you’ll find on other Chromebooks.
Input and output options are quite generous for a laptop with such a diminutive stature. Two USB Type-C ports are along the left edge, either of which can be used to charge the Chromebook Plus V2 or serve as video outputs if you have a DisplayPort or HDMI adapter. I connected one of the ports to an external 27-inch full HD display and found that the Chromebook Plus V2 had no trouble recognizing it and pushing smooth output to it.
Samsung added a USB 3.0 port, missing on the original Chromebook Plus, to the right edge. This will come in handy for connecting an external mouse or keyboard without having to use an adapter. The right edge also features the power button and a volume rocker, a common configuration on 2-in-1 convertibles that lets you turn the system on or off without rotating it into Laptop mode for access to a conventionally placed power button on the keyboard.
Rounding out the port selection on the right edge are a headphone jack and a micro SD card slot, the latter of which comes in handy if you need to supplement the Chromebook Plus V2’s tiny 32GB internal SSD.
In addition to the SSD and the LTE modem, the version of the Chromebook Plus V2 that I’m reviewing is built around an Intel Celeron 3965Y processor, 4GB of memory, and the Intel HD Graphics 615 integrated graphics that’s part of the Celeron chip. Wireless functionality comprises 802.11ac Wi-Fi, as well as Bluetooth 4.0.
Configuration options for the non-LTE version of the Chromebook Plus V2 currently include a more powerful Core m3 processor and a 64GB dollop of storage. Samsung offers a one-year warranty for all Chromebook Plus V2 models.
No Spec Surprises Here
These specs are relatively common for Chromebooks, since Chrome OS is designed to run on inexpensive hardware. You can find Intel Celeron processors in cheaper Chromebooks, such as the Asus Chromebook Flip C213SA. But nearly all Chromebooks we’ve reviewed recently in the $250-to-$500 range come with the same 4GB of memory and 32GB of storage that the Chromebook Plus V2 offers.
As a result, they all offer mostly level performance. Since most of PCMag’s performance benchmarks are designed to run on Windows and macOS and are therefore incompatible with Chromebooks, I relied primarily on subjective observations to gauge the Chromebook Plus V2’s snappiness. When it comes to common Chromebook tasks like browsing with multiple tabs open, watching YouTube videos, or typing up notes in Google Docs, I experienced no noticeable lag or sluggishness; everything felt responsive.
When it comes to switching between apps, opening them, or resizing windows, however, I did notice occasional lag. In all, however, over several days of real-world use, including writing part of this review, the Chromebook Plus V2’s computing experience was nearly identical to every other Chromebook I’ve used, from the niche Acer Chromebook Tab 10 tablet to Google’s flagship, the expensive, Core i5-powered Google Pixelbook.
You Get the Performance You Pay For
However, if you do plan to test the limits of what your Chromebook can do—perhaps you’d like to download an Android video-editing app or edit macro-heavy Microsoft Excel files (yes, Chromebooks can run Microsoft Office)—you may run into CPU and memory limitations. To illustrate this, I ran the CrXPRT and WebXPRT browser-based benchmarks from Principled Technologies.
The results are predictable. The Chromebook Plus V2 scored a bit better than cheaper systems like the $300 Lenovo 500e Chromebook and Acer Chromebook 14, but far worse than the Google Pixelbook and even the $599 HP Chromebook x2.
The Chromebook Plus V2 played a 1080p video file stored on an external hard drive for approximately 7 hours before its battery died, which is slightly less than the 8 hours that Samsung promises. Your battery-life results will likely vary significantly, however, especially if you frequently use LTE or keep the screen brightness at its maximum level.
LTE performance on the Verizon network is adequate. I tested it at a few locations throughout New York City using Ookla’s Speedtest software (Ookla is owned by PCMag’s parent company, Ziff-Davis) and averaged 18MBps download speeds and 20MBps upload speeds. This is more than adequate for casual web browsing and even streaming HD videos.
Several Intriguing Alternatives
An LTE Chromebook is a no-brainer, since the web-centric Chrome operating system isn’t very useful without internet access. If you frequent areas with weak or non-existent Wi-Fi and you can make use of the unique camera setup and convertible design, the Samsung Chromebook Plus V2 (LTE) is an intriguing option.
That said, $599 for our test unit is a bit dear, and we recently tested a strong alternative. For people who have constant access to reliable Wi-Fi and plan to use their Chromebook mostly in tablet mode, the Editors’ Choice HP Chromebook x2 offers better performance and many of the same features for the same price.