The Samsung Chromebook Pro ($549.99) is a system built on firsts. It’s the first Chromebook that has an embedded stylus and can run Android apps out of the box, and both features add a ton of functionality to Google’s lightweight operating system. Throw in a thin, premium build and a vivid, albeit oddly shaped 12.3-inch display, and you have one of the best Chromebooks on the market right now. Being first, of course, comes with some growing pains. Some Android apps we used from the still-in-beta Google Play Store simply didn’t work well. However, even if you’re getting a Chromebook because you just want Google’s browser-centric operating system, the Chromebook Pro stands out from the crowd.
The Chromebook Pro is sleek but very minimalist. The lid is very plain, with rounded edges and no adornments, except for a monochromatic Chrome emblem and Samsung branding.The aluminum chassis isn’t as wide as you would expect on most notebooks, and it took me awhile to get used to the shape.
Our review unit was a silver preproduction model, but the final version will be black.
Lifting the lid revealed the 12.3-inch, 2400 x 1600 touch screen, which was a bit of a shock. Rather than the average 16:9 width-to-height ratio display that most laptops use, the Chromebook Pro employs a 3:2 ratio, which works great as a tablet but is a bit odd for a notebook.
You still get a full island-style keyboard and a trackpad, but they’re jammed into a chassis with very little room on the side. This is necessary in order to accommodate the screen’s shape. I found that the Chromebook Pro felt far more natural as a tablet than as a notebook, though I managed to get used to the design after several hours of use.
Because the Chromebook Pro is a 2-in-1, it can be used as a regular notebook, a tablet (by folding the keyboard all of the way back), a display (with the keyboard face down and the display pointing forward) or a tent (an upside-down “V”).
The Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA is a tad bigger, at 11.9 x 8.3 x 0.6 inches and 2.6 pounds. Acer’s Chromebook R 13 is heavier (12.8 x 8.9 x 0.6 inches, 3.2 pounds), but it has a larger, 13.3-inch display.At 2.4 pounds and 11.1 x 8.7 x 0.6 inches, this hybrid is among the thinnest and lightest Chromebooks we’ve seen so far — so much so that I forgot it was in my messenger bag as I carried it around.
Chromebooks rely a lot on the cloud, so it’s not a surprise that Samsung’s laptop is not bursting with ports. A headphone jack, microSD card reader and a USB Type-C port are on the left, and the right side of the machine has a single USB-C port and a slot to hold the included stylus. Because the two USB Type-C ports are used for charging, you can use only one port when the laptop is plugged in.
The 12.3-inch, 2400 x 1600 panel is among the most crisp and colorful I’ve seen on a Chromebook. When I took to the web to watch the extended, 1080p trailer for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” I could see all of the blue veins bulging from Yondu’s face, and Gamora was the perfect shade of green.
The Chromebook Pro’s display reproduces 118 percent of the sRGB color gamut, surpassing the 99 percent ultraportable average, and the scores of the Chromebook Flip (76 percent) and R 13 (64 percent).
The screen registered a Delta-E score of 1.0 (0 is ideal), which is better than showings by the Flip (1.6) and R 13 (1.1), and the average (2.2).Those colors are fairly, accurate, too.
At 376 nits, the Chromebook Pro’s display is far more luminous than those of the competition. The average is 304 nits, while the Flip measured 292 nits and the R 13 output 244 nits.
The screen uses a 3:2 ratio rather than a typical 16:9, which was hard to adjust to in laptop mode. However, it’s perfect for a tablet, especially one with an uber-responsive touch panel.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Chromebook Pro’s island-style keyboard provides a mediocre typing experience. It has just 1.2 millimeters of travel (we prefer 1.5mm or more) and requires 52 grams of force to press (we look for a minimum of 60g). The result is a set of spongy keys and, for me, more typing errors than usual.
On the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I reached 106 words per minute, falling just short of my 107-wpm average and with a 3 percent error rate, higher than my usual 2 percent.
The 4.1 x 2.9-inch touchpad is smooth, spacious and accurate. The pad worked flawlessly as I zipped around the web and used basic gestures like three-finger swipe.
The Chromebook Pro is the first Chromebook to come with an embedded stylus. The pen pops straight out of a slot on the right side of the computer and looks almost identical to the S Pen that Samsung uses in its Note series of phones, just a tad longer, a little thicker and with no button to activate additional features.
Popping out the stylus automatically launches a menu (though you can shut this behavior off) with quick actions to capture all or part of the screen, start a new note in Google Keep, or use the pen as a magnifying glass or laser pointer on the screen. I used the stylus menu often, especially when taking notes. Google Keep can read the notes and use optical character recognition to make it searchable from any device.
For instance, I could look for a grocery list I made in Google Keep by searching with the words “grocery” and “list” in the note-taking app, as well as with any item on the list. The same went for a note to call friends; I just had to search their names or phone numbers.
Google claims that it has used machine learning behind the scenes so that that there won’t be much screen latency when you write. I did notice some lag as I took notes in Google Keep, but I also found that my handwriting on the Chromebook Pro looked more like it does with pen and paper than on any other stylus and touch-screen combination I’ve tried before. The stylus is pressure-sensitive, which allowed me to make subtle changes in the lines I drew in the Adobe Photoshop Sketch Android app.
The speakers on the Chromebook Pro aren’t very loud, and they struggled to fill our midsize conference room with sound. When I listened to “My Shot (Rise Up Remix)” from The Hamilton Mixtape, Black Thought, Joell Ortiz and Busta Rhymes’ rapping was crystal clear, as was the backing guitar, but the piano keys were quiet and the drums weren’t as snappy as I’d like.
The Chromebook Pro is powered by an Intel Core m3-6Y30 CPU, with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of eMMC storage. That’s more than enough performance for multitasking. I had 16 tabs open in Google Chrome (one of which was streaming a 1080p video from YouTube) with no lag. When I opened the Twitter and HipChat Android apps, there was a split second of latency as I switched between tabs in the browser.
But the Samsung easily defeated its opponents on the WebGL Aquarium graphics test, rendering 2,000 fish in a tank at 48 frames per second. The Flip notched 32 fps, while the R 13 wavered between 20 and 40 fps.
When I played Asphalt 8, the game was generally smooth and playable, except for one or two spots that got a bit choppy.
Chrome OS and Android
The Chromebook Pro is the first Chromebook to support Android apps out of the box. Keep in mind that the Acer Chromebook R 11, Asus Chromebook Flip and Google’s own 2015 Chromebook Pixel had early support, and every Chromebook that launches in 2017 will eventually work with Android apps.
Installing Android apps is as easy as opening the Google Play Store (which is still in beta on Chrome OS, but Google says it will be finalized by time the Chromebook Pro launches in April) and downloading apps like you would on your phone. Not every app works, though. I successfully used Adobe Photoshop Sketch, Nintendo’s Miitomo, Twitter, Threes and Dark Sky, but Pokemon Go, Tinder and Signal gave notices that my device wasn’t compatible with the app. In the future, I imagine most major Android apps will be compatible with this notebook.
A lot of apps didn’t play nice after being resized. Specifically, HipChat and Spotify warned that they might not work when resized, although they generally did. A few times, they snapped back to their original sizes or just refused to change size altogether. Dark Sky didn’t have the option, while the game Threes flipped around the screen uncontrollably until it settled on a spot (generally sideways, which I didn’t appreciate).
You can have multiple windows open with different Android apps running. Swiping down with three fingers on the trackpad makes it fairly easy to switch windows. Just keep in mind that you can’t snap windows side by side as you can in Windows 10, nor is there support for virtual desktops.