Following months of leaks, Samsung is today making its latest Chromebook official. The new computer is actually two models — the Chromebook Plus and Chromebook Pro — and is the first one built from the ground up with support for Android apps. It’s also the first Chromebook to come with a stylus and support on-screen inking. The Chromebook Plus will be available starting this February for $449; the virtually-identical-save-for-a-different-processor Chromebook Pro will arrive later this year for a to-be-determined-but-definitely-higher price.
GOOGLE AND SAMSUNG COLLABORATED ON THE NEW DEVICE
Google and Samsung collaborated on the new device, which features a 12.3-inch, 2400 x 1600 pixel LED display; 4GB of RAM; two USB Type-C ports, which support charging and 4K video output; a MicroSD card slot; and 32GB of internal storage. It has an all-metal chassis and weighs just under two and a half pounds and is just over half an inch thick when closed. The 360-degree hinge lets the device switch between laptop and tablet modes, much like many convertible Windows laptops available on the market. The only difference between the Chromebook Plus and Chromebook Pro, save for price, is the processor inside; the Plus has an ARM-based chip, while the Pro uses an Intel Core M3 processor. Samsung says that both models are rated for eight hours of battery life between charges.
What makes the Samsung unique, of course, is its included stylus, which can be used to write on the screen, grab screenshots, or as a “laser pointer” to highlight things. (Eagle-eyed readers might notice that it’s virtually the same stylus included with the Galaxy Note 5 smartphone, just without a button on its side.) The stylus slides into a slot on the side of the computer and a menu of options pops up on the screen when you remove it.
The stylus can be used to take notes in Google Keep, which are then instantly synced and available for search through Google’s optical character recognition technology. Google is also using its cloud services to improve the inking experience when writing — according to the company, it can predict where you’ll move the pen next, which improves response and makes writing or drawing feel more natural on the display. Kan Liu, senior director of product management for Chrome OS, says that the technology makes the Chromebook’s stylus more responsive than the Surface Pen used with Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Surface Book.
STYLUS SUPPORT AND THE FLEXIBILITY TO SWITCH BETWEEN MODES ARE A BIG PART OF GOOGLE
Stylus support and the flexibility to switch between modes are a big part of Google’s pitch for the device, which is said to work for both productivity and entertainment. It’s the same pitch Apple gives for the iPad Pro and Microsoft gives for the Surface Pro, though Google says only the Chromebook combines a desktop-class browser with the wealth of mobile apps provided by the Google Play store. Liu says that this kind of flexibility could make the Chromebook Plus and Pro more appealing to consumers, as opposed to the education and enterprise markets that have made up most of the Chromebook user base so far.
In a brief demo of the devices, I found the build quality and performance to be satisfactory. The display is very vibrant and colorful, and the Chromebook was able to run Android games such as Asphalt 8 without any issues. It’s definitely not something I’d want to use as a tablet for long periods of time, but it could be a good Netflix machine in the propped up tent mode. While the build quality doesn’t come anywhere close to the Chromebook Pixel and the keyboard’s typing experience is a far cry from the best you can get, both are suitable and appropriate for the Chromebook Plus’ price point.
I found using the stylus to be satisfactory, as well, whether I was writing or drawing with it. In my experience, it is on par with the Apple Pencil and Surface Pen, though not noticeably or significantly better. Google says that Keep is the only app that currently supports the cloud-based predictive technology, but there will be an API for other app developers to tap into.
Whether or not these new Chromebooks ignite a fire among consumers remains to be seen, but they do appear to be competent devices with fewer restrictions than earlier ChromeOS machines. We’ll have more to say on the Chromebook Plus and Pro experience once we’re able to test final versions later this year.