Toshiba Chromebook 2 review - this is the Chromebook to buy

Toshiba serves up a Chromebook with a full IPS HD screen, partnered with a very tempting price

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We’ve grown to love Google’s Chrome OS over the years, but the ever-multiplying ranks of low-cost Chromebooks generally share one major shortcoming – they're usually endowed with a distinctly iffy screen, with only the HP Chromebook 11  and Chromebook Pixel packing in a good-quality display. The 13.3in Toshiba Chromebook 2 gives us reason to be cheerful, however: there’s now a delicious new Full HD model.

Toshiba Chromebook 2 review: design

Just like the original version, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 has more than a little whiff of the MacBook Air about it – albeit it with a little less finesse. It's finished in silver plastic, shot through with a subtle faux-metal sparkle, and it has emerged a touch slimmer and more svelte in 2015. Toshiba has primped and preened the overall design to make it look even more like a sub-£300 Ultrabook and, what’s more, the weight has dropped from 1.5kg to 1.35kg, which puts it even more squarely in ultraportable territory.

It’s quite the looker by Chromebook standards then, but Toshiba has clearly designed the Chromebook 2 to be more than just pretty. For instance, the textured off-white underside is a nice touch, as it stops the Chromebook 2 from slipping around on your lap, and since the lid is also covered with a grippy finish, you can carry it around in one hand without fear of dropping it. And where the previous model suffered from a little flex and creak in its plastic shell, and a spongy keyboard panel, the new model feels far more solid and tautly constructed. In fact, our only slight qualm is the super-flexible display – we’d recommend protecting it with a laptop sleeve or padded bag on your travels.

Sit in front of the Chromebook 2 and, but for the give-away presence of Chrome OS, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were sitting in front of a far pricier machine. The Scrabble-tile keyboard did feel a little too light at first, but unlike the previous model there’s no flex or wobble in the keyboard surround, and the short-travel keys have a pleasingly crisp, positive action which grew on us the longer we spent with it. Factor in the big, wide buttonless touchpad beneath, and the Toshiba doesn’t put a foot wrong.

Toshiba Chromebook 2 review: display

The Toshiba’s broad 13.3in display is the real surprise, though. There is a cheaper model with a 1,366 x 768 display, but our pricier model had the new Full HD display. And since it uses a good-quality glossy IPS panel, the Chromebook 2 can now lay claim to having the best display of any Chrome OS device aside from the Chromebook Pixel.

Our display tests saw the Toshiba serve up a solid set of numbers. Brightness peaks at a stunning 384cd/m2, bright enough to remain legible outside (if you fancy doing a bit of work in the garden), and contrast hits an impressive 1,056:1. The panel also covers a respectable 88.2% of the sRGB colour gamut with relatively high accuracy. Photographs that appear washed out on lesser Chromebooks look bold and vivacious on the Toshiba.

In fact, there’s only one downside to the Toshiba’s display: the panel tends to crush the very darkest greys into black. On the plus side, this gives onscreen images a solid, superbly bold look, but it’s a characteristic that means some detail in darker images and dimly lit movies cannot be seen. Given the display quality on most Chromebooks, though, it’s definitely something we could live with.

Toshiba Chromebook 2 review: performance and battery life

Toshiba has downgraded the Chromebook 2 in one area, though: the CPU. Glance quickly at the specification sheet and you might miss it, focussing instead on the fact that the RAM has doubled from 2GB to 4GB, but where the previous model employed an Intel Celeron 2955U CPU, the new model uses an Intel Celeron N2840. That might not sound like a big change, but it is: the N2840 employs a dual-core Bay Trail Atom architecture while the Celeron 2955U uses a cut-down dual-core Haswell architecture. In performance terms, the 2955U chip is more similar to a low-end Core i3 than an Atom.

The performance delta doesn’t have a huge impact in everyday use. The Chromebook 2 starts up in a flash, rattling through web pages with little difficulty, and it’s far faster than Chromebooks equipped with humble ARM-based CPUs. However, it does occasionally become noticeable in browser-based games, where the Atom’s lowly HD Graphics GPU struggles to deal with the demands of the Full HD display.

Put to the test in our suite of benchmarks, the Chromebook 2 lags behind its predecessor. Its SunSpider result of 611ms is 35% slower; the Peacekeeper result of 1,570 is 44% slower and the combination of a slower GPU and a higher resolution display saw the average frame rate in AlteredQualia’s WebGL Cubes test drop from 28fps to 8fps.

Battery life remains very similar to the previous generation. It isn't enough to trouble the best of the Chromebook bunch, but with the screen brightness calibrated to 120cd/m2, our HD test video looped constantly for 6hrs 55mins.

Toshiba Chromebook 2 review: features and connectivity

Toshiba has included everything you’d expect from a premium Chromebook. Bluetooth 4 and 802.11ac are present and correct, for starters, and the array of physical connections includes a full-sized HDMI output, 3.5mm headset jack and an SD card reader. There’s also one USB 2 port, and one high-speed USB 3 port which, as it supports Toshiba’s Sleep-and-Charge technology, means you can top up your USB devices even when the Chromebook 2 is switched off.

There's a 0.9MP webcam, which does a reasonable job. It provides video quality that’s good enough for video chats, but struggles with bright conditions. We had to angle it away from office lighting and bright windows to stop it from darkening images and obscuring our face completely.

The Skullcandy-branded speakers are dreadful, sadly. There’s not even the slightest whisper of bass or midrange, with the lower registers disappearing almost completely, and vocals were left sounding raspy and lightweight. Make sure to plug some headphones in, whenever you can.

Toshiba Chromebook 2 review: verdict

Toshiba has done a fine job with the Chromebook 2. We’ve long been hankering after a Chromebook with a top-quality screen, and the Toshiba’s Full HD display certainly delivers on that front. We could ask for a little more travel in the keyboard, longer battery life and perhaps a better set of speakers, but we’re just being spoilt – right now, this is the Chromebook we’d buy.

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