Samsung unveiled two gorgeous new Chromebooks during CES 2017, including the Chromebook Pro and the Chromebook Plus, powered by Intel Core m3 and ARM processors, respectively. These computers, identical save for the processors, are Samsung's latest attempt to completely redefine the Chromebook category. They're premium and can be used as tablets, laptops, multimedia machines or note-taking devices thanks to a built-in S Pen.
They're also the first Chromebooks to launch with the Google Play Store and access to Android apps pre-installed out of the box.
Yes, that means you'll get official access to millions of apps available from the Google Play Store (theoretically, but more on that later.) It's a feature Google has been testing with Chromebooks for a while now, and one that the company feels is ready for primetime.
We'll talk about how well that actually works on the new Samsung Chromebook Pro, as well as some of the Chromebook Pro's unique features, like its included stylus, and make a final recommendation as to whether or not you should drop $549 on it when it hits the market in April. (The Chromebook Plus, which we have not yet tested, goes on sale this Sunday for $449.)
Let's dive in.
"These computers, identical save for the processors, are Samsung's latest attempt to completely redefine the Chromebook category."
Short of the far more expensive Chromebook Pixel, the Chromebook Pro is, hands down, the nicest Chromebook I've ever set fingers on. The body's made primarily out of magnesium alloy, giving it a premium metal finish with some added strength. A large and comfortable multitouch trackpad sits just below the keyboard
I used the Chromebook Pro for typing posts and working through much of the time I had the review unit, and walked away impressed with just how well I was able to type on it. I still prefer the keyboards on more premium machines like my MacBook Pro and Surface Book, but the keyboard here is just fine. My only gripe is that it doesn't have a backlight, which is a feature I really appreciate.
Samsung included a microSD card slot on the left side of the computer, next to a USB-C port and a 3.5mm headphone jack. On the right side of the machine there's a secondary USB-C port, which also doubles as the charging plug, an embedded stylus, a power button and volume controls.
The Samsung Chromebook Pro's hinges are solid and don't bounce or or seem to wiggle too much while the notebook is in use, something that's kind of common with cheaper Chromebooks. The display rotates a full 360-degrees, too, allowing the Chromebook to sit in a tent mode or even in a tablet function, for watching movies or taking notes, respectively.
Speaking of the display, that's probably my favorite feature of the Chromebook Pro. It offers a super-sharp 2400 x 1600-pixel resolution. I own an ASUS Chromebook Flip, which I love, but the screen on the Chromebook Pro is so much better that I haven't even considered picking up the Flip these past few weeks. Text is sharper, games look prettier and movies are much more enjoyable. This shouldn't be too much of a surprise, though, Samsung's screens usually kick butt.
Android Apps & Performance
The Chromebook Pro I had to test still isn't technically a production device, and it's still running early software. Google told us it's loaded with similar builds to the M56 Beta Channel. Everything seemed to run just fine, though I did run into the occasional Chrome browser crash, and had a small period of time when the Chromebook Pro wouldn't recognize Bluetooth devices. It seems some patches have stabilized things over the past couple of weeks, though.
The real focus here is on Android apps, of course. They're a mixed bag right now. I installed Titan Quest, a game I love playing on my Android smartphone, but it kept crashing if I tried to resize the screen — something that happened with other apps, too. Some, like Spotify and Wunderlist, ran without a hitch.
I remember a couple of months ago, at least the last time I tried it on my ASUS Chromebook Flip, that Bluetooth gaming controllers didn't quite work properly. They do now, and I was able to play some games with my 8bit retro Nintendo controller, which was pretty fun. It provides a whole new element of gaming on Chromebooks that's more robust than ever before. Oh, one more thing, there's also a gyroscope and accelerometer, so you can play games that allow the player to tilt his or her device to steer just as well as you would on a phone or tablet.
Performance in general was just good. This is one of the more powerful Chromebooks on the market with a Core m3 processor, but my aforementioned Chromebook Flip with a low-powered Rockwell processor also cuts through Chrome OS with ease. Still, for and running multiple apps at once, it seemed like the Samsung Chromebook Pro was able to almost everything.
I'm currently drafting this review with 10 Chrome windows open, Spotify music running and Gmail open, and the computer hasn't hiccuped once. On the other hand, it doesn't really handle graphics too well. Google showed us a demo Asphalt 8, so I figured I'd test that on my own. It was jittery, which was surprising since that game is a few years old. Titan Quest, when I was able to get it running, was also laggy as I ran my character around the map.
Finally, and I address this because I was curious enough to ask Google – I'm surprised there isn't Google Assistant support on the Chromebook Pro. I asked Google why it's not here, and the company said that it wants to bring Google Assistant to as many places as possible but that it doesn't have anything to announce at this time. Kind of a bummer, since I think it would have been great here.
Don't call it an S Pen
The stylus is a neat added accessory on the Chromebook Pro, but I wouldn't go out of my way just to buy this computer for that. I often forgot it was even there, and only once used it to take notes on the Chromebook Pro.
It works well, though, and Google and Samsung added predictive software that tries to guess where the pen tip is going to touch the screen next, allowing for a nearly immediate response time. Samsung said it's not technically calling this an "S Pen" because it doesn't have the same software offered on Samsung's "Note" products, but there is a suite available.
When you eject the pen out of the side of the Chromebook Pro — it pops out just like on a Galaxy Note — a menu opens with several options including the ability to capture the screen, capture part of the display, magnify part of the screen, use the stylus as a laser pointer and, of course, quick access to Google Keep. I like that last part, since it means the notes I took were saved automatically to Google Keep. Unlike the S Pen, though, there aren't buttons on the stylus, so you can't use them to quickly erase content or access an app.
The stylus works good enough, as I said, I just wouldn't make it my primary reason for buying the computer.
Battery life has been phenomenal in my tests. I never really worried about it during the week and just plugged it in from time to time to cap it off. As I write this right now, I've had it unplugged for exactly two hours and it's down to 77 percent battery life left. This is pretty par for the course for the Chromebooks I've used, which can usually last me about two workdays before needing much of a charge. I'm impressed with the Chromebook Pro, though, because it has more power under the hood and a much better screen than my Chromebook Flip.
I think most folks are going to be able to get through a full day of use no problem, which means you should feel confident taking the Chromebook Flip on an airplane for a cross country trip without having to charge the device mid-flight, probably even if you board the plane with half a charge. Your mileage is going to vary depending on what you do, though. I'm mostly browsing the web and typing, but playing graphics-intensive games is going to drain your juice a bit faster.
I love my Chromebook Flip and I didn't think I was in the market for an upgrade. I take that computer with me when I want something really light, or if I've forgotten to charge my iPad Pro. When I really need to get work done, though, I still rely on my MacBook Pro or Surface Book, both of which cost well more than twice the price of this Chromebook Pro.
On the one hand I love this computer and I recommend it to anyone in the market for a Chromebook. It's one of the best out there, if not the best, so long as you don't mind the price. On the other, the $550 price tag kind of scares me a bit.
You can get a decent Windows 10 machine for that price, probably one with a Core i5 processor and a touchscreen display if you get a good sale. You might even get full SD ports and USB ports; sure, they're aging, but they're still convenient to a lot of us "Pro" users. No, it won't be as thin and light, and the screen is probably going to be a much lower-resolution, but you'll have the power of Windows 10, which I think is more powerful than access to the Google Play Store.
If that's not much of a concern, you know what you're buying and you have the budget, then the Chromebook Pro is a no-brainer. It's a phenomenal machine that'll cater to students just as well as it will to road warriors and casual users. The access to Android apps is definitely appreciated, even if they aren't all yet optimized to run on computers just yet, and the stylus is a nice bonus.
Disclosure: Samsung and Google provided us with a pre-production review unit of the Samsung Chromebook Pro. Todd used it between January 26 and February 9, often as his primary machine. The Chromebook Pro will be returned to Google after testing.