Toshiba Chromebook review

Toshiba is the latest company to enter the Chromebook market with the aptly named Toshiba Chromebook. It's a larger device than most Chromebooks that have gone before it, offering a 13.3-inch screen in the familiar budget laptop format. Only the HP Pavilion 14 can boast a bigger screen.

As with most of these machines there are limitations to core power that make us question whether the Chromebook's Google OS has a place in among the bustling Android and Windows market. What it has on its side is price: at £249 it's an affordable desktop replacement.

The big questions are whether Toshiba has got what it takes to complete against Acer, HP and Samsung and whether this screen size is the perfect Chromebook match?

Design

Designing to a budget is always hard and Toshiba seems to have done as best as it can considering the £249 target.

Weighing 1.5kg, the Toshiba Chromebook isn't too heavy because of its considerable use of plastic. It's around the same weight as a MacBook Air, or a touch heavier than the Dell XPS 13 - both of which are premium 13-inch models at the other end of the price scale.

It's just 20.2mm thick when closed too, so will happily fit into a bag when on the move.

The Toshiba Chromebook's chassis is covered in textured silver-colour plastic, termed "light gold" for some reason. At least there's no attempt at wacky colour schemes, but this Chromebook design isn't "fun"; it's budget business that's the name of the game here.

The lack of a premium metal finish is no surprise though. The plastic creaks and has some flex just like other budget Chromebook models such as the HP Pavilion 14, although Toshiba avoids the considerable gloss finish of the HP model.

READ: HP Pavilion 14 review

The Toshiba's chiclet keyboard is spacious and responsive, while the trackpad is big enough to assist navigation without too much finger movement.

Although it's no supermodel, the overall Toshiba Chromebook design is simple, functional and effective. It's among the best looking Chromebook options out there.

Chrome OS

Google's Chrome operating system is, at its core, a web browser with access to Google's browser-based apps and cloud storage facilities. There is a "desktop" of sorts and even a start-bar-esque navigation to the bottom of the display, but all these shortcuts will effectively dovert your experience back into the browser where applications are run.

The operating system has continued to grow and develop since its inception, with increased ability to work offline. Read and prepare email in Gmail, for example, or access various Google tools without a Wi-Fi connection.

However the core user experience is still much the same as when Chrome OS first launched a couple of years ago. Its online focus is fine if you live on the web and find that most of the services you use are web based. But there are limitations. You can't install "major" apps, for example, so no Photoshop to be found here, while other apps such as Skype aren't available. That latter point is a nod to Google's own Hangouts, but if you're used to Skype then it's a bit of a faff.

And let's not forget Android, Google's other mobile-based operating system. Android devices dominate the tablet and smartphone world and typically offer more power and versatility, so we can't help but feel it's a more accomplished system than Chrome OS. Those looking for the stripped back laptop experience may find the Toshiba Chromebook delivers exactly what they want and no more, but we like to get as much as we can from our devices.

Screen and specs

The Toshiba Chromebook's 13.3-inch display packs a 1366 x 768 resolution. No high definition here, but it's on par with what would be expected at this price point. It looks crisp enough for surfing the web, editing online documents and so forth, which is exactly what a Chromebook is all about.

The TrueBrite LED backlit display isn't an IPS panel so viewing angles and brightness are limited. Compared to a more premium alternative there's no question that the Chromebook isn't at the same level, but that's the penalty to pay for this price point. For indoor use it's perfectly fine, but nothing to write home about.

Under the hood there's a 1.4GHz Intel Celeron 2955U chip - the same as the Acer Chromebook C720P - coupled with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal SSD storage. You'll be able to expand storage further via the SD card slot and a 100GB Google Drive subscription for two years comes for free. So that's the cloud storage side of things covered.

You also get wireless 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, a 720p HD webcam for use with Google Hangouts, two USB 3.0 ports and a HDMI (type C) socket so you can hook the Chromebook up to a TV display - handy if you are going to treat this as a starting point for Netflix at college or university. Although an Android tablet and Google Chromecast might do a better job.

READ: Google Chromecast review

If you've haven't got a TV, then the Toshiba has on board speakers which are good enough when dabbling in a bit of music or movie action, but you shouldn't expect them to blow your socks off. It's a laptop experience, not a home cinema sound system.

Battery

As it's web focused, the Toshiba Chromebook's demand for power isn't as great as it might be from more premium machines. That's one of the benefits of Chrome OS.

Toshiba claims 9 hours of battery life per charge, but we've been getting longer at around 10-hours per charge. Without hungry apps running away in the background and draining that battery, the Toshiba Chromebook lasts and lasts. And then some.

As long as you've got access to Wi-Fi then the world is your oyster. If you haven't then you'll get even more battery life for a bump in work when on the go. Used on a long haul flight, for example, and the Chromebook is a solid word processing and email prep machine.

Verdict

The power and quality of the Chromebook continues to grow. They've come to replace Netbooks in terms of the market area they sit and for a certain audience that will be just perfect for their computer needs. Something to write essays on, surf the web, sort your email, or even to link to a TV to present at meetings.

In that regard the Toshiba is king of the affordable Chromebooks thanks to the long battery life, big screen and HDMI output.

But if you want your computer to do more, or to be able to use it more productively without an internet connection, then Chromebooks start to become less appealing. And with tablets and all-in-one devices further blurring the lines, our stance is still that Chrome OS won't ever be the true king.

Like Netbooks did in their day, the Toshiba Chromebook fills a need, but for how long we aren't sure. If you're seeking a moderate screen size then the Toshiba is better looking than the similar HP Pavilion, and the keen price is commendable, but if you're taken enough to buy one then you might find that you'll quickly outgrow it.



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