We've always admired the Google Chromebook laptop concept and its attempt to deliver an affordable, easy to use, online-focused platform. Problem is, every manufacturer (ignoring Google itself with the ultra-expensive Pixel model) has shoehorned poor quality screens into cheap, plasticky bodies that have been woeful to use.
Until now. Ok, so the Toshiba Chromebook 2 (CB30-B-104 for its full codename) hardly ups the build quality ante, which is still plasticky and a reflection of its affordable price point, but the inclusion of a Full HD display makes a huge difference. Not just because of resolution but, crucially, because the viewing angles are useable, avoiding that contrast fall-off to the edges - something that's lacked from almost every previous Chromebook offering.
With Google Chrome OS improving its online and offline offering, has the Toshiba Chromebook 2 finally cracked the affordable laptop market? We've been living with one as our day-to-day laptop for a long weekend to find out.
An online experience
The Chromebook 2's £270 price point makes it a little more expensive than some earlier Chromebook models, but justifiably so. It's still on the right side of affordable, making it an ideal laptop for word processing, browsing and some specific app-led tasks.
But don't forget that this is not a Windows PC, instead Chromebooks run Google Chrome OS, which is a bit like a browser on steroids with a desktop. You can still store local files (albeit not loads, with only 16GB storage) and do the majority of what you need, but the focus is on Google Drive - Google's cloud-based storage system, with 100GB free for two years included - where Google Documents can be created, edited by yourself (and multiple others in real-time if you wish) without the need to buy into additional software installs. Add quick and easy sync to other Google services, such as Gmail and Calendar, and everything is readily available at your fingertips.
But the lack of additional software will be an issue for some users. On board is Chrome Web Store, which offers some straightforward apps, but there is nothing complex like Photoshop for editing, Steam for gaming, or other such well-known apps. Some third parties have got on board, though, with Spotify a core example that is available.
For us the software limitations were a problem: we had to keep switching between Macbook and Chromebook to get some of our work tasks completed, but that comes with the territory. If you're a student and need to read, write and browse then all the basics are covered - plus competent media playback is no problem (note: there's no optical drive).
However, at this price point don't expect the world when it comes to build quality, as the Toshiba Chromebook 2 is a plasticky 13.3-inch laptop.
Not that we were expecting premium metal or anything. To be fair, it looks fine: the exterior lid has a textured finish that captures the light to give a shimmering image, while the grey-silver colour isn't glossy so avoids catching fingerprints and excess grime.
There are competent numbers of ports on board too: one USB 3.0 keeps things swift (there a USB 2.0 socket on the opposite side), a full size SD card reader is handy for dragging pictures from a camera card, while an HDMI out port makes linking to an external monitor or TV nice and easy for presentations and media playback at a larger scale. There's no Ethernet port, but this Chromebook is all about mobility and wireless connectivity.
And with a new fanless Intel Celeron processor at its core, mobility is no problem: the 1.35kg weight and 19.3mm thickness make sure of that. It's not the thinnest or lightest laptop on the market, but the weight is almost identical to the 13-inch MacBook Air, which goes to show just how much lighter it is than the earlier Chromebook models, including the original Toshiba Chromebook.
Full HD screen
With a smaller and lighter design than many other Chromebooks that we've seen, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 is already in a positive position. But its 1920 x 1080 resolution Full HD screen excels it further in the Chromebook hierarchy.
Not just because it delivers a crisp image, but because the viewing angles are sufficient to view the screen in all the usual working positions. Earlier Chromebooks had terrible angles of view where the contrast would fall off to such extremes that the exacting face-on position required to work with was a pain. It's the main thing we've always loathed about Chrombooks, but Toshiba has finally fixed that issue (ignoring, that is, the pricey Google Pixel and, to some extent, HP Chromebook 11 - both of which were somewhat successful in this regard).
The Toshiba Chromebook 2's screen has a warm colour cast, but not unpleasantly so, and our only real criticism is the glossy finish making for reflections. Not ideal for outdoor use, but there are quick access brightness adjustment keys that can help - and help to conserve the battery life too.
We've already alluded to performance and that the Chromebook isn't a platform for heavyweight tasks, but the dual 2.16GHz Intel Celeron N2840 processor and 4GB RAM pairing inside this Toshiba is ample to handle everything we've needed. Unlike with the paltry HP Chromebook 11, the Chromebook 2 won't struggle with simple tasks like having a dozen browser tabs open - but it can be a little slow to engage a new tab, or exhibit some lag when inputting text.
On the sound front the concealed speakers work really well, pinging sound towards the ears while avoiding distortion issues. Don't expect giant bass, of course, but plug a pair of headphones into the 3.5mm jack and things sound better yet.
We're also really happy with the typing experience, with enough resistance from each key providing the level of feedback we'd expect from a higher spec keyboard. There's nothing fancy like back-lighting for nighttime viewing, but the quick access function keys along the top are great for productivity - from the all window display, to full screen toggle, forward/back/refresh keys, alongside brightness and volume adjustment.
However, not everything is quite perfect. The dual-antenna Wi-Fi system has found our dual band router problematic, with the connection often dipping in and out to the detriment of browsing.
The second problem is battery life, which is so-so at best, offering around five active hours without the power cable plugged in. Dim the screen, go light on tasks and we've been able to stretch to seven hours - but that's still a lot less than we're used to when using our MacBook Air.
We have often bemoaned Chromebook screens for their poor viewing angles, but the Toshiba Chromebook 2 CB30-B-104 makes significant inroads into rectifying the issue: not only does it offer great viewing angles, it does so in glorious 1920 x 1080 resolution. And Full HD looks great.
There are still the usual Chromebook criticisms though: the lack of distinct apps will be a problem for some users, the plastic build quality isn't up to much, and battery life is so-so at best. In this Toshiba case a fussy Wi-Fi connectivity proved unreliable for us, and the slightly reflective glossy screen is something we could have done without.
With that said, at this price point the Toshiba Chromebook 2 is easily the best in its category. It's affordable, simple to use, up to speed with online and offline functionality, and shows why such Chrome OS devices are proving so popular. Finally, a Chromebook worth buying.