Samsung’s Chromebook Plus sets the pace for Chromebooks at school with an unequaled combination of size, weight and versatility. It may cost more than plain utilitarian systems, but it’s a powerful and versatile Chromebook that punches above its weight. And, a more powerful model is on the way.
At 8.7 by 11.0-inches and 0.6-inches thick, the 2.4-pound (2.7-pounds with its small AC adapter) Chromebook Plus is significantly smaller and lighter than either the Acer C731T or Asus C202, in spite of the fact that the Chromebook Plus has a slightly bigger screen. In fact, the Chromebook Plus’s dull silver case is only marginally thicker and heavier than the Asus Flip C100A, a convertible Chromebook with a similar design that has a smaller 10.1-inch screen versus 12.3-inchs for the Chromebook Plus.
Despite its slim profile, the system is a convertible notebook with a 360-degree hinge that allows it to assume several computing profiles. It can be a traditional keyboard-centric system, but if you want a tablet, flip the screen over. You can even set it up on a tabletop in tent orientation or with the keyboard facing down and speakers facing up for presentations or small-group video watching.
Its hinge action is smooth, the display doesn’t wobble too much when you tap it and the display locks in place when it’s set to tablet mode. Overall, the system feels good in the hand as a slate and its 18.5-mm keys are easy on the fingers.
Just like Flip, the Chromebook Plus has a tough metallic skin over a strong internal frame to protect it from damage. Unlike the C202 and the C731T, the Chromebook Plus is not Mil-Std 810G certified for rugged use.
It lacks the Celeron processor that many other Chromebooks use and instead has the RockChip OP1 ARM-based six-core chip that runs at 2GHz. An evolutionary update of the RockChip used in the Asus Flip C100A, it’s faster and has more computing cores to work with, yet doesn’t overwhelm the battery.
In addition to the $450 Plus model I looked at, Samsung plans an all-black $550 Pro model that’s aimed at businesses, but just might be the ultimate teacher or administrator’s system. It uses an Intel Core m3 processor that runs at between 1- and 2.2GHz, but otherwise mirrors the Plus system.
Either way, the systems come with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage space. Need more room for lessons, assignments and grades? You can add extra storage space with a micro-SD card.
As is the case with many newer systems, its ports are a mixed bag. The Chromebook Plus has a pair of USB-C ports, one of which is used for charging the system. In other words, like others, you’ll need to get an adapter to connect with a projector, display and accessories. It worked fine with a Minix Neo C Mini adapter, which also provided a pair of USB 3.0 ports and HDMI connections, but you’ll probably be using its 802.11ac networking and Bluetooth 4 wireless connections more often.
Like many new Chrome-based designs, the Chromebook Plus lacks a cooling fan, which can make it a more reliable system with longer battery life. While it generally keeps its cool, there’s a hot spot near the USB-C port while it’s plugged in.
The 12.3-inch display is a gem that is not only able to interpret 10 independent touch inputs but has a highly detailed 2,400 by 1,600 resolution versus 1,366 by 768 screens for the competition. In fact, it handles UHD videos extremely well with sharp detail and smoothness, but could be a weak link it its longevity by not having reinforced glass, like Gorilla Glass.
At an aspect ratio of 3:2, the screen is taller than most of the competition and might end up being a way for kids to hide from the teacher during class. It lets you work comfortably with three taller documents or Web pages at once, though.
Above the screen is a 720p Web cam, but there’s no camera in the screen lid. It does have a pair of microphones that can filter out background noise, something that’s usually reserved for more expensive models.
A big step forward for this class of Chromebook is the inclusion of the Chromebook Plus’s pop-out stylus for sketching and annotating what’s on the screen. It does a good job of mimicking the feel of a pen on paper, but there’s no way to tether it to the system.
The stylus software on the Chromebook Plus lets you define an area and save it as a screen shot and write notes, but there’s also a magnifying glass tool. My favorite is the cool laser pointer mode that leaves a bright blue trail that’s perfect for highlighting something on-screen. There’re also downloadable programs that can use the pen, from math graphic and drawing to note-taking and signature apps.
It’s more secure than most with a second-generation Trusted Platform Module. The Chromebook Plus, however, lacks a fingerprint scanner or Web cam capable of facial recognition for log-ins.
With version 56 of the Chrome OS software, the Chromebook Plus has one more trick up its long sleeve. In addition to including ArtCanvas and AirDroid Premium, it can run manyAndroid apps. Unfortunately, this doesn’t yet include the free versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, but Samsung is working with Google and Microsoft on an update to open these apps to the Chromebook Plus.
This is a Chromebook that won’t set any performance records, but it was more than powerful enough to work with those apps as well as things like MathWays online graphing calculator and the University of Colorado’s PHET science simulations. It scored 521.1 milliseconds and 9,675 on SunSpider and Octane benchmarks, slightly ahead of the Celeron-based Acer C731T.
Its battery ran for 8 hours and 45 minutes of non-stop video playing. This should translate into more than enough for a full day of lessons, assignments and Web searches with a little left over at the end of the day. Still, it was more than an hour short of the Asus Flip C100’s 9:20. The system was able to start up and be ready for class in 7.8 seconds.
At $450, penny-pinching districts will see the Chromebook Plus as more expensive than the typical Chromebook, but it pays dividends with an excellent design and a slew of unexpected goodies, like an ultra-HD screen, TPM security and included stylus. Look for the $550 Intel Core M3-powered black Chromebook Pro in the coming months that will have more processing power and could be the ultimate teacher’s computer.
When the Android compatibility software is ready later this year, the Chromebook Plus/Pro pair will set a new standard for school computers. Which you get depends on whether your outfitting students or teachers with what will likely be the best all-around school system ever made
+ Versatile convertible design
+ UHD screen
+ Thin and light
+ Includes stylus
+ Two USB-C ports
+ TPM module
- Doesn’t work with Android-based Word, PowerPoint and Excel apps