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Samsung’s latest Chromebook Shows The Future of Google’s Laptops — But It...

Samsung’s latest Chromebook Shows The Future of Google’s Laptops — But It Has A Long Way To Go

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Google has an operating system problem.

Namely, it has one too many: There’s Chrome OS on its Chromebook sect of laptops, and Android on everything else. The latter is easily the more popular and successful of the two. However, it’s awkward on larger laptop and tablet screens.

Chrome OS does not have that issue, but it’s still, for the most part, an extension of the Chrome web browser. That means it is inherently limited in important areas, like gaming and offline functionality. It isn’t very popular outside of schools because of that.


The Samsung Chromebook Pro.Business Insider/Jeff Dunn

How does Google square this? By bringing the two spheres — apps and the web — together.

Last spring, the company announced that it would make the Google Play Store, with its thousands of Android-based apps, compatible with Chrome OS.

Now, after several months of preparation, the company is ready to push that merger in earnest, with a set of laptops that are better positioned to take advantage of the mobile-friendly software.

If all goes well, it could finally give inexpensive Windows laptops a genuine competitor.

One of the first results of this initiative come from Samsung, in the form of its Chromebook Plus and Chromebook Pro.

The two are virtually identical, except the former runs on a weaker ARM processor and costs $450, while the latter runs on an Intel processor and costs $550.

The Plus will also be available this week, while the Pro won’t arrive until April.

I’ve been using a pre-production unit of the Pro for the past couple of weeks. While it’s too soon to provide a full review — again, this is a pre-production unit — I can say two things: (1) It feels like a turning point for Chromebooks as a category, and (2) it’s definitely not there yet.

Let’s take a closer look:

The big benefit of buying a Chromebook over a cheap Windows laptop is that, for the same amount of cash, you get a machine that is much better-built. That idea applies to the Chromebook Pro, too.

The big benefit of buying a Chromebook over a cheap Windows laptop is that, for the same amount of cash, you get a machine that is much better-built. That idea applies to the Chromebook Pro, too.

Of note: When the Chromebook Pro ships in April, it’ll come in black, not silver. The less-powerful Chromebook Plus will keep this finish, though.

Business Insider/Jeff Dunn

The Pro’s smooth aluminum finish simply looks and feels nicer than the creaky hunks of plastic that are typically available for $550.

It’s slim and lightweight, its chiclet-style keyboard is fast, and it’s got two USB-C ports, which allow you to charge the device on either side. (Those are the only ports, though, so you may need a dongle or two.)

That said, there are sturdier and more luxurious-feeling Chromebooks out there, like HP’s all-metal Chromebook 13. The trackpad is accurate, but feels stiff to click.

The speakers are anemic. The keyboard isn’t backlit. The screen wobbles when you tap it.

And the bezels surrounding the display, particularly the logo-bearing monstrosity on its bottom, are oversized.

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While the Pro does more with Android than its peers, $550 is still a good chunk of change for a Chromebook. In that context, Samsung’s hardware is good, but not great.

You can tell while using the Chromebook Pro that Samsung built it with Android in mind. It’s a compact convertible — meaning its screen rotates all the way around — with a touchscreen display that’s responsive and, at 12.3 inches, not huge.

You can tell while using the Chromebook Pro that Samsung built it with Android in mind. It’s a compact convertible — meaning its screen rotates all the way around — with a touchscreen display that’s responsive and, at 12.3 inches, not huge.

Business Insider/Jeff Dunn

Like many Windows “2-in-1s,” it’s really trying to be as tablet-like as it can while remaining a laptop at its core.

This is a good thing: Android apps are still made with touchscreens in mind, so if you’re going to use them, you want to do so on a device that isn’t too unwieldy as a tablet.

The Chromebook Pro isn’t. Its display spins back smoothly, and it’s easy to carry around.

It becomes apparent while using the Chromebook Pro that hybrids like this are where Android tablets are headed.

Those have been running in place for years, and tablets in general are getting squeezed to the margins.

Just as Apple is doing with iOS, Google appears to be following Microsoft’s lead, and pushing Android on large screens toward more productivity-focused devices.

About that display: It’s a highlight — bright, vibrant, colorful, and sharp. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better panel at this price.

About that display: It’s a highlight — bright, vibrant, colorful, and sharp. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better panel at this price.

Business Insider/Jeff Dunn

For those playing at home, its resolution is a crisp 2400 x 1600.

Like Google’s Chromebook Pixel, it also has a taller-than-usual, 3:2 aspect ratio, which make it a bit more comfortable to read webpages.

It does mean you’ll have to deal with larger borders when watching some movies, though.

There’s also a stylus in the box, which is more or less exactly the same as what Samsung includes with its Galaxy Note phones. It’s small.

There’s also a stylus in the box, which is more or less exactly the same as what Samsung includes with its Galaxy Note phones. It’s small.

Business Insider/Jeff Dunn

It sits nice and flush in a slot on the side of the Pro. When you click it out, a nifty set of stylus-enabled shortcuts immediately pop up onscreen.

However, its performance can be hit or miss.

It’s not inaccurate, and the fact that it’s pressure-sensitive makes it usable for drawing, but I ran into severe input lag at times, particularly when I had Android apps running. Hold this thought.

Plus, while there are a handful of drawing and note-taking apps already available to make use of the stylus, Google’s shortcuts only try to push you toward Google Keep.

Keep is fine, but some flexibility would be better.

If you stick solely to non-Android tasks, the Chromebook Pro runs just fine. The Intel Core m3-6Y30 chip and 4GB of RAM at its core would be mediocre on Windows 10 or macOS, but stays snappy even with several tabs open here.

If you stick solely to non-Android tasks, the Chromebook Pro runs just fine. The Intel Core m3-6Y30 chip and 4GB of RAM at its core would be mediocre on Windows 10 or macOS, but stays snappy even with several tabs open here.

Business Insider/Jeff Dunn

Battery life is also a plus: I usually got between 10-12 hours when sticking to the Web browser.

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That’s not the best I’ve ever seen, but Samsung can say this thing has “all-day” battery life and not be full of it.

Things do drop when you load up the Android apps, though, particularly if you try gaming.

Samsung isn’t the only company capable of making good hardware, though. The significant thing here is how well Google has integrated Android into Chrome OS. In short: It’s getting there, but it’s still a long way away from being as feature-rich as macOS or Windows 10.

Samsung isn’t the only company capable of making good hardware, though. The significant thing here is how well Google has integrated Android into Chrome OS. In short: It’s getting there, but it’s still a long way away from being as feature-rich as macOS or Windows 10.

Business Insider/Jeff Dunn

That is, if you’re not already comfortable with Chrome OS as it exists in most places today.

If you don’t need much more than Chrome to get things done — and you might be surprised at how much a web browser can do — devices like the Dell Chromebook 13 are still faster and nicer-feeling than just about any Windows laptop at the same price.

To be clear, Google has taken steps toward making Chrome OS more mobile-friendly. For instance, the various icons and tabs in the Chrome browser — where the bulk of the action still goes down — are large and spaced out enough to make navigating with your fingers easy.

To be clear, Google has taken steps toward making Chrome OS more mobile-friendly. For instance, the various icons and tabs in the Chrome browser — where the bulk of the action still goes down — are large and spaced out enough to make navigating with your fingers easy.

What the notification tray looks like on Chrome OS.Business Insider/Jeff Dunn

The same goes for the “shelf” that holds your quick settings, notifications, and app shortcuts at the bottom of the display.

Actually downloading apps from the Play Store is as easy as it is on Android.

Having Android notifications integrated into the notification tray makes things feel more unified.

Knowing you’re safe to save files offline is great. And the virtual keyboard that pops up when you bend back the screen works fine (though it could be faster).

Point being, it’s entirely possible to get around the Chrome-specific parts of the OS in a tablet-like manner.

When it comes to incorporating Android, though, Google still has some cleaning up to do. The Play Store on Samsung’s review unit is technically still in beta, and it shows: There are way too many bugs, compatibility issues, and outright crashes to be acceptable.

When it comes to incorporating Android, though, Google still has some cleaning up to do. The Play Store on Samsung’s review unit is technically still in beta, and it shows: There are way too many bugs, compatibility issues, and outright crashes to be acceptable.

Note the “Designed for phones” warning above. It’s not wrong.Business Insider/Jeff Dunn

We took a look at an early developer version of the Play Store on Chrome OS last summer, and some of the same issues persist.

Outside of a few specially modified apps like Google Keep, most Android apps cannot be resized outside of a couple rigid shapes.

Flipping the screen around disables the ability to have multiple windows open onscreen at once, regardless of what you’re doing.

Lots of programs still feel like blown-up phone apps, instead of being tailored to bigger screens.

They’re ugly, just as they are on Android tablets, with white space galore.

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They don’t always play nice with keyboards, either. Much of the time, you’re better off in the browser.

The performance issues are the worst of all. Apps like Slack and Twitter slowed the Chromebook Pro down without fail, and gaming — the most immediately obvious benefit of importing the Play Store — is too often a non-starter. Games like “Deus Ex Go” and “Asphalt 8: Airborne” are nigh-unplayable on higher settings, while others like “Clash of Clans” simply wouldn’t start at all.

The performance issues are the worst of all. Apps like Slack and Twitter slowed the Chromebook Pro down without fail, and gaming — the most immediately obvious benefit of importing the Play Store — is too often a non-starter. Games like “Deus Ex Go” and “Asphalt 8: Airborne” are nigh-unplayable on higher settings, while others like “Clash of Clans” simply wouldn’t start at all.

Games like “Final Fantasy III” here aren’t the smoothest.Business Insider/Jeff Dunn

The Chromebook Pro’s Intel chip holds it back here.

While it’s likely faster at running Web programs than the Chromebook Plus’ ARM-based counterpart, Android apps are built to run on mobile chips like the latter.

So, for $100 more, you get worse performance, for now, with the device’s headline feature. Not good.

There’s reason to believe things will get better. This beta version of the Play Store runs on Android 6.0 Marshmallow. When the Chromebook Pro hits retail in April, Google says, it should be on Android 7.0 Nougat, which has features to help Android apps adapt to larger screens.

There’s reason to believe things will get better. This beta version of the Play Store runs on Android 6.0 Marshmallow. When the Chromebook Pro hits retail in April, Google says, it should be on Android 7.0 Nougat, which has features to help Android apps adapt to larger screens.

Business Insider/Jeff Dunn

Whether or not developers will actually use those features is another question. Google could do better with some of its own apps.

But the tools will at least be there, and as more manufacturers release more touch-friendly Chromebooks, there should be more incentive to improve the experience.

The seeds of a breakthrough are still there for Google. The concept behind working Android into Chrome OS is sound. If all goes well, the Chromebook Pro is what great budget laptops will look like in the near future. But all has not gone well just yet.

The seeds of a breakthrough are still there for Google. The concept behind working Android into Chrome OS is sound. If all goes well, the Chromebook Pro is what great budget laptops will look like in the near future. But all has not gone well just yet.

Business Insider/Jeff Dunn

There’s an argument to be made that people are still undervaluing Chrome OS in and of itself. You can edit photos, write documents offline, and play Spotify just fine over the Web today.

But people are still buying cheap Windows laptops, and cheap MacBooks are still a pipe dream, so the need for Chrome OS to branch out persists.

Today, the Android-on-Chrome-OS project still feels patchwork. It still seems like a precursor to that full-fledged merger that’s been reported for what feels like forever.

But the Chromebook Pro shows that the hardware part will be there. Here’s hoping Google can get the software to follow suit sooner rather than later.

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