In Q1 of 2016, Chromebooks outsold all Mac computers combined — iMac, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac Mini, Mac Pro — for the first time ever in the U.S. That’s big news, and the sales sit squarely on a growing relationship with school systems, specifically in grades K-12. Schools love Chromebooks because they’re affordable, transferable and simple to use: any student with a Gmail account can log into one, store work in the Cloud, log out and pass it to the next student. But the simple nature of the device — each running Chrome OS with little onboard storage and RAM, and requiring a wi-fi connection to work since it’s essentially just a web browser — has led the tech industry to view it as less than a “real laptop.” (Tim Cook hasn’t spared his thoughts.)
Samsung aims to change that perception with the Chromebook Plus ($449), arriving February 2017, and the Samsung Chromebook Pro ($549), arriving April 2017. The two are similar; the only differences are processors (the Pro runs an Intel Core M3; the Plus, Intel ARM), colorways and price. Together they embody a new initiative for Chromebooks: to take down the iPad Pro, Surface Pro 4, and lightweight laptops.
Together they embody a new initiative for Chromebooks: to take down the iPad Pro, Surface Pro 4, and lightweight laptops.
So is 2017 the year to buy a Chromebook? After testing the Samsung Chromebook Pro for a few weeks, my answer is yes — with a few conditions.
Chromebooks of late have enjoyed the benefit of Android app support — a big move for app users, a.k.a. everyone — and Samsung’s latest offerings are the first to be built “from the ground up” with apps in mind. This trait makes the Pro and Plus more versatile; you can use them more like a smartphone or a laptop if the app supports offline use. And, if you’re an Android user, you can sync with apps like Google Hangouts, Messenger or WhatsApp for calls and messages with friends — within the app, rather than being stuck to the apps’ web counterpart.
The Pro and Plus are further distinguished by their stylus, which is very similar to the Note line’s S Pen. The stylus slots into the Chromebook (unlike the Microsoft Surface Pro 4’s stylus, which magnetically clips to the side) and helps you write quick notes in Google Keep or draw in ArtCanvas. The stylus can also help with basic screen control and other simple functions, and the Chromebook’s “laser pen” feature lets you move the cursor by simply pointing the pen at the screen from a distance.
All Chromebooks sacrifice power for price, and the Chromebook Pro is no different. If you regularly upload and/or edit high-res photos, this will not replace your desktop computer. (Note: Adobe will have compatible Photoshop and Lightroom apps, but don’t expect them to be as functionally robust as their respective desktop versions.) Serious gaming and extended offline use are also out of the question. That doesn’t mean the Chromebook Pro isn’t fast or competent; it’s just focused. Web browsing is fantastic, and working within the G Suite online is accommodating for most people (myself included). Add apps, and 95 percent of my work is handled.
The downsides come in the hardware itself. Even though the Samsung Chromebook Pro is on the high end for its space (you can find Chromebooks starting at around $200), it still feels cheap compared to a MacBook. I was frustrated by the keyboard (it’s small) and how hard I had to press down on the trackpad (also small) for it to respond. The display, on the plus side, is beautiful, with almost as high a resolution a Macbook Pro (2400 x 1600, compared to 2560×1600).
So who is this Chromebook for? Dieter Bohn, executive editor at The Verge, called Chromebooks great secondary computers for most people on Recode‘s Too Embarrassed to Ask podcast (which is worth a listen). The Pro, however, expands that definition. It’s ideal for people comfortable with Android and in the market for a new affordable laptop. If you use an iPhone but you’re not knee-deep in the App Store, it’s great for you, too. Chances are you’re familiar with Google Chrome — seeing as over 50 percent of Americans use it as their primary web browser — and the G Suite.
The most important consideration is whether you can easily ensure constant wi-fi availability. You can use certain apps offline — games like Alto’s Adventure or Asphalt 8, for instance — but you won’t be able to share files in Google Docs or send emails in Gmail until connected to wi-fi.
Otherwise, unless you’re a creative professional, the Chromebook Pro will probably work for you as well as any lightweight laptop or premium tablet — it might even exceed your expectations, without exceeding your budget.
Samsung’s Chromebook Plus and Pro only differ in their processors, price and color. The Plus will be silver. The Pro will be black. We tested a pre-production model, which is why our Pro is silver, not black. If you’re deciding between the two, go with the Pro, especially if this is going to be your primary laptop. The processor makes a big difference in terms of load times and ability to multitask.