It is important to realize the Samsung Chromebook Plus is for all practical purposes Google’s replacement to the Chromebook Pixel. Google’s senior vice president for hardware, Rick Osterloh, confirmed this assertion at Mobile World Congress. When asked if Google had plans to produce any more Pixel laptops, Osterloh said that the company had “no plans to do one right now.” He added that the versions that are already out in the market have totally sold out and that there are no plans to make any more of those, either. Indeed, if you go to the Google Store today, you won’t find any Pixel laptops for sale, though there are plenty of third-party Chromebooks available there. Many folks were sadden by this news which caused Mr. Osterloh to tweet Google is very committed to Chromebooks, Chrome OS, and may develop something in the future. My take-a-way is in the short term Google is going to let manufacturer’s fill the void. I find this interesting as it is a direct contradiction to what is happening in the smartphone space. Some have conjectured Google wants to keep the spot light on the Pixel smartphones so don’t expect any new Pixel devices. I believe it is likely we will see a Chrome OS tablet later this year but I don’t have any information as to the manufacturer or branding.
My personal circumstance placed me in the market for a replacement of my Pixel and I decided to drink the kool-aid and purchased the Plus when it became available in late February. After weeks of constant use, the Honeymoon is over, all of the infatuation has worn off, and its pretty much just getting stuff done. As I log time on my Chromebook just about every day, I decided to share my thoughts on the device.
The build quality of the Plus is very good but is not the same as the Pixel. Physical changes had to be made to accommodate the 2-in-1 design and to be honest if the Pixel were a 2-in-1 I would be complaining. I had no real problems carrying the Plus but plan on using two hands to open it. My assumption is it is the price of sturdy hinges and the light weight design. It took me some time to get use to holding the Plus in tablet mode partly because of its size and the lack of a smooth bottom surface. I haven’t looked to see if a hardcover is available to protect the keyboard for folks who use the Plus more as a tablet than a laptop, but if there is I would certainly consider purchasing it. Otherwise, using a twelve inch tablet is something better experienced than described. Simply put, I liked it.
The feature of any Chromebook that is most important to me is the screen. If the screen doesn’t deliver, nothing else matters. The 2400 x 1600 pixel, 12.3 inch screen of the Plus is clear, crisp, and reproduces 118 percent of the sRGB color gamut which is better than the Pixel. With a max brightness of 400 nits I can crank it up when I need to or back it down to conserve the battery.
Number two on my must have list is a good keyboard. I like ASUS keyboards and for that reason I was strongly considering the ASUS C302CA. I am glad to say the Plus keyboard is just as good and the trimmed “tab” and “backspace” keys are not an issue.
Third on my must have list is a good track pad. Track pads are difficult to rate as they have two general characteristics. The first is the feel. Do your fingers glide easily over the surface and does the pointer accurately reflect your motion. The second is click. How much effort does it take to perform a click, can I click when I need to, or do I have to move to a clickable region on the pad. I’ve never had an issue with this, but I certainly would not argue adding one more category for palm rejection. So how does the Plus rate? No issues with the first. I do not know if the surface is glass but movement is smooth and the accuracy is good. I had some issues with number two on the Pixel but none on the Plus. No issues with item three.
The last feature and the one which has garnered a lot of discussion is performance. The performance of the Pixel is a beast powered by an Intel i5 processor scoring above twenty thousand on the Octane benchmark. Many have questioned why Google advised Samsung to use an ARM processor which scores a little less than ten thousand on the same benchmark. I believe the answer to using the ARM processor is part science and part perception. Back in the seventies cars powered by a V8 engine ruled the roads. My recollection is many folks felt the engine was overkill but were comforted by the belief the horse power would be there if needed. Over time many realized they could save money by owning a vehicle with fewer cylinders and live with less horsepower. I never really knew how much heavy lifting the i5 processor of the Pixel was doing at any given moment and if there was lag I assumed the processor was not to blame. I will admit I worried about this the first few days to the extent I installed a performance monitor to determine the reason if I experienced lag. In the back of my mind I was haunted by the fact the ARM processor is less than half as powerful as the Intel and worried it would not be enough. Kinda like going to four cylinders from eight. Google says the ARM processor is adequate and I agree. Is there lag? No way to avoid it in a distributed computing environment. It is important to remember when the message at the lower left your screen says “waiting”, no amount of horsepower will fix it. Will Google Docs and Sheets perform as fast? Loading and initializing all that code takes a moment but the delay is not significant. I did not notice any delays editing documents.
The most cited scenario to justify a more powerful processor is having numerous tabs open in the Chrome browser. I certainly agree this could be an issue but it is not the world I live in. There are times I may have a half dozen tabs open and the Plus handles this scenario just fine. I have not tried them, but there are extensions available to manage tabs to free memory and boost performance. Google understands for the typical user the challenge becomes perception and decided to generically brand the ARM processor as a made for Chromebooks OP1.
In addition to performance, the other most cited criticism is the lack of a backlit keyboard. I admit the Pixel has this feature and time will tell how much I will miss it. It wasn’t something I used on a daily bases so I am not too worried about it.
Last but not least, the one feature of the Plus which captured my curiosity was the stylus. Up until recently my opinion was a stylus was more gimmick and would not deliver any real value. Today I see the value and in tablet mode it is great. I can see this becoming a trend in future 2-in-1 devices.
In conclusion, now that I have used the Plus for a couple of weeks do I have buyer’s remorse? Not in the least. However, I will shamefully confess I planned a return if for any reason I became dissatisfied. My plan “B” was to either wait for the Pro or purchase the new ASUS.
My perception is sales are strong but the true test will come when the next latest and greatest Chromebook is released.