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Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 review: a beautiful letdown

Introduced at CES 2021, the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 is an anomoly in a bunch of ways. For one, it has a ‘2’ in the name while not exactly improving on its predecessor. It has a processor that, in just a few months, will feel a tad bit dated. It lacks features that its contemporaries possess and yet it still costs more than those other Chromebooks. In fact, there are very few ways in which this Chromebook is superlative, yet there’s actually some charm to it at the same time. With perhaps a different name and a slightly lower price I’d be inclined to call it a good purchase, but as it stands, I’m a bit back-and-forth on how I feel about this particular Chromebook. So, let’s talk about it.

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On one hand, I love the way this device looks, but on the other, I don’t love the way it feels. I love the vibrancy of the screen, but I miss the signature Samsung Pen in the chassis. I like the simplistic approach to ports, but miss the ever-widening array of I/O found on competing devices. Again, for the $699 Samsung is asking for this Chromebook, I expect quite a bit. With devices out there like the Acer Spin 713, HP Chromebook x360 14c and the Lenovo ThinkPad C13 Yoga, the amount of Chromebook you can get for less than $699 is pretty staggering, and there are only more on the way at this point. At this sort of price point, a Chromebook really needs to deliver in all the ways that matter: it doesn’t have to be the best at everything it just need to put the right pieces together to make a great overall impression.

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Hardware

Let’s get through the hardware stuff first. The chassis is red. Really, really red. So red that it nearly looks a tad orange in certain settings. It’ll turn heads for sure and i honestly like the look. It sets the Galaxy Chromebook 2 apart from others and if you’re looking for a statement, this Chromebook makes it. The device feels good in the hand, too, coming across as slim and rigid when closed up thanks to the aluminum lid and base.

The hinges are good, too, and combined with the boxy shape of this Chromebook it makes for a pretty decent convertible experience. I’d love for a bit of magnetic action on the top of the lid when flipped into tablet mode to keep things closed up tight, but I honestly don’t use tablet mode enough to notice that much. All the tent and display modes work well and the screen doesn’t flop or wobble when typing on a desk. The ports stay minimal as well, keeping to just a USB Type C on both sides and a microSD card slot.

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On the bottom you see some ports for fans in addition to the tasteful ports around back, and those are important. With the Galaxy Chromebook 2, Samsung chose to put fans in here to keep the thermals under control as this was one of the plaguing issues from the original. I rarely if ever heard the fans and when I did, they were quiet enough not to be a bother. I’d love for this to be a fanless Chromebook, sure, but I’d rather have fans and never have to worry about thermals if I have to choose. Though not as thin or light as the original Galaxy Chromebook, this device is comfortable and will easily slide into a bag or backpack with ease. At 15mm thick and 2.7 pounds, it isn’t the thinnest or lightest Chromebook ever, but that extra space inside is necessary for the fans and a larger battery that largely remove the original Galaxy Chromebook’s biggest issues: overheating and poor battery life. I never had issue with heat dissipation and my battery usage normally got me 8-10 hours of use per day.

The other openings in the chassis are for the highly-touted speakers and I’d give them a solid B+. They are loud and more full than most Chromebook speakers, but that’s honestly a pretty low bar and with all the hype Samsung threw at them, I was expecting more. Put next to the Pixelbook Go’s non-branded, excellent speakers, it wasn’t even a fair fight. Sure, these are better than most, but there is much more Samsung could have done to make the audio shine at this price point and the $649 Pixelbook Go is absolute proof of that.

Let’s look inside

Crack open the lid and we get a more-modest 1080p QLED screen versus the overkill 4K AMOLED from the original, and I think this was a proper trade-off by Samsung. The pixels are still plenty dense, the screen is bright at 400 nits, and the colors are deep and contrasted. Simply put: I love looking at this display. I still prefer a 3:2 aspect ratio and I’m blown away by how much more spacious my Spin 713 feels with a 3:2 13.5-inch diagonal measure versus this 16:9 13.3-inch one. 3:2 is just so much better for so many things that I wish others manufacturers would move in that direction faster. While the screen is pretty to look at, I still find far more functionality in a 3:2 aspect ratio in this ~13-inch size category and I’d love to see a Samsung QLED 13-inch 3:2 screen at some point down the road. That would be special.

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The keyboard and trackpad are less stellar, but fine. The keys are very short throw and pretty clicky, but I was just flat-out inaccurate on this keyboard. I don’t think the keys were that much more shallow than the Pixelbook or Pixlebook Go, but I was far less accurate on the Galaxy Chromebook 2 for some reason. The backlight is subtle and there is very little light bleed under the keys. Add that to the black key caps and I love the look of this keyboard even if I’m not in love with the typing experience. The trackpad was pretty great, too. Small, but great. It stayed smooth, registered a satisfying click, and performed all my gestures with ease.

My biggest gripe was probably the plastic surrounding the keyboard and trackpad, though. There’s just something a little off-putting about plastic under your palms as you type on a $699 Chromebook. Additionally, when opened up, the Galaxy Chromebook 2 exhibits far more flex than I’d like to see at this price point and, again, compared to the Pixelbook Go in this price range, it just doesn’t feel premium as you’d expect. When closed up and wrenching on the aluminum sandwich created by the lid and base, things feel sturdy. Only when open do you notice a good bit of flex and, honestly, I hate the way it feels.

Can we just stop with the stickers?

And this leads into the biggest pet peave I have with this plastic area on the Galaxy Chromebook 2: stickers. First, can we just stop with stickers on consumer Chromebooks? Put them on there for the floor models, but please just save us all the hassle of removing them. If I just bought a Chromebook, I don’t need a huge, garish sticker to remind me of why I did so slapped on the chassis. We ended up with two review units and both took me about 30 minutes to get the stickers – and their residue – off the body of the device. Yes, Intel’s stickers are always bad about this, but theirs was the least offensive. The big, black sticker on the left side of the trackpad peeled off in layers and took me an eternity to remove. Even after fully removing it and its glue, I was left with a residual marking on the plastic that I couldn’t remove on either device. This wasn’t a one-off issue and I’ve noticed other reviewers didn’t bother trying to remove theirs. It’s kinda shameful and I wish I had a better way to tell you to get the stickers off of there if you choose to buy this Chromebook, but I don’t. It’s borderline ridiculous.

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Under that plastic chassis lie some other odd choices by Samsung: a 10th-gen Core i3 paired up with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of eMMC storage. While those specs are just fine for performance, they can also be found on Chromebooks over a year old at this point that cost hundreds of dollars less. For what it’s worth, I didn’t have any issue getting my work done and the Core i3 is perfectly capable, but I do notice the bit of a speed boost I get when I pick up my Spin 713 and it’s Core i5 with NVMe storage. It’s subtle, but it’s there. You’ll also note the removal of the fingerprint scanner, world-facing camera and Samsung’s stowable pen when comparing this to the original Galaxy Chromebook. There’s no replacement for the fingerprint reader or second camera on this iteration, but at least this Chromebook is USI compatible, so pen support is there, it’s just not included in the box. For what it’s worth, there is an option for a Celeron with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, but $549 is an awful lot to ask for a device with those specs even if it does come with the same beautiful display.

Why this is all so confusing? Why all the back-and-forth?

If this Chromebook existed in a vacuum, I’d say it’s a solid offering. But it doesn’t. We can’t look at this Chromebook without looking at the formidable competition surrounding it, and we can’t consider it apart from its predecessor or the other Chromebook I think it was directly trying to mimic: the Pixelbook Go. Think about it. Samsung chose to reduce the pixel density, dial back features, and keep an older processor in play to introduce a more affordable follow-up to their last Chromebook attempt. For Google, this approach worked in a very surprising fashion, making the Pixelbook Go one of my all-time favorite laptops. Sure, they trimmed the fat compared to the original Pixelbook, but the trade-offs worked together to make for a unique experience when using the Pixelbook Go.

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Samsung did the exact same thing, removing elements from the Galaxy Chromebook to make for a more-affordable yet still-enjoyable experience. And I’d argue they made the right choices in some respects. The screen is an absolute win. I don’t miss the 4K AMOLED at all. The processor choice and addition of fans are other good moves to save money. The Core i3 is capable, the fans keep things cool, and even if the body is a bit thicker, it is necessary for those fans and the larger battery cell that drastically increases battery life versus the original. Those are big wins! But the omissions are pretty big, too. Losing the fingerprint scanner, the stowed pen, the all-aluminum build, the world-facing camera, the faster Core i5 and NVMe storage are all choices that combine to make things feel decidedly mid-range.

So now we have a Chromebook that doesn’t exactly fit in at the top end of the spectrum as a premium offering and is priced a bit too high to fit in with the mid-range Chromebooks that – to be fair – all come with their collective trade-offs, too. As I said in the beginning, this Chromebook is an exercise in back-and-forth and because of this, it is tough to recommend outright. I think it is a fine Chromebook that gets a lot right, but I also think the same thing about other devices that are far cheaper. Unlike the Pixelbook Go that made sacrifices and put together a thoughtful package that made me forget those sacrifices, I instead feel like I’m left a bit hanging when I use the Samsung, and I hate that this is the case, honestly. I really wanted to love this Chromebook and I just don’t.

Buy the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 at Samsung

Buy the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 at Best Buy

Perhaps its all the potential of what’s to come in this year that looks to be packed with new Chromebooks and new processors, but it’s also just the bummer of wanting Samsung to cut all the right corners and realizing that instead, it shaved a few of them a bit too far to justify the price. In the end, if the price comes down and we see sales on this device that have it hitting the $550-$600 range, this becomes a different story. For now, however, unless you are just enamored with the red color, with Samsung, or with an above average 13.3-inch 16:9 display, I’d keep your options open. There are too many great Chromebooks out there to simply say “this is the one” and you deserve to get a great Chromebook experience when $699 is the asking price.

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