For us here at Chrome Unboxed, this is essentially the kick-off of CES 2021. We’re all-virtual this year for obvious reasons, but that doesn’t mean announcements have to stop or that news won’t be freely flowing in the next week and a half. Around here, however, we’re all about the Chromebooks and the tech that Chromebook users will be able to leverage with their devices, and it’s already looking like there will be some great announcements as a part of the virtual event this year.
Expecting an absolute mountain of new Chrome OS hardware in 2021, I’m happy to bring news of the very first Chromebook announcement for this new year in the form of the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2. Leaked quite a bit over the past couple weeks, the new take on the Samsung namesake brings an interesting twist of a lowered price, small omissions versus its predecessor, and a few notable changes that hopefully add up to be a better overall experience for users. Don’t get me wrong: the Galaxy Chromebook was exceptional in most ways, but it’s overheating and battery issues were too excessive for a $999 Chromebook and it never got fixed.
With the Galaxy Chromebook 2, Samsung is taking a different approach and using this release to target a different sector of the growing Chromebook user base. So, as I lay out the specs and what’s included in this device, keep in mind that there’s at least a strategic move going on here that, until we have the device in-hand, we won’t know if Samsung executed on or not. With 2020 clearly being the year of the mid-range Chromebook, Samsung sees the writing on the wall and knows it needs to compete in that space. Let’s check out the specs.
Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 Specs
- 13.3-inch QLED 1080p screen
- Intel Core i3 10110U or Celeron 5205U
- 8GB or 4GB RAM
- 128GB or 64GB eMMC storage
- Wi-Fi 6
- Bluetooth 5
- USI pen compatible
- 2x USB Type C
- MicroSD card reader
- Headphone/Microphone jack
- 45.5Wh battery – up to 12 hours
- 5W stereo speakers with Smart AMP
- Backlit keyboard
- 12″ x 8″ x 0.55″
- 2.71 lbs
If you know your Chromebooks, there are some things in that list we need to discuss. When you append a ‘2’ to a model name, the expectation is a step forward in things like processors, screens, storage and RAM. You expect any sequel to try and outdo the original. That is clearly not what Samsung is doing with the Galaxy Chromebook 2 and, oddball naming aside, I think they’ve made a few decisions that could result in a better overall experience than the first Galaxy Chromebook even if we clearly taking a step back or sideways in some areas.
One of the more standout features of the Galaxy Chromebook was the gorgeous OLED panel. It was punchy, bright, and full of contrast. It was the first Chromebook to leverage such a nice screen and remains the only one on the market a full year later. But that screen came at a cost to the battery life of the Galaxy Chromebook and to the buyer’s wallet. OLED is expensive and frankly not necessary on a Chromebook. The high-res panel I’m staring at on my $600 Acer Chromebook Spin 713 looks amazing and I’m sure costs a fraction of that 4K OLED we were just talking about.
So, in what I see as an overall wise move, Samsung replaced the screen with a 1080p QLED panel. This is still an industry first and from what I’ve seen of Samsung’s QLED TVs, it means this screen will be a bright spot for the Galaxy Chroembook 2. With what is likely a better power consumption panel and FAR fewer pixels to move around on the screen, this change alone should be a massive boost to the Galaxy Chromebook 2’s battery life potential. To be honest, at a normal operating distance, it’s tough to tell a 4K resolution from 1080p on a 13.3-inch screen. As long as brightness, colors and viewing angles are great, this should still be a big selling point for the Galaxy Chromebook 2. Here’s what Samsung has to say about this new panel:
Powered by quantum dot panels, Galaxy Chromebook 2 is the world’s first Chromebook to feature a QLED display, one of Samsung’s signature television innovations. Capable of producing over a billion different colors, every visual on Galaxy Chromebook 2’s 13.3” display is vivid and bright.via Samsung
Yes, you read the spec sheet correctly. The processors are also a step back. However, keep in mind that there were Chromebooks launched in the fall with the same Core i3 processors (HP Chromebook x360 14c) and we’ll likely see a few more this year. The 10th-gen Core i3 is very fast in Chromebooks and while I’m ready for 11th-gen Intel Tiger Lake options, I’m also realistic in understanding that processing power and speed aren’t issues in the Chromebooks released in 2020. 10th-gen Intel processors fixed a lot of issues in Chromebooks, including things like Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5, so I’m not too shocked by the decision to stick with these solid processors in the Galaxy Chromebook 2.
We also see that the lower-spec Celeron version will come with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage like what we see in the fantastic Lenovo Flex 5. Remember, this is a Chromebook that is universally well-received and most people don’t find much to complain about with this RAM/storage configuration. With the Core i3 model of the Galaxy Chromebook, we’re getting a more-standard 8GB RAM and 128GB of storage, but it’s of the eMMC variety instead of NVMe SSD. At this point in 2021, I think this is a miss. NVMe can make up for lacking speed in the overall system and going with the far-slower eMMC is an aggravation for sure.
Build Quality and Colors
This is a spot where Samsung seems to have pulled things back a bit, but still retained the unique look that drew many to the original Galaxy Chromebook. The lid and base are aluminum with some plastic around the keyboard and until we can hold this for ourselves, I’m holding off on judging the build quality. The colors are the same as last year and though the device is about 5mm thicker and half a pound heavier, it is still a thin, light device overall and should pull off the higher-end aesthetic.
Samsung is really touting the speakers on this Chromebook and they keep throwing around a figure – 178% louder than the average amplifier – that is pretty tough to quantify. Still, the fact that they are pointing out the speakers and their branded Smart AMP sound with this Chromebook leads me to beleive we might just get a device that tries to rival the Pixelbook Go for best Chromebook speakers. Here’s what they say in the official press release:
Combined with Smart AMP sound—which runs up to 178% louder than the average amplifier—audio on Chromebook2 places you right in the center of the action. Thanks to its 2-in-1 form factor, Galaxy Chromebook 2 isn’t just a laptop: it’s a mobile theatre, creative canvas, and smart notebook, all in one.via Samsung
The Pen and fingerprint scanner
Other notable, missing features from the original are the stowed stylus and fingerprint scanner. Other devices in this segment have done away with both (again, like the Acer Chromebook Spin 713) and with USI support this time around, it’s a reasonable move. When trying to trim the fat and reduce the price, you have to make concessions and hope that you make the right ones. USI is the future and we know stowable, recharging USI pens for Chromebooks are coming, but the Galaxy Chromebook 2 won’t be offering that particular feature.
So, with all that in mind, what’s the price? The Core i3 model is coming in at $699 and the Celeron model will be $549. Both will be available in Q1 of 2021, so there’s not going to be long to wait. Earlier leaks pointed to a February release, but that is simply speculative at this point. And, frankly, I’m not sure they have hit the right price this time around.
There are notable inclusions with this Chromebook like the screen, speakers, and what I imagine will be a good keyboard and trackpad. If the build quality is stellar and the overall experience when using it is fantastic, perhaps a $699 price tag is in the right ballpark, but it feels a bit high for what the user is getting. I hate to keep bringing it up, but the Acer Spin 713 beats this device out of the gate in most categories and starts at $629 with a Core i5, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of NVMe storage. That’s a tough comparison for sure.
But, it’s hard to make these assumptions when we don’t have the device in front of us right now. If sale prices get this thing down in the upper $500-$600 range on a regular basis, I think it could be a hit. Samsung has more brand recognition than any other Chromebook maker and as long as it delivers a great overall experience, it will sell well. Competition is going to be massive this year, however, and it’s unclear if this device will be enough for Samsung to stand out in a market that will be more fiercely competitive than ever before. When we have one in hand, we’ll be sure to share a lot more with you.