Saturday, April 15, 2017

Samsung Chromebook Plus Review: S Pen, Android and ChromeOS Awesomeness

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Google announced Android Apps on Chromebooks and some worried that the Google Play Store would harm ChromeOS and it’s simplicity. The Samsung Chromebook Plus proves them wrong thanks to great hardware, a beautiful touchscreen and the S Pen. It also runs Android apps well. That’s why we listed it as one of the best Chromebooks of 2017.

Students will love the Samsung Chromebook Plus because the S Pen, normally found only on the Galaxy Note phones and tablets, makes taking notes easy. Owners can read and write with less eye strain, thanks to the great screen. The Samsung Chromebook Plus feels small enough to carry from class to class and the battery lasts long enough to enjoy some entertainment back in the dorm later that night. These same reasons mean business users will enjoy taking it on the road and using it for work and play. In fact, most consumers will love the Chromebook Plus.

Samsung Chromebook Plus

Samsung Chromebook Plus: Touchscreen

The 12.3-inch touchscreen on the Samsung Chromebook plus excels at almost every category of evaluation. It’s bright and comfortable to use even in bright settings. I used it at 50% most of the time, which also extends the already great battery life.

The colors on the display look nice and the high-resolution displays text clearly with crisp sharp quality. It’s easy to read using the screen even for long times.

Samsung Chromebook Plus stylus

Controlling the computer using touch in laptop mode feels more comfortable now that we’re getting used to touchscreens. I hate that my MacBook doesn’t let me scroll quickly with a flick of my finger on a touchscreen. Once you get used to the quick motion, you miss it on devices without one.

We’ll look at the S Pen below. The palm rejection helps note takers and artists in the right apps. The system works so much better than my iPad Pro with Apple Pencil or any other active or passive stylus setup.

Samsung Chromebook Plus: Hardware Design

The computer looks almost like a square with 11.04″ x 8.72″ x 0.55″ dimensions. It’s not square, but looks it and that’s a good thing when using touch or the pen. the 3:2 aspect ratio seems more natural for a tablet.

Samsung Chromebook Plus bottom

Samsung gave the Chromebook Plus an aluminum chassis. The textured surface on the lid and around the keyboard feels nice and looks great. It’s also super thin and sleek.

Samsung Chromebook Plus hinges back edge

The bezel around the display gives the user enough space to hold the computer in tablet mode. Its hinges give enough stability without making it hard to open and close.

Samsung Chromebook Plus left ports

The combo headphone/mic audio jack sits on the back left edge closest to the screen. There’s also a USB-C 3.1 port next to that and a micro-SD card reader with a door that covers it.

Samsung Chromebook Plus right ports

The right edge holds the S Pen silo closest to the screen. Next we get the second USB-C port, the power button and LED status light and volume up/down rocker buttons. This right-side USB port also charges the computer, but the left-side port doesn’t.

Samsung Chromebook Plus tent mode

The 2-in-1 convertible design means you have the option of using the Chromebook as a traditional laptop plus tent mode as seen above or stand mode. Bend the screen back so that you can lay the keyboard facing down on a table and use just the screen with touch or the S Pen as seen below.

Samsung Chromebook Plus stand mode

Samsung Chromebook Plus: S Pen Keyboard and Trackpad

The input devices on the Samsung Chromebook Plus mostly add to the devices quality. The S Pen works with the screen to create a great writing experience. We get the best palm rejection using apps that support it, like my favorite Android note-taking app Squid, formerly Papyrus.  Metamoji Note is another great Android note-taker. Other active digitizer pens let users rest their palms on the screen, but some of them don’t work as well as the S Pen on the Samsung Chromebook Plus.

Samsung Chromebook Plus input

The S Pen supports pressure sensitivity and writes or draws smoothly. Slide it into the silo on the right side of the keyboard to stow it. Don’t worry. It can’t go in wrong, so you won’t damage it like the S Pen on the Samsung Galaxy Note 5. Speaking of older Samsung S Pens, I miss the buttons that give the user a right-click.

The spacious and responsive trackpad sits below the keyboard and doesn’t get in the way. I didn’t accidentally touch it with my palm while typing.

The keyboard feels a little mushy, but I got used to it quickly. Typing on it accurately isn’t difficult after getting used to the feel. It’s narrower than a typical keyboard, which also takes time to adjust to.

Samsung Chromebook Plus: Performance and Battery Life


The performance seems great. The computer scored 9159 on Octane, a useful benchmarking website. That’s a decent score when running the benchmark over a slow public Wi-Fi hotspot.

Other computers that run on an Intel processor will smoke the Samsung Chromebook Plus. The ARM processor in the Samsung Chromebook Plus runs quickly compared to other ARM Chromebooks. It reboots in seconds and apps jump to fill the screen. Open a dozen tabs in Chrome before it really slows down.

Even though the Chromebook generally runs quickly, it suffers one problem. Closing the lid and letting it sleep, then opening it often causes it to freeze and reboot within about 30 minutes. I’m not the only one with the problem. A Reddit thread includes a bunch of other owners with the same or similar issues. A few of those in the thread replaced their Chromebook and didn’t experience problems with their second machine.

I fixed this problem with a total reinstall of the operating system. Look for a How To post on that very soon. Until then, use Google’s help site, which explains how to download ChromeOS onto a USB flash drive or card and then restore the OS using recovery mode. This forces a fresh install, which downloads the OS and reinstalls it from a flash drive or SD card. Since then, the freezes have gone away.

battery life samsung chromebook plus

The battery of the Samsung Chromebook Plus lasts longer than most. Notice in the screenshot above that with 85% battery life left, the OS estimates about 8:23 until it runs out of power. I’ve used the Chromebook for as long as 2 hours at a time and it typically drops by only 15% resulting in about 12-14 hours of use depending on usage and screen brightness. The screen stays at about 50%.

Users may not want to use the Samsung Chromebook Plus for multimedia, like streaming music or viewing videos online, unless they plan to hook up headphones or external speakers. The downward facing speakers pump very little volume. In a moderately loud environment, you have to boost volume 100% to tell that sound is coming out. With decent external speakers, playing through an HDMI TV with good speakers or hooking up a nice set of headphones fixes the problem. That is how most people listen to audio on a laptop anyway.

Samsung Chromebook Plus: Software

chromeos web app store

ChromeOS powers the Samsung Chromebook Plus with a new addition: the Google Play Store and Android apps. Before Google added the Play Store, the Chromebook seemed so simple. Users can load Chrome Apps (see the Chrome Web Store above) that run in Chrome browser or a window that may not look like Chrome, but still is. If you want to reset the Chromebook, just run something called a Powerwash. This erases the Chromebook and reinstalls the operating system. You log back in with your Google account and within a few minutes all the apps and settings come to life.

install android apps on chromebook

Adding Android apps makes this Powerwash process a little more complicated, especially if you run Android apps that need a lot of setting up or must download files to work, like my Bible apps. Google partially fixed the problem by automatically downloading most of the apps installed on the Chromebook before the Powerwash.

In spite of the added complexity of Android apps, running a Chromebook got a lot more interesting after Google added the Play Store. I don’t install all the apps that I run on the Google Pixel XL. A lot of those apps do things that a user can do inside Chrome as well or better. However, a few of the best Android apps find a fitting home on ChromeOS.

Microsoft doesn’t let users install the mobile Word, PowerPoint and Excel apps on any screen larger than 10-inches. That means no Android versions of these apps on my Chromebook. You have to run the online versions instead. That’s the only Android app I miss. The rest of my apps work fine on the device. You can install the apps by side loading them, but that’s not for the beginning user.

Samsung Chromebook Plus specs

Samsung Chromebook Plus: Specs

  • Hexa-core Dual Arm Cortex A72 2GHz Processor

  • 4GB of LPDDR3 RAM

  • 32GB eMMC storage

  • Model Number – XE513C24-K01US

  • 12.3-inch LCD Touchscreen Display with 2400 x 1600 resolution and 3:2 aspect ratio and 400 nit brightness

  • 2-in-1 rotating display

  • Shared integrated graphics

  • 2 1.5watt stereo speakers facing down

  • 720p webcam

  • 802.11ac/a/b/g/n Wi-Fi with Marvell 88W997 wireless card

  • Bluetooth 4.0

  • Headphone mic combo audio port

  • 2 USB-C 3.1 ports (up to 5Gbps and 4K display output with optional adapter)

  • 1 micro-SD card slot

  • Spill resistant 74-key keyboard

  • S Pen

  • 2-cell Li-ion 5140mAh batter with 39 watt hours

  • Dimensions – 11.04″ x 8.72″ x 0.55″

  • Weight – 2.38lbs

The Bottom Line

Samsung makes the best Chromebook money can buy. It will get better when they release the Samsung Chromebook Pro, which adds an Intel Core M processor making it faster, but reducing battery life. The Samsung Chromebook Plus includes the excellent S Pen with great palm rejection while writing or drawing. The bright and sharp screen displays text, video and images beautifully and lets users turn down brightness to extend the already great battery life.

I experienced freezes and frequent crashes at first. However, the problem seems isolated and a swap at the store or reinstalling the OS should fix the problem. Let’s hope Samsung can find out what’s wrong and fix it with an update.

The mushy narrow keyboard might cause some to struggle as they type. I’ve got big hands and got used to the size and the feel of the keys after a couple days.

At $449, or on sale at Best Buy for $419 in April 2017 or $369 for students until May 6, the price might cause some potential buyers to pause since other Chromebooks cost as low as $200. None of those cheaper machines comes with the great S Pen or excellent screen. Few offer battery life as long as the Samsung Chromebook Plus.

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