The name Samsung was once synonymous with Chromebooks. The company released the first commercial Chrome OS device in 2011 and eventually followed it up with the laptop that introduced much of the world to the Chrome computing concept -- 2012's $249 Samsung Chromebook.
Since then, though, Samsung has stayed curiously quiet within the Chrome OS realm. 2013 brought us several new Chromebook contenders from a variety of manufacturers, but we heard nary a peep from the company that helped start it all.
Today, the silence ends. Samsung is about to get back in the game with a massive update to its Chromebook, the Samsung Chromebook 2. I got a sneak peek at the goods in advance of today's announcement, and let me tell you: These new systems promise to give the current crop of Chromebooks a serious run for their money.
Ladies and gentlemen: The Samsung Chromebook 2
The Samsung Chromebook 2 actually comes in two different models: one with an 11.6-in. display, like its predecessor, and one that packs a larger 13.3-in. screen. Both models will go on sale sometime in April; the 11-in. system will cost $320 while the 13-in. device will run $400.
Displays and overall size aside, the two Chromebook 2 models are pretty similar. Both sport refreshed designs that follow the faux-leather look used on the Galaxy Note 3. The 11-in. model will be available in "Jet Black" or "Classic White" colors, while the 13-in. device will come only in "Luminous Titan Gray" for now. (Hey, at least it's luminous.)
Under the hood, both models use Samsung Exynos Octa 5 processors with 4GB of RAM (the 11-in. model is clocked at 1.9GHz while the 13-in. is at 2.1GHz). Sound a little unusual? It is: The Exynos Octa 5 is an ARM-based chip -- the same type of chip typically used in smartphones and tablets. That's the sort of setup most Chromebooks used to use, but the majority of the newer models have shifted to Haswell-based architectures instead.
While Haswell chips are generally considered to be more power-efficient than their ARM-based cousins, stamina doesn't appear to be a cause for concern with Samsung's new offerings: The 11-in. Chromebook 2 promises a full 8 hours of battery life per charge while the larger 13-in. model is listed for 8.5 hours.
Another interesting distinction: Samsung's Chromebook 2 devices use eMMC-based iNAND embedded flash drives -- the type of memory we typically see in smartphones and tablets -- instead of regular solid-state drives, which are used in most Chromebooks these days. We'll have to wait to see if that has any impact on the products' performance. (Both devices have 16GB of local space available.)
About those displays: The 11-in. Chromebook 2 uses the standard 1366-x-768 resolution seen in most Chromebook devices, including the previous-gen Samsung Chromebook model. The 13-in. Chromebook 2, however, steps things up with a 1920-x-1080 "full HD" display -- a welcome bump from the bare minimum we've come to expect on non-Pixel-level machines. That said, Samsung has confirmed to me that both models use TN panels as opposed to higher-quality IPS displays (which is still par for the course with Chromebooks, with the Pixel and the HP Chromebook 11 being the only exceptions).
In addition to their new external design, both Chromebook 2 systems sport updated Chrome OS keyboards with "curved key caps" and what Samsung describes as "enhanced" audio/speaker systems. Each computer has an HDMI port along with one USB 3.0 port, one USB 2.0 port and a micro-SD card slot. The 11-in. model weighs in at 2.43 lbs. -- about the same as the previous Samsung Chromebook -- while the 13-in. system is 3.09 lbs.
All Chromebook 2 systems ship with a "productivity software package" that includes three apps: an English-learning app for multilingual students called Little Bridge, a remote Android access utility called AirDroid Premium, and a to-do list utility called Wunderlist Pro. Samsung says the package is "valued at more than $100," but aside from being preloaded, it's not entirely clear what separates those apps from the free equivalents you could install yourself from Google's Chrome Web Store.
Samsung is putting a lot of emphasis on education-based use for its new Chromebooks, which is no surprise as the company has evidently seen a lot of success with its current Chromebook in schools. The devices will be launching simultaneously for education, enterprise, and consumer sales, though, so they should be pretty easy to find.
Samsung tells me it'll keep selling its current $249 Chromebook through the end of 2014, too, though with the large variety of more current models available in that same price range, I'm not sure why anyone would want to consider that device at this point.
The new Chromebook 2 systems, on the other hand, look to be strong contenders. Stay tuned: I'll be spending some time living with the laptops soon and will bring you a full real-world review once we're closer to their April launch.