The Toshiba Chromebook 2 was released in late September 2014, and immediately received positive reviews that centered on its defining attribute: a bright, beautiful, glossy 1080p IPS display with fantastic viewing angles. With an MSRP of $329.99, Toshiba offered a quality of display that was previously unheard of at that price point. It also packed in surprisingly good Skullcandy speakers. Combined with 4 GB of RAM, and the quick boot speeds of an SSD, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 became very popular in the consumer Chromebook market.
Despite some very positive attributes, there were some significant trade-offs with this Chromebook. While it packed 4 GB of RAM and an SSD, it was powered by a low-end Intel N2840 Celeron processor that gave it mediocre performance. There were also some complaints of build quality related to the display, which anecdotally seems to have had an unusually high failure rate; when compared to some other devices in the same price class, it was also clear that it had budget build quality in terms of the screen hinge, trackpad, and keyboard, which were not as well-constructed as similar devices produced by Asus and Acer.
But still, that display, that beautiful display……
For 2015, Toshiba has upgraded its Chromebook line with more powerful Intel Broadwell-generation processors, along with some other new features not typically found in the budget consumer laptop class, like a backlit keyboard.
Has Toshiba found the recipe for the ultimate affordable Chromebook?
On paper, the Toshiba Chromebook 2015 hits every important category that most consumers should look for:
- 1.7 GHz dual-core Intel 3215U Broadwell Celeron processor ($329) or 2.1 GHz dual-core Intel 5015U Broadwell Core i3 processor ($429)
- 4 GB of DDR3 RAM
- 16 GB SSD for local storage (comes with 100GB Google Drive offer)
- 13.3″ 1920×1080 IPS display
- 2x USB ports, one 3.0 and one 2.0
- Full size HDMI
- Full size SD card slot
- Combo headphone/microphone jack
- HD webcam
- Kensington Lock
- 802.11 dual-band AC Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 4.1
- 8.5 Hour Battery
- LED backlit keyboard
Of particular note are the items in bold, which are new for 2015. Toshiba’s most important update is the replacement of the slower N2840 Celeron processor with much faster and more capable Broadwell-generation processors. The $329 model includes the 3215U Celeron, which is actually a slight upgrade over the 3205U Celeron which powered the Acer C740 and Acer Chromebook 15 units that I reviewed earlier this year.
While this processor lacks some high-end capabilities from Intel’s “Core” processor line, like hyperthreading, in terms of the performance you’ll see in Chrome OS, this is a significant upgrade over last year’s model. More on that below, under Performance.
Alternately by stepping up to the $429 model, consumers can purchase a unit with a 5015U Core i3 processor, which is an even more significant upgrade compared to the 2014 edition. Note that the change to these Broadwell processors does mean that the 2015 Toshiba Chromebook requires active cooling via a fan, whereas last year’s Chromebook 2 was a fanless unit.
The other upgrade is the addition of an LED backlit keyboard, something also rarely seen on budget consumer laptops. While many people may not utilize this feature, it can make or break a device for people who like to type in low-light situations, and as such it is a welcome inclusion.
To briefly recap the carry-over features from last year, the Toshiba 2015 features 4 GB of RAM and a 16 GB SSD. For connectivity it has two USB slots, one 3.0 and one 2.0; note that it does not feature USB Type C. It also has a full-size SD card slot that allows for full insertion into the device, and a full-size HDMI for powering external displays. In terms of wireless connectivity it has Bluetooth 4.1 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
The display is unchanged in terms of its specs: a Full HD, 1080p IPS display. It is glossy, so users that prefer matte anti-glare screens may be disappointed, but for general consumer use for browsing and media consumption, this is an amazing screen.
Last year, Toshiba claimed 8+ hours of battery life, but I tended to get closer to six hours per charge. With basic web browsing, some video consumption, and display at about 70%, I did get a full eight hours on my first charge with this Chromebook, so battery life appears to have been improved.
Build Quality and Design
Generally speaking, the design of this Toshiba 2015 is the same as that of the 2014 edition. It has the same general outward appearance, including the nicely textured lid and slight wedge design. This Chromebook won’t elicit a response of excitement like a Pixel or MacBook, but it is still a competently designed, modern-looking laptop.
The keyboard is spacious and follows the traditional Chrome OS keyboard layout. Like the overall exterior design, this keyboard is competent but unexceptional. The keys have a good response and reasonable travel, but there’s a lot of flex and give in the keyboard itself if you apply pressure to it.
The same is true for the trackpad, which is spacious but very “plastic” and has a hollow “click” that, at least on my unit, appears to have a bit more depression in the bottom-left corner than in the bottom-right corner. Despite this, the trackpad performance is excellent and responsive, as is the case with every Chromebook I’ve ever tested. Both tap-to-click and multi-finger gestures work flawlessly.
This unit also features the Skullcandy speakers from the 2014 Chromebook 2, and here again these are really quite good considering the price point of this Chromebook. They’re obviously lacking in low-end power and will distort at high volume, but in general when compared to other devices, even more expensive ones like the MacBook Air and Pixel 2015, the Toshiba’s speakers are loud and perfect for watching videos, movies, and streaming TV. Just to stress again, the maximum volume here is quite impressive, especially compared to the very weak speakers of the other Chromebooks I’ve tested recently like the Asus C201 and Hisense Chromebook.
As far as I can tell, there are no changes to the screen, nor the hinge. As was the case with my Chromebook 2, the hinge on this unit is not as stiff as I’ve typically seen in most other laptops.
From a distance, the Toshiba Chromebook 2015 doesn’t reveal its budget nature, but in daily use, you’ll likely start to notice the wobble of the display hinge, the flex in the keyboard, and the plastic trackpad, all of which feel more budget than cheaper devices like the Asus C201 or Chromebook Flip. Then again, these issues were all present in the previous model and aren’t totally unexpected in a budget-friendly consumer device.
The real question is, how does it perform?
If you own, or owned, a Toshiba Chromebook 2 and wanted more or less the same machine but with considerably better performance, then I have good news: your wish has been granted.
The Toshiba Chromebook 2015 is fast. Shockingly, surprisingly fast:
Note that I ran this with my Extensions enabled. Repeated tests continuously scored between 16,000 and 17,000, more toward the lower end of that range with Extensions enabled, and toward the upper bound of that range in Guest mode without any Extensions.
As a point of comparison, this is about 25% higher than the Haswell generation 2955U that powered the Acer C720 and first-gen HP14. In and of itself that doesn’t necessarily mean a 25% increase in performance, but I will say that Chrome OS is fast on this machine.
One of the most important tests of a Chromebook’s performance is how it handles 1080p streaming video. The Toshiba Chromebook 2 had unreliable performance without using the H264ify Extension, but there’s no such challenges here. YouTube 1080p quality videos ran flawlessly. I tried to cause stuttering by running multiple video streams at once, but gave up when I was able to run Netflix and Amazon Video in the background on mute and saw no effect on the YouTube stream.
Other tests that caused performance hiccups in last year’s model were similarly no issue for the 2015 edition. Google Photos? It loads quickly and scrolls smoothly. Google Play Music? It loads my library of 12,000 songs in seconds, and search is significantly faster than on my C720. Pages that took ages to load on the Acer Cloudbook, like CNN.com, take seconds to load in fully, even with ten or more other tabs open at the same time.
With the configuration of 4 GB of RAM, a 5th generation Intel Broadwell processor, and an SSD, performance is blisteringly fast. The fact that you can get web browsing performance like this on a $300 laptop with a 1080p screen is almost shocking to me, as I can’t think of any other computer even close to this price point that offers that combination of attributes.
As with the other Chromebooks packing the Broadwell Celeron processor, there are conflicts with the Intel HD Graphics drivers that cause graphical glitches in Crouton. I provide instructions to resolve this in my article, here, but in brief, the steps are as follows:
- Select your Chrome channel (if you want to move off Stable)
- Set your Chromebook to “Developer” mode
- Download Crouton from github
- Run the install script – I strongly advise selecting Trusty and XFCE with the Crouton Extension
- During the install process, your keyboard will likely stop working, so you will need a USB keyboard to create your username and password
- Once you’ve completed entry of your username and password, reset your Chromebook, and the device keyboard will work normally
- Log into your chroot, and immediately follow the instructions to update the graphics drivers via the terminal
- Then proceed as normal, and your graphical issues should be gone
As of October 2015 I can confirm this works to resolve any issues on both the Toshiba Chromebook 2 2015 and Dell Chromebook 13 with the Broadwell Celeron processor, in Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty XFCE with the Crouton Extension enabled.
The same process also works on the core i3 model. Unfortunately I don’t believe that users can upgrade the SSD on this device, so if you install Crouton to the local drive, space will be somewhat cramped.
The Toshiba Chromebook 2015 has two outstanding traits that should put it at the top of the short list for best Chromebook this year.
As expected, the first is still that beautiful 1080p IPS display. It is perfect for general web browsing and media consumption, with great viewing angles and excellent brightness.
What’s great is that for this year, that screen is paired with some outstanding performance provided by the 4 GB of RAM and the Intel Broadwell 3215U Celeron processor. The lightness of Chrome OS paired with the speed of a solid state drive gives you a laptop that boots in under six seconds, and has almost unbelievably good web performance for the cost.
As such, I cannot in good conscience suggest the Core i3 version to anyone except those who must have better performance using Crouton, which is likely a very small percentage of potential buyers. For everyone else, stick to the $329.99 model.
I do have to point out that as good a value as this Chromebook is, it isn’t perfect. The trackpad is a textured plastic that isn’t as nice as that on the $149 Hisense, and the unit displays far more keyboard flex and a looser hinge than expected. It is also unclear whether some of the screen failure issues that occurred with last year’s unit will repeat with this one.
Even taking those concerns into consideration, this Chromebook is an exceptional value, essentially retaining the best part of last year’s model – the screen quality – while solving the performance problems.
If you’ve been holding out for a Chromebook with a great screen and fantastic performance at a low cost, this is your machine.
Buy the Toshiba Chromebook 2015
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