Image: Andy Wolber / TechRepublic
Like a solid utility player in baseball, the Samsung Chromebook Plus smoothly handles tasks in all sorts of situations. Need a laptop? Tilt the screen above the standard Chrome OS keyboard with touchpad, then run any Chrome OS app. Need an Android app? Go to Google Play, then search and install an app from the store. Need a tablet? Flip the screen around behind the keyboard, then navigate Chrome OS or Android apps on the touchscreen with either your fingers or the included stylus. The Chromebook Plus will also work in tent-mode, positioned upside-down in a V-shape.
And, like a utility player, the Chromebook Plus comes close, but can’t quite match the abilities of the best position players. The keyboard is solid, but not backlit like the best keyboards available. Speaker volume is adequate, but not as loud as you might like. The ARM-based OP1 processor (see: http://whatisop.com/) delivers all-day battery life, but can’t match the speed of the fastest Chromebook laptops. The 720p webcam works well, but lacks the high-resolution found on top-of-the line phones and tablets. And at 2.38 pounds, it’s light for a laptop, but heavy for tablet.
With all that said, the Samsung Chromebook Plus delivers a few features that I think make it a compelling Chrome OS device.
The screen of the Samsung Chromebook Plus may be the device’s standout feature. It’s a 12.3-inch, 2400 x 1600 pixel, 3:2 aspect ratio touchscreen that can be adjusted to be very bright. (The specs report up to 400 nits.) By default, the display arrives set for 1200 x 800 resolution. I suggest you experiment with different resolution settings—I found that 1350 x 900 resolution worked best for my middle-aged eyes.
Lightly press the stylus to remove it from a built-in storage compartment, near the top-right of the keyboard. When you remove the stylus, a menu appears with options to capture a screenshot, create a new note, or switch to either a laser-pointer or magnifying-glass mode. After you capture a screen image, you can copy the image to the clipboard or open the image to annotate it.
The default note and image annotation tool is Google Keep, which offers pen, marker, and highlighter tools. There’s also an erase option, which lets you tap a specific line or shape to remove it, as well as a selection tool you can use to select shapes in a rectangular area, then move them to a different spot on the note. (You can choose to use another app for notes, if you don’t want to use Keep.)
3. Software: Android apps
Android apps deliver access to apps and information not otherwise accessible on a Chromebook. For example, I’ve installed drawing apps, such as Autodesk SketchBook and Infinite Design, as well as reading apps, such as Texture—full-page magazine layouts look great on the Chromebook Plus held in portrait mode. In order to install Android apps, you need to allow access to the Google Play Store in the Chromebook settings.
Android apps work well with the stylus: Tapping, selecting items, and sketching all work as expected. However, when I draw a long line quickly, I notice a lag of around ¼-inch. In practice, this isn’t a problem, I just draw long lines a bit more slowly. Otherwise, the stylus performance is predictable in Android apps.
For G Suite accounts, an administrator can control access to Android apps on Chrome OS, just as they can on other Android devices. So if you’re an administrator and deploy a Chromebook Plus at work, you don’t need to worry about people installing games or random apps. You can add apps to a whitelist, and can also prevent people from uninstalling specific apps, if you choose.
While it may not be an important feature for some people, I greatly appreciate that the Chromebook Plus is silent. There’s no fan. The Chromebook Plus also stays cool, even after extended use. Both of those features are signs of a well-designed device. To me, there’s nothing more distracting than a fan that spins-up at random times. I’ll choose a fanless device over a faster device any day.
For me, all of the features—the touchscreen, the stylus, the silence, the flexibility, the weight, and the software—make the Samsung Chromebook Plus an excellent device for presentations. Display an image, select magnifying glass mode for the stylus, then tap-and-hold to show details. Laser pointer mode turns your stylus into a red dot you can drag around the screen to indicate items. If you need to navigate while in laser pointer mode, use the keyboard or touch the screen.
You’ll need additional equipment to show the screen of the Chromebook Plus on an external display. For wired connections, you’ll need a USB-C to HDMI and/or VGA adaptor. For wireless screencasting, you can cast your screen with Google Cast to any Chromecast device. Cast from the Settings area if you want to share your entire display (and want the stylus laser pointer to work!), or cast a single tab from the three-dot menu option if you just want to show the contents of a single tab. (You can show your screen on an Apple TV with the purchase of AirParrot 2 for Chrome.)
Samsung Chromebook Plus: Utility player
When I look for alternatives to the Samsung Chromebook Plus, I can find faster laptops, lighter tablets, and less expensive Chromebooks. I see plenty of devices that exceed the Chromebook Plus’s capabilities in a specific feature. That’s expected: A position player typically outperforms a utility player. (As a Detroit Tigers fan, I expect Miguel Cabrera to outperform Andrew Romine when it comes to hitting. But, over the course of a season, I expect to see Andrew Romine play every position on the field and perform well.)
I think the Chromebook Plus is the first device to show us the utility of Android, a touchscreen, and a stylus blended with Chrome OS. The Samsung Chromebook Plus is a utility player that every organization using Chrome OS should have on their roster.