The 13.3-inch display, with a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, isn't a real highlight. It gets the job done, but an all-angles IPS display, this is not. Off-axis viewing degrades quickly, and colors and images are on the dull side. It's hard to expect much more from a $300 13-inch laptop, and to its credit, the screen is matte, rather than glossy, so it won't translate room lights into annoying glare.
The very basic stereo speakers are passable for movie watching, but about as thin-sounding as you'd expect. Audio is somewhat better through the built-in headphone jack, but I wouldn't DJ a party from a Chromebook. Despite the budget price, you also get a built-in Webcam. It's a basic 720p cam, and like most things Chromebook, offers few configuration options, but it's fine for a $300 system.
|Audio||Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack|
|Data||2 USB 3.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
Connections, performance, and battery
Like the Netbooks of old, most Chromebooks have been light on ports and connections. The same could be said of most of the smaller Atom-powered Windows 8 slates we've seen, which are restricted to USB 2.0. In the larger 13-inch body of the Toshiba Chromebook, you get an HDMI output, good for sending video to your TV, and dual USB 3.0 ports, not that you'll need high-speed data transfer to fill up the included 16GB SSD.
As Chromebooks don't run traditional desktop software such as Photoshop or iTunes, we can't test raw performance in the same way that we test Windows or OS X machines. That said, the included Intel Celeron processor was speedy enough to keep Web pages scrolling smoothly and we were able to stream HD video (topping out at 720p because of the lower-res screen), and even play some basic browser-based games with 3D graphics.
The key to Chromebook satisfaction is to understand what the system does and what it doesn't do, and adjust your expectations accordingly. That's why a Celeron or Atom processor in an 8-inch tablet or 11-inch clamshell, even one running Windows 8, can feel reasonably speedy, but the same power in a mainstream 15-inch laptop would not satisfy for all-day, everyday use.
The real metric to measure for a Chromebook is battery life. Again, because of the limited software available for Chrome OS, we measure battery life a little differently than on Windows, OS X, or Android systems. Instead of out offline video playback battery drain test, Chrome OS is tested via a nonstop Hulu stream, while connected to the internet via WiFi. In that test, the Toshiba Chromebook ran for 6 hours, 36 minutes, making it the longest-lived of any recent Chromebook, beating models from HP and Acer. That's not as long as the most battery-friendly 13-inch Windows or OS X laptops, but considering that's a score for nonstop online video streaming, it's pretty impressive.
With excellent battery life and a very useful 13-inch screen size, the Toshiba Chromebook offers a few things the Chrome OS competition does not. But beyond that, there's not much that stands out from other Chromebooks or is more likely to make you a believer in the platform.
Acer's C720P, which adds a touch screen, and larger 32GB SSD, for the same $299, is still the best Chromebook value, but there's a case to made for the bigger screen and keyboard in this model if you're looking to do more longform writing.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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Toshiba Chromebook CB30-A3120
Chrome OS; 1.4GHz Intel Celeron 2955U; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM; 16GB SSD
HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook
Chrome OS; 1.1GHz Intel Celeron 847; 2GB DDR3 SRAM; 16GB SSD
HP Pavilion 11 Chromebook
Chrome OS; ARM Exyno; 2GB RAM; 16GB SSD
Acer Chromebook C720P
Chrome OS; 1.4GHz Intel Celeron 2955; 2GB DDR3 SRAM; 32GB SSD