Samsung has a pair of new Chromebooks at CES 2017 that include some high-end features normally found only in traditional Windows systems, plus some rarely seen processor options.
Chromebooks -- inexpensive laptops running Google's limited Chrome OS -- used to feel very cookie-cutter. Every brand made one or two, but they were all pretty much the same. With work and play shifting to online, cloud-based tools such as Gmail, Netflix and Facebook help Chromebooks feel less restrictive now, since all these online apps can be reached with the Chrome browser at the heart of the OS.
The new Samsung Chromebook Pro, and its sister product, the Chromebook Plus, take that a step further, and both were built in collaboration with Google to emphasize Google's Play app store. Like a handful of newer Chromebooks, these can run Android apps from the Play store, and even run multiple apps at the same time. That gives you access to a huge software library previously unavailable on Chrome OS, including games and the Android versions of products from the likes of Adobe.
Both the Pro and Plus are hybrids, with 360-degree hinges and a built-in stylus for drawing and note taking. Google's Keep app is preinstalled for stylus-based notes and handwriting-to-text conversion. The 12.3-inch displays have a better-than-HD 2,400x1,600-pixel resolution and a Gorilla Glass top layer. The 32GB of internal storage and 4GB of RAM is standard for Chromebooks, but these are meant to be primarily cloud-based tools.
In my hands-on time with the systems, they had a premium feel both in design and speed, and the included stylus worked well for some quick sketching. Most Chromebooks are make of plastic -- these have all-metal bodies, and feel closer to some of the ultrathin Windows laptops and hybrids we've tested recently (which are much more expensive).
The two versions -- the Chromebook Pro and the Chromebook Plus -- look identical, down to the USB-C ports on either side. The difference is in the processor. The Pro has an Intel Core M3, from Intel's sixth-generation Core i-series, while the Plus has an ARM chip, typically found in phones and Android tablets.
The Plus version is coming in February at $449 (£365 or AU$620 converted), while the Pro version is coming later this spring and doesn't have an official price yet.