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Samsung’s new Chromebook Plus is a smart move that keeps it competitive

The Chromebook Plus will compete nicely with other products in its price range throughout 2018 thanks to a nice refresh by Samsung.

The Samsung Chromebook Plus holds the distinction of being our choice for the Best Chromebook since it was first made available last year. The price-to-feature ratio is simply outstanding, and while it was bested by other models in either category, none came close when considering both. That was about to change with the introduction of some really great Chromebooks in the $350-$450 price range in 2018 that offered just enough of a spec bump to slip past. Samsung just nipped that in the bud and made the job of finding the best Chromebook a lot more interesting.

The Chromebook Plus v2 is a fairly major refresh. It keeps the most important considerations of the original — price vs. features and a slim, light design — by making the changes that needed to be made without mucking up the rest. That's tougher to pull off than we think and we all have seen other companies do it poorly. It takes careful consideration of what other companies are doing that makes their products better, then seeing what you can do to one-up it all. It's especially challenging when the product has to meet a certain price point, which is critical when making a Chromebook that will be alongside very inexpensive models that look like they are just as good.

This is what Samsung faced and I think it did exactly what was needed to try and keep the Chromebook Plus at the top of every best list for 2018. There are a handful of changes. Some are obvious improvements, others not as obvious, and one that's a significant downgrade that isn't nearly as bad as it appears on paper.

What we will miss: That awesome display

The display has taken a sizable hit in almost all areas. The original Chromebook Plus sported one of the best Chromebook displays available with its 2400 x 1600 pixel 3:2 panel. It's the very same panel used for the Samsung Chromebook Pro and Google's Pixelbook and always mentioned as a reason why both are priced higher — it's a very expensive display. The new Chromebook Plus does away with the uber-expensive panel and substitutes a 1080p 16:10 display. On paper that's a drop in quality.

Nothing compares with the original Chromebook Plus display, but that doesn't mean the rest are all bad.

We're dealing with a 12-inch class Chromebook here. The display is 12.2-inches diagonally. That's not a tiny display in a world where 10-inch Chromebooks and tablets exist, but it's not gigantic, either. A 1920×1080 resolution display on a 12-inch Chromebook can look wonderful, and you'll find that most people who have looked at laptop displays day in and day out are going to agree. It's certainly not going to be as nice as the 2400 x 1600 panel of the original, but few are. That display is an outlier that can't be considered as normal. I will miss the 3:2 aspect ratio and extra screen brightness a lot more than the loss of pixels, but am almost certain that I'll be fine with Samsung's choice here.

What we will love: Intel power

The other obvious change is the processor. Like the rest of the products in its class, the Chromebook Plus now has an Intel CPU (Intel 3965Y) instead of an ARM CPU (Rockchip OP1). Both of these processors were designed for laptops like a Chromebook — easy on the battery, great processing speeds in bursts, and support for an onboard GPU that can power multiple displays. Originally, everyone assumed that the custom OP1 in the Chromebook Plus signaled the eventual ARM takeover of the mobile computer world, but now we're not sure what is happening there.

Google has focused on working with Intel CPU compatibility with Chrome since the Chromebook Pro came with some "issues" at launch. They have been fixed, and in 2018 x64 is the way to go.

We do know that a mid-range Intel Celeron CPU that has a low TDP (Thermal Design Power, or how much extra power is wasted through heat), paired with an Intel 600-series GPU which makes for an outstanding Chromebook. In 2018 it's what a moderately priced model needs to compete as a Snapdragon 800-series chip (along with all the various licensing fees) is cost-prohibitive. And Chrome OS has been tuned to work with Intel processors since the original Chromebook Pixel so things we don't usually think about, like power management, work exceptionally well. The Intel 3965Y as used in the refreshed Chromebook Plus is a 1.5 GHz dual-core CPU with a TDP of 4.5 watts. Paired with an Intel 615 GPU, it fits the description of the perfect Chromebook CPU in 2018.

Other small changes, like the addition of a second "world-facing" camera and a USB Type-A port are welcome additions. And there are things we would have liked to see — a 64GB storage option and a backlit keyboard come to mind — that are missing. But the most important change that will let the Chromebook plus move forward with Chrome OS features is the x64 Intel CPU and it's just what the doctor ordered. Don't let the inferior display bother you too much, because it's only inferior to the amazing panel its predecessor used and will likely stand up well among its peers.

I'm looking forward to some hands-on time with the refreshed Chromebook Plus to see if it can hold that coveted Best Chromebook overall title it has held for so long.

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