UPDATE 10-4-2014: After only a week of using this Chromebook, it has become my go-to machine. It does everything I need it to do exceptionally, even surprisingly well, and the wonderful display continues to impress. I have added some edits to my review to reflect my past weeks experience, but have left my original opinions intact.
UPDATE 12-3-2014: Due to some concerns I have read regarding the size of UI (User Interface) items on Chromebooks with Full HD (1920x1080) displays, including this Toshiba, I uploaded a quick video showing how easy is is to customize the display to your liking with just a few simple keyboard shortcuts. Remember that page zoom settings are local, so if you have more than one Chrome OS device you can customize each one individually. As for this machine; it just keeps getting better and better with each Chrome OS update. I always tell people, "If there's something you don't like about your Chromebook, or something you wish Google would improve, just wait a little bit".
Back in February of this year I picked up the original Toshiba Chromebook 13. That machine has served me well over the past 8 months, and like all of my Chrome OS devices it has only gotten better with each update. The original Toshiba is fast (thanks to the 2955u Haswell chip), has a decent keyboard, a nice touch pad, and excellent battery life. It's packaged pretty nicely, runs quiet (practically silent even with the fan), and for a 1366 x 768 panel stretched over 13" it has a very useable display. So why step up to this new Toshiba Chromebook 2; especially when I own several other Chromebooks already (Samsung Series 3, Acer C720 4GB and 2GB Haswell, Acer C720 4GB i3, and Google Chromebook 11 (HP)? The main reason is that my daughter finally figured out what 13" Chromebook she wanted for school: My Toshiba Chromebook 13. The other reasons are more about the hardware itself. I've been wanting to try a Chromebook with a full HD display (1920 x 1080) and a Bay Trail CPU. When I saw that this new Toshiba was going to have both of those items, and that the display was going to be a 330 nit IPS and not a TN panel, my decision was easy. Now before I get on with the review, I should qualify my forthcoming opinions by stating that for me personally, a great display, keyboard, and touchpad can often overcome so-so processor speed. I love my Acer C720 i3 when I need speed, but the visual and tactile experience offered by the Google Chromebook 11 usually makes its slow performance a rather minor distraction. Should the screen on this new Chromebook 2 prove to be as nice as is rumored, and the keyboard and touchpad at least as good as the original, I may show a (very) little favoritism. But don't worry; I'll be as unbiased and honest as I can in this review.
PACKAGING AND UNBOXING: I include this section because I know it matters to some people, and because of another reason. The packaging Toshiba uses is pretty good (better than Acer, but not Samsung or Google), and should insure that your Chromebook arrives to you without damage (unless Ace Ventura is your delivery man). In the box you'll find the Chromebook, a charger, and some various documentation. The charger brick isn't all that big; about 1" x 1-1/2" x 3-1/2" (smaller than the original), and the power cord is 12 feet long (same as the original/brick in the middle); compare that to 6 feet for the Google Chromebook 11 and 9 feet for the Acer C720's. Personally, I like the long cord, but it does make for more mass to carry if you travel with it (though this one can be wrapped up pretty compactly). In reading the reviews for the original Chromebook 13, I noticed several complaints about difficulty in removing stickers from the lid and body. This model had stickers in both areas and they were pretty easily removed without a lot of fuss. However, I did encounter a bit of a problem when I opened the lid. I wasn't plugged in to power, so the first boot didn't start (which I did on purpose). As I looked over the darkened screen I noticed it was covered with some sticky residue in several areas. Upon further inspection, I noticed that the bezel around the screen was not properly adhered to the lid in the area of the webcam. There was also part of what I would assume to be the adhesive tape which secures the bezel to the lid protruding from the rather large gap. With the gap, the loose distorted bezel, and the protruding tape, I knew I would be doing an exchange. I hope the new one is okay, because when I finally plugged in and started it up I got a big smile on my face. (A quick note here; replacement arrived very fast, and all is well with my new machine. I have not let the experience color my opinion of this Chromebook).
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: It's smaller, thinner, and lighter than the original Toshiba Chromebook 13, that's for sure. Aside from my bezel issue, it feels very well put together. It's much sleeker than the original as well. Smaller corner radii and a chamfer on the edges of the lid give it a more contemporary look. There are no vents, as there is no fan, and the only visible screws are on the bottom of the machine. There are also no visible speaker holes as those now fire out from under the keyboard. The finish is pretty nice, and is very smudge proof. The top and bottom are textured so that you can keep a good grip on it, and the remaining painted surfaces are smoother but not glossy; though the finish does shine due to its bright silver color. The lid is thinner than the original, but it is also less rigid (always open and adjust it from the center). The base is very strong. Lifting the machine up from one of the front corners causes almost no chassis flex. The hinges are tight, and the display stays where you set it. But the main reason I purchased this particular Chromebook was for the display, and let me tell you; it doesn't disappoint! As soon as that screen lit up, and the Chrome logo appeared, I knew I was going to love it.
DISPLAY: The 1920 x 1080 IPS display on this Toshiba is excellent. The color temperature is nice and warm, the colors are accurate and properly saturated, the contrast is great, the viewing angles are very wide in all directions, the brightness is superb, and everything on the screen looks fantastic. When I look at my Chromebooks with TN panels the displays are tolerable, but they never really inspire. The TN panels cause color accuracy, contrast, sharpness, and especially viewing angles to suffer. For myself, TN panels are fatiguing and stressful on the eyes after a while, but I can work on IPS displays for much longer stretches. The IPS displays also show off the "3-D'ness" of Chrome OS which doesn't look nearly as good, and barely 3-D at all on TN panels.
As nice as this display is however, when it comes to using Chrome OS on a 13" screen at this resolution you may encounter some issues. Unlike the latest versions of Windows and Mac operating systems, Chrome OS does not automatically scale up UI icons and text based on the screens resolution. What this means is that things can get a bit small on the Toshiba's 13" full HD display. The screen is incredibly sharp, and even the small text is very clear and very readable. You can hold ctrl while tapping the plus or minus key to increase/decrease the zoom on web (or website) pages themselves, and Chrome OS will remember those settings on your next visit (the zoom controls are also available in the browser drop-down menu). This can be a pain at first as each new site or page must be adjusted, but it's also nice because each page or site can be adjusted differently. For example; on my first visit to Amazon with this Toshiba, I tapped up the zoom to 125% and every page I visited on the Amazon site maintained that level. Then when I opened Google Plus in a different tab I was able to set that zoom to 150%. The settings are local, so you won't have issues if you own multiple Chrome OS devices. You can also increase the font size in the settings, but not all pages or all text responds to these adjustments. You may have pages with large text in some spots and small text in others. If you want to increase the size of the icons on your desktop or the text on the browser tabs you can simply use CTRL+SHIFT+ "+" or adjust the screen resolution in the settings, but if it comes to that you may be asking yourself why you chose a 1920x1080 panel to begin with (even though you are technically still getting the full resolution). There may be other adjustments through the accessibility options, but I haven't explored those at the time of this review. Another reviewer who runs on the Beta Channel of Chrome OS has written that there will be changes to future versions of Chrome OS to address some of these issues regarding text size and full HD screens. For myself, the default settings are fine, and I have easily adapted to clicking up the zoom on pages when things just seem a little small. The higher resolution also makes it a lot easier to have multiple windows open in full view and at the same time without overlapping each other.
10-4-2014: I have fully adjusted to using this display (regarding the whole text and icon sizes) and going back to the other Chromebooks with their lower resolutions is pretty odd as that text and the icons now seem overly large to me. What seems to work best is not messing with any of the display or text size settings and just bumping up the zoom (ctrl +) to 125% on the pages I visit. It also seems that with the newer releases of Chrome OS things stay sharper when you drop the resolution or zoom webpages.
A quick note: With updates to Chrome OS, the following section of my review is pretty much moot, but I have still left it intact to highlight the continuous improvement of the Chrome Operating System.
BETA CHANNEL DISPLAY SCALING FLAG TEST: As several reviews have mentioned switching to the Beta Channel and enabling a flag to increase the size of the desktop icons and UI text I have uploaded pictures of the before and after. I like the size, but the sharpness of the display is lost since the boost is achieved by lowering the resolution of the screen. (UPDATE: This is no longer an issue in Stable Version 40) When I did the channel change the flag was enabled already, but when I looked at the display settings, Chrome OS listed the the "best" resolution choice as 1536x1864, but again, I chose this machine for the 1080x1920 screen. So while things look bigger, the result comes at a cost.
In the end, the stellar full HD IPS display on this new Toshiba really makes the machine a winner. It's great for surfing, streaming video, looking at pictures, working on documents, and really anything you'd do with a Chromebook. At this point, I don't see myself purchasing another Chromebook without an IPS display.
10-4-2014: I will NEVER buy another computer without an IPS display!
PERFORMANCE (CPU and BATTERY): I hope that people understand that published processor speeds have very little to do with a machines overall performance. The CPU in this Toshiba is rated at 2.16 GHz while the one in the Acer C720 i3 is rated at 1.7 GHz. But as you will see in the next section (Benchmarks), those ratings don't mean much. Even the original Acer C720, rated at 1.4 GHz is faster than this Toshiba. However, as I have been stressing throughout this review, this machine offers an experience that is beyond raw speed or benchmark scores. If you're looking for a racehorse you want the Acer C720 4GB i3 Chromebook, but you'll sacrifice an awesome display, and a computer with a much better build in this Toshiba. This Chromebook isn't the fastest one out there, but it does move along just fine for what I need it to do. It is noticeably faster than our old Samsung series 3 or my Google Chromebook 11, and I can see it being my new go-to machine. If you're a tab monster you will likely experience occasional slowdowns even with the 4GB of RAM, but if you just like to work a couple tabs at a time, keep your mail open, write a paper, or stream some video you'll be just fine. I had no issues playing 1080p video that was locally stored or pulled from a USB drive or SD card, and full HD Youtube videos played great too. Streaming Netflix and Hulu Plus works good, and I watched and second screened (via HDMI) videos from a couple network websites. The Toshiba Chromebook 2 has generally met all of my performance expectations, and I'm glad it handles video so well.
Like the original, the new Toshiba battery lasts a very long time. I didn't really clock the thing and I haven't done any endurance tests, but in day to day use, it is the longest lasting battery of all my Chromebooks (the Google Chromebook 11 being the worst). Even at full or near full brightness I have been getting around 6 hours per charge, and I know that if I drop the brightness down I could improve that number a lot. At 88% battery and at ~65% brightness, the status area is reporting 6:30 of remaining battery time. This Chromebook charges fast too. I went from 5% to full in about 1:45. Compare that to my slowest machine, the Google 11, which takes about 4 hours to recharge. The only problem now is keeping this amazing display dimmed, which is proving to be difficult.
BENCHMARKS: I never expected this Toshiba to be a speed demon, but I have included benchmark scores just as a point of comparison. These scores will contrast this Toshiba Chromebook 13 to my Acer C720 i3 Chromebook. Peacekeeper (Tosh 1396 and 7/7 : Acer 3205 and 7/7) Sun Spider (Tosh 484 : Acer 296) HTML 5 fishbowl (Tosh ~95 fish at 60fps : Acer ~495 at 60fps) Octane (Tosh 8051 : Acer 14,374). Full off to login screen (Tosh ~7 sec : Acer ~3.5 sec) Sleep to login screen (Tosh ~1 sec : Acer < 1/2 sec) As you can see there is a pretty wide performance gap when you look at raw numbers, but in day to day use I think the new Toshiba motors along pretty well. And like I said, that screen can make up for a lot of minor shortcomings.
10-4-2014: This has surprised even me, but after a week I have zero complaints about the speed of this machine. I thought I would be wanting for my i3's performance, but if you have a solid internet connection and adequate bandwidth this machine will really motor along. If you want to play 1080p video (especially when streaming) you pretty much have to only be doing that, but I don't have an issue with this because when I'm playing a Full HD video that's really all I'm doing at that moment. But aside from this issue I am very impressed! One thing to keep in mind is to not be too hasty in judging performance. On a new computer it will take time to build up your cache and after a few days pages you visit frequently visit will load quicker. And if you've had or have another Chromebook the new machine may lag while it's downloading all of your apps in the background.
KEYBOARD / TOUCHPAD: I have to say that once I got used to them, the keyboard and touchpad on the original Toshiba worked quite well. The new keyboard is noticeably better than the original and the pad is pretty much the same, which works for me. The keyboard isn't spongy at all and it does have lots more snap to it than the old Toshiba. It's pretty quiet, and the size/spacing of the keys is a good fit for my hand size. I'd rate it a very close second to the one on the Google Chromebook 11. When I have to do a lot of typing, I prefer to use the GCB 11 (another great IPS display), but for this review I did type 100% of it on my new Toshiba and the more I used the keyboard, the more I liked it. The touchpad Toshiba uses is nice and large and has more of a textured surface than say the Acer C720 line. Those pads are smooth, but after a while they tend to feel oily. The Toshiba pad always feels the same and never greasy or oily. It has been very accurate for me, and I'm also glad it has a large area because you have to make longer moves or make lifts to cover the screen area even at the highest speed setting. I'd imagine that just like mice that have higher DPI settings, Toshiba could have used a higher DPI pad on the full HD model. However, since they also offer this machine with a 1366x768 display I can see why they didn't do this (would increase the cost). One final note: Writing documents on this Chromebook is also very enjoyable because the text is so crisp and clear on the display.
UPDATE: With later releases of Chrome OS, the pad seems to be a bit faster now and I feel like I can navigate the screen better and with fewer lifts.
PERIPHERALS: Since I've begun using Chromebooks, they have only become better at interfacing with my peripheral devices. As soon as I logged in for the first time, and when my account sync was complete, my Canon cloud printer was available. Remember though, Chromebooks will not run printers which are directly connected. You have to have a "cloud ready" printer, or you will need to host your printer on a Windows or Mac machine with the Chrome browser installed and Google Cloud Printing setup. I tested the Toshiba with a Logitech wired mouse, wireless mouse, and Bluetooth mouse, and everything worked well. I had no issues connecting a variety of external USB HDD's, an assortment of USB drives, and it also worked well with my SD cards; which, like the original Toshiba, fit fully into the card slot. I had always left an SD card in my old Toshiba as added local storage, but with one of the more recent releases of Chrome OS, a warning is now given every time you wake a Chromebook from sleep saying you didn't properly disconnect the card (even if you do "eject" it using the Files app). This was the same on this new Toshiba as well. The machine worked with my external Logitech webcam, and should be compatible with any webcam that can be used with Linux. The connection to my HDTV via HDMI worked well and I used it to watch an episode of BB Theory off of CBS's website. Both of my digital cameras and my Android phone connected to the Chromebook and were able to upload pictures to the cloud. You can't really browse the folders of connected cameras and smartphones at this time, but Chrome OS will recognize the DCIM folders and allow the synchronization of pictures to the cloud. (UPDATE: With the release of Chrome OS 38 stable you can now browse the folders on a connected Android device and transfer files between the devices). The Bluetooth worked good with my Bose Soundlink Mini, but I did experience stutters as I browsed the web while music was playing; a phenomenon seen at one time or another on all of my Chromebooks. I also connected several of my external USB DAC/Headphone amplifiers to this Chromebook, and while they were all recognized by the Toshiba and sounded very good, there was stuttering of the bitstream when I opened/browsed some of the more complex web pages/sites (CNET for example). This has been a problem for me with all of my Chrome OS devices, save for my Acer C720 i3.
10-4-2014: The stuttering I described when using the DAC may have been issues with my terrible TWC internet service when I was testing it. I was listening to (streaming) music last night, using the DAC in the USB 3 port, and was all over the web during that time. I cannot say that I had even one instance of an interruption to my music playback. And I'm talking several hours here. Nice!
SPEAKERS / ODDS AND ENDS: I have never had any unrealistic expectations for tiny computer speakers, and as an admitted audiophile I have very little love for anything "Skullcandy". But, the speakers in this Toshiba are really pretty nice. The speakers are "top firing", and the sound that is coming from under keyboard is much more balanced than the original model. The speakers can get sufficiently loud and play with zero to only minor distortion at maximum volume. I would put this Toshiba's sound on par with, or even ahead of the sound from the Google Chromebook 11, which I felt had the best audio performance out of all my Chromebooks. One thing about top firing speakers is that the sound will change based on how you move your hands on the keyboard. This is the case with the Google and the Toshiba. The combination headphone/mic jack puts out quality sound as well, and sounded great with my Koss Porta Pro's. All of the Chromebooks we own put out very nice sound out of their headphone jacks, which is more than I can say for the old HP Windows laptop I had used for years. As I said earlier, the SD card slot is nice in that the card goes all the way into the machine, keeping it protected, but the card warning issue I described earlier is a bit of an annoyance. The old Toshiba had 2 USB 3.0 ports, but this machine gives you one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0. This isn't an issue for me as I mostly live in the Cloud, but for some people it might matter. The HDMI output works works well, as I have reported, and it's a Chromebook feature that I use pretty regularly. It can be used on any TV, projector, or computer monitor with an HDMI connection, and you can choose to mirror or extend your screen to the connected display. If you connect to an older DLP set like mine you may have to fool with the resolution settings since those old DMD chipsets operate differently from LCD panels (due to "Wobulation). This new Computer also has a pretty nice webcam. It looks very good in strong light, and it does okay in lamp light also. I made a Hangouts call with my daughter at college, and the Toshiba worked just fine.
MINOR COMPLAINTS: All of the items listed in this section are pretty minor, but I did feel they were worth mentioning. While typing this review on my new Toshiba, and while handling the machine, I noticed that the outside edge of the main deck and lid is rather "sharp" for lack of a better word. If you type in a manner that has your wrists contacting this edge, you may notice some discomfort after a while, and if your wrists lay over the front outside corners you will feel those digging in a bit as well. I can see where the designers wanted to minimize the gap when closed, but we use these machines when they're open and a little bit of a roll-off have helped. Next, the touchpad on my machine hovers over the actual button beneath it just a tiny bit (Chromebook pads have a single button underneath, front and center on the pad). This results in the pad sometimes being louder than it should be when tapping to click as the pad makes contact with the button that you never intended to actually click. This issue was also present on my original Toshiba.
UPDATE: With regular use, my touchpad seems to have relaxed a bit and now rests nicely on the button, thus removing the extra noise.
CONCLUSION: I have come to the same the same conclusion as my friend Dr. Kenneth Rodino M.D. posted in his own review of this Toshiba. For the power user, the best mid-level Chromebook is the Acer C720 i3 with 4GB of RAM and the 32GB SSD. For the casual user who appreciates an excellent screen complemented by a very good touchpad and keyboard this new Toshiba Chromebook 2 with it's 4GB RAM and 1920x1080 IPS display is the best choice. The new Acer Chromebook 13 may prove to be a bit more powerful, the Asus C300 is cheaper, and the Samsung 2 13" might come in an nicer, more refined package, but as I have said through this whole review, this screen makes all the difference. And when I look at what I paid for the original Toshiba ($290) Chromebook and what I got this one for ($330), I see it as an excellent value as well.
So that's my review. If you made it this far, I thank you for reading. If you have any questions or comments about this machine or my review, or you want me to test/comment on something I missed just let me know. I will do my best to answer promptly and thoroughly. I enjoy helping people with their tech questions, and I always like chatting about Chromebooks. I will also be sure to update this review in the next couple days regarding my bezel issue, and how it resolved.
Replacement Update 9-27-2014: Just after I posted this review I received a shipping email from Amazon. It seems that my new unit will arrive this Monday instead of Wednesday. Kudos to Amazon for once again providing me with awesome customer service!
Replacement Update 9-29-2014: Replacement has arrived and all is good. Once again, high praise for Amazon Customer Service.
9-30-2014: I opened up my Google (HP) Chromebook 11 today and I was surprised at how much cooler the color temperature seemed on that machine when compared to this one (still, a very nice IPS panel). But that was nothing compared to when I got back on my Acer C720 i3. That screen looks like it's sitting behind a blue filter! The 30 extra PPI this machine has relative to 1366 x 768 11.6" screens (165 vs 135) is also noticeable as this Toshiba looks even smoother than the HP 11 which looks much smoother than the Acer's TN panel (even though the HP and Acer have the same native resolution.
UPDATE 11-14-2014: Because I still (unfortunately) need a Windows PC so my wife can use Citrix to work from home on occasion, I had to purchase a cheap Windows 8.1 machine when our HP Pavilion laptop died this week. It's a $250 Acer 15.6" with a 500GB HDD and 4GB of RAM and it uses the same N2840 CPU as this Toshiba Chromebook 2. For what it is, for the price, and for what I expected it to be, I gave it a positive review. But I will tell you that if that Acer is indicative of the current crop of super cheap Windows computers, than Chromebook makers have nothing to fear. Aside from the hours of work it took to set the thing up, and a host of other shortcomings, the performance just doesn't compare to this Toshiba. We will only use the thing on occasion, but if you do require a PC, and you will be using it daily, I suggest you avoid those budget units that are saturating the market. If you think you can live without a Windows machine (and most people don't realize they probably can) than Chromebooks may be just what your looking for.
This is the Acer that I reviewed. Acer Aspire E 15 ES1-512-C88M 15.6-Inch Laptop (Diamond Black)
UPDATE 1-27-2015: I received my new Chromebook Pixel yesterday (and will be posting a review in a few days). While it is a phenomenal machine, using it had me seeing this Toshiba in a new light. The Pixel provides a user experience that is second to none in the Chromebook universe, but in a broad sense this Toshiba Chromebook 2 FHD takes a big step in closing that budget-to-high end gap. Considering all the Chromebooks I have owned/used; had I jumped to the Pixel from one of my other machines it would have felt like a much greater leap than it did moving up from this Toshiba. Yes, the Pixel is still in a class of its own, but if Toshiba can make their next machine faster (Skylake) and add just a few more upscale touches we see on so many PCs (better pad, better/lighted keyboard, a bit more onboard storage, and even a touchscreen), I believe they will have a serious winner on their hands. With no "Pixel 2" on the horizon, with the acceptance of $300-400 Chromebooks, and with sales really starting to take off, the time for that much sought after true mid-level Chromebook is now.