So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Toshiba Chromebook CB30
Toshiba's CB30 is one of the best Chromebooks we've seen so far, but its screen isn't great
- Good styling
- Comfortable to use
- Full-sized HDMI port and SD card slot
- Screen is very glossy
- Screen definition and contrast could be better
Toshiba's Chromebook CB30 possesses good styling and a useful array of features. At 13.3 inches, it's also a comfortable Chromebook to use. Importantly, it performs swiftly and can do a good job when streaming Web video. However, it has a screen that is very glossy and not as crisp and colourful as we would like. It's the only thing holding it back. Even so, it's still a Chromebook that's well worth considering.
Price$ 399.00 (AUD)
Toshiba has made use of the more well-known 13in form factor for its Chromebook CB30 (part number PLM01A-00200C), and compared to many of the other new-breed, low-cost, Google-centric laptops that we've seen, this one might just be the best yet. Its size and keyboard are suitable for long periods of typing, its styling isn't boring, and it offers the types of ports and slots that always get us excited when we review new computers.
Not a Windows laptop
The Chrome OS operating system that runs on this Chromebook bears few similarities to the Windows or Mac environments you might be familiar with. Essentially, you will be inside a Chrome Web browser for the entire time that you use this notebook, and you won't be able to install any applications apart from the ones that you find in the Chrome Store. Basically, if you're a after a traditional laptop experience, a Chromebook isn't for you.
You need to be a heavy user of Google's services, or at least have only simple needs from a laptop, such as browsing the Web, watching YouTube, and using Web-based email and social media, in order to get the most out of this (and any other) Chromebook. You will have a great overall experience if you already use Google's services on an everyday basis; things like Gmail, Drive, and Docs are what this notebook is built for.
You can use it for streaming video, local video file playback (MP4 filles play without any problems), listening to music, and viewing photos. But, primarily, it's Web-based tasks that are best suited to this Chromebook, and you will need a Wi-Fi connection to facilitate those tasks.
Visit our review of the Acer C720 Chromebook to read more about what Chrome OS offers.
While Chrome OS is the main feature of the CB30 Chromebook, the hardware shouldn't be overlooked. The body has a clean and elegant styling that makes it stand out, and it offers ports and slots that will come in handy when you want to tap in to external storage and display devices. The CB30 features two USB 3.0 ports, a full-sized HDMI port, a headset port, and a full-sized SD card slot (cards fit all the way inside it). A part of the reason for the good offering of ports is the 13in form factor, which provides plenty of room along the sides without compromising sturdiness and looks. With the lid closed, the CB30 is around 20mm thick.
The build quality is strong enough considering the low-cost nature of the unit. It's constructed out of plastic (polycarbonate resin) rather than metal, both to keep the cost down and to keep the weight manageable. It tipped our digital scales at 1.49kg, and it's a notebook that feels well balanced when it's being carried around or rested on your lap. In fact, the balance is so good, we could open the lid with one hand without the base lifting up off the table.
The base feels sturdy overall, though we did experience a problem with the touchpad's left-click button. It's a button that's located beneath the surface of the pad, and the pad sometimes felt like it was getting caught on something when it was pressed — it didn't happen all the time, which suggests that the problem was caused by certain movements or pressing a little too high up on the pad. The lid is quite flexible, and lots of puddling was present on the screen when we applied the slightest bit of pressure from the back.
We like the textured finish that's present on the lid and base, which makes the Chromebook easy to pick up and carry around, and it's a far cry from the glossiness that we saw in the previous Chromebook we reviewed, HP's Chromebook 11. Furthermore, it won't end up looking smudged after prolonged usage. A Chrome logo resides at the top-left of the lid, while the bottom-left has a familiar chrome-finished (funnily enough) Toshiba branding.
We also like the keyboard on this Chromebook and think it's fine for long sessions of typing. The keys are full-sized (except for the arrows and Chrome-specific function keys), and while they don't possess a lot of travel, they are soft to hit and nicely responsive. You might have to get used to the lack of a Delete key, which is a key that isn't part of the Chromebook keyboard spec; in its place is a power key, which, when pressed accidentally, causes the screen to pulse. You have to keep it pressed a couple of seconds in order to log out of Chrome OS, and a little longer to switch off the laptop. Function keys across the top allow you to change volume, brightness and navigate browser windows.
The touchpad is 103x69mm, so it's quite large, and it supports the usual gestures. You can perform two-finger scrolling, three-finger tab switching, two-finger swipes (long ones) for going backwards and forwards on a Web site, and two-finger taps for right-clicking (there is no physical right-click switch, only a left-click). Its tracking was fine during our tests, and all of the gestures worked as expected. We miss the ability to double-tap-and-drag, though. We also think that the pad should be centred according to the space bar, rather than according to the width of the chassis.
Speakers are located on the underside of the chassis on either side. They are decent speakers considering how small they are, but their location makes them too easy to block. Sound will often be muddled when you listen while using the CB30 in your lap or on other soft surfaces. HP's Chromebook 11, has speakers that fire up through the keyboard. We think that's a much better implementation for audio on a small laptop such as a Chromebook.
As for the screen, it's not great. It has a resolution of 1366x768, which is standard, but it's a very glossy screen and we found reflections to be annoying, especially in the office. It's not an IPS panel, which means that the viewing angles are narrow and you might have to adjust the tilt and rotation often while you work. The screen also seemed to struggle when displaying photos with lots of fine colour gradients, and it accentuated flaws in compressed videos (especially in scenes with lots of black).
You get dual-band Wi-Fi, and also Bluetooth 4.0. We had success streaming Google Play Music tracks over Bluetooth to a Parrot Zikmu Solo speaker. The music streamed without stuttering, even while we continued to browse heavy sites such as Flickr. We experienced one or two pauses while the music caught up, but these were rare. Basically, it's a good unit if you want to listen to your Google Play Music library over Bluetooth; not all Chromebooks can perform this task successfully.
You can easily use this Chromebook as a device for running Web-based video content on your big-screen TV, and we did just that when we fired up good old NBA League Pass for our tests. The streaming basketball games that we watch through this service can drop frames noticeably if the performance of a device isn't up to scratch, and we're happy to report that the CB30 offered a smooth experience, both when we watched on the laptop, and when we set up a Full HD television as a second screen. Furthermore, YouTube content was smooth up to 1080p.
Since this is a Chromebook and not a regular Windows laptop, it's not capable seeing other PCs on your home network and playing content off them. Instead, you will have to make video watchable through the Chrome Web browser. You can do this either by using a program such as Emit Web Player, which runs as a server on the computer with your media on it and does all the legwork for streaming content to you Chrome Web browser, or you could use a network attached storage (NAS) device with a built-in media streamer to access all your content. We used an Asustor NAS with the Plex media centre plug-in, which served up videos to our Chromebook without any problems. That said, the screen on this Chromebook doesn't provide an enjoyable experience for watching movies.
Battery life is decent enough. In our rundown test, in which we maximise screen brightness, stay connected to a Wi-Fi network and loop a locally-stored video file, the CB30 lasted 5hr 40min. It's not as long as the Acer C720 in the same test (6hr 24min), though that model has a slightly smaller screen. How much life you get out of it will depend on the screen brightness you use and the amount of heavy Web browsing you do (such as if you watch a lot of YouTube.
If the Toshiba Chromebook CB30 had a better screen, it would be a slam dunk product. It's just too glossy and doesn't have enough contrast and definition. That said, the rest of the laptop is very good. We think it's one of the best Chromebooks to be released so far, mainly for its performance, style, and the ports and slots that it supplies.
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