The Samsung Galaxy Chromebook is one of the nicest pieces of laptop hardware I’ve touched in a very long time. Not since Google’s 2017 Pixelbook has there been a Chrome OS device this good-looking, powerful, or — here’s the rub — expensive. Available sometime in the first quarter of 2020, the Galaxy Chromebook will start at $999, and it could go much higher if you fully upgrade its RAM and storage.
The central conceit of this laptop is that there really is a demand for a high-end Chromebook, and while that may be truer in 2020 than it was in 2017, it’s not a sure thing. Chrome OS still has a nagging inability to do some of the things you’d want a device that costs more than a thousand dollars to do: run full desktop apps, easily edit photos and video, or play more premium games.
Despite those limitations, Google and Samsung are looking for ways to get Chromebooks to escape the classroom and start appearing in boardrooms. The Galaxy Chromebook could be part of a revitalized effort to do just that.
Running down the specs of the Galaxy Chromebook is like hitting a laundry list of the things you might want in a top-tier Windows ultrabook. It has a 13.3-inch 4K AMOLED display and an Intel 10th Gen Core-i5 Processor. There’s a fingerprint sensor for unlocking, two USB-C ports, and expandable storage via microSD. The screen rotates 360 degrees, and there’s an included S Pen stylus that can be stored in a silo on the device. It’s built out of aluminum instead of plastic, has a large trackpad, and is less than 10mm thick.
Also, and I know this is kind of a cheap trick, the laptop comes in an incredibly bold red color that looks electric orange in certain lighting. (Samsung calls it “fiesta red.”) There’s also a plain old gray color if you like plain old things.
Build quality is top-notch. The laptop looks very much like a Pixelbook, in fact, with two very thin and blocky aluminum wedges attached with a slightly curved hinge. There’s no fan, and the sound shoots out of the side through tiny holes milled into the metal.
In fact, I joked to a Google executive by saying, “I guess I know why you haven’t updated the Pixelbook,” and I was surprised when I got a knowing smile in response. Google and Samsung have collaborated closely on previous Samsung Chromebooks, and it seems like that’s the case again here.
The most important feature on the Galaxy Chromebook is the screen, a 13.3-inch AMOLED with 3840 x 2160 resolution. (That’s 16:9 if you don’t want to do the ratio math, which I still don’t love.) However, the bezels on the top and sides are incredibly thin, giving the laptop a fairly small footprint. There is an eensy webcam at the top of the screen, but I can’t speak to its quality.
The screen looks great, and Samsung tells me it’ll support HDR400. There’s a caveat, however: Chrome OS apparently doesn’t support all of the necessary DRM to get proper HDR content from many providers, so you might not see the HDR you’d expect when you stream or rent something.
Samsung also says that the screen can change its color temperature based on the lighting in the room with the same “Ambient EQ” technology Google uses on its Nest Hub smart display. That confirms they worked together on this Chromebook.
Because it’s so thin, there’s not a ton of room for key travel. Samsung tells me it’s about 1.2mm. It still felt better to type on that Apple’s infamous butterfly keyboard and was certainly quieter, both due to the fact that Samsung stuck with traditional scissor switches.
My biggest problem when typing is that, on the units Samsung had in the room, the screen had a really bad wobble when the laptop was on my lap. Hopefully final shipping units will tighten up the hinge to solve that.
There’s a fingerprint sensor for logging in, and there’s also an 8-megapixel camera on the keyboard deck. It’s there in case you want to put the device into tablet mode to take pictures. I’m not sure who actually uses this feature, but Samsung keeps putting cameras in that spot, so presumably, somebody does.
The base specs for $999 comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, which is above average for Chromebooks but the minimum I’d accept at this price point. It supports up to 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage, though there’s been no word on what those upgrades will cost you.
Samsung says the 49.2Wh battery should be good for about eight hours of use. Somewhat interestingly, this is also the first Chromebook to qualify for Intel’s Project Athena specifications.
As you can probably tell, I’m very impressed with this hardware. If Samsung can tuck in a few corners — like that wobbly screen — it will be able to stand toe-to-toe with pretty much any other ultra-thin laptop hardware I can think of.
Emphasis on “hardware” in that last paragraph. Chrome OS can do 90 percent of what 90 percent of people need to do 90 percent of the time. And this machine will likely be able to do it faster and better than anything else on the market. It’s the other 10 percents in that story that are the problem, and Google has been struggling to figure out how to address it.
Just releasing great hardware won’t solve those issues. But for some people, those issues won’t matter. The Pixelbook apparently sold well enough to convince both Google and Samsung that there’s a market for ultra-premium Chromebooks. I suspect the Galaxy Chromebook will end up being a niche device for a niche audience.
But it’s a very pretty niche.