Toshiba Chromebook 2

Sat 24 October 2015

I recently decided to purchase a chromebook as I wanted a cheap, portable laptop to browse on and do some casual development on the go. I came across the Toshiba chromebook 2 which had good reviews and was very affordable. I decided to buy the HD version.

I've had it for a few weeks now and here are some quick thoughts on it.

Hardware and specs

The laptop is slim, stylish and relatively lightweight. It is made of silver plastic and does feel a bit on the delicate side but considering the price this is acceptable in my opinion. The battery life is excellent running up to 8-9 hours. The skullcandy tuned sound is surprisingly good and listenable. The 13 inch HD is screen is excellent presenting vivid, sharp video, images and text. Unfortunately the resolution sometimes feel a bit too high as you can find yourself squinting to read text while browsing but this can be easily solved by increasing the text size.

As it is a chromebook it as a has cut-down non-standard keyboard which may initially pose issues (i.e no function keys or home/delete/insert etc.). You do get quickly used to this though. I've not fully explored the ports yet but it includes a USB 3.0, USB 2.0 and HDMI port along with a headphone socket and a SD card reader.

In terms of raw specs, it comes with 4GB RAM, 16GB SSD and an Intel Celeron N2840 CPU. This is more than ample for casual browsing, music, video and CLI based development. One of the features that particularly attracted me to this model is the absence of fans - the cooling is entirely passive. The silence is a welcome change to the constant whines of fans. And you don't have to ever worry about your system overheating due to clogged fan vents.

The 16 GB disk space is very small but I haven't encountered any issues yet as the aim is to have everything stored on the cloud (Google drive).

Chromeos and Crouton

Initially, I wanted to wipe the shipped Chromeos and put a GNU/Linux on it but then came across crouton. This is a way to run GNU/Linux alongside chromeos using the power of chroots (Chromeos is a Linux based OS like Android).

Setting up the crouton is relatively easy but you need to enable developer mode first which gives you access to developer shell. There are plenty of instructions on the net. I recommend starting with the crouton github page. I opted for to run Debian Jessie Xfce as I'm a Debian fanboy. I've not yet fully explored getting i3 running on it but it appears to be possible through some cursory googling.

What is surprising is that I've found myself spending most of my time within Chromeos. It is very usable and just works. I now usually access the crouton through a bash session ("sudo enter-chroot"). This effectively gives me the best of both worlds, I get to be within a user-friendly OS that just works with full access to a full-featured GNU/Linux environment. Kind of like the Mac but a lot cheaper!

There is also a command line SSH client which I frequently use to log into servers. I recommend installing the crosh window extension as the developer terminal that comes with chromeos swallows keypresses like ctrl-n as it runs in the browser. The crosh windows eliminates this.

Areas to improve

Unfortunately the file manager appears rudimentary and you can only access the Downloads folder in your filesystem. You cannot access CIF/Windows shares out of the box or Dropbox without third party extensions (although these are very easy to install). The Openvpn support is also a bit disappointing as the GUI doesn't support ovpn files (you can get around this by using the CLI client and some bash scripting). There also is no rdp client and I have to fire up an X session on my crouton to run the rdesktop application. Hopefully Google will address some of these issues in the future.