Samsung Galaxy Book 2 tablet hands-on: Performance takes a back seat to battery life

Samsung bets that you'll take massive battery life and tolerate good-enough performance for web browsing and office work.

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Galaxy Book 2: Cross-platform benchmarks

Samsung’s choice to move from an Intel Core i5 CPU to a mobile chip shifts the emphasis from performance—where the first Galaxy Book did very well—to battery life. It’s our first test of the new, next-gen Qualcomm Snapdragon 850, which promises “multi-day” battery life as well as more speed.

Does the new Snapdragon 850 have enough oomph for you to be happy? Well, it depends. Due to the anemic processor and low system memory, web browsing is generally acceptable with limited tabs. Office work, like word processing, should be just fine. YouTube videos are child’s play—there’s a special video decode engine in the Adreno graphics chip, and a 1080p video consumed about a third of its resources. Games? Don’t count on it, especially anything really modern.

What our tests indicate so far is that the $999 Galaxy Book 2’s performance is in the neighborhood of the $399 Microsoft Surface Go, which was a “good-enough” small-form-factor tablet in its own right. Remember, though, that the Book 2’s battery life pretty much blows everything else away—it’s over twice that of the Surface Go's!

One caveat: Samsung says it will ship its new Galaxy Book 2 with Windows 10 Home in S Mode, but it inexplicably shipped ours with Windows 10 Home enabled—which we noticed after running several of the browser-based tests we’d normally use for testing a Windows 10 S PC. It’s possible that running Windows 10 Home rather than Windows 10 Home in S Mode may invalidate these results—S Mode is supposedly a more optimized environment, but it doesn’t allow for any apps outside of the Microsoft Store. But they seem consistent with our more traditional benchmarks.

Because these are browser-based benchmarks, we can compare the Book 2 to non-Windows devices, “first”-generation Snapdragon-powered PCs like the Asus NovaGo, and even Apple devices and an Android tablet.

First up: WebXPRT, a good all-around benchmark which uses HTML5 and JavaScript to mimic traditional web apps. We have a broader database using the older 2015 benchmark, and fewer entries tested using the more WebXPRT 3 update. The Galaxy Book lands in the lower middle of the pack. 

Samsung Galaxy Book 2 webxprt Mark Hachman / IDG

Samsung’s Galaxy Book 2 finishes in the middle of the pack of these devices, though these generally lean toward older PCs and Macs. 

The Jetstream 1.1 benchmark runs a series of synthesized JavaScript tests, each designed to isolate a particular workload that would affect web performance. The Galaxy Book 2 unimpressively leads the rear guard.

Samsung Galaxy Book 2 jetstream Mark Hachman / IDG

Here. the Samsung Galaxy Book 2 starts showing the performance tradeoffs the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip made. 

We’ve included both versions of the older Speedometer benchmark, designed to measure the responsiveness of web applications. (In real-world browser use, the Book 2 felt as responsive as a much more powerful laptop, especially when using Microsoft Edge.) Google’s deprecated Octane benchmark was also tested. In both cases, the Galaxy Book 2 lands at the top of the bottom (or lower middle, if you're a glass-half-full sort of person), as seems to be the general trend for it.

Samsung Galaxy Book 2 speedometer Mark Hachman / IDG
Samsung Galaxy Book 2 octane Mark Hachman / IDG

You can see the trend: The Samsung Galaxy Book 2 finishes near, but not at, the bottom of the pack. Here, though, it outperforms the Surface Go.

Samsung Galaxy Book 2: PC benchmarks

As I noted in my review of the Microsoft Surface Go and Windows 10’s October 2018 Update, Microsoft’s Edge browser now feels fast and responsive—and with the Galaxy Book 2, you need all the help you can get. 

There’s a real difference in how the Galaxy Book 2 feels in terms of the browser you use with it. I was able to open ten media-rich tabs in Edge, and the browser felt fast and responsive, able to navigate most pages within a second—even bouncing back to older tabs. Occasionally, the images would take a bit longer to load, though, I was able to scroll up and down the page. Oddly, it was slow to close the application.

Chrome, meanwhile, felt much, much slower, and pages took quite a while to open completely. That may have to do with how Chrome “sandboxes” each tab, and Chrome’s reputation for gobbling memory won’t help in a 4GB machine like the Galaxy Book 2. It’s a markedly different experience.

I didn’t have a chance to do any real work with Excel or Word, but eyeballing the spreadsheet tests as our more traditional benchmarks completed—well, let’s just say that the Galaxy Book 2 is a bit faster than the original Galaxy Book, but it’s generally fairly slow for intensive, computational work. As we noted above, two tests—Cinebench and HandBrake—refused to run. (While they did on an older Snapdragon-powered PC, the Asus NovaGo, that laptop also used a beta version of Windows 10 in S Mode.)

Because of time limitations, we only ran our battery test and PCMark Home benchmark a single time each, though the Home test features multiple iterations of the same tasks. It’s the PCMark Work test—which measures spreadsheet performance, Word processing, web browsing, and VOIP calls, which is pretty critical. The Home test, which adds some light gaming and image manipulation, puts some additional stress on the Adreno GPU.

We’ve compared the Galaxy Book 2 (in red) to a number of tablets, including the first-generation Galaxy Book, which we’ve highlighted as well (in orange). The gulf between the Intel Core i5 in the first generation and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 in the second generation is wide.

Samsung Galaxy Book 2 pcmark work Mark Hachman / IDG
Samsung Galaxy Book 2 pcmark home Mark Hachman / IDG

As you can see, Samsung took a huge cut in performance by moving from the Intel Core i5 to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 850. The Snapdragon 835 in the Asus NovaGo was the prior-generation chip.

The 3DMark Sky Diver tests assesses how well a laptop or chip would do in 3D gaming performance. These results should tell you that gaming simply isn’t the emphasis here. But the Adreno GPU also has no problem with video decoding, which isn’t measured here. 

Samsung Galaxy Book 2 3dmark sky diver Mark Hachman / IDG

The good news here is that a number of tablets are very, very close to the Galaxy Book 2 in terms of GPU performance. Will the Galaxy Book play a simple card-based game like Hearthstone? It should. But forget anything with complex 3D graphics.

But wait! We finally come to the piece de resistance of the Samsung Galaxy Book 2, and the Qualcomm Snapdragon chips: battery life. This is why you should be interested in the Galaxy Book 2, and it’s here that it will pay you back in spades. We use a light meter to establish a standardized level of light output for comfortable viewing, then loop a 4K movie (with headphones connected and volume at its middle setting) until the battery expires. The Samsung Galaxy Book 2 delivers, and then some: 17 hours and 12 minutes of battery life. That’s almost in a league of its own.

Samsung Galaxy Book 2 battery life Mark Hachman / IDG

Don’t read too much into the fact that this new Snapdragon-powered PC delivered less battery life than an older version—remember, it’s pushing 1.5 times more pixels than the Asus NovaGo.

One thing we don’t like, though: supposedly the Galaxy Book 2 ships with a “Fast Charging” smartphone-style USB-C 1-amp charger. When Windows reports that it will require over 3 hours to charge the laptop, we have to wonder if Samsung should rethink the branding.

Samsung Galaxy Book 2 Mark Hachman / IDG

The Samsung Galaxy Book 2’s charger should look familiar to smartphone owners.

Conclusion: Buy it for the battery

While we're still working on our tests, you can see how we’re leaning. The Samsung Galaxy Book 2 delivers fantastic battery life, marginal performance, a lovely display, and optional LTE. It’s a bigger smartphone with a good keyboard.

Though it never quite crested our Editor’s Choice awards, the original Galaxy Book was a solid all-round effort. Here, Samsung’s leaned heavily toward battery life this time around, at the expense of performance. We’re going to need to play with the Samsung Galaxy Book 2 a bit more to evaluate whether its bet is a good one. 

Correction: T-Mobile will not sell the Galaxy Book 2, according to Samsung.

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