CES 2021 is in full swing, and we've seen some pretty crazy things over the last several days, but on the Chrome front, things have been pretty quiet, all things considered. We got the fiery red Galaxy Chromebook 2 and the awesome and AMD-powered Acer Chromebook Spin 514, but not much else. Many of the Best Chromebooks are now 1-2 years old, and we're due for a massive batch of smaller, durable education-oriented Chromebooks. So where are they?
Answer: CES may be the best-known tech event in January, but if you want to reach the education crowd, you go where they are. BETT (British Educational Training and Technology Show) is one of the largest education shows in the world, and it's here that manufacturers usually debut their new kid-friendly Chromebooks. The event runs January 20-22, and it's going to be a big one this year even if the event is all-digital.
If you've peeked at Best Chromebooks for Students lately, you might notice that the actual kid-proofed, rugged education Chromebooks on the list came out in 2019. 2020 might've been the year that demand for Chromebooks exploded, but there actually weren't that many new education Chromebooks that debuted last year.
Chromebooks are lasting longer, and they need RAM to match.
There have been many changes for Chromebooks in the last couple of years, which means this upcoming generation of laptops will have a few important benefits that users and especially school districts will benefit from. First and foremost is the continued lengthening of AUE dates. These expiration dates are the reason that so many districts give the Chromebooks to students after they graduate: the Chromebook doesn't have very much time left before it stops getting Chrome OS updates.
Three years ago, AUE dates were usually 4-6 years after release, but today, AUE dates are usually 7-9 years from release. This could essentially double the lifespan of education Chromebooks, and that's very important for schools that need a laptop for every student and every teacher.
Having longer-lasting Chromebooks also means that schools can spend a little more on a Chromebook with better specs, and the spec that matters most in an education Chromebook in 2021 isn't the processor or the battery: it's the RAM. Distance learning means lots of long video calls, and they will eat your RAM if you're not careful. While I've taken plenty of video calls on Celeron Chromebook with 4GB of RAM, I try to limit the number of tabs I have open during a call, and I try not to swap between them too quickly.
In short, while 4GB Chromebooks can do distance learning okay, school districts should buy Chromebooks with 8GB of RAM whenever possible. Even if your district doesn't plan to use distance learning long-term, having 8GB of RAM is vital for districts wanting to future-proof their investment. While 4GB of RAM is okay for today, by 2024 or 2028, chances are 8GB will be needed to handle an ever-increasingly digital workload.
However, there weren't many 8GB education Chromebooks in previous years, especially not in the durable 11.6-inch segment that student-issued Chromebooks are purchased from. The Dell 3100 has an 8GB model, and HP has a few 8GB models of the Chromebook 11, but they've been hard to find since the pandemic began, and there aren't nearly enough of them. 8GB Education Chromebooks need to be front and center in 2021 and beyond.
The other benefit is the continued improvements to Chrome OS's tablet mode, culminating last year in the new tablet gestures and Chrome tab bar on the Lenovo Chromebook Duet. 2-3 years ago, we saw a small crop of classroom-oriented Chrome OS tablets, but you still really needed a keyboard to use with them. Now, a Chrome OS tablet actually can stand on its own, and I'm hopeful we'll see a new batch of them arrive this year or next year.
BETT starts January 20, where we'll get to see exactly what the next generation of education Chromebooks looks like. What are you hoping to see in the upcoming durable-yet-affordable laptops? I'm hoping for 8GB of RAM and some fun colors beyond basic, boring black. Give us a fun blue or red!