ASUS C300 Chromebook

The economics may not work out in a way that we'll get great high-end Chromebooks

As I've spent an increasing amount of time using Chromebooks over the course of the last year, reviewing several personally, I'm starting to get worried about the state of the Chromebook market. While there are plenty of very capable Chromebook options out there that represent a fantastic value to price-conscious consumers, I'm wondering if there will ever be a time when we see a selection of higher-end devices for those who want (or frankly need) more.

The "Chromebooks are just the new netbooks" argument has been thrown around quite liberally in the past two years, but I've always been optimistic that we would eventually see a range of Chromebooks that aren't just cheap machines meant to undercut the competition. But as we enter a new generation of Chromebooks hitting the market with low-cost and low-power Intel and ARM processors, the cheapest possible display components, limited memory and uninspired designs, I'm losing some of my confidence.

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Chromebooks only have low-end components to hit a price point

Acer C720 Chromebook specs

Every manufacturer can make good hardware, but doesn't use it for Chromebooks.

The fact that all of these Chromebooks essentially have the same basic internal specs comes down to a single point — the price. With the standard industry price of Chromebooks ranging between $199 and $399 — with the bulk of sales coming on that lower end — there really isn't much wiggle room for pixel-dense IPS displays, ultra-thin form factors, metal chassis, Core i7 processors and the like. Chrome OS luckily doesn't need a whole lot of hardware to run properly, meaning they can keep making them cheap and efficient.

But then again that doesn't mean that we should all be stuck running subpar components.

Every Chromebook manufacturer out there, from Acer to Samsung, knows how to make really great high-end laptop hardware with bleeding edge specs — they just do so for their Windows computers only. The fact that all of these Chromebooks look like bargain bin afterthought offerings is purely due to a dearth of time and money spent to develop them, not for lack of ability or parts scarcity.

Can a $500+ Chromebook actually sell?

Samsung Chromebook 2

Which leads to the question: why don't any of these manufacturers make a high-end Chromebook, then? My initial thinking about why we don't have any solid $500+ "premium" Chromebooks (I'm going to ignore the Pixel, because a $1,300 Chromebook doesn't offer much value for anyone) was basically centered around the idea that manufacturers don't want to compete with their own Windows laptop offerings in the same price points.

Consumers don't see value in an expensive Chromebook, and most of that is a matter of perception.

But when you think about it, they probably don't care what machines they sell for what amount, so long as they're selling them. And considering that Chrome OS doesn't pack a licensing fee like Windows does, nor does it require as much power under the hood to offer the same performance, why wouldn't they simply offer the same models with your choice of OS? The answer is likely that consumers really don't see $500+ worth of value in a Chromebook.

There are five Chromebooks on the top 20 best-selling laptops list on Amazon (the highest of which is number 7), and they're all $279 or less. The Samsung Chromebook 2 13-inch that comes in at $379 is down at number 37 of the top 40, well behind many laptops that are two or more times as expensive.

There's a reason why the only Chromebooks that sell in reasonable numbers cost $299 or less, and that's the fact that once you start raising the price, consumers start expecting more from their machine. The $299 Acer C720P and $1299 Chromebook Pixel basically do the same things with about the same speed — and a $1000 price difference. But the common perception is that a $499 Windows laptop can do much more than any Chromebook. That perception has yet to change, and for that reason manufacturers are probably right in their assumption that nobody would actually buy a premium Chromebook.

But I still want to see them try it anyway

Chromebook Pixel and C720

I know at least a few people who would jump at the opportunity to buy a $699 (or thereabouts) Chromebook with all of the bells, whistles and top-end hardware available if a manufacturer would just make it — and we can't be completely alone in that mindset. For me, and many people l know, a Chromebook isn't a viable machine for getting work done throughout the day not because of the operating system or available applications, but because of the power, quality and variety limitations of the current crop of Chromebooks.

But until the perception that Chrome OS doesn't provide enough value in itself to warrant a higher-end machine begins to change amongst the general consumer base, computer manufacturers aren't likely to see enough of an available market to make these types of Chromebooks. It's a "chicken and the egg" situation to try and solve, but if enough people show interest in these types of machines, I sure hope they'll be made to fulfill that demand.

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