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Google's groundwork has finally paid off for Chromebooks

Chromebook Duet with Stylus
Chromebook Duet with Stylus (Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Last week was Chrome OS's tenth birthday, and while the new features like Phone Hub and Nearby Share announced then were welcome additions, the biggest news of the day was just how well Chromebooks are now selling. The Google Team kicked off last week's press event by saying that Chromebooks now account for 1 out of every 10 desktop computer purchases globally — and 1 in 5 in the United States.

While, yes, a good portion of those sales are still education and enterprise, regular users are also realizing that Chromebooks are easy to own and can do everything they need without requiring the same upkeep or higher-priced hardware as Windows or Mac laptops. Between Google's optimizations and improvements to the core Chrome OS system as well as the addition of Linux, Chromebooks are no longer "just browsers"; they're computers that millions can work full-time from, whether you're using a $1000 Pixelbook or a $300 Celeron-powered 2-in-1, which I've spent most of the last two years working from.

Chromebooks finally feel polished and full-featured, and that's all thanks to the hard work Google has put in to ensure Chrome OS fills in the gaps between it and the other desktop platforms it's competing with.

Extensions On Chromebook Pixel Slate

Source: Andrew Myrick / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

Nowhere is this more apparent than with the Chromebook hit of 2020, the Lenovo Chromebook Duet. The Duet was the first major Chrome OS tablet since the 2018 Google Pixel Slate, which suffered from overpricing and software bugs, the biggest of which was that tablet mode just didn't work well.

Before the Duet launched, Google and Lenovo worked together to improve the tablet mode so that Chrome OS could actually fully function in tablet mode. The Duet was also where several tablet-optimized features debuted, such as the Chrome tab strip and gesture navigation. Now that the software was in place and worked the way it was supposed to, the Duet could flourish as one of the best Chromebooks on the market right now.

In fact, Chromebook expert and AboutChromebooks founder Kevin C. Tofel believed, as I do, that the future of Chrome OS tablets is a bright one.

"The tablet experience of Chrome OS has vastly improved by leaps and bounds. Now that the software has caught up, new hardware is likely to follow." "Highly capable, low-cost ARM chips are perfect for tablets of any kind, and we've seen the success in the Lenovo Duet Chromebook. That device certainly punches above its weight class when considering the performance and experience for the price. I expect similar success in the upcoming ASUS Chrome OS tablet as well."

Linux on the Pixelbook Go

Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

The ASUS Chromebook Flip CM3000 slated for this summer could bring another shot in the arm for Chrome OS tablets, but that's only half of the story with Google's improvements to Chrome OS over the last year. For Tofel's money, the biggest improvement of the last few years is the addition of Linux support, which allows users to install more intensive programs that Android apps can't supplant, like CAD and many programming and development suites for STEM.

Linux opened Chromebooks up to a whole new world of uses beyond Chrome apps and Android apps, but the problem is that Linux still isn't very intuitive for inexperienced users. Tofel joked that "Linux scares most mainstream consumer users to their core (or maybe their kernel?)" and The Verge's Monica Chin agreed:

"I'm also hoping that Google will make it easier to install Linux apps, as that still requires some advance[d] knowledge and can be intimidating for new folks."

Intimidating is the last thing Google wants to hear for any aspect of the Chromebook experience. After all, the Chrome OS mission statement is to be "the speedy, simple and secure operating system that powers every Chromebook." While setting up a Chromebook is drop-dead ridiculously simple compared to other laptops — just connect to Wi-Fi and log into your Google account — many confuse simplicity with limitation, believing that Chromebooks can't do anything but browse the web. Tofel summed it up best,

"The bigger challenge to me is that Google needs to better market the true capabilities of Chrome OS as it continues to mature the platform aggressively. Too many potential users pass on Chromebooks because they still believe in the older "it's just a browser" misconception."

Android apps have been part of Chrome OS since 2017, and Linux app support arrived in 2018, but the "just a browser" moniker persists even in 2021, along with the not entirely unearned notion that all Chromebooks are "cheap." And yes, the majority of Chromebooks bought and sold today are the more budget-friendly Kids Chromebooks, and bulk-purchased rugged Education Chromebooks school districts have been relying on now more than ever — but don't equate price with quality.

Lenovo Chromebook Duet is made for comics

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

After all, the Lenovo Chromebook Duet is $250, offers a well-rounded Chrome OS experience with or without its keyboard attached, and it's been dominating Chromebook subs and Monica Chin's comment sections since it launched last spring:

"In pretty much every Chromebook review I write, no matter how fancy it is, there's are always people in the comments section asking, "Why would you buy this instead of the Duet for a third of the price??!!" And it's a legitimate question!"

Acer Spin 713 Chromebook

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Of course, beefier Chromebooks like the Lenovo ThinkPad C13, the Acer Chromebook Spin 713, and the Pixelbook Go still have plenty of reasons to exist and thrive in the Chromebook space — support for Parallels, better Linux support, more ports and power to support multiple displays and peripherals — but they also come with price tags double or triple the Duet and its kin, which are harder for many to justify.

Whatever the price gap, all of these Chromebooks work so much better than Chromebooks did even three years ago, and that's a testament to Google's dedication to Chrome OS. Here's to the next ten years and seeing how much closer Google brings Chromebooks and Android through features like Phone Hub and Nearby Share.

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

7 Comments
  • What do you say to people who want Android not ChromeOS on tablets? Love my Duet, much more capable than Galaxy Tabs I've used over the years. But from a selling point of view its not as fun.
  • explain that android on tablets has been dead for years and to try ebay? I'd do the same thing if someone asked me where they could buy a windows 98 machine
  • Linux is a niche feature. It's not even enabled by default because Web Apps and Android Apps will remain ChromeOS' focus. Making Linux front and centre would just hurt the platform.
  • Not if Google can manage to make a Linux app store and integrate that into the Play Store. They could turn the Play Store into your one-stop-shop for all of your third party program needs. PWA, Android and Linux apps all coexisting in the same store, like the Microsoft Store, but actually useful. If Google can make it as seamless as possible I have no doubt Linux apps will do great.
  • The Lenovo Duet is ace but it's not a primary computer device. The keyboard is useable but definitely poor. I'd hate to use it to type long essays. Perfect as my travel device though.
  • I tried the Duet and returnes it to Best Buy. The keyboard was weird, and this unit can't decide if it's a tablet or a computer, so it sits in the middle 'no-mans land'. Many Google apps don't look good when the keyboard is connected. For example, the Instagram app opens in a small tiny window, and you can't expand it. When you disconnect the keyboard, then the unit turns into a tablet, and Instagram opens full screen. Also, with the keyboard connected, you still can't pin any shortcuts to the desktop. It stays a big empty wasted space...
  • my pixelbook has been my primary work device since I got it at the end of 2018