Next-Generation Chromebook Lineup Comes Into Focus

Posted on January 25, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Hardware, Mobile with 51 Comments

Next-Generation Chromebook Lineup Comes Into Focus

Once expected in time for the 2016 holiday season, a new generation of touch- and pen-capable—and Android-compatible—Chromebooks is finally set for release.

So the battle begins. Finally.

A quick recap: Google revealed in May 2016 that it was bringing Android app compatibility and the Google Play Store to Chromebooks. At the time, it expected to fully deliver these capabilities by the end of 2016. This would have opened up Android app compatibility on existing devices, which is important, but also unleashed a promised new generation of Chromebooks that sported touch- and pen-enabled screens and 2-in-1 form factors.

That never happened. My suspicion is that adding Android/Google Play Store to Chrome OS proved more difficult than Google expected. But whatever the reason, the facts are clear: 2016 ended with just a tiny handful of existing Chromebooks offering this functionality. And there wasn’t a single next-generation Chromebook announced in the second half of 2016.

At CES in early January 2017, Google finally broke its silence: that new generation of Chromebooks is finally on the way, Google said, starting with just one device, a Samsung 2-in-1. OK, actually there are two identical Samsung 2-in-1 Chromebooks, the Chromebook Plus and Chromebook Pro, differentiated only by processor architecture. A whimper, not a bang, as I noted at the time.

In the three weeks since then, there’s been more noise, at last. And while I’m sure there is more still to come, here’s a rundown of the new generation Chromebooks that Google and its partners have announced so far in 2017.

Samsung Chromebook Plus and Chromebook Pro. Described as “the first Chromebooks built from the ground up for Android apps,” the Samsung Chromebook Pro and the Samsung Chromebook Plus weigh under 2.5 pounds, offering Quad HD touch screens with pen support, and start at $450. The first model launches in February at Best Buy and can be preordered now.

Acer Chromebook Spin 11. Sporting active pen functionality, this education market device features a rear-facing camera, USB-C charging, and a touch-screen-based 2-in-1 form factor. It arrives in “late spring,” according to Google. So June?

Asus Chromebook C213. Sporting active pen functionality, this education market device features a rear-facing camera, USB-C charging, and a touch-screen-based 2-in-1 form factor. It arrives in “late spring,” according to Google. So June? (Yes, the descriptions of these two are the same.)

Dell Chromebook 11. Another device aimed at education, the Dell Chromebook 11 is a 2-in-1 tablet/laptop with a touch-enabled screen, a rear-facing camera, and 10 hours of battery life. Pricing starts at $350.

Basically, it’s now clear that the push to bring Android apps to Chromebooks is really about taking this platform to 2-in-1s, a market that Microsoft formalized with Surface Pro a few years back. This is smart, but since so many of these devices are education-focused, there’s still much to learn. Where are all the consumer- and business-focused Chromebook 2-in-1 devices, for example? And how about some with bigger screens?

 

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Comments (52)

52 responses to “Next-Generation Chromebook Lineup Comes Into Focus”

  1. 5592

    Oh, goodie. A chance to replace my full computer with a terminal to an ad agency's mainframe. And now I can add the insecurity of Android to my limited function terminal.

    • 5486

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      The new gen of Chromebooks can run Android apps, but they're *not* Android, they run ChromeOS. ChromeOS is very safe generally and simple to update and operate. If you want an Android based O/S for PC's (until Google do this of course), check out Remix OS.

      • 8578

        In reply to ghostrider:

        It seems likely that running dangerous Android apps on a Chromebook would be no less of a problem than running them on Android. If any Android app runs differently on a Chromebook then Chromebooks aren't truly compatible. 

  2. 8578

    One of the arguments Google made for Chromebooks was that with web-based apps, their devices would be less likely to be compromised. On the other hand, Android has a bad reputation for security. Wouldn't allowing Android apps to run on Chromebooks make them more vulnerable?

    While Chromebooks have done OK, I can't help thinking that this is, to a certain extent, an act of desperation. If the fundamental philosophy articulated for Chromebooks was sound, there's really no need to support Android apps. 

  3. 5520

    as very long term IT pro and blog watcher now in retirement I can't wait to get off W10 to get rid of the periodic update crap that MS seem to induce.

    I've started a migration off W10 by moving my data archives onto a Linux based file server and expect to replace most of the family PCs with modern Chromebooks during 2018

    • 6447

      In reply to mike_moller:

      Yes, the average home should not be using the general purpose windows PCs (or even MACs) unless they have a serious media production hobby (video/audio/photography)  or gamer and are willing to devote "IT" time to proper maintenance. I consider them professional-only machines now that we have more appropriate home consumption/facebook/twitter/etc oriented choices like iPads, chromebooks, smart TVs/boxes/sticks/echos, and smartphones.

    • 9542

      In reply to mike_moller:

      yes,you wrote that already in previous comment(s). Writing it more often won't count as if more people did it ;)

  4. 5519

    I always get such a kick out of Windows and Mac Blog followers bashing Chromebooks.  A regular reader of a tech blog will NEVER be satisfied with a Chromebook.  Readers of tech blogs aren't Google's Chromebook target audience.

    I would argue that 90% of tech users only need a basic Android phone and a Chromebook and both can be had for less than the price of a mid-range Windows computer or a Low end Mac.

    Google can potentially kick some serious a$$ with Android capable Chromebooks.  Anyone that dismisses this is missing the boat.

    I even know a couple of small businesses that use Chromebooks and Android phones instead of undergoing the expense for an internal network and fancy hardware.

    This can be a real game changer folks....

    But NOT for IT professionals nor regular readers of tech blogs!!!

    • 8578

      In reply to Pbike908:

      You mean a mid-range Windows PC is more expensive than a low-end Chromebook? Who would have thought? And what does an Android phone have to do with Windows on a PC?

    • 5485

      In reply to Pbike908:

      "Google can potentially kick some serious a$$ with Android capable Chromebooks"

      Considering that it did not with Android and Chromebook seam to follow the same business model, how do you see that coming?

      I'm interested in knowing this as a consumer. See my post bellow.

      PS: As a tech nerd I'm excited with Chromebook possibilities yet ...

    • 9542

      In reply to Pbike908:

      Yeah, Chromebooks and the likea... , it's not for IT ppl, not for kids (those over 6 are already gamers, and those under 4 don't need any), not for office workers or business people, so what? House wifes and elderly people perhaps? True, plenty of those...

  5. 5664

    Nice evolutionary dead-ends. The likelihood that El Goog will upgrade Chromebooks to Andromeda is slim. 

    Just look at the ludicrous idea of piecemealing out Android compatibility. Just enable it for Chome OS instead of the silly idea that only some models "can do it." It's just software. Run the damn software. They'll EOL the Chromebooks and never update them to Andromeda. 

    • 7037

      In reply to jimchamplin:

      The public doesn't know if Andromeda will ever see the light of day. For all we know Google is just experimenting with Andromeda.

    • 5234

      In reply to jimchamplin:

      The software that they're designing is built on Linux containers.  You need hardware and thus kernel support for the hypervisor layers.  Chrome OS is compiled separate for each chipset it's built on and some early Intel and ARM processors won't get platform support for the hypervisor, and the chipset manufacturers have to go back to earlier chipsets and rebuild the kernel, which is why they won't do it on everything.  It's a lot of work.  Chromebooks don't get updated Linux kernels.  Most are still using the original versions that were built for them, with only additional modules added on top.  I don't even think any systems use Linux 4.x series kernels yet (although I don't know for sure - but the still new Chromebook R 13 doesn't).

  6. 5485

    Hi,

    My father used to say, "there is not free lunch".

    Considering Google's great comes from Ads in their sites, and some in thiird parities. Not from Ads in Android. Android is in my experience almost ad free. I wonder how is Google planing to earn real money with Android, Chromebooks and their office like web apps?

    The public perception is that Android / Chrome devices are cheaper because Android is free. Is that the truth?

    Anyway, the reality is that when it comes to premium Android phones they are not at all cheaper in real sense than say the iPhone. On the other hand in Chromebook land, if we consider the Pixel Chromebook, its not cheaper that a MacBook Air or PC. That is, in the end it seams that consumers are being asked to pay the same for Android Hardware as for others. So the money must for sure go almost entirely to the OEM software wise.

    So where is the consumer actually getting a better deal with Android?

    Again, how will Google turn this into core profit for the company?

    I'm not an Investor, I'm a consumer. Usually I don't trust companies that seam not to want to earn money with me. You know what I mean.

    Cheers,

    Nuno

  7. 5281

    My biggest issue with these things is how lacking the hardware is for the price.  At $500 and with no Windows licensing fee, there's no way these things shouldn't have at least 128GB SSD.  That 32GB size is frankly ridiculous in today's world.  I know it's a "cloud" computer, but if you want to cache any media for offline mode (it happens more than cloud companies wish to acknowledge) then you'll need at least 64GB.

    Oh and let's say you want to update that computer -- how much storage is required for the giant .zip file and the decompressed version of that .zip file?  Even though they're temporary, the space is still required.  Apple slammed into that problem years ago and these companies weren't paying attention.

    Lastly, if you're going to put Android apps on the thing remember that Mobile apps are now hundreds of megs each or even gigs for games.

    • 1377

      In reply to alf:

      Available storage could restrict upgradability, but the same is true for Windows, just a lot less common due to larger disks. Also, Chrome OS updates may not be huge, at least they haven't seemed huge on my Chromebook. And, FWIW, du shows / at just 1.2GB of storage.

  8. 217

    I'm interested to see how Google markets the "pro" versions of these devices, considering there's nothing pro about them other than stylus support. And with Andromeda coming later this year I wonder if these devices will be obsolete by year end. 

    • 907

      In reply to dcdevito:

      I'm sure I read that Google has cancelled Andromeda.

      • 217

        In reply to anchovylover:

        I highly doubt it, considering they've confirmed they were working on it and have also created their own custom kernel for the project. They're just keeping it hush hush

        • 5234

          In reply to dcdevito:

          I kind of doubt that.  I think this story was actually made up.  People that were reading into "Bison", which was supposedly a Pixel 3 that ran Andromeda, only shows up in commit logs because Bison is a parser for GNU software, and used in the compilation process to build kernels.  Andromeda OS is already available on Github, but it's listed as "a hand-coded OS designed to be compatible with Apple macOS software", so it's nothing to do with Google.  Until we see something concrete direct from Google, I'd file this one under #fakenews.

          • 217

            In reply to Waethorn:

            I don't disagree it could all be smoke and mirrors, but knowing Google, they (Andromeda and Android Play Store on Chrome OS) were probably two separate projects, Andromeda being the more ambitious and longer one. When the Chrome OS team figured out how to containerize the Play Store into Chrome OS I bet someone said to hold off on Andromeda and see how it plays out - complete guess on my part.

            But I still think something is coming this year, most likely to be announced at I/O. We'll see in May.

      • 5234

        In reply to anchovylover:

        "Cancelled"?  How can you cancel something that was never announced?  This is the same argument that was used about the Courier.

  9. 289

    I routinely bump up against poorly optimized apps on iPad; I have to imagine the experience will be no better (and likely worse) running Android apps on a 12" screen. 

  10. 10158

    I dunno, is this desperation, or the end result of Google's efforts? Chrome the browser started very simple, and was great for netbooks. Android also had to work it's way up in complexity. The last major product from Google is Chrome OS, and as it has matured, bringing the Play Store along makes some sense. At least it doesn't make any less sense than what MS is trying to do with Windows 10. So far, only Apple seems to think the two environments shall be separate. It's hard to criticize Google here without also doing the same with MS. I also think Chromebooks have inspired Windows on ARM, as MS can't afford to have cheap Chromebooks invading the entry level.

  11. 9635

    I can't wait till more mainstream Dell Chromebook hit market in India. I have dedicated lots of time for tech support to low end Windows 10 pc which basically costumers use for Skype & surfing web. Regular costumers use to mess up windows pc own their own before and now Microsoft added compulsory updates.

  12. 9542

    350-450$ for an Android tablet with kbd? no thanks, not even for 4K screen.. In my country, with taxes and customs, and so on, it would compete to i3 laptops with W10 (Home).

  13. 5639

    Is the end goal just a way to make android tablets relevant?  

  14. 5485

    I think its clear that Microsoft lost the mobile computing bandwagon, the mobile computing era. They were one of the first to be in that space, but blew it with lack of innovation. Took them also too long to understand what was going on and how handicapped were they technology to face its challenges.

    The question now is more when and how the new mobile computing paradigms and architectures will expand to take more use cases out of the desktop/laptop, than the other way around.

    Yes, these non PC systems will move on to adopt laptop like use cases as Wintel has nothing, no efficient and convincing architecture/platform to tackle this space. They tried and tried and as of now ...

    Windows 10 its an attempt to keep them away from certain use cases, but the drawbacks are quickly recognizable.

    This is a problem for Windows. Yes, Windows 10 will support ARM (Winarm?) soon. But the fundamental problem is that such a feat is only valuable to most its proponents if it runs Wintel based application. This is a big, big technical problem that no other platforms have while growing their app space exponentially, year after year.

    Is Chromebook the thing that will clearly show that the mobile computing tech can take even more use cases out of the Windows PC?

    Don't know. But will eventually happens unless Intel works its magic somehow and MS does it to. At the moment MS strategy seams to be, drawn the customer with feature count, a massive number of features, that he/she can't even understand them enough to ascertain if it works or not ... get them really confused ... Will it work?

     

     

  15. 5056

    My guess - this feels bigger then education. Nearly every app people want is on android - including a variety of business apps. Think about Microsoft Office. The Chromebook could potentially work in many situations for business users.

  16. 10173

    As a long-term Windows user, I bought a Chrome OS device (an Asus Chromebox) mostly out of curiosity; surprisingly it became my major computing device.

    As to the question, 'why not just use Chrome on Windows?', bear in mind the following — it starts pretty much instantly, the battery life is way better, it's faster, you don't have to fiddle with settings, the update process is almost invisible, it's much more secure and it never gets slower.

    I do still need to use Windows 20% of the time (to run my NAS, plus Photoshop, Illustrator and Audacity mostly), but my old laptop has now relegated to under my desk and I fire it up via Remote Desktop from Chrome OS. I will carry on with this arrangement until the Windows laptop becomes unusable.

    I also bought one for my mother. It's her sole computing device and she's really happy with it.

  17. 8850

    It's hard to get excited about these devices as they seem quite underwhelming when it comes to not only software but hardware and if they want to push these to business users they are going to have to up the ante on storage and speed. As the commenter below pointed out if these devices don't come with at least 128GB SSD its a non-starter.

  18. 5281

    I've looked at the product literature for the Samsung models on Best Buy, Amazon (available for preorder there too), and Samsung websites.  Nowhere on these pages will you find the word "Android".  The closest you'll get is "Compatible with Google Play Store and many of the apps & games you already enjoy on your phone."

    Why are they going so far out of their way to leave out what is potentially the greatest feature of these laptops -- Android compatibility?  Certainly consumers, schools, and anyone else looking to buy Chromebooks would know about and likely be looking for "Runs Android Apps" somewhere in the product description?

    This video does mention Android, however, so at least there's one place.

     

  19. 6014

    Good Lord, I pity the children that have to grow up bent over 11" laptop screens.  Better start investing in corrective lens companies if this is where things are headed.

  20. 8444

    I am actually interested in one. With backlighting and decent CPU.

    Since I have an Android phone I moved most of my stuff too Google Drive/Docs/Photos/Music/Keep so this would be a great companion device for at home with great battery life and lightweight. I don't really need complicated tools or software at home anymore.

    At work I'll use my Windows laptop for Office365. And since I recently bought a PS4Pro I can shift my gaming focus too.

    • 5519

      In reply to Atoqir:

       Here is your device: ASUS Chromebook C302CA aka the new 12.5 inch Chromebook flip.  Backlit keyboard, touch support, and an updated processor.  It is on my VERY short list of next to buy tech.

  21. 442

    These are still way to expensive.  A very usable Windows 10 notebook for under $200, and still get all the Google love, why choose anything else?

    • 399

      In reply to Narg:

      I've never used a low priced Windows notebook that was anywhere near as good as a similarly priced Chromebook. They've always been too limited to really make use of Windows and having full fat Windows on them impacts thier ability to be good at what Chromebooks are good for.

    • 5234

      In reply to Narg:

      Compared to a Chromebook, a cheap Windows computer will always have a crappy trackpad and tinny, quiet speakers.

  22. 5611

    Paul, you ask where are the consumer and business-focused Chromebook 2-in-1 devices?

    My question is, why would any business be interested in a Chromebook just because it runs Android apps? I mean, what is the advantage to a business of running a Android apps? And if you really need to run Android apps, you can already do that with a Windows 10 machine, including a 2-in-1. So, I don't see an advantage for business users.

  23. 289

    Makes sense that they'd start with devices aimed at education since that's their key segment at the moment.
    I get why students would love Android apps on their Chromebook, but really how much upside is there for schools?  It seems like a huge security issue and a source of constant distraction.  Or do schools have their own store, or controls to manage what apps are available?  And if so, how easily can students go around that?  

    • 5184

      In reply to Chris_Kez:

      From what I've seen with my kids, the schools control these devices pretty tightly.  I would expect that Google will be providing similar control over the apps.  Our district uses both Chromebooks and iPads (mini's).  Both provide very good control over the apps (iPads currently) and sites the devices can access.  

      Oddly, the HS kids get iPads and the middle school kids get Chromebooks.  I think it was more of timing than anything that lead to that.  iPads were the first viable for education, then Chromebooks.  The HS kids, including mine, hate the iPads because they're too small, are wrapped in a bulky tank of case, and they can't type well on the tiny physical and virtual keyboards.  The teachers have abandoned incorporating them into their classes.  My kids seem to like the Chromebooks they've been given, so I expect apps will improve their satisfaction even more.

      I don't know what sort of refresh cycle the district is on.  I wonder if Samsung and Google will retro this functionality, minus touch of course, for the Chromebooks the districts like ours are using.

  24. 7833

    Paul you didn't mention the ASUS Chromebook C302CA aka the new 12.5 inch Chromebook flip. Announced at CES this is now available to purchase on Amazon for $499 and is probably the biggest competitor with the upcoming Samsung Chromebooks for consumers. It has Android apps out of the box like all 2017 Chromebooks will. 

  25. 5496

    Microsoft started with these 2 in 1's.

  26. 5496

    For $450 I can get a good Windows PC. 

    • 5519

      In reply to lordbaal1:

      Yes you can.

       

      But I watch non-tech savvy friends of mine every day struggle to differentiate the difference between a Windows app from the Appstore, a Win32 program, or viewing content on the web.  Not to mention I have seen friends of mine Windows 10 laptops botch a mandatory update (usually what happens if my friends turn off their computers UNKNOWLINGLY during an update).  I can always recover them, but it frustrates the hell out of them.  I also watch my senior parents confusion as international scammers regularly call senior citizens with land lines trying to entice them to ransomware or fishing sites.

      Readers of tech blogs PREFER and understand how to work around and avoid these pratfalls.  MILLIONS (probably billions) of tech users DO NOT!

      • 8578

        In reply to Pbike908:

        I wonder what part of "Don't turn off your computer" your friends don't understand. Soon unsophisticated Chromebook users can be confused between Android Play Store and "viewing content on the web".  Chromebooks are not immune from browser hijacks that lock your browser. There's nothing preventing scammers calling people from "Chromebook Support" and telling them that their chromebook is infected and they should buy protection. Ignorance makes it harder to operate sophisticated tools and makes it easier for con-men to exploit.

  27. 10790

    In reply to alf: Agreed. 32gb isn't enough anymore on even my phone - between a modest selection of apps and data. Imagine cramming the ChromeOS into that space as well. Doesn't sound good to me. I'd rather keep ChromeOS pure ... and SECURE. On the other hand a good Android 2 in 1 with Nexus/Pixel frequency of OS and security updates would appeal to me.

     

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