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?