The Chromebook at 10: How these stripped-down desktops went mainstream

No one anticipated a great deal from the first Chromebooks, announced 10 years ago on May possibly 11, 2011. Just after all, they came on the heels of the Netbook period, when very low-value, very low-electrical power laptops had been 1st observed as a panacea for overpriced tech, but ended […]

No one anticipated a great deal from the first Chromebooks, announced 10 years ago on May possibly 11, 2011. Just after all, they came on the heels of the Netbook period, when very low-value, very low-electrical power laptops had been 1st observed as a panacea for overpriced tech, but ended up overselling their confined operation. And just after expending a several many years having difficulties to get Home windows-operating, Intel-Atom-run Netbooks to do considerably of something valuable, I was not optimistic about a particular personal computer platform that appeared even far more constrained out of the box. 

ChromeOS, declared before in 2011, did not seem like considerably of an running process at all to me at the time. It was essentially just the similar Chrome net browser by now in large use, with a keyboard and display screen wrapped close to it. The platform’s most significant glaring omission was the capacity to install and run computer software. Who would at any time want what was in essence a browser in a box? 

A ten years later on, Google’s reasonably priced notebook strategy is still kicking — and thriving. For the duration of the COVID-19 crisis, Chromebooks assisted pupils and employees continue to be connected whilst caught at household. It seems like the Chromebook was ahead of its time, and it took a pandemic for its whole prospective to be recognized.

A new price range challenger

The 1st Chromebook designs have been introduced just 10 yrs back, May well 11, 2011, at the Google I/O meeting in San Francisco. They involved products from Samsung and Acer, nonetheless two of the even larger names in Chromebooks. At the time, CNET reporter Maggie Reardon wrote:

Samsung and Acer will each and every be giving Chromebook laptops starting June 15. The Samsung Chromebook will cost $429 for the Wi-Fi only model and $499 for the 3G model. Acer’s Wi-Fi only Chromebook will value $349.

Astonishingly, $350-$450 is nonetheless rather typical for an entry-degree Chromebook a decade later on, generating these one particular of the couple of tech solutions that have not measurably amplified in value around the earlier 10 yrs. 

As a extensive-time proponent of funds-priced laptops and desktops, I usually say people buy also considerably pc for their wants, in particular if these requirements closely skew toward basic net searching, on the web procuring, social media, electronic mail and video viewing. Dwelling lifestyle absolutely in the net browser helps make sense nowadays, but it was a tricky promote again in 2011 when there were being fewer cloud-centered program instruments. And I was not the only just one who thought so. From that first 2011 dispatch

Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with Gartner, mentioned the actuality that the browser is constrained to Chrome may possibly be a factor, considering that competing merchandise give more capacity and versatility at roughly equivalent pricing. “It truly is very exciting,” he said. “But at these rates, will buyers obtain it? At $499, that receives you a quite capable Netbook or even an iPad.” 

My colleague Scott Stein stated as substantially that exact same 7 days. 

For $499, the Samsung Collection 5 Chromebook has its do the job cut out for it — specifically, simply because tablets and “superior-conclusion” 11- and 12-inch laptops and Netbooks (some with more rapidly processors) have by now occupied the exact same landscape. It is really a question we have been pondering for a even though now, writ all over again: What really constitutes the perfect compact-display portable?

An early Chromebook from Lenovo. 


Sarah Tew/CNET

A ten years afterwards, iPads and Chromebooks are even now battling for your informal computing attention. Both equally can nonetheless be discovered for under $400, and quality variations of both leading $1,000. The most significant shift is that Chromebooks have become a little bit extra iPad-like, incorporating obtain to the Google Perform application shop, when iPads have become additional laptop-like, adding mouse and touchpad support. 

The initial flavor of ChromeOS

It was not right up until I started out likely down the ten years-extensive rabbit gap of Chromebook record that I remembered the a single Chromebook that predated this May well 11, 2011 launch. It was Google’s own Cr-48 Chromebook, a prototype machine provided in 2010 to decide on pilot program invitees. These plain-wanting black containers had a 12.1-inch, 1,280×800-pixel screen, 3G mobile broadband and an Intel Atom N455 CPU. 

The most intriguing footnote is a surprisingly forthright admission from Google to prospective Cr-48 testers: “The Pilot program is not for the faint of heart. Items might not always operate just right.” Ironically, Chromebooks have develop into effective by exhibiting the opposite habits. They’re the excellent notebook for the faint of heart and matters ordinarily function appropriate. 

This vintage gallery reveals you just how generic the Cr-48 looked and certainly, it experienced a VGA port. 

Google Cr-48

Google’s original Cr-48 Chromebook prototype. 


Josh Miller/CNET

But what did we believe of the very first buyer Chromebooks? The initially Samsung Chromebook gained praise from my colleague Josh Goldman for currently being streamlined, in contrast to Windows laptops of the time. 

Since everything is Website-based there is a refreshing absence of bloatware. Clicking the Household button in the browser brings you suitable to your assortment of Chrome Internet applications, which are just bookmarks to web pages. The knowledge is essentially pleasing, especially if you currently have a Google account established up … Right after a small use, although, the Chromebook’s shine begins to put on off. For us it started out when we required to open a ZIP file and ended up greeted with an unsupported file structure mistake. 

We also reviewed an early Acer design identified as the C7, which dropped its price to an amazing $199. But our 2012 overview claimed it failed to review favorably to funds tablets and very low-finish Windows laptops: “The Acer C7’s pros are a bodily keyboard and touchpad, that larger tricky push, and the cost. The cons? Seriously shorter battery lifetime and Chrome’s pretty odd, streamlined functioning program.”

Go through more: Notebook vs. Chromebook: What is actually the big difference and which performs superior for you

Turning the corner 

Issues ongoing like this for some time. Chromebooks ate a big amount of the budget laptop computer mindshare as extra and more corporations bought into the act, but these devices ongoing to sense like secondary or backup laptops at very best. Seeking back at the historic report, my 1st “living with a Chromebook” article was in 2013 and it can be secure to say that I was continue to a skeptic. 

We located Chrome OS to be promising, but finally not up to the level of a entire-time OS. In other phrases, it was normally high-quality for a next laptop, but not fairly ready to run as your just one and only go-to Computer system for each individual task.

It seriously was not until 2017 that I observed a Chromebook that labored as effectively as a Home windows or MacOS laptop and did not give you as well substantially running system FOMO. This was the Samsung Chomebook Professional, which at $550 was miles much better than any Windows laptop computer at the same price. 

There are lots of Home windows laptops and tablets in that price selection (or reduced), but none that offer you this combination of a good design and style, primarily metallic development, lag-no cost efficiency, extensive battery everyday living, far better-than-High definition touchscreen, developed-in stylus and a hybrid hinge that transforms the method into a tablet.

It even experienced a forward-looking 3:2 factor ratio display screen. But the significant go that assisted Chromebooks go from niche merchandise to mainstream was the then-new capacity to obtain the Google Play application store. Currently being in a position to operate almost any Android application on a Chromebook took absent the greatest objection ChromeOS skeptics experienced — the inability to obtain and operate nearby applications. Sure, they ended up the cellular variations, but it was plenty of for a lot of tasks. 

samsung-chromebook-pro-22.jpg

The Samsung Chromebook Professional from 2017. 


Sarah Tew/CNET

Now, it is a Chromebook world 

The earth improved in March 2020, as school and workplaces closed for the reason that of COVID-19 and so lots of things moved online. Many people, in between remote college and remote operate, identified they necessary a person laptop computer for every particular person and cheap Chromebooks found a new audience. These ended up reasonably inexpensive PCs that were being equipped to access the on-line tools that universities and places of work had been working with, which include Zoom and Google Classroom. 

Examine much more: Are Chromebooks truly worth it? Here is why I advise them

By way of 2020 and 2021, the Chromebook was highlighted as one particular of the best applications for learners and remote personnel, and laptop computer reviewer Josh Goldman now says a Chromebook is his default recommendation for most individuals appropriate now. Why is that? I feel it is really for the reason that the pandemic-related changes have forced a whole lot of us to reevaluate what it is we definitely want our pcs to do. As Goldman places it, “After just a little digging, lots of persons realize they simply will not need to have to do any extra than what can be completed on a Chromebook.” 

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