The Chromebook at 10: How this ‘browser in a box’ became the perfect pandemic laptop

During COVID-19 crisis, The Chromebook has helped countless students and employees stay connected at home. It would be hard to imagine 10 years ago, when for the first time Chromebook Was announced on 11 May 2011.

Nobody expected much from him at that time. After all they came Netbook era heels, When low-cost, low-power laptops were first seen as a panacea for high-priced technology, but eliminated their limited functionality. And after struggling to run Windows-for a few years, with Intel-Atom-powered netbooks doing nothing useful, I wasn’t optimistic about a personal computer platform that seemed even more constrained by the box.

ChromeOS, previously announced in 2011, did not seem like an operating system at all to me at the time. It was essentially the same Chrome web browser that was already in widespread use, wrapped around a keyboard and screen. The biggest obvious omission of the platform was the ability to install and run the software. Who wants what was essentially a browser in a box?

A decade later, Google’s affordable laptop concept is still running – and flourishing. It seems that the Chromebook was ahead of its time, and it took an epidemic to realize its full potential.

A new budget challenger

The first Chromebook model was announced exactly 10 years ago, on May 11, 2011 Google I / O Conference in San Francisco. They included models from Samsung and Acer, which are still two big names in the Chromebook. At the time, ClearTips reporter Maggie Reardon wrote:

Samsung and Acer will each introduce Chromebook laptops from June 15. The Samsung Chromebook will only cost $ 429 for the Wi-Fi version and $ 499 for the 3G version. Acer’s Wi-Fi only Chromebook will cost $ 349.

Surprisingly, $ 350- $ 450 is still very common for entry-level Chromebooks a decade later, making them one of the few technology products that hasn’t risen in the last 10 years.

As a long-time proponent of budget-priced laptops and desktops, I often say that people buy too many computers for their needs, especially if they need basic web browsing, online shopping, social media, email and video viewing Require a lot. Living life to the fullest in a web browser makes sense today, but it was a tough sell in 2011 when cloud-based software tools were few. And I was not the only one to think so. From that initial 2011 dispatch:

Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner, said that the fact that the browser is limited to Chrome may be a factor, given that competing products offer greater capability and flexibility at nearly comparable pricing. “It’s quite interesting,” he said. “But at these prices, will consumers buy it? At $ 499, it also gives you a very capable netbook or an iPad.”

My colleague Scott Stein said the same week.

For $ 499, the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook has cut its work for it – namely, tablets and “high-end” 11- and 12-inch laptops and netbooks (with some faster processors) already on the same landscape Have captured. This is a question we have been pondering for a while, rewrite: what exactly is the portable small screen portable?

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An early Chromebook from Lenovo.

Sara Tue / ClearTips

A decade later, the iPad and Chromebook are still battling for your casual computing attention. Both can still be found for under $ 400, and both top $ 1,000 premium versions. The biggest change is that Chromebooks have become slightly more iPad-like to add access to the Google Play App Store, while iPads have become more laptop-like, adding mouse and touchpad support.

First taste of ChromeOS

It wasn’t until I started going down the decade-long rabbit hole of Chromebook history that I remembered a Chromebook that preceded this May 11, 2011 launch. It was Google’s own Cr-48 Chromebook, a prototype machine introduced in 2010 to select pilot program invitees. These plain-looking black boxes had a 12.1-inch, 1,280×800-pixel display, 3G mobile broadband, and an Intel Atom N455 CPU.

The most interesting footnote is the surprisingly clear admission from Google to potential Cr-48 testers: “The pilot program is not for the faint of heart. Things may not always work right.” Ironically, Chromebooks have become successful by exhibiting the opposite behavior. They are the perfect laptop for the faint-hearted and things usually work right.

This vintage gallery shows you how normal the Cr-48 looked and yes, it had a VGA port.

Google CR-48

Google’s original Cr-48 Chromebook prototype.

Josh Miller / ClearTips

But what did we first think of consumer Chromebooks? First samsung chromebook Received praise from my colleague Josh Goldman To be streamlined compared to the Windows laptop of the time.

Since everything is web-based, there is a fresh lack of bloatware. Clicking on the Home button in the browser takes you directly to your collection of Chrome Web Apps, which are just bookmarks for sites. The experience is really enjoyable, especially if you already have a Google Account set up … After a little use, however, the brightness of the Chromebook starts to wane. For us it started when we needed to open a zip file and was greeted with an unsupported file format error.

We also reviewed an early Acer model called the C7, which dropped its price to an impressive $ 199. but Our 2012 review Said that it is not compatible with budget tablets and low-end Windows laptops: “The advantages of the Acer C7 are a physical keyboard and touchpad, which is a large hard drive and price. Disadvantages? Seriously short battery life and chrome too weird Is, a streamlined operating system. “

Read more: Laptop vs Chromebook: What’s the difference and which one works better for you

Corner turning

This went on for a while. As more and more companies got into the act, Chromebooks consumed large amounts of budget laptop Mindshare, but these machines continued to feel like secondary or backup laptops. Looking at the historical record, my first “Living with a Chromebook” article was in 2013 and it’s safe to say that I was still a skeptic.

We found that Chrome OS is promising, but ultimately not up to the level of a full-time OS. In other words, it was generally fine for a second computer, but not quite ready to run as your and only go-to PC for every task.

It wasn’t really until 2017 that I found a Chromebook that works side-by-side with a Windows or MacOS laptop and You did not give too much operating system FOMO. It was the Samsung Chombook Pro, which was miles better than any Windows laptop at the same price for $ 550.

There are plenty of Windows laptops and tablets in that price range (or less), but none that offer this combination of a decent design, mostly metal construction, lag-free performance, long battery life, superior-to -HD touchscreen, built-in stylus and a hybrid hinge that turns the system into a tablet.

It even had a forward-looking 3: 2 aspect ratio display. But the big step that helped Chromebook move from niche product to mainstream was the then new ability to access the Google Play App Store. Being able to run almost any Android app on a Chromebook took away the biggest objection from ChromeOS skeptics – the inability to download and run local apps. Yes, they were mobile versions, but it was enough for a lot of tasks.

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Samsung Chromebook Pro from 2017.

Sara Tue / ClearTips

Today, it’s the world of Chromebooks

The world changed in March 2020, as schools and offices were closed due to COVID-19 and many things went online. Between distance school and remote work, many families found that they needed one laptop per person and cheap Chromebooks found new audiences. These were relatively affordable PCs capable of accessing online tools used by schools and offices, including Zoom and Google Classroom.

Read more: Are Chromebooks Worth It? This is why i recommend them

During 2020 and 2021, the Chromebook was highlighted as one of the best tools for students and remote employees, and laptop reviewer Josh Goldman now says that the Chromebook is his default recommendation for most people right now. Why is it like this? I think it’s because epidemic-related changes have forced a lot of us to reevaluate what we really need our computers for. As Goldman says, “After just a little digging, many people realize that they don’t need to do more than they can do on a Chromebook.”

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