As time has gone on, Chromebooks have been moving towards a leaner, sleeker look and feel in the mid-range and high-end. Thinner devices mean less room for an assortment of ports and devices like the original Pixelbook paved the way for the ultra-refined port selection on current Chromebooks. After all, if USB Type-C can do just about everything you need, why not just give users a few of those and move on?
Still, I find myself appreciating the flexibility offered by older ports like SD card slots, headphone jacks, and USB Type A. With these on board your Chromebook, there’s less need for dongles, adapters and docking solutions when you are on the go. Yes they take up space and yes they look a little less sleek on the outside, but over the time you actually use your Chromebook, they really do help make the experience a lot simpler in the long run.
One port that had been gone for quite some time on many Chromebooks is the full-sized HDMI connector, and it made a bit of a comeback in 2020. Outside of an enterprise Chromebook here and there in years prior, this port had completely vanished from the consumer Chromebook scene. For this one, I sort of get it: the HDMI port is large, ugly, and takes up a bunch of real estate on the ever-thinning Chromebooks that are available today. With a tiny adapter, any one of your much-smaller USB-C ports can perform the same audio/video tasks, so why not ditch this extraneous port?
I was completely on board with this thought process until a few Chromebooks in 2020 simply changed my mind. Devices like the HP Chromebook Pro C640 and the Dell Latitude 7400 both came with this port and, most notably, the much-loved Acer Spin 713 did as well. With all of these devices, I ended up using that port a few times during the review process and I’ve leveraged it countless times on my Spin 713 throughout the past year.
Whether it was hooking up the Chromebook to a larger TV for a video call, presentation, or simply to consume media, each time I’ve turned to the HDMI port it has been in a time where I didn’t have my dongle, adapter or dock right there in my bag. My main converter for these sorts of tasks is the dock that sits on my desk and most times I don’t keep it with me. Now that I carry a Chromebook that doesn’t really need it, I simply don’t feel the need to have all the extra adapters in my bag all the time, and it’s honestly a freeing feeling.
Look, I’m all for sleek design and minimal appointments, but Chromebooks (and laptops in general) are functional machines at the end of the day, meant for productivity and consumption and not really built with clean lines as the #1 priority. I suppose this all falls in line with the pointless move to take away the headphone jack on phones and the arguments from countless creative professionals that gripe about Apple taking all the ports off of their Macbook Pro line. Professionals and students need tools, not cool looks, and that same thing matters on Chromebooks, too.
Do I think the HDMI port will make a big comeback across the slew of new Chromebooks on the way in 2021? Not really. I’m hopeful that a few of them will include it, but I’m unsure that will happen. It is just a bit odd that the inclusion of some “old” ports on the Acer Spin 713 really helped me to see Chromebooks a bit more clearly for what they are: functional devices used to get stuff done. As that sort of device, the more ports you have at your disposal, the better. While that doesn’t fit in with all the plans of all Chromebook makers, I’m certainly hopeful this continues to be the mindset of some of them. I for one wouldn’t mind a few less-sleek Chromebooks on offer this year that happen to still keep in those legacy ports for those like me who appreciate simple functionality.