We can all agree that 2020 hasn’t exactly been the best year. One for the record books? Sure. But for all the wrong reasons. While it’s turned out to be a year that most of us would like to forget, I’m reminded that even in the midst of mess, there can be good there, too. That was absolutely the case in 2020 with Chromebooks. Sure, we had delays and push-backs, but we also had some pretty awesome hardware show up, too. Devices like the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook pushed expectations for Chromebook hardware into new places with its OLED screen and beautiful build while inexpensive Chromebooks found a new face in the affordable-yet-capable Lenovo Chromebook Duet as this device single-handedly remade what is possible in the sub-$300 Chromebook category.
For those of you who’ve been around for more than a year, you likely remember us making the same sort of grandiose statements last year around this time, excited by the proposition of new 10th-gen Intel-based Chromebooks and the slew of MediaTek MT8183-touting Chrome OS devices we were expecting. While some of those devices showed up and showed out (I’m looking at you Acer Chromebook Spin 713 and HP Chromebook x360 14c), lots of devices were delayed and we’re still here waiting for their eventual arrival a full year later.
Much of this is obviously due to the pandemic and the shock it put on manufacturers and supply chains in the spring, but no excuses change the fact that we didn’t quite see the massive tidal wave of Chromebooks we were hoping for in 2020. It doesn’t matter why they didn’t all make it to market, it only matters that they never materialized, and this leaves us with a backlog of devices that likely won’t make it to store shelves in 2020.
Mix these lingering 2020-bound Chromebooks with a massive uptick in Chromebook adoption, far more manufacturer interest, and a huge increase in chipset options moving into 2021, however, and you have what feels very much like the calm before the storm here in the latter parts of 2020. While we thought there was a lot of Chromebook hardware on the way in 2020, there’s almost no real comparison as we move into 2021. There are now a total of 9 different families of devices we’re tracking as we move into the new year as compared to the couple big groups we were expecting in 2020, so let’s quickly recap them.
‘Kukui’ (MediaTek MT8183)
There are still a ton of MediaTek 8183 devices that never materialized this year. If you’ve not followed along with the development of MediaTek’s upcoming/current Chrome OS strategy, it is exciting. There is the current crop of low-end, affordable MT8183 devices both in the market and on the way that are powered by the same chip we find in the popular Lenovo Chromebook Duet and then two other chips we know are coming with more power under the hood in 2021. With ‘Kukui’, we know of at least one more tablet on the way (‘Kakadu’) and at least 6 total devices in the works that are yet to release.
‘Asurada’ (MediaTek MT8192)
Staying with the MediaTek trend, we have to talk about ‘Asurada’ and the fact that it has been in the works for quite some time. Starting back in March of 2020, ‘Asurada’ has been getting heavy doses of work over in the Chromium Repositories and now has its first spawned board in ‘Hayato’. On MediaTek’s roadmap, this MT8192 is the company’s mid-range ARM processor and we expect some nice performance gains over devices like the Lenovo Duet, so this one is exciting. We’d expect to see many more MT8192 devices starting development in the coming months.
This chip is yet to actually show up in the Chromium Repositories, but we’re very excited about the performance capabilities of this 6nm chip. We don’t expect to see much from it until the latter parts of 2021, but it is worth keeping an eye on for sure. From what we can tell, the processing cores in this chip will be pushing what we’ll see soon in the Snapdragon 875 from Qualcomm. The GPU won’t be as beefy as Qualcomm’s Adreno, but Chromebooks with the MT8195 will likely be the fastest ARM-based Chromebooks ever when they do finally arrive.
‘Hatch’ (Intel 10th-gen Comet Lake)
There’s not much more to know about ‘Hatch’ at this point. Look at the Acer Spin 713, HP x360 14c, or the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook and you quickly get what you need to know. These devices are flagships with solid pricing, great performance, and standout features. The high-resolution 3:2 screen I’m staring at right now on my Acer Spin 713 is a perfect example of the types of hardware that come with Intel’s 10th-get processors inside. The pandemic pushed many of these back, so we’re still waiting on at least 6 more of these devices, if not more.
‘Volteer’ (Intel 11th-gen Tiger Lake)
In the same vein as ‘Hatch’, ‘Volteer’ devices will be the latest, greatest from manufacturers that choose to go the Intel route. With a move to a 10nm process this year, the Tiger Lake chips from Intel are already impressing in new Windows laptops. Users can expect faster performance, battery life gains, and a much better overall graphics experience thanks to Intel’s new integrated Xe GPU. It has been impressive in early tests on Windows laptops, so we’re expecting some great performance on Chrome OS, too. Games, Linux apps, Windows apps via Parallels, and general overall performance should all be fantastic with these powerful new chips from Intel, so we’re excited by that absolutely staggering number of Tiger Lake Chromebooks in the works. We count over 20 at this point and we’re fairly certain we’ll see at least a few at CES 2021 – virtually, of course.
‘Dedede’ (Intel Jasper Lake)
Part of the Chromebook growth we’ve seen in 2020 is due to the small-core chips from Intel that go by the name of Gemini Lake. Processors like the Celeron N4000 or N4020 power Chromebooks in the sub-$300 category and, for the first time this year, we don’t have to warn users about their performance. The current crop of small-core Intel chips is pretty solid, and that will only get better with Jasper Lake chips. With a 10nm process, we expect a boost in performance and battery, making these affordable chips even more competent than they already are. Jasper Lake Chromebooks won’t be flashy, but they’ll be great performers at low prices, and that’s a very important roll in the Chrome OS world.
‘Zork’ (AMD Ryzen)
While we have a handful of AMD-powered Chromebooks, they are older chips targeted towards the low-end of the Chrome OS market. We’ve been eagerly awaiting AMD’s full arrival on the scene and, technically, we’ve already arrived. Though neither device has actually started shipping, both Lenovo and HP have Chromebooks with higher-end AMD APUs on board in the HP Pro c645 and the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga C13. We’ll hold back our thoughts on these devices until we have them in hand, but we’re excited about the idea of some competition at the mid-tier and high-end of the Chromebook market. There are newer, more-powerful AMD boards that have recently emerged, too, that will further shift attention to AMD-powered Chromebooks, so we’re on the lookout for those in 2021 as well.
‘Trogdor’ (Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c)
Of all the Chromebooks coming in 2021, this family of devices is by far the longest-anticipated. It has been a staggering 3 years since the Qualcomm Chromebook became a part of our general expectations, and it has felt like an eternity. For many, Qualcomm Snapdragon is the best ARM chip you can get this side of Apple’s silicon, and we’ve been eager to see what a Chromebook would be like with one of their chips inside. Multiple Chrome OS devices powered by the Snapdragon 7c are on the way, and by February, we’ll know more about performance as the Acer Chromebook Spin 513 is slated to launch by then. We had a hands-on, but the firmware was far too early to make any assumptions about.
Most interestingly, we’re tracking a Snapdragon 7c Chrombook tablet by the name of ‘Coachz’ that could be a real standout device with it’s high-res 3:2 11-inch screen, kickstand, and wirelessly-charging USI pen. Hopes are high that the Snapdragon 7c can offer very strong performance for Chromebooks while keeping things thin, light, and highly portable. Oh, and Android apps should run like an absolute dream on Chromebooks outfitted with this very-familiar silicon inside.
So, that’s it. Only, “that’s it” feels like a very strange thing to say in light of all this info, doesn’t it? We are on the precipice of a complete Chromebook invasion in 2021. As manufacturers are now ready to dip their toes more deeply in the Chromebook waters and supply lines have figured themselves out amidst the pandemic, there is little in the way of the oncoming storm over the next 12 months. Questions remain, sure, but the overall feeling is we’ll see Chrome OS make some pretty massive leaps forward in the next year, and we cannot wait to watch it happen. As always, we’ll get our hands on everything we can and try to help all of you decide which one of these Chromebooks is best for you. Where there have generally been only a few options in each price bracket in years prior, it feels like the competition is about to really heat up and it’s going to be fun to be in the middle of it all this year. We can’t wait!