Chrome OS tablets have suffered a painful birth and an even more excruciating existence. The initial launch of the OP1, RockChip-powered Acer Tab 10 brought heightened anticipation for the platform but the tablet and its subsequent clones failed miserably in delivering a good tablet or Chromebook experience and the price tag of $300 or more made them all but impossible to recommend to anyone outside of the EDU sector. Even for schools, there are options aplenty in that price range that provide better performance and versatility.
Then you have the Pixel Slate. Google’s audacious attempt at a consumer-focused Chrome OS tablet wasn’t received well at all but not because the Slate is a bad Chromebook. At the time of its release, Chrome OS on a tablet was still taking form and it lacked the refining touch that would make it a device worth the gargantuan sticker price carried by Google’s tablet. The hardware is still some of the best in its space. The display is amazing. The speakers are crazy good and the internals will go toe-to-toe with some of the best premium Chromebooks out there. Still, at the end of the day, the Slate was still a $1000+ Chrome OS tablet-first device that couldn’t deliver a true Chromebook and tablet experience. Now that the retail price of the Slate has permanently dropped and Chrome OS tablet mode is light years better, it’s a completely different story. Unfortunately, the damage was done and Chrome OS tablets have struggled to recover for their rocky start.
Lenovo’s Chromebook Duet tablet was, in our mind, the most-anticipated device to come out of CES 2020 and that’s saying a lot when you consider that the Samsung Galaxy and ASUS Chromebook Flip C436 were both announced at the annual technology show in Las Vegas. Despite one, still mind-boggling shortcoming, the Duet tablet delivered more than we could have ever expected from a device that retails for only $299. While we collectively feel that the Duet is a tablet-first device and that it probably isn’t going to be a daily driver for most laptop users, it has still set the bar for what a Chrome OS tablet should be. Additionally, the Duet proves that GOOD Chrome OS hardware doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg.
So, where are all the Chrome OS tablets? Lenovo did launch a rugged version of the Duet alongside the popular tablet and as an owner of tow 10e Chromebooks, I can say that it’s the perfect device for my kids. It’s sturdy, rubberized and the perfect size. The MediaTek processor chews through Android apps without breaking a sweat and since we got them, my kids never touch their clamshell Chromebook. Since the Duet launched, consumers have been chomping at the bit to get their hands on them. Three times now, Best Buy has sold out of the 128GB model within days of getting them in stock. Lenovo has yet to list the 64GB model and Walmart’s in-store 64GB version appears to have sold out entirely leaving third-party listings the only place to grab one. If you do, you’re going to pay an inflated price. Clearly, people want a GOOD Chrome OS tablet.
We have been tracking a handful of MediaTek devices in the repository but as it sits, it only appears that one of those boards could be a tablet and that’s not definite. Why aren’t OEMs jumping on this train? Am I missing something here? Yes, we all want a Snapdragon Chromebook but we haven’t seen anything indication that Qualcomm Chromebooks are going to arrive soon. If Lenovo can deliver a premium Chrome OS tablet experience using the MediaTek processor, what’s stopping these other manufactures from doing the same? The only complaint we really had with the Duet was the fact that it won’t extend full resolution to an external monitor but we’ve seen through Chromium commits that a tiny addition can remedy that issue.
If a company like Acer or ASUS could run with what Lenovo started, fix the monitor output hiccup and produce a comparable tablet, I think they’d sell like hotcakes. On top of that, I think that these companies could take the MSRP up a little and still offer a killer device at a competitive price. Think about it. If you could buy a tablet like the Duet that would output full resolution to a quad-HD or 4K monitor and you could get it for $350, wouldn’t that be worth the money? I think so. With a simple docking setup like we use every day at the office, a tablet such as that COULD become a daily driver. The MediaTek processor has enough horsepower for the average user that deals mostly with Google Docs, websites and Chrome apps. Not to mention, you undock the tablet, throw it in your bag and it’s the perfect couch companion when you get home from a long day at the office. It runs Android applications like a champ and with the Google Assistant enabled, it can even make a decent home control device.
Anyway, that’s my two cents. I really feel that Chromebook makers are in the perfect position to make take a big bite out of the tablet and Chromebook markets if they would focus on this form-factor. Android tablets are a dying breed but the marriage of great hardware, Chrome OS and the Google Play Store strikes a harmonious chord that would be a win for manufacturers and consumers alike. What do you think? Should OEMs spend some more time and energy perfecting the Chrome OS tablet? Drop a comment below. We’d love to hear your thoughts and maybe, just maybe someone for one of these companies is listening.