If you read our posts on a regular basis, you may note that I wrote just yesterday about the fact that a Chromebook with a great keyboard and trackpad largely negates needing a touchscreen on a clamshell-only Chromebook. Yet, here I am advocating for better, faster tablets that will of course require a touchscreen. What gives? Bear with me and read on to see why a high-end MediaTek Kompanio would be a dream in the right detachable Chromebook.
In defense of touchscreens
Let’s tackle that little elephant in the room, shall we? If you read that post from yesterday, you’ll note that I was only describing the clamshell, desktop Chromebook experience. This is extremely important to note because the clamshell Chromebook experience is pretty different than the convertible or detachable one. ChromeOS has a full UI dedicated to non-keyboard modes and it’s been quietly getting better in the last year. That mode gets no use on a clamshell device, and when we’re not in a touch-heavy UI, I still advocate that a great trackpad makes up for most of that experience.
However, when we start looking at convertible and detachable devices, my stance completely shifts on this topic. Great touch panels are absolutely necessary when the device calls for it, and there are many fantastic Chromebooks that benefit greatly from their touch input abilities. My mind goes directly to the stellar Lenovo Duet 3 and Duet 5 as examples of Chromebooks where touch input is 100% front-and-center. And it is that form factor that I want to talk about today.
Where are all the tablets?
For a small window, I thought just about everyone was going to make a Chromebook tablet. After the success of the original Lenovo Chromebook Duet, it seemed everyone was ready to throw their hat in the ring. We had the almost-great HP Chromebook X2 11 (the 1st-gen Snapdragon 7c held that one back), the Lenovo Duet 5, the Lenovo Duet 3 and a few other devices that looked ready for launch. And then it just dried up.
Unless something has fundamentally changed in the Chromium Repositories that makes it more difficult to see detachable devices in development, I’m sad to report that I don’t have eyes on a single new tablet running ChromeOS as we head into 2023. Not one. And that hurts a little bit.
Let’s face it: convertible Chromebooks generally don’t suffice as good tablets. But well-considered tablets can definitely suffice for a standard Chromebook experience. Look at the Lenovo Duet 5 and the way that Chromebook performs well as a large tablet and a lap-ready Chromebook with the keyboard attached. With the larger than normal 13.3-inch display, this tablet finally delivered a go-anywhere kickstand/keyboard combo that I had no issue using wherever I needed it. But there is one thing holding devices like the Duet 5 back: the processor.
It’s time for a high-end MediaTek Chromebook tablet
While the Snapdragon 7c Gen 2 in the Duet 5 is fine for less-intensive work, it struggles a bit under load and can’t really hang with the Intel-based Chromebooks when it comes to raw performance. But you know what? There’s an ARM chip out there made just for Chromebooks that has the power we all want in a large tablet and yet still retains the battery life, thin form factor, and Android app abilities that we love about ARM-powered Chromebooks.
And that chip is the MediaTek Kompanio 1380. There’s also the recently-announced Kompanio 1200 that I’d gladly welcome in a thin, light tablet as well. Both of these SoCs bring the best of MediaTek’s Chromebook-focused processing power to the table and do so in a way that would be incredible in a tablet.
Imagine it for a second. You could have uncompromised performance, stellar Android app capabilities, fantastic battery life, a light and thin chassis, and still expect the price to stay within reason. All from a detachable tablet that would be fast enough to finally give us a smooth experience with the ChromeOS tablet UI and simultaneously not buckle under the weight of real work.
In a word, it would be fantastic. For some reason – at least at this moment – there doesn’t seem to be a clear path to this reality, unfortunately. I’m not really sure why, but we’ve not yet seen a manufacturer take a real swing with a ChromeOS tablet in a while. Google notably tried and failed with the Pixel Slate, but that was a strange time in the Chromebook story. It’s time that someone else tries again.
When we first laid eyes on the HP x2 11, I thought HP had done it. And, to be fair, they really nailed most of the facets of a great, portable Chromebook tablet aside from the processor. Perhaps they could iterate and try another version with a MediaTek Kompanio chip this time around. And if they do, it would be great if they increased the screen size just a bit to make it more like their first detachable Chromebook that matched the Pixelbook in it’s overall size.
But the company I’m really waiting on is Lenovo. They have an existing relationship with MediaTek already (the original Duet was a Kompanio 500 SoC) and they without doubt make the best ChromeOS tablets out there. It’s been 15 months since they launched the Duet 5, and it would be awesome to simply see a second version of that same device that does what the new Duet 3 did for the original Duet.
While the original Duet was great, the Duet 3 is an upgrade in every single way, and I’d love to see something like that treatment for the Duet 5. If I’m dreaming, I’d love to see a similar 13-inch OLED screen at a 16:10 aspect ratio. Add in a slight improvement to the keyboard/trackpad and upgrade the inside to the Kompanio 1200 or 1380 and you’d have a device that would be good at so many things.
For now, however, that sort of future is unclear and unset. We know there are some very awesome devices on the horizon (stay tuned for those), but the movement away from the tablet form factor in the ChromeOS market feels odd. While detachables aren’t the best fit for everyone, they make for versatile and interesting Chromebooks, and I really hope manufacturers don’t sit on the sidelines too much longer. The iPad may always own the overall tablet market, but a great, powerful Chromebook detachable could shake that up quite a bit, and all the pieces are there for it to happen. Here’s hoping it does one day.