USI pen support has been a thing for Chromebooks for quite some time now, but that doesn’t really mean that the experience has been what most users want in a stylus for their Chromebook. Artists aside, what most users are really after is the ability to take solid notes and make simple sketches on their Chromebook when the need arises. And as simple as that task sounds, there’s a reason why companies like Apple and Samsung have spent years perfecting the digital inking experience: it is hard to get right.
With Chromebooks, that becomes increasingly difficult thanks to Google opting to go all-in on the open USI standard. Though a great move for universal stylus development, being inclusive comes at the cost of hardware-specific tweaks that companies like Apple and Samsung use to make their pen experiences great. For Chromebooks, the execution thus far has fallen short of greatness, meaning we have a bunch of Chromebooks that technically work with any USI pen you have around at the time, but very few of them work as well as something like a Samsung S-Pen or Apple Pencil. But there’s a chance that all changes in the near future, and I have a very good reason I’d like to share with you as to why I think that.
We’ve discussed this in a prior video, but as we’ve looked for the best pen experiences on Chromebooks, those better experiences usually come from devices with faster processors. Low-end and mid-range ARM chips thus far have not been great, and older small-core Intel devices have struggled too. On 10th, 11th, or 12th-gen Intel Core Chromebooks, inking is pretty nice, but those device are usually larger and have fans involved, making for pretty clunky note taking experiences.
We need more powerful Chromebook tablets for this to work
So you probably see where I’m headed, here. Chromebook tablets by far make the better form factor for good note taking, sketches and drawing, but they all come with slower processors. Bigger, more-powerful convertible Chromebooks get the actual pen-to-digital-ink part right; but their size, weight, and fans make most people only use them when absolutely necessary for pen-related tasks. What we need are thin, light tablets like one of the Duets from Lenovo that have faster processors inside.
And that’s exactly what is coming. If you haven’t been following along, let me get you up to speed. There is a new MediaTek chip internally dubbed the MT8188. It doesn’t yet have a marketing name, but it utilizes the same cores that we see in the Kompanio 1380 and 1200 that have fantastic inking experiences in devices like the Acer Chromebook Spin 513 and HP Chromebook x360 13b. While the MT8188 will be a bit less powerful than those existing chips, it will be in the same ballpark, and that means the pen performance should be great.
Right now, this development board is internally known as ‘Geralt’, but from what we can gather, this new wave of Chromebook tablets is looking promising, and we have high suspicions that one of the devices that will come from all this will end up as a successor to the pretty awesome Lenovo Chromebook Duet 5. Imagine a slim device like the Duet 5 with it’s fantastic OLED display, USI pen support, and a far faster processor on the inside. I could geek out about what that will mean for Chromebook tablets in general, but for now we’ll stick to the pen part of the equation.
With a proper processor inside, a lightweight chassis, and an excellent screen, an updated Duet 5 with the MT8188 inside could finally make a device that is actually fantastic for taking notes, making sketches, or even drawing and painting. Even with great penmanship, no one wants to hold a thick, heavy convertible for long periods while jotting notes. A slim tablet is the right device for this task, and the devices that come from the ‘Geralt’ baseboard should be in a spot to deliver big time.
So when will we see these devices? For now, that’s a bit uncertain, but the baseboard has been around for 9 months at this point, so it’s not unreasonable for us to expect devices to show up within the next few months built off of this new MT8188 baseboard. I’d lean more towards fall at this point for a realistic time frame, but the truth is we simply don’t know. The way Chromebooks get released, we could be surprised at any given moment with a new Chromebook tablet that simply shows up for sale.
Regardless of when they arrive, we know these devices are definitely on the way. And though I’m excited for 100 things about more-powerful Chromebook tablets, the inking part of the experience is one that I think could have a big effect on many potential buyers. As I said earlier: pen support has been around on Chromebooks for a while, but the optimal pen experience on a Chromebook has yet to truly emerge. Trust me when I tell you, there is great potential for that to change, and that’s a very intriguing thing to be excited for.