As we round out 2020 and begin looking to 2021, we’re in a very interesting time in the Chromebook story. Coming up on 10 years of existence, Chromebooks have hit a stride that I only dreamed of a few years ago. Back then, getting one ‘nice’ Chromebook in any 6 month period was cause for excitement, let alone multiple flagship-level devices from multiple manufacturers addressing multiple concerns of users in a given year. Though the pandemic slowed things a bit on the manufacturing side for Chromebooks in 2020, the demand has skyrocketed and the plans for more Chromebooks in more shapes, sizes, and levels of capability have grown along with it.
If you thought 2020 had some great options for users across the board from sub-$300 Chromebooks to premium convertibles, just wait: 2021 is going to be even more wild. Seeing the growth potential of the platform, just about every major hardware manufacturer is getting in on the Chromebook scene and we’re tracking an unprecedented number of devices in development right now, ranging from ARM-powered Chromebooks with the Snapdragon 7c and MediaTek MT8192 to the slew of 11th-gen Intel Tiger Lake-powered Chromebooks. Don’t forget a ton of affordable Jasper Lake small-core Intel devices and the highly-anticipated AMD Ryzen-powered Chromebooks, too. There’s a lot to look forward to for sure.
It’s time for a high-refresh rate screen option
Despite the better screens we’ve been seeing in high-end Chromebooks – like the OLED screen of the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook, the coming QLED screen in the Samsung-made ‘Nightfury’ device, or the excellent QHD 3:2 screen on the Acer Spin 713 – there’s still a nagging disconnect I feel every time I pick up a Chromebook. You see, so many smartphones are beginning to ship with at least 90hz screens (including the main 2 I’ve used this year in the OnePlus 7T and the Pixel 4XL), and the super-smooth motion on those displays throughout the OS is so satisfying to stare at that the standard 60hz of most laptops (not just Chromebooks) feels a bit jarring by comparison.
90hz or 120hz screens don’t offer too much in the way of functionality if I’m being fair, but they do offer a massive step up in the way a UI feels to the end user. Apart from gaming laptops at this point, there aren’t a whole lot of examples of standard clamshell or convertible computing devices that leverage a high refresh screen. Again, to be fair, smoother animations don’t actually provide any additional functionality. It just looks really, really nice.
I hadn’t considered this much on Chrome OS until the flags for high refresh rates came along and extended displays could now flex their better-than-average frame rates with a Chromebook plugged in. A few of our monitors in the office offer both 75hz and 90hz, and seeing Chrome OS on that sort of display is a bit mesmerizing. They are subtle, but the animations for moving windows, minimizing/maximizing them, moving through the app launcher, expanding the system tray, moving through virtual desks and in/out of overview mode just look so stinking sweet with that higher refresh rate.
There are plenty of gaming laptops out there with 75hz, 90hz, 120hz and even 144hz displays on them in all sorts of sizes. It isn’t as if the options for screens aren’t out there: they just aren’t being utilized for Chromebooks right now. And yes, I do understand there would be a bit of a battery hit from using a high-refresh screen, but it isn’t as if the user couldn’t simply dial it back if battery drain was a big concern on any given day. All told, the pieces are all in place and the options are out there for a high-refresh Chromebook to be a reality right now. We just need someone to go and build it.
With more gaming options like Stadia, GeForce NOW, and Steam gaming headed to Chromebooks, I think this could be a win in that growing sector of Chrome OS users. But I also think a higher refresh rate could be awesome just as a general perk for high-end Chromebooks, too. Go to the store and pick up an iPad Air and an iPad Pro and just move through the UI and tell me you don’t 100% love the smoothness of the Pro as compared to the Air. There’s something quite lovely about those extra frames that just screams quality, smoothness, and refinement. Chrome OS is ready to take advantage of all of that, but we need some Chromebooks to actually do it. Here’s hoping 2021 might bring us one or two of them.