In a report from 9to5 Google yesterday, it seems Google could be right on the cusp of delivering a new way for consumers to make sense of the growing – and sometimes confusing – Chromebook market. For a few years, Google has used the ‘Premium’ and ‘Plus’ labels both on the official Chromebook site and in stores like Best Buy, but I seriously doubt most consumers knew what to do with that info. The idea was solid – group Chromebooks by their general capabilities – but the execution was lacking. And Google has since deprecated it for what is coming next.
As more and more consumers enter the Chromebook market, Google seems to understand that they need a way to clearly signal potential buyers that the purchase they are making isn’t just another Chromebook; a way to show them that certain Chromebooks come with just a bit more attention to detail than most. And that solution looks to be what the ChromeOS team is internally referring to as ‘Chromebook X’.
What is ‘Chromebook X’?
From the findings of the crew over at 9to5 Google, this new branding will be both highly visible and more substantial than other Chromebook groupings that have come before. For a Chromebook to meet this new standard, it seems the devices will need to meet certain hardware requirements and hopefully some build-quality standards, too. First, let’s talk about those hardware specifics.
It looks like Google will require specific RAM, a particular quality of display, and at least a high-def webcam. There are probably other requirements as well – fast storage being an important one – that Google will demand for devices that will get the ‘Chromebook X’ designation. While we only have a direct mention of RAM, cameras and displays, you can be certain there will be some other factors at play.
And one of those looks to be the processor. According to 9to5 Google’s report, the processors already in line to get the ‘Chromebook X’ badge of approval will be the AMD Zen 2+, AMD Zen 3, and 12th-gen Intel processors. I’d imagine future processors will get added to this list, but the inclusion of Intel’s Alder Lake-N chips is encouraging. We’ve already shown that these N100 and N200 chips are the real deal in less-expensive Chromebooks, so it’ll be great to see solid, affordable Chromebooks continuing to be released with these processors inside.
Google-approved build quality
But specs only go so far if Google is going to deliver on this “set apart” group of Chromebooks. What has made Google’s own Chromebooks special over the years and what makes devices like the HP Dragonfly Pro so fantastic to use isn’t just a spec sheet: there’s more to it.
The best Chromebook experiences need solid specs, sure, but they also need attention to small details and thoughtful builds. What could truly differentiate a ‘Chromebook X’ from just any old Chromebook could end up having a lot to do with build quality. While Google does assist in every Chromebook released, it is still up to the manufacturer what corners get cut on the way to that device hitting the production line.
With this new ‘Chromebook X’ standard, Google could finally have a bit more leverage over its partners when it comes to quality of the overall build. If right alongside the processor, RAM and screen requirements, Google set certain parameters for feel, solidity, and materials, the ‘Chromebook X’ branding could be a beacon that pushes hardware makers to build better Chromebooks down the road in order to secure that coveted branding stamp of approval. This part of the equation is simply conjecture on my part, but this is a prime opportunity for Google to be able to deliver more of those Pixelbook-like hardware experiences without needing to build a device on its own.
Features specific to ‘Chromebook X’
Now, assuming the specs are in line and the build quality is solid, Google is also planning on giving ‘Chromebook X’ devices special software features, too. Live Captions for video calls, portrait blur effects, and voice isolation are among some of the features that will be a part of the ‘Chromebook X’ experience. And I’m sure there will be others down the road.
Some upcoming features we’ve already talked about like 16 virtual desks, pinned (offline) Google Drive files, sunrise/sunset wallpapers, and a new retail demo mode are all being held for these new ‘Chromebook X’ devices via Google’s new ‘feature management’ system that will internally determine if a Chromebook is branded as ‘Chromebook X’ or not before allowing the feature to work.
How we’ll know a ‘Chromebook X’ when we see it
While I don’t know that ‘Chromebook X’ will be the way Google actually spins all this when it does release, it is at least clear that the branding will be clear and understandable to the general consumer. Without knowing anything about processor clock speeds or what type of storage is faster/better than the next, a general consumer will be able to spot a ‘Chromebook X’ device and know that the overall ChromeOS experience will be top notch.
This will happen with actual branding on the chassis of these devices and will also occur during the boot process via a customized boot animation. Assuming this branding will also be on the retail packaging, there shouldn’t be much in the way of consumers understanding the simple fact that they’ll want to be looking for ‘Chromebook X’ branding in the future and that it should indicate a better overall experience for them.
When we’ll see the first ‘Chromebook X’ hardware
As far as a timeline goes, it could be pretty soon. According to a line in the Google Chromium Git, ‘Chromebook X’ features will become available starting in ChromeOS 115. That could be when Google will start testing things out at a production level or it could indicate a rather-imminent launch. For reference, ChromeOS 115 is set to roll out on July 20th, a full 6 weeks after the 114 update. Usually, when Google pushes back the standard 4-week update cycle, something big is in the works. That something is clearly ‘Chromebook X’.
But even with the pieces in place with ChromeOS 115, it doesn’t mean we’ll immediately see new devices with ‘Chromebook X’ branding. Remember, there are safeguards in place to only allow the new features on supported hardware, so until we get some of those devices (or some legacy devices get a retroactive ‘Chromebook X’ branding), we won’t see these new features arise.
According to an inside source for 9to5 Google, new ‘Chromebook X’ devices should roll out by year’s end in a coordinated effort similar to the gaming Chromebook announcement we had last fall. While that one was a fun, interesting initiative, this newest move could prove incredibly beneficial to Google and to potential/current Chromebook customers alike. How Google could use this in the future and what it all may end up looking like are topics I’m already forming many thoughts around, so you can be sure this won’t be the last you hear about ‘Chromebook X’: I can promise you that.