HP is all set to release the HP Dragonfly Pro Chromebook this spring, and my bet is we’ll see something in the neighborhood of a $999 price tag along with that official arrival. At that price, the question has to be asked: is the consumer Chromebook market ready for this sort of attempt at a big, fancy Chromebook again? My immediate response? I’m not quite sure just yet.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s no part of me that is ho-hum on the promise of this new Chromebook from HP. From the look, feel, function and power of the Dragonfly Pro I experienced for a few minutes at CES 2023, I can tell you that this Chromebook is set to be a special device for sure. Apart from not being a convertible, this Chromebook will offer just about everything you could ask for in a sleek, high-quality laptop and it comes with some firsts for Chromebooks as well.
I won’t spend too much time repeating what we’ve already written and said about this device, but I’ll tell you what I’m very excited for. The 16:10 QHD 14-inch screen that hits a peak brightness of 1200 nits is exceptional. The keyboard and haptic trackpad felt Pixelbook Go-esque. The minimalist design and extra-firm chassis feel like a proper, high-end laptop should. The internals will be all you will need in a Chromebook for a very long time and still fit in a neat, thin body. And the speakers finally look to fight the aging Pixelbook Go for the title of best audio in a Chromebook. Simply put: this thing is the real deal.
I’m not your average consumer, though
Clearly, this device is something I’m extremely excited for. There’s little doubt about that. But what I’ve learned over the years is I am not an average consumer. As I’ve reviewed Chromebooks now for nearly 10 years, the comments, questions, and recommendations given over that time have confirmed at least this much. However, I now tend to think about Chromebooks in a very different way than I once did.
Where I once only had eyes for the best, most-expensive devices (I’m a dedicated, full-time Chromebook guy), I now see the charm and appeal of the lower and mid-range Chromebooks that arrive. For instance, a few years back, the new Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 3i we saw at CES 2023 would have flown completely under my radar. Instead, I now realize the interest that lies in a device with a low price tag and some of the specs that make higher-end Chromebooks interesting. Consumers love a good deal, and $349 Chromebooks with decent specs and good performance deliver that.
And while I still love high-end Chromebooks, I’ve found myself becoming quite attached to devices in the mid-range price category in the past few years. For the consumer Chromebook market, that’s where the real growth has been up to this point, and I see that trend only continuing. Devices in the $450-$700 range offer massive value to consumers and they have really become the meat of the ChromeOS market for the general public – i.e. those shopping for non-education or non-enterprise Chromebooks.
High-end consumer Chromebooks have been few
When you step back and look at it, you quickly realize that high-end Chromebooks have been the exception, not the rule over the years. While they do exist, they largely get marketed to enterprise customers who need high-performance laptops for a fleet of workers. Sometimes those devices get a single, consumer-facing build and get thrown into a retailer’s inventory, they aren’t really marketed as such and aren’t really made overtly visible to the general consumer walking through a Best Buy store.
If you think about it, there have only been a few tries when it comes to consumer-focused, high-end Chromebooks. The first Chromebook Pixels were never in stores, so they don’t really count. So, removing those from the equation, we only have the Pixelbook, Pixelbook Go, and Samsung Galaxy Chromebook that were truly built for consumers and took a real swing at being a premium laptop through and through. As we all know, the Galaxy Chromebook fumbled a bit and the Pixelbook and Pixelbook Go are devices that only sold decently and created a cult-like following of people (like me) who are desperate to see a follow-up.
In that light, then, the HP Dragonfly Pro Chromebook is quite the anomaly. It is as high-end as any Chromebook ever released and this time around, HP isn’t building it for fleets of enterprise workers. Even at CES 2023, we asked about this and HP was adamant that this Chromebook is being marketed to the general public and that is the reason for the clear naming and the single SKU that will be available for it. There are two colors and that is all there is when it comes to options. Like we see with Macbooks or Surface laptops, simpler is better for consumers, and HP is not just throwing the kitchen sink at the Dragonfly Pro and walking away: they are being thoughtful about how to put this device in the marketplace.
And that all comes back to my initial question: is the consumer market ready for it? Outside of the people like me, is there a market for a device like this in 2023? With all my heart I want that answer to be a resounding YES! But I don’t know for sure. Perhaps HP will blow us all away and the price will be agressively low, but I don’t think it will be. This one is simply too nice.
Instead, I think HP will have to decide to not only build a great Chromebook and keep the options clean and clear; they’ll also need to put some marketing behind it to convince buyers exactly why they should spend top dollar (relative to Chromebooks, anyway) for a top-shelf sort of device. For those of us entrenched in the ChromeOS world, it’s a pretty easy sell. But for those still dipping a toe in the Chromebook waters, that sell is much more difficult.
I feel like HP has a product that could break through in a significant way and I’m rooting really hard for it. As much as I wanted the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook to usher in a new wave of users who rely on ChromeOS for all their activities and do so with a really nice piece of hardware in their hands, that shift in the market clearly didn’t happen. The Pixelbook was a bit too early to have that sort of success, but the HP Dragonfly Pro might just be arriving at the right time to make a significant splash. And maybe – just maybe – the answer to the question in the title here in 2023 may finally be “yes.”