When we traveled up to New York last month, we were able to tour the ChromeOS Flex labs to get a bit more insight on how Google confirms the viability of ChromeOS Flex on aging laptops. I wrote a whole post about all this already, so I won’t repeat myself again except to say that the requirements for getting that little green ‘certified’ ChromeOS Flex check mark aren’t simplistic.
Instead, Google puts these laptops through a massive battery of tests, assuring potential users that not only is their old laptop going to boot up ChromeOS Flex just fine, but that it will also work the way they’d expect. Basic functionality is great and all, but users looking to replace Windows on a laptop need to know that things like the trackpad, multi-finger gestures, keyboard shortcuts and function keys work as expected.
There’s no way to do this on a macro level, so it is done on a micro level, one device at a time, and with a lot of attention to detail. If a laptop is certified to work with ChromeOS Flex in Google’s official list, you can know that it has been tested heavily to work the way it is supposed to when you finally get the new OS up and running on it.
The “Chromebook Killer”
And it was during this tour and this informational time that we stumbled across the humble Microsoft Surface Laptop SE sitting in one of the hundreds of little cubbyholes Google has tucked away in their ChromeOS Flex labs. As I picked it up and handled it for a minute, I was told that it is the only Surface device certified for ChromeOS Flex, and that interested me quite a bit.
You see, I had all but forgotten about the Surface Laptop SE and the assumptions that this affordable laptop would be the demise of Chromebooks in schools. Clearly, this wasn’t Microsoft’s own assertion, but it was a catchy headline that circulated the web about a year ago, and as I recalled this story line, I knew immediately that we absolutely had to get one and turn it into a Chromebook.
Putting ChromeOS Flex certification to the test
At the same time, we also wanted to make a video about this whole certification process in general. After seeing how in-depth Google goes with these certified ChromeOS Flex laptops, I felt more confident than ever that we needed to get any of the certified models and immediatley write ChromeOS Flex to the main hard drive without any of our own testing. It just so happened that this discussion and the reintroduction of the Surface Laptop SE coincided with one another. And just like that, we were on a mission to make the “Chromebook Killer” into a killer Chromebook.
And we did just that. You’ll see in the video that there was a hiccup with hours of Windows updates and a little difficulty in figuring out that I had to remove Windows Secure Boot to get this all working, but in the end, we took an untested laptop and fully installed ChromeOS Flex on it. And you know what? It’s a sweet little device now!
I’ve only read harsh reviews of the slow, laboring Surface Laptop SE and I can only imagine how the Intel Celeron N4120 performs trying to run Windows 11 (reportedly, it is very bad). But with ChromeOS Flex on board, things are quite good.
Sure, it’s still a small-core Intel chip under the hood, but with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, this little 11-inch ‘Chromebook’ feels pretty great to use now. It is zippy and the build quality and aesthetic truly remind me of one of my all-time favorite Chromebooks ever made: the original HP Chromebook 11.
The trackpad and all its gestures work perfectly, the keyboard does what it is supposed to, and nearly all the function keys work. There was some issue with the volume keys, but I’d wager Google can get that sorted pretty quickly and I’ve already submitted feedback on the issue. Even so, to see the Windows key work as the Everything Key and the Google Assistant present on a laptop with a Windows logo on the lid is all pretty sweet.
And it’s not working only in the novelty sense: it is a device I could use to get things done. As a matter of fact, in the next week or so, I fully plan on working from it for a few days to really stretch it out a bit. After all, it is now running the same ChromeOS I’m working with right now, so there’s no reason it can’t get most of my tasks done with ease.
It may be a tad slow, but the keyboard is nice, the screen is passable, and the trackpad is nice to use, too. For general Chromebook stuff, this little guy does a great job and looks great doing it. And it all gives me great confidence that Google is onto something very special with ChromeOS Flex, especially for devices that are tested and certified to work with it. If you have an old laptop on the list, I’d fully recommend giving it a try. Your aging laptop will thank you.