Earlier this year, the first signs of Ambient EQ for Chromebook screens were spotted in the repositories. The concept is quite simple really: with the proper sensors and software in place, screens can not only adapt the brightness in response to your environment, they can also adapt the color temperature to match. We talked in this same post about how this is a similar trick to what we see in some of the current iPads and how the introduction of this feature is a solid step forward for Chrome OS in general.
At that time, we were only seeing small hints about Ambient EQ for Chrome OS in the repositories. That was enough to know that they were tinkering with the idea and that a Chromebook variation of this particular tech would likely be forthcoming. All that was based on very little direct proof and quite a bit of puzzle piece rearrangement.
Today, however, we have some pretty firm evidence that Ambient EQ on Chrome OS is not just being tinkered with: it is being turned on by default and getting a full UI for adjusting it on devices that support the feature. As you can see in this commit, the feature has moved from a testing phase to being flat-out turned on by default for eligible devices that support the hardware necessary for Ambient EQ:
Ambient EQ: Make it enabled by default
– On devices that support AEQ enable it by default.
– Make sure support is always tested regardless of pref value.
– Turn off AEQ by default in tests because most nightlight tests need it off to verify the night light colors.
Back in August when we uncovered this new feature, it was tightly tied to the discovery of a new type of ambient light sensor (TCS3400) getting deployed in the ‘Hatch’ and ‘Kukui’ devices we’re now expecting to begin hitting shelves in the first quarter of 2020. There wasn’t much to go on back then other than knowing that this type of light sensor increases the functionality over the existing sensors currently in use on Chromebooks. With devices like the iPad leveraging a similar sort of setup, it made sense to infer that this new feature was on the way. Now we know it will be shipping with these new devices soon.
Additionally, we’re also seeing a basic UI getting added to toggle this new Ambient EQ feature on future Chromebooks. I welcome this as the auto brightness that is in use on the Pixelbook Go is baked in, but has no ability to be switched on or off. Not everyone loves auto brightness even if it adjusts itself quite accurately. The option for users to simply switch off the feature is not only a good choice, but a necessary one as well.
Overall, I think I’m less excited by the addition of this new Ambient EQ feature itself and more excited at the fact that Google is giving some real consideration to software and hardware tweaks to displays on Chromebooks. Of all the things that have vastly improved for Chrome OS over the years, displays are probably the least affected. It is a common complaint that displays on $400+ Chromebooks are either too dim, have poor viewing angles or are incredibly color inaccurate.
No one expects the best-in-class panels on a $300 laptop, but we do expect better than we’ve been getting in the $500-$600 selection. Those devices generally have decent viewing angles and decent colors, but the overall brightness (or lack thereof) of Chromebook screens has been dismal in 2019. With the vast variety of solid display panels available at this point, it is time that Chromebook displays in the upper price categories finally stop being relegated to picking from the bargain bin. We don’t demand the best displays on the market, but I think its fair to say everyone believes Google and its hardware partners can do better.
With this Ambient EQ becoming the norm for this new wave of Chromebooks, perhaps Google is finally going to be putting a bit more weight behind the quality of displays that ship from manufacturers. Perhaps they are finally making the requirements for Chromebooks a bit more strict than they’ve been in the screen department. Perhaps screen improvements across the board will be the marker of 2020 Chromebooks as we see most of the other new features show up we’ve all been clamoring for. One way or another, we’ll know soon enough.