Sure, the landscape of Chrome OS tablets is pretty lonely for the moment. Acer’s Chromebook Tab 10 is the only completely-tablet option available right now, but devices like HP’s Chromebook x2 and the upcoming #madebyGoogle ‘Nocturne’ are both devices many users will interact with in tablet mode frequently.
For the latter two devices mentioned above (and any other detachable Chromebooks coming down the line), this news isn’t that big of a deal. After all, a device with an included keyboard will clearly work in desktop mode when connected to its base. This much is simple and clear, but even detachables and convertibles stand to benefit from this change that is on the way.
So, What Is Going On?
In order to understand the new changes coming in Chrome OS 70, we must first talk about the current behavior that exists in Chrome OS for tablets and tablet mode on convertibles and detachables.
Right now, when a device is in tablet mode, all windows are full screen unless split-screen is activated by the user. Additionally, the options for extended displays are also gone and users are left with only the ability to mirror a display to an external monitor.
Overall, this just doesn’t work as a desktop replacement at all and isn’t really meant to. For detachables and convertibles, the problem is quickly solved by putting the device back in clamshell mode and moving forward from there. However, as I quickly figured out when reviewing the Acer Chromebook Tab 10, this same simple answer is not possible on a tablet-only device.
Additionally, if you wanted to put your convertible in tent mode to save space and/or use an external keyboard and mouse while in tablet mode, you would also be out of luck trying to establish a desktop-type workflow. For my personal setup, I’ve long wanted to do this exact thing but have not been able to due to the limited nature of Chrome OS’ tablet mode.
But a change is coming.
Completely by accident, I stumbled across this new feature in the Dev Channel on my Pixelbook. I was setting it up in tent mode with an external keyboard to simply mimic using an iPad Pro with a keyboard. I wanted to navigate around for a while in this setup to see how compelling all the new changes to the tablet mode really were in daily use. For a rundown of those, check out this video.
Anyway, after getting into tent mode and then pairing the keyboard and mouse, a strange thing happened: all my apps went back to windowed and the extended display started working as expected again. As the multitasking key stuck around in the system tray as it does in tablet mode (see the screenshot below), I’m left to conclude that this is some sort of new pseudo-tablet mode, allowing everything to behave like a desktop should.
With this new setup, window resizing, snapping, and extended displays behave just as they do for standard desktop setups. What this means is you really will only need the tablet portion of your Chromebook provided you have an external mouse and keyboard to connect.
Currently, users always have to have that keyboard portion out and visible in their setup to fully utilize the true desktop experience. Folding the keyboard out of the way or nixing it completely with the HP x2 leave you stuck in tablet mode without all the productivity of the desktop mode.
Going forward, you won’t have to worry about this. Drop your tablet or detachable in whatever stand or cradle you would like and plug in a keyboard and mouse to get working just as you normally would. You can see in the image at the top of this post just how clean this makes your entire setup.
Once again, this is a feature that will truly set Chrome OS tablets apart from any other tablet experience out there. A tablet when you want it and a productive desktop when you need it. Seamless and simple: it’s what Chrome OS is all about.