It looks like the first Chrome OS tablets without physical keyboards could be on the way soon. But… what’s the point?

After all, Google already has an operating system that runs on tablets. It’s called Android. And one of the key features of a Chromebook is that it’s a desktop-style operating system with support for multiple windows, the same version of Chrome that runs on Windows, macOS, and Linux, and support for keyboard, mouse, and (occasionally) pen input.

But over the past few years Chrome OS has become a much more touchscreen-friendly operating system and Android tablets have… kind of stagnated. So I’m actually pretty excited about the possibility of a Chrome OS tablet (which I’m just going to go ahead and call a Chromepad until Google or someone else stops me).

Over the past few years Google has added an on-screen keyboard and touch-friendly icons and menus to Chrome OS. The company has also built a complete Android subsystem for the operating system, allowing you to run just about any app available from the Google Play Store on supported Chromebooks and Chromeboxes.

In other words, a modern Chrome OS device is effectively an Android device. It just also happens to have these features, which most Android phones and tablets lack:

  • Support for Chrome browser extensions
  • More advanced browser tools including developer tools, a task manager, and a powerful bookmark manager
  • Free-floating, resizable windows
  • Faster boot speeds
  • 5 years of software and security updates delivered by Google rather than the PC maker

The first and last items on the list are the ones that intrigue me the most. I used the Dolphin and Firefox web browsers on my Android phone for years, because Chrome for Android didn’t support the LastPass password manager extension. I made the switch when LastPass finally found a way to work with Chrome for Android, but there are plenty of other Chrome extensions that still aren’t available on Android devices. That won’t be an issue on a Chromepad.

As for software updates? If you have an Android device then you probably get updates delivered by your phone maker or wireless carrier. And odds are that you’ll only get those updates for a few years, if at all.

I’ve been a long-time Google Nexus and Pixel user, so I’m used to getting monthly security updates and a major operating system update every year or so. But even Google has a habit of only rolling out updates for its own phones for around 2-3 years. If you have a third-party phones, the results can be hit-or-miss. A handful of smaller phone makers have a reputation for never releasing a single update.

Chromebooks, on the other hand, receive automatic over-the-air updates that are delivered by Google, not by your device maker. And Google provides at least 5 years of updates for every new Chrome OS device, starting from the day of launch (which means if you buy a 2-year-old model you only get 3 more y ears of updates, but that’s still not bad).

Sure, by PC standards, 5 years of updates still sounds arbitrary and short. There are plenty of people running the latest versions of Windows on computers that are more than a decade old. But 5 years of updates for a Chromepad sounds pretty great when compared with the abysmal software lifecycle for most Android phones.

Keep in mind that Google and its hardware partners haven’t officially announced any Chromepads yet. We know that there’s some Chromium code commits that suggest developers are testing some Chrome OS tablets. We know that Google has said Chrome OS is coming to new form factors. And at least one person spotted at least one Chrome OS tablet that Acer had on-hand at an educational technology trade show in London this week. But the picture he posted has since been removed, so it’s impossible to say whether we were looking at a prototype for a real product that’s launching soon or just an idea that Acer is playing around with.

But I certainly think the launch of a Chromepad would be the most exciting thing to happen in the tablet space in a while.

Until that happens, the next best thing might be the convertible Chromebooks Asus, Samsung, and others are offering. At just about 2 pounds, the 10.1 inch Asus Chromebook C101 could almost be mistaken for a tablet.

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34 replies on “Why Chromepads could be better than Android tablets”

  1. Unless and until Google offers viable local storage on ChromeOS devices this will always be a ‘no’ from me. I also got my fingers burnt by an ARM based ChromeBook which will never get Android and proved to be heavily compromised when I tried putting Linux on it.

  2. As far as OS support is concerned, MS has indicated extended support for Windows 10 will end in 2025, by far the longest support period I am aware of. Even Windows RT received 5 years of mainstream support. I don’t believe Apple publishes any sort of EOL dates for iOS, but it seems 3-5 years is their pattern. Android “support” is laughable due to the complex distribution model. So Chrome OS is a fairly strong contender for OS support with their 5 year policy. I have read comments showing distrust of what Google has said. I make no attempt to dissuade anyone from their skepticism. I am just pointing out that OS support varies within the industry and is subject to change by every OS supplier. If you want the longest extended OS support, go Microsoft. I think I’ll opt to expect the 5 year support lifecycle from Google. Maybe I’ll even keep the tablet that long.

  3. I am very interested in the release of Chromepads. I have been so for over a year. My current Android tablet was purchased in November 2016 as a stop gap while waiting for Chrome OS to mature and for this form factor to emerge. My reasoning back then was, and still remains, pretty much what you enumerated, Brad. I like my Asus Zenpad 3s 10 quite a lot, and I have received more security updates than I expected (currently the November patch received in January) and one version update to 7.0, but I doubt much more will come from Asus. I would be very happy to stay on 7.0 and receive a few more security patches while I await new developments in Chrome OS hardware.

  4. ”I’m actually pretty excited about the possibility of a Chrome OS tablet (which I’m just going to go ahead and call a Chromepad until Google or someone else stops me).” Says Brad Linder.

  5. A Chrome pad is something that’s a good idea in theory, but a terrible idea in reality.

    Have you ever used a Chromebook for any period of time? It ticks off an entire laundry-list of “Things It Can Officially Do(TM)”, but the fine print is that it does most of them poorly. It’s great for your grandma who will never do anything beyond simple web browsing, but pretty limited for anyone that knows how to use a computer.

    Want to play a video? Chromebook can do that! …except, you better hope that your video doesn’t have subtitles you want to turn on or off. Or multiple audio tracks. And better hope it’s not an MKV file. See, the video player in Chrome can’t handle ANY of those things.

    “But I can just install the Android app that can do it!” Hahahahahaa…. my Chromebook was promised Android apps YEARS ago, and guess what it still doesn’t have? That’s right, Android apps!

    I could go on and list problems with Chrome OS’s file browser, its audio player, and much more. But you get the idea. Chrome OS is good at one thing (web page browsing), and that’s it. If you ever plan to do *anything* more than that on your device, then Chrome is not a good answer.

    But it still looks really nice on paper. And those Android apps will be *super* useful if they finally manage to arrive for your device 3 years from now.

  6. Considering how Chrome OS still does not have adaptable storage for Android apps, this whole “Chrome Pad” idea seems like a failure waiting to happen. It could be awesome but storage for apps will be the biggest issue.

  7. You are counting on Google sticking with this 5 years. They have proven to be untrustworthy on what they say or do, The magical kill date. What a win for manufacturers. Guaranteed turnover. Now that’s a great business model. Imagine purses that self destruct every 3 years? That would be so great for the manufacturers. Harder for them to sell the self destruct to the public of course. WIth software and hardware? It’s okay to act stupid and pretend like five years or three years is sufficient time for the self destruct. Let’s keep on buying into this so that everything we buy can self destruct and we can buy new things!

    1. As Google has published a table of dates of Auto Update Expiration (AUE) for Chromebooks, they can’t go back on this promise for any Chromebook that has been released. For more information, see https://support.google.com/chrome/a/answer/6220366?hl=en

      I don’t think they are stupid enough to anger customers that have thousands upon thousands of Chromebooks by shortening this AUE schedule. Most schools already have a replacement schedule for student laptops that is five years or shorter so the AUE date doesn’t really affect them.

      1. “I don’t think they are stupid enough to anger customers that have thousands upon thousands of Chromebooks by shortening this AUE schedule”

        You’re not very familiar with the products and promises that litter Google’s graveyard, are you? They are exactly the kind of company that does such things. As in, this is what they historically do, over and over again.

      2. With respect Steve, I can assure that 90% of the buying public are unaware of self destruct dates. They might be impressed with a sale price, but fail to realize that 2 years out of the 5 are gone, and that the product is good for three years only. Most people don’t get this. Frankly I hate it and by buying into this, you show support for self destruct dates. I want to support the companies that don’t create arbitrary self destruct dates. However, collusion is certainly an issue. What company is so stupid as to say, here, use our product for 10 years, meanwhile everyone else is getting turnover every five years. This has to be addressed by governments. Most people in tech are smart enough to know that software related self destruct dates are bullshit.

        1. I understand what you are saying. But given that no Android tablet or phone I’ve bought has gotten more than a year or so of updates, I see this as the opposite of a “self-destruct” date – it’s a guarantee of support. So I’ll certainly look at Chrome tablets when they are available.

  8. The support for extensions and google pushing updates instead of the OEM is awesome. I was always on the fence about what the point of chrome OS was vs Android, but after reading this article it makes sense, especially in the education sector. I always wanted a chrome os device to try it out, maybe a tablet will make me get one.

  9. And I bet it will be more than 5 years, at least in Intel models, as it cost them not a lot to upgrade the OS

    1. If upgrading the OS means less sales, then with respect, it does cost them a lot. People keeping their old devices because they still get the job done hardware wise = less revenue than forcing sales via an arbitrary self destruct date.

  10. I’ve been waiting for Chromepads since ChromeOS started getting better touch support. Android just doesn’t cut it for devices that I plan to keep for more than 1-2 years because of the poor update support.

  11. I’m reading this on a Huawei Mediapad M3. It’s a great Android tablet, but the user community is small and support is thin. I don’t know why Android tablets aren’t more popular, because they’re really great for traveling and general media consumption.

    1. I like more text on the screen, larger pictures. 7 or 8 inches is just right for me. I guess I like to scan ahead when I read.

    2. That Mediapad looked quite good when I saw it. Very tempting. I always liked Android tablets, especially the smaller ones. There are probably many reasons Android tablets fell off, but what always stuck out for me was the increase in size of phones, which surely ate into tablet sales, and the stagnation of the hardware specs on the tablet side. It’s hard to get excited about tablets when their specs, in many cases, hadn’t advanced much over the years.

  12. I’m still waiting to run Android apps on my Chromebook. Google said ‘coming soon’ but that never happened. It’s been over a year already. I’d love to run Firefox instead of the Google Chrome browser for privacy and security reasons.

  13. You nailed it completely. The only company still making competitive Android tablets for the US market is Samsung and you can generally forget about software updates from Samsung on such units.
    The rolling release cycle directly from Google could completely revitalize Android tablets. And you aren’t wrong at all about the power of a full Chrome browser either.
    I almost bought an ipad over the Holidays but was surprised to find out the only way I could really get control over font sizes for websites was if they voluntarily worked with Safari’s reading mode. A lot of websites I checked were compatible but I don’t like having to rely on something like that.
    That said Ipad has many pros of course. Their dedicated music software subsystem is brilliant. Their cameras are generally very good. The screens on the Pro units particularly are spectacular. And more…
    A Chromepad (I like the name) could offer some interesting features too though. I am guessing it would come with USB C for charging. And I’m guessing further that you could attach that to a breakout device to get regular USB and external monitor support which would be pretty seamless.
    It also has mouse support built in. I would expect it to readily dock for a full size desktop experience. Perhaps even with a large touch capable monitor. I could dig that.
    If it has reasonable hardware and a reasonable price I’m all over it.

    1. “…Samsung and you can generally forget about software updates from Samsung on such units.”

      BS Mike. Methinks you’ve either never owned a Samsung tablet or certainly not recently. I own 2 tablets (a Tab A SM-T580 and a Verizon Tab E). The Tab A is over 2 years old and the Tab E over 1 year. Both shipped with A6 and both were updated to A7 in a timely manner. AND both have received additional updates, including new ones within the pas couple weeks.

      Why not confine critical comments to something you actually know?

  14. I have given up on Android tablets – still waiting to see if my Nexus 7 2013 will get an an Oreo update for crDroid rom! Instead, looking seriously at Asus chromebook C302 & dual booting ChromeOS & GalliumOS so I can use my Android apps & run LaTeX. The only hiccup is that Android ARM programs do not play well on ChromeOS using x86 core m3 cpus. Also very suspicious of an ARM version of ChromeOS.

    1. Good to know that Android app support on x86 Chrome OS isn’t that great before I spend any money. I’m also hesitant on getting any ARM based Chrome OS devices.

    2. Reading this now on my 2013 Nexus 7. I suspect this is the best product Google has ever made

      1. I bought the 2012 Nexus 7, which was probably the worst product anyone has ever made.

      2. The fact you are still using it means it’s a fail. They don’t see that as a victory. You didn’t buy a new Android tablet so shame on you!

    3. I think that if Intel tablets (and hybrids) with Chrome OS earn some market share, games and other Android apps will be improved for X86. And or Google will make a qemu/KM based emulator for them as the good one for MS WOS Bluestacks.

  15. Given how often Google kills things off, I wonder if this will still be around in a couple of years. I’ve been conditioned to not be an early adopter of anything Alphabet/Google puts out nowadays.

    1. Well it’s made by Acer, not Google. For the part made by Google, Chrome OS has already solidified itself as something that will be around for a while

      1. I’m talking about the Chrome OS tablet concept itself. I wouldn’t be surprised if Google abandons supporting such a usage scenario given how often they abandon things within a couple of years.

        1. Depends if they catch on in some kind of enterprise environment. The education market has been key to Chrome OS’s success… Chromebooks replaced iPads and Macbooks in numerous K-12 classrooms. If Chromepads fulfill that role (or find another enterprise-level niche), they will be successful.

          Android tablets died because they lacked any kind of enterprise market. HP (and a few others) tried marketing some at professional markets by utilizing built-in office suites and a few other “business” features, but they never caught on. I personally predicted detachable-keyboard devices like the Asus Transformers were going to dominate, but they never did. And their OSs, battery lives, specs, and featuers stagnated alongside almost every other Android tablet on the market.

          Consumer sales alone weren’t enough to keep manufacturers innovating – because consumers didn’t need an annual replacement for a $300 tablet that really was only useful for web browsing, games, and media consumption. Amazon is the only company that has continually updated their older tablets, but even they abandoned the “high end” market in favor of cheap, disposable media consumption devices.

          And that seems to be all consumers are willing to do with Android tablets. The high-end Android market has shifted almost exclusively to phones. The funny part about that? Early on, Google absolutely did NOT want Android on tablets. They wanted it to be a phone OS. Archos and others forced Google to develop it into a hybrid OS. Now that Android tablets are falling to the wayside, I bet Google is happy to let Chrome OS take its place.

        2. Well, it depends on whether the concept takes off, doesn’t it? Google won’t kill them off if they’re gaining traction in the market, at least not unless they see something even better coming down the road. The first Chromebook went on sale way back in 2011, and that concept was anything but an overnight success.

          Early adoption always entails risk, but I don’t see why early adoption of a “chromepad” is inherently more risky than anything else, just because it’s Google.

          1. Look everyone, it’s shill time! If you don’t early adopt, then instead of 5 years of usability, you’re getting maybe 3? 2? Imagine the ignorance on the used market. People know that in 2 years you can take a match to the purchase? Fools selling these devices certainly don’t account for the self destruct date when they set their sale price. Buying a Google phone after one year? Let’s talk about that amount of depreciation and I can GUARANTEE you that the price isn’t equal to the years remaining on the device. Let’s keep the recycling industry happy with very usable gear so that we can all go buy new stuff when Google says we should. Apple at the very least has not been blatant about this practice and neither has Microsoft.

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