For the decade that the Chromebook line of ultra-cheap laptops has been around, the company has left the ChromeOS-based design to linger without many meaningful updates. Now the tech giant is here with Chromebook Plus touting a new hardware standard and a few software tweaks the company promises will be a step up for anybody looking for a simple setup, though still invariably tied to Google’s software brand.
Just how “plus” is Plus? Well, Google is making some additions by porting over a few software touches that have become mainstays on Android phones. The Chromebook is getting the Material You redesign, which means users should be able to set pleasing color swatches for their UI based on their wallpapers. Google is also adding its AI-based photo editing tool Magic Eraser to the Google Photos app. There are a few extra quality-of-life improvements, including the ability to set camera background blur, improved lighting, and live captions from the bottom app shelf.
The new “Plus” moniker means these Chromebooks promise minimum specs you receive for at least $399. Each comes with an Intel Core i3 12th Gen or AMD Ryzen 3 7000 CPU, or better. Further, a Plus model should have more than 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage. Google promised that each will sport a 1080p webcam with temporal noise reduction and a full-HD IPS or better display. Those updated specs should be able to support editing apps like LumaFusion and Google Photos’ movie maker.
There are a few nifty features that are singularly geared to Chromebooks. There’s a new dynamic wallpaper setting for Chromebook-specific wallpapers that changes depending on the time of day. Perhaps the most important new feature for legacy Chromebook users is File Sync. Even with a new standard of 128 GB of storage, Chromebooks will still rely on cloud storage for most of their work, meaning it can be a pain when you take your 5G-lacking laptop somewhere without an easy internet connection. After users enable it, File Sync automatically downloads Google Workspace files when it finds an internet connection.
Unfortunately, some of the more interesting features of Chromebook Plus will be coming down the road. Google touted several new AI capabilities, including an in-built writing assistant that should work whether in Chrome or Docs. Google is also adding a Generative Wallpaper setting that uses an AI image generator to create a new background based on a prompt. Google offers eight different templates for the AI to base the image, and users will also be able to create AI-generated backgrounds on Google Meet.
In the meantime, Google is trying to entice users onto their laptop brand by promising a three-month free trial for Adobe’s new web-based version of Photoshop as well as three months of Nvidia Geforce Now priority tier. Even with Photoshop’s new AI integration through the Firefly image generator, three months is hardly an incentive for each service, especially because after the trial it would cost $21 a month for a somewhat more limited version of Photoshop while Geforce Now will still cost $10 a month. Hell, it was just a few years ago when Chromebooks were advertising three months of the now-defunct Google Stadia.
There are new Chromebook models from regular OEMs including Acer, Asus, HP, and Lenovo to start. There are regular laptop models as well as 2-in-1 flippable models from Asus, HP, and Lenovo with a small variety of specs between them. Lenovo’s slate includes a “gaming Chromebook” model that’s mostly designed around game streaming with a 120 Hz refresh rate, though that model won’t be available in the U.S. to start.
There’s a lot of subtle variations between each model. For instance, the $750 HP Chromebook Plus x360 sports a 14-inch flippable screen, while the $600 HP Chromebook Plus has a 15.6-inch display. Meanwhile, Acer’s initial Chromebook Plus 515 with a 12th-gen Intel Core processor sports a 15.6-inch full-HD display (you can pay more for the touchscreen version) while the 514 includes an AMD Ryzen 5 7520 processor and a 14-inch WUXGA screen starting at $449.
All these new Chromebooks will be available on Oct. 8 in the U.S. through most major retailers. They will be available in Canada and Europe starting Oct. 9.
Those varied prices are just another reminder that, despite the few additional features and guaranteed minimum specs, the Chromebook still has to compete with other cheap laptops that aren’t limited to what Google packs inside ChromeOS. Last month, Microsoft announced the latest in its Surface laptop series, including the $799 Surface Laptop Go 3. It’s up to each user whether they’re willing to spend a little more on a device that runs a full version of Windows 11 or go for a cheaper, though more technically limited laptop.
It’s interesting that Google is bringing up its Chromium-based laptop brand while it is currently in the middle of a major antitrust lawsuit alleging Google has used its dominant position to emphasize its software ahead of its competitors. Everything on Chromebook remains tied to Google’s brand of software. The only way to access most features is through Google Chrome and any new apps need to come through Play Store.