17 Oct 2013

The new 11-inch HP Chromebook at $279 is attracting rave reviews. I was surprised — I never read such glowing reviews of a sub-$300 laptop of any kind. This set me thinking: maybe some aspects of quality don’t cost much, after all. Maybe a lot of things that don’t work right are failures of imagination, if you’re feeling charitable, or sheer incompetence, if you’re not, more than any intrinsic economic necessity.

Maybe Google (disclosure: my employer, but I don’t work on Chrome, Chrome OS or Chromebooks) can push OEMs towards having minimum standards for every Chromebook, carefully chosen so that they don’t increase the price at all, or increase it by little (< $20, say). We’re not talking about the $1300 Pixel here, or even a $400 device but a $300 or less one. What can we do that makes the low-end better?

Taking the HP Chromebook as a yardstick, let’s have:

  • A good IPS screen, or equivalent, with good brightness, contrast ratio and viewing angles.

  • A great keyboard and trackpad

  • 10-hour battery life. Ideally, given that the Macbook Air gets 12 hours, and Chromebooks are supposed to run a lightweight OS and everything happens on the server, they should get 14 hours, but I’ll settle for 10.

  • An SD card slot

  • SlimPort, MHL or DisplayPort

  • Three USB 3 ports

I’m leaving out things that could add significantly to the price, like a Retina screen, a touch screen, or a Thunderbolt port.

Maybe your list of what every Chromebook (or laptop, or tablet, or whatever) should have is different. That’s fine. The point is not to fixate on the exact list here, but to recognize that the low end, which has been neglected and looked down upon by computer-savvy people and by the tech press, can be a lot more interesting and fulfilling for users with minimum standards like these.

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