Primetime: Is Chrome OS Saving Or Dooming Tablets?

People have long argued that the Android tablet is a solution in search of a problem, while others have argued that the device type has its purposes and use cases. The same arguments have been spewed about Chrome OS devices. In recent months Chrome OS has been picking up steam, especially with Android app and Play Store compatibility hitting devices. Chrome OS devices have also been embracing the convertible form factor lately, to great effect, and there are indications that Chrome OS tablets are coming. So, the question here is, is there still a place in the market for Android tablets? Let's look at both sides of that argument.

Chromebooks tend to be lighter, thinner, and have longer lasting batteries than the average laptop. Convertible ones currently provide a clunky experience in tablet mode, but this is reportedly being worked out. The OS is integrating Android support, even on older devices, at a breakneck pace. It's not entirely inconceivable, even right now, to fold up a Chromebook into tablet mode and watch some Netflix on the couch, or plug in a USB gamepad and power through a few levels of a game. It's also already been established that Chromebooks can go blow-for-blow with Windows, Mac, and Linux machines in most basic productivity tasks, like writing, document editing, remote support, website building, and even coding. Most Chromebooks sport keyboards on par with what you would find on a Windows laptop, and the battery life makes it easy to burn through a work day. Sure, editing photos or creating sounds or videos leaves a bit to be desired, but the introduction of Android apps is helping with that, and x86-based Chromebooks can already run Linux versions of popular apps like GIMP through RollApp. Thanks to the full integration of a desktop Chrome browser, Chromebooks simply steamroll Android tablets in productivity, no questions asked. Leisure, meanwhile, remains a contested area. For all of these things, it should be noted that a Chromebook can always simply remote into a Windows computer for intensive tasks. Altogether, continued improvements to Chrome OS make it seem like Android tablets could stop being produced and nobody would really be missing out. Right?

Looking to a case for the continued existence of the Android tablet, let's begin with the absolute most obvious thing; interoperability and synchronization. You may find it hard to pair up a smartwatch to both your Chromebook and your phone, but an Android tablet makes it easy. You'll also get a similar experience on both devices; it really is like a bigger phone, and that's not entirely a bad thing. Android is an incredible mobile OS, and Nougat steps it up a notch. Multi-window mode built right in and floating windows on the way? Check. Optimizations to run smoother than ever before? Check. Full compatibility with one of the latest versions of the core Linux kernel and an OS that's easy to develop for? Check. That third one is an important advantage over Chrome OS, but only for now; Chromebooks won't be able to run Android apps perfectly, especially on the x86-based Chromebooks, for a while. Android tablets also tend to be more niche-targeted than Chromebooks.

Want a premium number that's great for gaming and can power through daily tasks? The Pixel C is your go-to. What might be one of the best Chromebooks out there right now, the Samsung Chromebook Pro, sports an integrated Intel GPU, and is limited to Chrome games and trying to emulate ARM instructions for most Android games. Android tablets also fill in a wider range of the market. Chromebooks can go into the high-end, and can even get mighty cheap, but you won't find a $30 to $40 throwaway Chromebook at your local big-box retail store to hand to your kid or take on a camping trip. Likewise, Chromebooks struggle with ruggedness. There are some Chromebooks that can take a beating, but Android tablets made for that purpose, like the Panasonic Toughpad, are far better at it. Tablets also boast the ability to use a variety of keyboard cases depending on their form factor, whereas most Chromebooks are like traditional laptops, making constant use of an external keyboard a bit of a chore. Remoting into a Windows PC for more demanding tasks is a smooth experience on Chrome OS devices due to their similarity to regular laptops, but it's hard to get the full experience on an Android tablet unless you have additional hardware.

Taken altogether, it's easy to see all the arguments for both sides. Cheap, rugged, and specialized Android tablets abound, but it could be argued that the same thing will happen to the Chrome OS space in due time. Chrome OS, on the other hand, is far better for productivity, but a good tablet with the right accessories can stand against the might of Chrome OS with fairly few compromises or caveats. At this point, it's really down to each person's use case for now; those who want a primary computing device, will be using it for work often, or find themselves on Chrome more than any other app would do well to grab a Chromebook. Those who won't use the device for work often, need a specialized type of device, or prefer something more pick up and play might want to go for a tablet.

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