Buying a new computer can be a real hassle whether the purchase is being made online or at a brick-and-mortar location but it's something that everybody eventually needs to do. There are costs to consider as well as internal specs and software. Chromebooks are no different.
In many cases, brand plays a key role too. Everybody has their loyalties and preferences, after all, whether that’s Acer, Samsung, ASUS, HP, Dell, Lenovo, or any other company. There have been some genuinely great products released over the past decade or so.
But there is at least one aspect of the gadgets that really needs to be considered and may not be the first to leap to mind when buying a Chromebook specifically. That characteristic is time and more specifically, the release date of a given device. That aspect of a Chrome OS device is, in fact, at least as important as any other key specification completely irrespective of whether the device in question is a tablet, Chromebox, or laptop.
In many respects, it's arguably even more important than those other attributes.
EOL is a key factor here
A decent amount of memory or storage and a reasonably-specced processor are not without their purpose in the world of Chromebooks. The optimization of Chrome OS does dampen exactly how important those are. For instance, 4GB, 8GB, or even 16GB of RAM just never seems to be enough to run the Chrome browser in a Windows or macOS environment for some users. On Chromebooks, 4GB is going to be more than enough to get by completely lag-free for most users.
The same applies to the processor and the cloud-focused nature of Chrome OS means that storage capacity isn't nearly as important either as long as access to the web is going to be available. The primary exception to that is going to be those users who need to get real work done, such as app developers or those who will use heavy Linux apps or Android apps for core gaming.
Those aspects of a given device are important but the answer would be a resounding "no" if the question is whether or not they are as important as when an individual Chromebook launched.
That comes down to the fact that Chromebooks are all about the software and frequent updates to both security and features. We'll dive into that a bit later on but the result of the rapid development cycle behind Chrome is that they have a relatively short shelf life that may be most comparable to smartphones if not for Google's EOL policies.
EOL — or 'End of Life' — represents a scheduled timeframe for when a device will cease to be supported. In this case for Chromebooks, that gadget will no longer receive software or security updates. To prevent OEMs from simply abandoning products with the next year's iteration, Google's policies ensure that every Chromebook supported officially by the company has an EOL that comes six-and-a-half years after release.
…but policies still fall short and not every device will see every update
Where Google's EOL that policy falls short, and likely the biggest pitfall to buying a new Chromebook, is that it does nothing to prevent an OEM or a retailer from selling a given device right up until that date.
That means that the devices sitting on display in a given Walmart, Best Buy, or online at a favorite retailer, isn't necessarily fresh. Depending on the retailer, some devices could already be years old and shadier sites or shops might even still be selling devices that are well past the EOL.
That's made all the more confusing if shoppers aren't well apprised of the current internal components. For many, an Intel Core i7, Core i5, or Pentium is all that same in terms of which year any given processor was released.
So there wouldn't necessarily be any help from reading over a list of specs for a given Chrome OS gadget.
Tying back into that, new waves of devices typically utilize new internal hardware. The newer gadgets are almost always going to have more recent improvements on that front.
The Linux kernel underlying the OS will be newer too for newer devices, allowing for even more features. Without going too in-depth into what that is, differences in Linux Kernel can be the difference between having access to things like apps or Linux software.
A prime example of that is Google's announcement at the I/O 2019 Developers Conference that all Chromebooks released thereafter would be Linux app compatible, among other things. Android apps went through a similar period of uncertainty and future features undoubtedly will too.
Benefits of a short lifecycle, overcoming its pitfalls
Chromebooks have quickly grown to become some of the hottest gadgets on the market and a real competitor to other laptop and tablet operating systems. Apple and Microsoft have revealed as much — Apple with its iPad OS and Microsoft with its plans for a lightweight direct competitor to Chrome OS.
That comes back to the way Chromebooks and related gadgets are updated, which happens with a frequency that simply isn't matched by other devices. On average, Chrome OS updates around once every month or two. The release of relatively more powerful hardware has tracked with some consistency alongside more powerful features.
That's created a positive feedback loop, resulting in more innovation in the space in terms of Google's continuing improvements, now with a focus on apps, web apps, and development as well as efforts from manufacturers to diversify the laptops, tablets, and other devices. From there, hardware improves and then more features are added.
Features aren't the only area where Chromebooks excel though.
The short lifecycle has enabled Google to ensure that security and ease-of-use, as well as optimization, are exceptionally high compared to other operating systems.
In fact, those two aspects of Chrome are precisely why it is important to buy a Chromebook that's going to last a while. Once the updates stop, a given device not only starts falling behind on improvements. Security updates stop too, bringing an end to one of the key reasons to buy a Chromebook, to begin with.
Security enhancements are only going to become more important as new application and functionality are added that open up Chromebooks to more attack vectors.
All of that makes knowing the release date or learning how to find the EOL schedule for a Chromebook an absolutely vital part of purchasing one. At very least, it's a key part of buying one that can both be enjoyed for years to come and deliver the best of what Chrome OS can offer.