ComputerWorld has this excellent article (via /r/chromeos) about the missing piece of the Chromebook puzzle. The short answer in that article is that Chrome OS is missing an iPad Mini competitor: a small (less than 8″) tablet that can function as something as lightweight and simple as an e-reader but because of the way Chrome OS works could also be hooked up to a keyboard, mouse, and even a larger screen and function as a full desktop computer.
That device would certainly be interesting, even attractive. But I think a different one is needed for Chrome OS to take a major leap in terms of mainstream acceptance. The problem with small tablets is that they struggle in a world of large phones. Sure, there might not be many 7-8″ quality Android tablets, but there are plenty of quality Android phones pushing 6″. I also question the ability of Chrome OS devices to get all the way down to Amazon Fire tablet prices while still maintaining acceptable quality.
What I think would make a bigger splash is more a device between the Acer Chromebook Tab 10 and the Pixel Slate. Start with a Full HD display in the 10.5-11″ range. The entry level internals should be a Core m3 processor, 4 GB of RAM (although 8 GB would be better), and 32 GB of storage. It should have 2 USB-C ports and a micro-SD card slot. A “pogo pin” style connector could be included, but isn’t necessary especially if a company like Brydge will produce a nice “first party” Bluetooth keyboard/trackpad for $99. And use an EMR stylus that is $50 extra. If you can throw a kickstand in, all the better.
What I’m describing here is basically the Chromebook answer to the iPad Air or Surface Go. A small, lightweight device which is great for content consumption but also powerful enough to get quite a bit of work done. A device that if you really want to can be your only or primary computer, but which is sized and priced such that it doesn’t have to be your primary computer.
Price though is the key. The Acer Chromebook Tab 10 currently has an MSRP of $329. The entry level Pixel Slate (the Celeron one which you don’t want and which has been unavailable from Google for a while now) is $599. The Surface Go also starts at $399 and the new iPad Air at $499.
I think this theoretical “Chromebook Air” or “Chromebook Go” needs to land at about $400-$450. If we assume we can do a keyboard/trackpad and pen for $150 total, that gives you a whole package where the Pixel Slate starts at $600. It also puts you at the same MSRP as the HP Chromebook x2.
The x2 is probably the best indication that this device could exist. Take all the same internals (Core m3, 4 GB RAM, 32 GB storage), make the device smaller and thinner, cut back a bit on the resolution of the display, and unbundle the keyboard and pen. Now you have a device that can be a premium tablet but which can also be paired with some nice accessories to be a great secondary or travel device, or even a primary computer when paired with an external display.