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2022 was secretly the year of Chromebooks. Here's why

From redefining sustainability to debunking the biggest ChromeOS myths, no single year has contained more major milestones for Google's lightweight notebook devices than 2022.
Written by Michael Gariffo, Staff Writer
The HP Dragonfly Chromebook on split-screen mode, atop a two-toned backdrop of red and blue.
June Wan/ZDNET

Google's first Chromebook hit the market on June 15, 2011. It's hard to believe it's been over a decade since the company forever changed portable computing by introducing its own unique take, but here we are. 

In the years since then, Chromebooks and ChromeOS have evolved to the point where they bear little resemblance to their modest beginnings. No longer should Chromebooks be seen as bargain laptop alternatives. No, today's Chromebooks are making an increasingly solid case for why they should be considered alongside the MacBooks and Windows laptops of the world. 

Also: How I revived three ancient computers with ChromeOS Flex

This is thanks to advances in ChromeOS itself, but more so to the continual march toward better, more advanced cloud-based services. With little more than basic hardware and an internet connection, Chromebook users can accomplish nearly everything their traditional laptop-owning counterparts can, usually with longer battery lives and while spending a fraction of what their compatriots did on hardware. 

Let's take a look at the milestones in 2022 that significantly upgraded the Chromebook user experience, and talk about how they'll shape the future of one of the most dynamic operating systems on the planet. 

1. A double take on ChromeOS's biggest myths

An example of Google Photos' video editor's interface with a couple on a bike shown

The first knock at Chromebooks from opponents of the product category usually goes something like "Yeah, but Chromebooks can't handle [insert task here]." Usually, that task is something traditionally considered more intense, like photo or video editing. Chromebooks have actually been able to handle the former for quite some time thanks to web-based photo editors, with even Adobe now offering a web-based version of Photoshop. However, it wasn't until 2022 that the latter task, editing videos, was cracked too.

Also: How to install Android apps on your Chromebook 

This famously demanding job is now available on Chromebooks via an update to the native Google Photos app. It supports everything from editing your existing videos to creating entirely new video files by splicing together your uploaded videos, photos, and audio. It may not be able to match something like DaVinci Resolve, but it's more than the vast majority of users will ever need.

2. An ecosystem that's just as fruitful


Ask any Apple fan why they like the company's products and there's a fair chance they'll tell you it's because they "just work." A big part of this is Apple's tightly integrated ecosystem that allows for things like ultra-fast device pairingone-touch screen sharing, or dead simple password/passkey management. This left users wondering why Google, a company with a similarly diverse ecosystem of devices, hadn't implemented something similar. 

More: Chromebook vs laptop: Which one best fits your needs?

In 2022, it did. Now, Android users and Google peripheral owners can enjoy just about all of the device interactivity that their Apple counterparts can, as well as a few tricks even Cupertino hasn't managed just yet. From full RCS message support across devices that can connect you with your green bubble and blue bubble friends alike, to the incredibly useful rapid device switching capabilities of the Pixel Buds Pro, Google's ecosystem isn't just copying Apple's it's surpassing it in some ways.

3. Making a case for cloud-based gaming

Acer's Chromebook 516 GE with an Xbox controller and gaming mouse on top of it
Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

2022 was a big year for cloud-based gaming services like Xbox Cloud Gaming and Nvidia's GeForce Now. Ironically, it was also the year that Google pulled the plug on its own cloud gaming effort, Stadia. Google's return to the drawing board did little to slow the massive growth the category saw this year, with device makers like Logitech diving in with its imperfect G Cloud gaming handheld, and Razer prepping its Edge 5G-enabled, cloud-based gaming console for a 2023 release. But, what about those who prefer to game with a mouse and keyboard? 

For these gamers, Google partnered with Lenovo, Acer, and Asus to create the first-ever line of dedicated gaming Chromebooks. This trio of devices took a product that was notoriously unequipped to handle locally installed games and provided it with enough local horsepower to optimize cloud-based titles like Halo Infinite, Elden Ring, Cyberpunk 2077, and Deathloop. 

Read the reviews: Lenovo's IdeaPad Gaming Chromebook | Acer Chromebook 516 GE

Suddenly, for around $500-$600, you could have an impressive on-the-go gaming experience with a device that could still double as a homework laptop or streaming media device for binging from the couch. 

4. The right way to do sustainability

Framework Chromebook Disassembled
June Wan/ZDNET

One of the biggest issues facing the tech industry is the growing amount of e-waste. Even companies like Apple continue to struggle with how to handle the mountains of toxic trash created by its constant upgrade cycles. 

This year, Google came along with a big shot in the arm to the first of the Three Rs: Reuse. Now, instead of tossing out that dusty old Windows laptop or MacBook you can give it a new life as a Chromebook with ChromeOS Flex, a Linux-based distribution that can be installed on a staggeringly wide array of older devices. ChromeOS's ability to run on the modest hardware found on most Chromebook makes it ideal for shining on older systems that can't handle the latest MacOS update or Windows revision. 

More: How I installed ChromeOS Flex in 30 minutes

But, what if we could integrate sustainability into the product lifecycle from the start? Rather than rescuing older devices, we could create long-lived, modular laptops that, much like desktop PCs, could be upgraded instead of discarded. It's a notion that's been tried before, but the concept may have reached its pinnacle this year with the Framework Chromebook, a fully modular Chromebook that lets you swap out just about every part with no more difficulty than you'd have snapping a Lego model together. The modular design, combined with ChromeOS to run on just about anything, makes for a machine that's very hard to justify ever throwing away.

5. Nailing both ends of the market

June Wan/ZDNET

As mentioned above, Chromebooks have often been seen as a cheap alternative to a traditional laptop. While there is certainly an excellent range of inexpensive models out there, 2022 made a case for there being a Chromebook price point for just about everyone, including those looking for a higher-end machine. 

Want a solid, portable, cheap model that can still double as both a homework/productivity monster and a mobile gaming powerhouse? Try Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 3 with its tablet-like build and surprisingly capable folding keyboard. Need something a bit more high-end that can serve as your primary system during business travel or other professional pursuits? What about HP's Elite Dragonfly Chromebook? It's so good our own June Wan said it broke the mold for what a Chromebook should be

Even parents on a super strict budget that need a nigh-indestructible Chromebook for their young students have solid options like the Dell Chromebook 3100 for less than $100.

Bottom line

Look, there are still some users that will need a full-on Windows or MacOS-powered laptop, but that list is growing smaller every day. If you're not sure if you are one, we've already got a guide to help you decide. But, I can tell you right now, chances are you and most people you know could get by just fine now with a Chromebook and nothing else. 

They've just gotten that good at doing almost everything at a high enough level to please even the most discerning tech aficionados. 2022 was the year Chromebooks caught up to their traditional laptop counterparts in a big way. At this rate, maybe 2023 will be the year those staid notebook PCs running Windows and MacOS start trying to catch up to their ChromeOS counterparts instead. 

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