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Framework Chromebook review: The most repairable, future-proof laptop yet

Framework's highly customizable hardware with Google's ChromeOS is a winning combination for my pro-consumer heart.
Written by June Wan, Technology Editor on
Pros
  • Arguably the most ethical laptop on the market
  • Surprisingly rigid build quality
  • Port customizability is bar none
  • Extensive software support with ChromeOS
Cons
  • Speakers can sound muffled
  • If only this had a touchscreen display..
  • Battery life is just enough for comfort

We see it a lot in the tech space: Companies painting this image of themselves as masters of sustainability, saving Mother Earth one omitted charger at a time. In theory, yes, that does cut down on e-waste and abandoned cables. But then you see the bulk of cardboard boxes and plastic wrap that brands ship their products in and wonder if the sacrifice was worth it.

Framework is, as the youth like to say, built different. It's one of the few companies that I've seen actually go beyond the fully-recycled boxes and charger-less packaging and create a product that's practical, purposeful, and ethical. 

In full support of the Right to Repair movement, Framework's computers are modular, meaning you can swap out parts, components, batteries, and more at any given time. 

You can find all the customizable parts, assembly tools, and instruction manuals on the official website, with transparency front-and-center for the business operation. 

While Framework previously sold models with Windows 11 and BYOOS (bring your own operating system) configurations, its latest offering comes in Google's ChromeOS flavor, a simplified yet ever-growing experience that I've been test-driving over the past week. And while the device is far from being the best laptop, I can't help but admire Framework's commitment to making it one of, if not the most, sustainable, future-proof computers on the market. 

Also: The 5 best Chromebooks

Specifications

ProcessorIntel 12th Gen i5-1240P
Display13.5-inch 3:2 IPS LCD (2256x1504) at 400 nit brightness
Dimensions296.6 x 229 x 15.9mm
RAM8GB
Storage256GB, 506GB, 1TB
Front camera1080p 60fps
Battery55Wh
ConnectivityWi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2, USB-C, USB-A, DisplayPort, HDMI, microSD, Ethernet
Operating systemChromeOS
ColorsSilver

How's the design?

If you've seen a Framework laptop before, then the Chromebook edition's design shouldn't come as a surprise. In fact, the hardware on the ChromeOS model is practically the same as the other two that the company sells, and I'm not complaining. It's got a sleek, unibody appearance with silver brushed throughout. The matte treatment is sufficient enough to hide fingerprints and smudges while still feeling soft and polished like that of other $1,000+ laptops. 

The only differentiator between this and other Framework models is the standard Chromebook emblem on the front cover. 

Framework Chromebook Cover

Not a lot to complain about with the Framework laptop's look. Maybe a matte black option?

June Wan/ZDNET

Speaking of which, the laptop lid has a minor flex at the center point, a commonality with ones made of plastic, though it isn't severe enough to warrant any worries about tossing the thing into a backpack or long-term durability. 

In fact, once you lift the lid open -- which you can do without holding down the bottom half -- you'll be surprised how sturdy the machine feels. 

From the satisfyingly tactile keys that show no signs of wobbliness to the firm and confidence-inducing trackpad, the Framework was clearly built with attention and care.

Also: Best Black Friday laptop deals: Up to 65% off

The only major complaint that I have with the base-level hardware is the speaker that fires up from the keyboard. Audio output can sound muffled and require a good 65% to 75% dial-up before you begin to hear the life of a sports crowd or musical performance. 

Framework Chromebook Keyboard

The keys have a 1.5mm travel that's noticeably deeper than traditional laptops.

June Wan/ZDNET

Lastly, the 3:2, 2256x1504 display on the Framework Chromebook is color-vibrant, remarkably bright, and pixel sharp, which I was pleased to see given all the other aspects that were on my product checklist going into this particular review. The viewing angles on the glossy panel are surprisingly adequate, too. I'd compare the color reproduction on the Framework display to that of the HP Elite Dragonfly, another Chromebook that I reviewed just a few months ago, and one that I praised very highly. The only thing that keeps the former a tier below is the lack of touchscreen support.

Review: The HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook has no business being this good

Customizing the Framework

Really the only reason you should consider a Framework laptop, let alone the Chromebook edition, is for the customizability. Virtually every single part of the laptop can be replaced by hand, including the IO ports, battery pack, memory, and even the bezel that magnetically attaches around the display. That means you won't need dongles, adapters, or a whole other docking hub to get your work machine to... work. 

Framework uses a system of Expansion Cards, detachable port readers that plug into the four bays of the device via USB-C. What's on the other end of the Expansion Cards is up to you. Perhaps you want an Ethernet slot to hook your Chromebook up to local networks or a microSD card slot for faster file transfer or even a DisplayPort option to wire your laptop onto an external monitor. It's all personal preference, and Framework will give you the option to mix and match during the checkout phase.

Also: Slow internet at home? This adapter turns your unused coaxial cable into Ethernet

Framework Chromebook IO

Here's what a USB-C Expansion Card looks like.

June Wan/ZDNET

The coolest part about this input-output freedom is that you can always swap Expansion Cards out for one another. Say you're traveling for a business trip: Perhaps you'd swapped out a DisplayPort slot for an Ethernet one so you can access more reliable internet from the hotel. The use cases vary, and the Framework is built for that. 

Also: SSD vs HDD: What's the difference?

Then there are the modifications beneath the surface; the RAM, SSD, battery pack, and more that can be replaced after unscrewing a few bolts underneath the laptop. This system of plug-and-play is basically Legos for adults and, like the classic toy, is designed to be sustainable for years down the road. If a part ever breaks, or you need more storage, a quick part switch should bring new life to the Framework. 

Framework Chromebook QR code

Each component has a QR code that links to its product page and manuals.

June Wan/ZDNET

The company makes it easy to find the exact component that you need by labeling each one with a QR code. Scanning it not only directs you to the specific product page but also presents the respective repair manual for further assistance. It's an attention to detail that you don't often see with other manufacturers. 

Also: With Samsung's Self-Repair program, you can fix your broken screen at will

How does it handle daily tasks?

Hardware aside, the ChromeOS experience on the new Framework is as expected. It's a clean, resourceful, and easy-to-learn operating system that continues to expand in features month after month. There's a stigma that Chromebooks are too minimal, given they lack support for professional apps and services like Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Pro. But, unless such programs are essential to your workflow, you won't find yourself missing them when using the laptop for internet browsing, streaming movies and shows, and even playing games on the cloud

Framework Chromebook Disassembled

Disassembling the Framework takes less than five minutes.

June Wan/ZDNET

There's a 12th Gen Intel Core i5-1240P processor at the helm of the laptop which, paired with the 8GB of RAM, makes the Chromebook absolutely fly through daily tasks and processes. My typical workflow consisted of cycling between 7-9 tabs -- more when researching Black Friday deals -- with Spotify streaming in the background. I also did a fair amount of Lightroom (for Android) editing, including the high-resolution product photos in this review, and didn't experience any hiccups or lag.

Ultimately, this is a Chromebook, so the benefits and limitations of the operating system are clear as day. If you're more in favor of Windows but still want the highly-customizable nature of the Framework, then the vanilla model is the way to go.

Also: Five reasons Chromebooks are the perfect laptop

Framework Chromebook Internals

A singular cooling fan is found inside. It's audible under strenuous workloads but not enough to bother the user. 

June Wan/ZDNET

Battery and charging

That brings me to battery life, an area that Chromebooks are known to excel at thanks to the efficiency and bloatware-free nature of the software. To my surprise, the Framework Chromebook isn't the battery champ that I expected it to be. It's got a healthy 55Wh cell powering the unit, but even then, the laptop lasted me about 6 to 7 hours before needing a charge. That means that on a typical workday, I'd need to plug in a charger an hour or two before closing time. 

Framework bundles a modular (surprise, surprise) 60W charger in the box that uses GaN technology to stay cool and compact. It was a nice switch-up from the hunk of a MacBook Pro charger that I typically use, and sat comfortably in my backpack pocket for travel. 

Also: This fast-charger is a USB and HDMI hub, too

Bottom line

I love the Framework Chromebook. It's one of the few tech products that I've reviewed this year that truly feels like a consumer-first gadget and is made by a company that truly cares about the environment. I also happen to fall under the "non-professional" userbase which makes the ChromeOS experience more than adequate for my day-to-day.

With a starting price of $963, the Framework Chromebook is competing in rough waters, especially going into the holiday season when every manufacturer (including Apple) is discounting laptops left and right. But if you want a machine that will free you of dongles, hubs, and visits to your local tech support, receive software updates for years down the line, and represents a movement that effectively betters the planet, then the Framework Chromebook is the best option available.

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