Why does Google insist on Chromebooks being the ugly duckling?

A crying duckling on a chromebook being used in an office environment
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Konstantin Savusia / vecteezy)

I doubt many of us were actually expecting Google to unveil a shiny new Chromebook at IO 2022, but it feels like the tech giant was missing a beat by not doing so, especially if wants to attract a more mainstream audience.

Chromebooks have dominated the educational space and become a firm favorite among the elderly because they can be a highly affordable way to get online, but despite the potential wide-reaching appeal of Chromebooks, they can be a hard sell to working professionals and young adults.

That's a real shame given how many benefits they have for those who are strapped for cash. The hardware itself is cheap, they're less vulnerable to viruses because they don't depend on the installation of software and many productivity tools like Microsoft 365 have online chrome-based alternatives such as Google Docs and Google Sheets.

I think that Chromebooks have an image problem. Opting for cheaper components or technology is one thing when bringing costs down, but why do so many Chromebooks still look like they belong back in 2014? Even the 2-in-1 models such as the Acer Chromebook Spin 311 have chunky bezels and a stark contrast between dated silver and glossy black used on the chassis which is enough to make anyone feel like they're using a laptop designed for grannies.

They're simply not 'sexy' enough to grab attention over the influx of affordable Windows or macOS-based laptops, and the few luxury Chromebook offerings that are available are so wildly expensive that it feels like you're buying the computing equivalent of a fancy sports car that's been fitted with a go-kart engine.

Taking inspiration from not-so-funky-footwear

A wall of colorful Croc shoes being displayed in a store

(Image credit: Shutterstock / monticello)

The Google Pixelbook is a prime example of this, described on the Google webstore as a 'high-performance Chromebook' with a price tag of $999. For the same money you can buy yourself a Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 or even an M1-powered MacBook Air, both of which offer more performance, more modern components and better battery life...so why would you ever settle for the inferior option?

Even the more affordable Pixelbook Go, which is a better deal thanks to its generous specifications (and a firm favorite of our own Matthew Hanson) failed to appear on most of the public radar, which is a real shame because this is a genuinely fantastic product, even despite being released back in 2019.

Google didn't really make much noise about the Pixelbook Go which is part of the problem, but I believe that Chromebooks as a whole simply need to look nicer. They age fantastically, especially compared to Windows-based laptops thanks to not being so reliant on their components, but if you make a cheap laptop look cheap then it's going to be dismissed in favor of something sleeker, shinier and ...well, sexier.

This isn't an impossible task. You only need to look at how other brands have turned themselves around in recent years, and my favorite example of this is Crocs. 

Back when I was younger and more bothered by adhering to fashion trends, Crocs were the shoe of choice for elderly gardeners and small children at the beach. The wider public mercilessly mocked anyone outside of those categories, and it was hard to imagine a brand that could be less fashionable at the time.

These days Crocs are all the rage with young and old alike after what I assume is some hefty marketing investments (given the influx of celebrity-focused advertising campaigns) and some updates to the product that includes personalization options and more color varieties.

Inject some color into our lives Google

Samsung Galaxy Chromebook

(Image credit: Samsung)

Crocs aren't the only colorful inspiration making me wistful for some trendier affordable Chromebooks. Apple has been teasing an update to its lineup of MacBook Air laptops for several months now, which many analysts predict will be redesigned to feature a selection of different colorful chassis options much like the 24-inch iMac that was released back in 2021 and the 4th generation iPad Air in 2022.

And Apple isn't the only brand injecting some color back into its products, with Samsung also releasing a pastel-toned line of smart M8 monitors. It's nice that we can color-coordinate our tech and accessories, so while most of the computing world is still a shade of matte black or muted silver, more variety is becoming available.

We've already seen the potential of a stylish Chromebook thanks to the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook, a stunning modern device that's available in a conservative Mercury Gray or a vivid Fiesta Red. It's eyecatching and different, something that the Chromebook market sorely needs, but the lofty $999 price tag for the Galaxy Chromebook is simply too much for people who are on the market for a ChromeOS device.

Google is going to have to balance both affordability and glamour if it wants to attract a more aesthetically aware audience. By making Chromebooks so affordable en mass, the tech has become synonymous to many as a cheap laptop alternative, despite that not actually being the case in some circumstances.

Unless a new Pixelbook Go can be priced low, but look expensive, Chromebooks will never capture the attention of young adults and fashion-conscious professionals.

Jess Weatherbed

Jess is a former TechRadar Computing writer, where she covered all aspects of Mac and PC hardware, including PC gaming and peripherals. She has been interviewed as an industry expert for the BBC, and while her educational background was in prosthetics and model-making, her true love is in tech and she has built numerous desktop computers over the last 10 years for gaming and content creation. Jess is now a journalist at The Verge.