2-in-1 Chromebooks have existed for a few years now, and have become more and more popular as Chromebooks gained support for touch-based Android apps. But, using a convertible Chromebook just wasn’t as smooth as using a tablet. Part of this was the fact that you’re still holding a laptop, but the bigger part was the user interface.
Now, both of those problems are effectively solved. Chrome tablets and detachables are available and with Chrome OS 70, there’s a much more touch-friendly user interface.
The first change users will notice is the new launcher: fold your keyboard around, and all of your icons and folders get laid out in a grid. You have quick shortcuts to your favorite apps and recent web pages up top, and you can rearrange the icons by holding and dragging them around. There isn’t a “desktop” in tablet mode: tapping the home button or swiping the bottom shelf up just brings up this app drawer.
Tapping the multitasking button in the lower-right corner brings up all your open apps and browser windows, and you can close out of these just by swiping them away. You can also grab and drag an open window to either the left or right side to use the apps in split screen mode. Once in split screen mode, you get a bar in between the apps. Swipe this bar around, and you change how much space each app takes up on the screen.
Next is the quick settings menu. It looks a whole lot like the quick settings from Android: you get easy-to-tap toggles for WiFi, Bluetooth, and other settings. Notifications stack up just like on your smartphone, and they can be swiped away to clear up clutter.
The actual Chrome browser is the same as it is in laptop mode or using the Chrome browser on any desktop computer. But, Google recently changed the browser on all those platforms to make bookmarks easier to tap, tabs easier to grab and move around, and add other touch-friendly improvements. Tapping the address bar or another text box will automatically bring up the software keyboard, so you don’t need to flip your physical keyboard back around.
Speaking of the software keyboard, that has a few great improvements as well. You can shrink the keyboard down, then drag it around so you can see more of what’s on your screen. Glide typing is on board and works well with the included stylus on some Chromebooks.
What still needs work
The Android application layer is still based on Android 7.0 Nougat, meaning you don’t get some of the API improvements that come with Android 8 or 9. Chief among these is better support in Android apps for a trackpad and physical keyboard, which rolled out with Android 8. Chrome OS should be moving up to Android 9 in the next few releases, so we hopefully don’t have long to wait on this.
While the improvements to the software keyboard are welcome, this still isn’t the same as Gboard that’s available on Android devices. That means you can’t change the keyboard theme, search for GIFs, or do a Google search right from the keyboard. Again, Google wants to add Gboard to Chrome OS, we’re just not sure when it will happen.
Get the update
If your Chromebook hasn’t been updated yet, you can manually update by opening the Settings app. Open the left hand menu, then select “About Chrome OS.”
Select “Check for updates”, then let the Chromebook download the update. When it’s done, just select “Restart to update.” Sign back in, and you’re golden!