Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition review: The modular Chromebook dream comes to life – XDA Developers
The ability to upgrade or tinker with a Chromebook felt like a pipe dream, but it’s now a reality thanks to the Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition.
Some of the best Chromebooks and Windows laptops are powerful but not exactly the most repairable. You might be able to swap out RAM or storage, but parts like the battery and ports are often glued or soldered to the motherboard or chassis. Even the motherboard itself might not be upgradeable. This means if something seriously goes wrong with your Chromebook or you want to upgrade it yourself, it might end up as electronic waste or in the recycling bin.
I believe that if you buy a device, you should have the right to repair it on your own. You also should be able to upgrade components in your laptop just like a desktop. Nobody likes glued-together monstrosities. I also truly love digging into laptops to customize or repair them.
This is exactly why the new Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition is so appealing. It sports the same features from the Windows version — modular ports, a customizable display bezel, easy-to-understand repair guides, and extra parts you can buy online — but now for a ChromeOS audience.
Having a modular Chromebook is quite special. It's expensive and might not be for everyone, but this is the dream device if you're a tinkerer or someone who cares about repairing and upgrading your own laptop rather than buying a new one each year.
About this review: This Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition was sent on loan to us by Google on behalf of Framework to review. I had it for two weeks and sent it back. Neither Google nor Framework saw the contents of this review before publishing.
The Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition is not your typical ChromeOS device. It offers the ability to swap out RAM, SSD, and many of the components inside.
The Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition is available only through frame.work. Right now, the device is up for pre-order for $999. You'll need to give a $100 deposit to hold down your purchase, but it is refundable if you get impatient or change your mind. The Framework Chromebook will ship in two waves, with the first wave estimated to be delivered in December.
Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition is only available in the U.S. or Canada, and there are no plans to sell Chromebooks in other countries. Framework opened a waitlist for other countries to gather interest, however.
I usually don't talk about packaging in my laptop or Chromebook reviews since they can be quite bland. The Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition, though, has quite unique packaging, so I wanted to give it a mention.
The shipping box is made of 80-90% recycled paper and folds open from the front, revealing different sections. You'll see the Chromebook in the box on the left side, the power adapter on the right, alongside a cubby for the expansion cards that you choose at checkout.
My review unit also came with an extra display bezel, an Ethernet expansion card, and an 8GB RAM stick in a separate FedEx package that wasn't a part of the main unboxing experience.
Once you open the main box on the left containing the Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition, you'll find a few things. Of course, there's the Chromebook itself, but there are also a few stickers and regulatory information. I can't forget the included screwdriver, either. It's made of 70% PCR plastic and is what you'll use to dig into the laptop to change RAM and storage. The box has some very cool artwork on the interior lid, too.
A thing I usually save for later in Chromebook reviews is a section for ports, but that's where we're starting here. Unlike regular Chromebooks and Windows laptops, you can customize the ports on the Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition. It's part of what makes this Chromebook unique and easily repairable.
The ports you want are the ports you'll get, and you even can tweak the ports later by buying new ones, called expansion cards, from the Framework Marketplace. You also won't need to worry about dongles either since there are many options.
Unlike regular Chromebooks and Windows laptops, you can customize the ports on the Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition.
On the Framework Chromebook (just like the Framework Laptop), you can choose four ports when configuring the device at checkout — either USB-A, USB-C, DisplayPort, microSD, HDMI, or Ethernet. They aren't soldered to the device, either. Expansion card prices range from $9 to $39. The exception is storage, which are $69 for 250GB and $149 for 1TB.
These Expansion Cards have a small USB-C end that slots into the four empty bays you'll see on the side of the device after you unbox it. There are two bays on the left and two on the right. For my review, I added two USB-C ports on the left and a USB-C and USB-A port on the right. You can remove the ports anytime by clicking on the button on the underside of the Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition and then sliding the expansion card out.
Oh, and if you're wondering, the Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition is compatible with most Framework Laptop Marketplace ports. You can filter the Marketplace down to Chromebook-compatible modules when shopping. However, Chromebook-specific parts only work with this device due to the hardware and firmware that comes with ChromeOS.
For better battery life performance, I did not use the HDMI port expansion card. Framework mentioned that there is a bug in the Intel Thunderbolt retimer behavior that results in the chip not entering a low-power state correctly if a display expansion card and USB-A expansion card are plugged into the system. Framework is working with Google and Intel on the issue.
Even though the differences between Windows laptops and Chromebooks can be vast, there isn't a lot new between the regular Framework Laptop and the Chromebook Edition. Framework worked with Google on the project, but this Chromebook uses the same base design as the Framework Laptop. You'll notice small tweaks, like the Chromebook-styled keyboard layout and the newer speakers. And yes, there is Chromebook branding on the lid, too.
When I asked about what Framework worked with Google on specifically, a company spokesperson said there were a lot of "deep power optimizations" done in collaboration with Google and Intel.
As you can see above, the Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition comes with louder 80db speakers, which is a customization module for those who own the regular Framework Laptop. The existing speaker kit, though, has better bass and frequencies. I really enjoyed the louder speakers on this Chromebook, even though the speakers are downwards firing. I jammed out to my favorite tunes on Spotify when writing this review, and it honestly felt like a jukebox.
Whenever I review a laptop or Chromebook, I never attempt to take it apart since doing so could damage the system. But with the Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition being fully repairable, it's the reason whether you'd buy it. You can repair it on your own and take total control of the device you spent $1,000 on if something were to go wrong.
With the included screwdriver, you can easily upgrade this Chromebook and tweak it how you want. Just unscrew the five T5 screws at the bottom of the laptop and then pry the keyboard deck up with your fingers (it's attached magnetically). The screws stay in place in the base, so you won't lose them, and you'll get full access to the internals. This will let you add more RAM, change the SSD, and even swap out components like the Wi-Fi card and speakers by just detaching the respective cables or removing a screw. Even the entire keyboard deck can be replaced; just detach the ribbon cable on it. No other Chromebook I can think of is this modular.
What matters most with the Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition is how you can upgrade and repair it.
I added an 8GB RAM stick to my unit to bring the total to 16GB. If I wanted, I even could have removed and replaced the motherboard. All the parts are clearly labeled, and you can scan the QR code to access online guides that explain how to repair the device. It's no wonder that the original Framework Laptop got a 10/10 iFixit score.
And that's just one thing to like. This is also quite a portable laptop, with dimensions coming in at 11.67 x 9.04 x 0.62 inches. The Chromebook has a sloped design, going from thick in the back to thin in the front, which props the keyboard up slightly. The lid can also be opened with just one hand.
It's basically like your typical aluminum Chromebook, except that the bottom cover, top cover, and input cover are made from 50% post-consumer recycled aluminum. What matters most is how you can upgrade this Chromebook, not so much the physical design of the Chromebook itself, but it's a huge plus.
Most cheap and mid-range Chromebooks don't have high-resolution displays, but priced at $999, the display on the Framework Chromebook will go beyond your expectations. The display on this Chromebook is tuned to the 3:2 aspect ratio, which is taller than the traditional 16:9 displays on most other Chromebooks and great for stacking windows side by side. The resolution is also great, coming in 2256 x 1504. Brightness also gets as high as 400 nits, and the display covers 100% of the sRGB gamut, according to Framework.
One of the downfalls of the display is that it's super glossy and reflective. Taking photos of this display was really hard, as my camera kept overexposing the images due to the reflections. I also found myself turning up the brightness a lot to avoid seeing myself in the screen when browsing the web and even when writing this review.
Unlike when I review Windows systems, my Spyder 5 colorimeter doesn't work on ChromeOS. I'll have to talk about how I used the device instead. I watched a YouTube video of a live feed of an aquarium in Florida, and it made me feel like the fish were living inside the display. Blue colors looked really vibrant and alive, and the grays in a turtle's skin seemed so realistic that I wanted to reach out and touch it.
Moving on, the bezels are uniform around the screen, but you can actually swap these out. The one included on my unit is black, but Framework sent me an orange bezel and sells other colors through its website. It's easy to remove. Just open the screen to 180 degrees and pry the bezel up. Magnets hold it into place, and you can fully remove it and then put the new one in.
The other problem with the display? Even though this is a $1,000 Chromebook, the screen doesn't support touch, so I couldn't properly interact with my favorite social media Android apps. This is a shame since Android apps from the Google Play Store are the highlight feature of ChromeOS. Using the keyboard and mouse to navigate Instagram and click through Snapchat was just too clunky.
What isn't a letdown, though, is the webcam. It's a 1080p webcam that can shoot at 60 FPS. The webcam even has privacy shutters that will electronically disable both the microphone and the webcam itself. The sliders are tricky to grasp, but it's nice to see privacy solutions on a $1,000 Chromebook. Most Chromebooks also tend to have 720p webcams, so I looked super clear on Google Meet calls.
The keyboard on the Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition is different from the one on the regular Framework Laptop. It has ChromeOS specific layout, down to the Everything Button and the function keys in the top row. I enjoyed typing on this Chromebook, and it reminded me of a 2011 MacBook Pro.
There's 1.5mm of travel, and the keys have a soft feel to them when my fingers retract them into the chassis. The keycaps are black, and the white backlights are even. It was a joy writing this review using the Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition. And even on Bing's typing test, I hit my average of 84 words per minute.
The trackpad is also equally good. It's large and evenly placed in the middle of the chassis. It has a matte glass surface and seems really durable, making it feel smooth to use. I had no issues using ChromeOS gestures during day-to-day use here.
For a $1,000 system, though, this Chromebook should've had a fingerprint reader. This would have added more security to the device. Yes, the Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition has Google's Titan C Security chip for virus protection and automatic upgrades for eight years, but a fingerprint reader should be standard in all Chromebooks in this price range.
There was a new trend among OEMs in many new higher-end Chromebooks this year, including 12th-generation Intel chips. The Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition is another one that has a CPU from this lineup, joining the Acer Chromebook 516 GE and HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook. There's only one CPU to choose from, though, and it's the Intel Core i5-1240P, which runs at 30 watts. I also upgraded my system to 16GB of RAM.
I can't run the full suite of testing applications that I use for Windows laptops on ChromeOS, but I did put this Chromebook through some stress tests from outside our usual scope. It performed well in all instances. I installed Linux apps, Android apps, and the Android version of Geekbench 5. I enabled and installed Steam by switching to the Beta channel. I even installed the Android-based version of 3DMark. All these ran without issue, unlike on the HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook.
I never thought I'd ever use a Chromebook this powerful.
Like when my colleague reviewed the HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook (which has the lower-powered Intel Core i5-1245U), I even ran some web-based benchmarks. Impressively, it put up Geekbench numbers against a Windows 2-in-1 like the MSI Summit E14 Flip Evo and surpassed the HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook, which uses a lower-wattage chip.
Those are just numbers on your screen, but just know that this is quite a powerful Chromebook for real-world tasks. When I edited images in GIMP, the effects I applied to images were outputted in mere seconds. I also played Android games like GTA: III without any lag.
For actual gaming on Steam, I played my favorite title CS:GO. On the suggested settings and native resolution full screen, the game ran super smooth at 40 FPS. Medium settings increased the gameplay to 60-75 frames. I never thought I'd ever use a Chromebook this powerful.
Regarding battery life, I managed to squeeze out about 8 and a half hours for everyday tasks like web browsing, working, and social media. This was with the Chromebook's brightness set to around 40%. This shocked me, considering the 30-watt chip. It got me through my 9 to 5 workday without needing a recharge.
If you're wondering, there's an active community of open-source developers who are working on a coreboot firmware that can enable Linux on this system. As for running ChromeOS on other Framework Laptops, Framework says that you can try ChromeOS Flex on those devices. You also can convert a regular Framework Laptop into a Chromebook Edition by buying the new modules from the Marketplace, but this would be quite a complicated undertaking.
I asked about running Windows on this system, and my research pointed me to a forum thread. It seems that it might be possible, just like on other Chromebooks, with developer mode, but it will depend on the community. If I were allowed to keep the system, I would have also tried purchasing a standard 12th-generation Intel board from the Marketplace and inserting it into Framework Chromebook to see if it would boot Windows.
You should buy the Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition if:
You shouldn't buy the Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition if:
The Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition is priced at $1,000, so it isn't for everyone, especially since Chromebooks are usually cheaper. Yet, considering this is the only modular Chromebook on the market right now, and Google isn't making first-party Chromebooks anymore, so it's worth the price for the right person. It's the most exciting Chromebook in a while, right after cloud gaming Chromebooks.
No other Chromebook lets you swap out components like this one and even future-proof your device with modular upgrades. The performance is even great for Steam gaming and beyond. I just wish it had a touchscreen and support for a fingerprint reader, but this was a Chromebook I seriously wish I could keep and add to my collection. I might even buy one for myself later down the line.
The Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition is not your typical ChromeOS device. It offers the ability to swap out RAM, SSD, and many of the components inside.
I have over six years of experience covering Microsoft, Surface, Windows, macOS and ChromeOS news and rumors for sites like Digital Trends and OnMSFT and WinBeta. I also write laptop reviews and how-to guides. I am a Microsoft fan and I have a drawer full of PCs and other devices. You can follow and interact with me on Twitter if you want to chat! I’m always there making new friends!