It’s rare that a tech release grabs my attention, but the folks over at Framework have been doing that just that over the last few years. The new laptop maker’s sustainable and modular laptop lineups captivated me.
The company has made sure not only can you expand these devices easily, but you will also be able to repair them yourself with little technical knowledge.
I’ve been testing the new Chromebook Edition from Framework for a few weeks. The laptop has left me feeling that this is a great device and needs to be the future of all laptops.
The design of this laptop by Framework is everything. I’m honestly still blown away by both the fit and finish and the engineering efforts to make most of the major components modular. The aluminum laptop has a premium feel out of the box and weighs three pounds. The edges are well-chamfered with smooth lines.
Overall, the Framework Chromebook would look at home among its peers. The clamshell design is familiar and looks mostly normal at first glance. It has a slight wedge to it with the hinge side being the thickest points.
The display is a 13.5-inch panel with 3:2 aspect ratio. The Framework Chromebook has a 100% sRGB color gamut and over 400 nits brightness. The resolution is capable of up to 2256×1504 and 1500:1 contrasting. The panel is glossy, but I didn’t have any issues with glare outside of any other laptop.
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard on the Framework is good. It’s not my favorite and can be bit mushy, but it took my fingers and muscle memory no time to adjust. The overall travel and spacing is good and the keys have a premium finish.
The trackpad is really good. It strikes a good balance of size versus function without taking up the entire palm area. Framework’s spec sheets say it’s a glass surface and is very smooth and responsive.
One glaring omission that I can’t let slide is in the power button. Every other model of the Framework laptop has an embedded capacitive fingerprint scanner. However, for some reason, this is not present on the Chromebook edition. It’s a weird swerve when both the existing hardware and software both support the tech.
Modularity at its finest
This is where the Framework team’s magic shines. The only dedicated port on the laptop is the 3.5mm headphone jack. All the other peripheral ports are gained through the company’s expansion cards. You can expand your attachment via four recessed USB-C cards.
My review unit came with what I would also personally config: 2xUSB-C, USB-A, and full-size HDMI. This gives me a USB-C for charging on each side, legacy support for USB-A peripherals, and dedicated HDMI for display outputs. The Framework expansion cards snap in with a satisfying click and push the release button into the locked position. To pop them out simply push the button and pull the card out.
Additional Framework expansion cards can be purchased from the Marketplace at any time. Other options are 250GB/1TB storage, Ethernet, DisplayPort, and MicroSD. Each card costs between $9 and $149 depending on your needs.
The great thing is that none of these are permanent. Maybe you have occasional usage cases that you just want to throw in your bag for the one office setup you know you need DisplayPort instead of HDMI. Or you want to have microSD onboard while traveling with your mirrorless camera to manage photos. Cool. You have them in those instances and can easily go back to your default combination at home.
Just as repairable
This mindset doesn’t end with the peripherals of the Framework Chromebook. From the majority of the internals to the display bezels and keyboard, most points of failure can be easily replaced. Framework has found a unique way to use limited screws matched with magnets to make many of these easily removed with just the torq screwdriver included in the box.
The base internals are a 12-gen Intel Core i5 paired with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. However, pretty much anything you see in the photo above with a QR code can be user replaced. This includes the RAM, SSD, speaker, battery, fan, wireless adapters, and audio board.
Even the hinge, keyboard, trackpad, and display can also be replaced. Hell, on the normal Frameworks, the entire motherboard can be swapped with newer generations. I’m not sure how that would affect the Chromebook edition but I don’t see why you couldn’t do that.
This is a staunch contrast to most other current PC manufacturers. For some reason, a few years ago the movement away from self-repairable components took off with most laptop makers. Led by Apple, Dell, Lenovo, and most others followed suit with completely soldered internals.
The movement to pull the pendulum in the opposite direction is refreshing from Framework. Having a laptop with not only components that can be replaced, but encouraged by the way the laptop can be deconstructed is fantastic. And the company isn’t done. The newly announced 16-inch Windows models will have a customizable keyboard and touchpad layouts.
Chrome OS is very resource friendly and this generally translates to decent battery life. This is true for the Framework Chromebook Edition. I’ve been able to get as low as seven hours and maxed it out with ten hours. I think the average user will be consistent in expecting around 8-9 hours of general use.
The Framework has a 55Wh battery pack and should get anyone through a normal day. When you do need to top off the tanks, USB-C charging up to 60 watts is onboard any of the dongle slots. This should replenish the battery in under two hours.
Software and performance
I’m not going to spend a ton of time here. The best thing about ChromeOS is how seamless and uniform it can be across devices. The same is true here on the Framework Laptop. The system runs the OS well and I never had any issues. If you’ve used a Chromebook in the last few years, the Framework will perform as expected.
The same can be said for performance. The Intel 12th Gen Core processor paired with 8GB of RAM can take pretty much anything you throw at it and more while using ChromeOS. Even with pushing it with the nifty Linux containerized apps, the Framework chugged right along. And with a default of 256GB of NVMe storage, this is one of the most robust machines available running Google’s desktop operating system.
Lastly, the Framework Chromebook has a full 1080p webcam that I’m happy to report doesn’t suck. It’s still limited by the size of the sensor and lack of much backlighting, but it’s still a notch above any other laptop I currently use. Oh and guess what? If the company updates this sensor in later models, it’s fully removable and upgradeable per the majority of the Framework laptop.
It’s been a joy to spend time with the Framework Chromebook Edition. While the software still isn’t personally for me, Framework has done such a great job with this machine it doesn’t really matter the software it runs. The sheer monument of having a laptop that delivers on pretty much every promise of sustainability, self-repair, and modular expansion is impressive beyond words.
Wrap all that up in customizable purchase options starting at just $999 and this is a winner. It is steep for the Chromebook market, but you get almost insane upgrade paths with this machine as long as Google and Framework continue to partner. This is the only option available if you want a base Chromebook you can upgrade to near heart’s content later.