The Chrome platform has some new shiny objects. On Tuesday, Samsung released a new Chromebook laptop and the first desktop computer for Chrome, called Chromebox. At the same time, Chrome's parent, Google, is releasing an update for the cloud-oriented operating system.
Both of the new devices -- the Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550 and the Samsung Chromebox 3 -- use Intel Core processors, which Google has said offer processing nearly three times as fast as the first-generation of Atom-based Chromebooks. There's also support for hardware-accelerated graphics, a model-specific multitouch trackpad, and an open-source firmware stack.
Google Drive, Remote Desktop
The new Chromebook features a 12.1-inch, 1280 x 800 screen, 4GB of RAM, built-in dual band Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet, an option for 3G, and 6 hours of battery life. There's also two USB 2.0 ports, an HD camera, and a DisplayPort connector. Prices start at $449.
The Chromebox needs a keyboard, mouse, and display, starts at $329, has six USB 2.0 ports, and offers support for Bluetooth 3.0.
The two new products are designed for the latest version of the Chrome OS, called R19. It offers a more traditional interface, with moveable windows and an app launcher, instead of the browser-only previous version. There's also the ability to view files created in Microsoft Office, and to find and launch apps alongside the browser.
Integration with Google Drive is expected soon, allowing a user to exchange files with other devices, among other functions. Also coming: a beta of Chrome Remote Desktop, enabling users to remotely access any Mac or Windows device from a Chrome-based one. Users will also gain the ability to edit Google Docs offline.
Chrome OS-based devices were first released a year ago, and, while they represented a new approach to personal computing that was entirely cloud-based, their slowness, lack of adaptability, and price have kept them from becoming a major category.
'A Limited Number of Things'
But, as Google has noted, eight stable releases of the OS have been released over the last years, offering a variety of new features and improvements. With each new release, Chromebooks are auto-updated.
Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, said that the new Chrome release is approaching the functionality of a mainstream OS, but "it still can only do a limited number of things."
He pointed out that advantages of the updated line include speed improvements in the hardware, a better trackpad, no configuration requirements for setup, and the ability for users to become independent of any specific machine. All of these represent a boon for IT administrators, he said.
For users, Greengart said, it's important to identify the needs. If someone "can work 100 percent online," with occasional offline activity, he said, the new Chrome machines might have some appeal. He suggested the scenario of a real estate office, where agents check out any machine each morning.
But Greengart also questioned whether the hardware, at the current prices, offered such a great savings that a potential customer might not just choose to work mostly online on a slightly pricier laptop, which offered much more functionality.