New dirt-cheap Chromebooks: Team Google keeps jackboot on throat of PC titans

1 Apr 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Finally, Google Is Trying to Meld Its Two Operating Systems.

SAN FRANCISCO — Google is releasing its cheapest Chromebook laptops yet, two versions priced at $149 aimed at undercutting Microsoft’s Windows franchise and gaining ground in even more classrooms. Called the Chromebit, which costs under $100, it works as a full computer that runs on Chrome OS and plugs right into your TV, according to an industry publication.The new Chromebooks, the least-expensive ones yet, feature “all-day” battery life and are available online for pre-order, Google said Tuesday in a blog post.

It’s the perfect upgrade for an existing desktop and will be really useful for schools and businesses.” The statement offered no other details on the device, but Google also announced its lowest-cost Chromebook laptop computers at $149 in partnership with Chinese electronic groups Haier and Hisense. As the prices for tablets and smartphones have been declining, it has forced PC makers to lower their prices, said International Data Corp. analyst Jay Chou. The Google Chromebit is actually not a new idea, and is simply an inexpensive version of Intel’s $150 HDMI stick, launched in January this year and runs Windows. The discounted version has a slightly smaller screen — 10.8 inches rather than 12 — a slower processor, and less flexible kickstand — just three angles rather than unlimited positions.

The Chromebit comes with a Rockchip RK3288 (with quad-core Mali 760 graphics), 2GB of RAM, 16GB of solid state storage, 2×2 dual-band 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and a single full-size USB 2.0 port on one end. “It won’t be the most powerful PC you could plug into a TV, but it shouldn’t be too bad for the browser-based OS,” reported Gizmodo. “Google also expects it to make quite a splash with small businesses and third-world countries due to price and easy manageability.” The Chromebit won’t probably hit retail stores until summer, the report added. Like the company’s Android software for mobile devices, the Chrome system is set up so users will automatically begin using Google’s search engine and other services, such as Gmail and YouTube. At a media event meant to spotlight Google’s dirt-cheap Chrome hardware, including the Asus Flip tablet/laptop combo and the Chromebit computer-on-a-stick, Google Chrome user interface chief Josh Anderson was also on hand to show off some of the changes coming to the operating system. “We’re rethinking our [user interface] for portable devices,” said Anderson. If you plug it into an LCD display or a TV, you can run the sort of software you typically run on a personal computer, from word processors and spreadsheets and email to online video. Google has used the Chromebooks as a prod to bring down the prices of all PCs, something the company wanted to do because it has more opportunities to show the digital ads that bring in most of its revenue when more people can afford to buy an Internet-connected device. ‘We cannot be happier that Microsoft is helping drive down the prices of PCs,’ said Caesar Sengupta, Google’s vice president of product management for Chromebooks.

We already knew that Google was working with developers like Vine, DuoLingo, and Evernote to get their Android apps up-and-running on Chromebooks, but we have our first glimpse of how that’s going to work. Perhaps the most intriguing option is the Asus Chromebit, a tiny $100 dongle that you can plug into any HDMI display to turn it into a Chrome OS computer — essentially like a Chromecast, but it does way more. The Google laptops, which don’t have hard drives, rely on the Internet for typical tools such as e-mail, document storage, word processing and spreadsheet creation. “Chromebooks have made computers faster, simpler, and more secure, while eliminating everyday hassles like waiting for your computer to boot up, having to constantly charge it, and remembering to install software updates,” the Mountain View, California-based company said on its site. When you press the “search” button that’s on every Chromebook’s keyboard, up will pop something that looks a lot like an Android home screen, including a search bar and some app icons, for both Android and your stock-standard Chrome Web Apps.

Sure, there’s not a lot of processing power or internal storage, but if all you need to do is check email, look up things on Wikipedia and watch a show on Netflix, the Chromebit should be more than enough. Industry experts say users can already buy one of these tiny dongle-PCs from Chinese resellers now, though it probably won’t come with Windows on board. Google also said Asustek Computer Inc. this summer will release a small plug-in device, the Chromebit, that can turn a television or other display into a computer. Plus, you’ll be able to see your Google Now cards for up-to-the-minute personalized information like weather, travel times, and news—the same as you can from your Android phone or tablet.

The device is a bit like the Google Chromecast—the digital stick that plugs into your television and streams video from the internet—but it does more. Despite those limitations, Chromebooks have been steadily gaining in popularity, particularly in schools, as more applications and services made available over Internet connections — a phenomenon known as ‘cloud computing’ that has reduced the need for hard drives.

This brings the number of Chrome OS devices out there to well over 20, so be sure to take a look at the competition if you’re thinking of picking one up. Based on the Google Chrome web browser, the OS is designed for use with internet-based applications such as Google’s Gmail email service and its Google Docs word processor, reducing our dependence on the bulky local software that traditionally runs on PCs, moving tasks onto a cheaper breed of hardware as a result, and, ostensibly, improving security. Similarly, Anderson played a video of a high-speed motorcycle race being played on the Android version of VLC Media Player running on a Chromebook that was smooth and with a minimum of stutter. Over the past several years, Google has pushed its Chromebook laptops and other Chrome OS machines into schools and, to a lesser extent, government agencies and businesses. Now, with several new devices, including a fresh crop if laptops as well as the Chromebit, the company is renewing this push, continuing to challenge Microsoft for control of the rather lucrative business and educational software markets.

This month, Intel will start shipping a similar device called the Intel Compute Stick, which brings Microsoft’s Windows operating system to TVs and other displays. As anybody with an Android device knows, waiting for a system update to come through can be a frustrating waiting game, and Google is looking into ways to speed it up. Google believes the devices—equipped with an HDMI port—will provide a way of quickly upgrading existing PCs and perhaps even accelerate the rise of computerized displays inside stores and restaurants. Rajen Sheth, another Google VP who has helped lead the company’s push onto business hardware, says that the price of PC hardware and displays has dropped so low, it may now be cheaper to built digital signage than a traditional paper sign.

Graphic artists, engineers and finance professionals needing to run complex software might still want the company’s higher-end Pro 3, said Dennis Meinhardt, director of program management for Surface. If you print out a 42-inch paper sign at a place like Kinkos, it’ll cost about two hundred dollars, he says, and that same price will eventually get you a 42-inch LCD and a Chromebit. But the Surface 3 should be good for everyday tasks, he said, and brings the Pro 3’s premium feel to a device that will be affordable to more people. In using these types of PC sticks, he explains, you still need a good way of navigating the software it serves up—a keyboard and mouse or some alternative (the Chromebit offers USB and Bluetooth connections). “A device like this has utility, but the problem is interface,” he says. “The utility is not as cut and dried as it many seem.” And because Chrome machines aren’t really built to run local software, they aren’t suited to all situations. The Hisense machine promises up to 8.5 hours of battery power per charge while Haier is touting up to 10 hours of power per charge on a battery that can be removed for easier replacement.

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