Google is mum on how many Chromebooks have been sold since launching the cloud-based computers with laptop-makers Acer and Samsung nearly a year ago.
But the machines haven’t exactly gone mainstream. IDC research director Tom Mainelli reckons fewer than 220,000 Chromebooks have shipped, a modest number.
Indeed, much of the noise in the portable computing space these days surrounds the “Ultrabook” class laptops evangelized by Intel. When it comes to operating systems, the chatter focuses on Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 or Apple’s Mac OS X Mountain Lion.
Yet Google claims to be “very happy” with Chromebook sales to date.
Google is cranking up the volume for Chrome hardware and the cloud-based operating system that relies on a Chrome Web browser.
Last week, the search giant unveiled two models for Chrome, both from Samsung, both with Intel Core processors. There’s the next version of the Chromebook itself, $449 with Wi-Fi only or $549 for a version that adds built-in 3G cellular. Then there’s the $329, small, rectangular Chromebox that reminds you of Apple’s Mac Mini.
The machines incorporate the eighth significant update to Chrome software since launch. Such regular updates are a key feature of Chrome that promises to keep the computers fresh and secure without you having to install anti-virus software or anything else.
The initial Chromebooks were only peddled online. But beginning this month, Google will start selling the computers in select Best Buy stores in the U.S., too.
The first Chromebooks were appealing as relatively light, attractive, portable computers that are a breeze to set up and that boot up very quickly. They have good battery life.
But there was at least one critical — some would say fatal — flaw: The computers are largely crippled when you’re without access to the Internet. Sure, we’re migrating to a cloud-based era of computing, but folks are still accustomed to installing software and storing stuff internally.
The latest Chrome computers, like their predecessors, are built for the cloud. You pretty much rely on Web apps, though Google has tried to make the computers more usable when you’re offline. In all, Google says, there are tens of thousands of apps in the Chrome Web Store, hundreds that work offline.
As before, set-up is simple. You choose your language and network for connecting online, enter your Google (Gmail) credentials, and you’re pretty much good to go.
With an active Internet connection, you can listen to all the music you have stored in the cloud through a Google Play app; watch movies on Netflix, something not possible on earlier Chromebooks; and stream YouTube videos at 1080p.
Through a built-in photo viewer, you can perform simple edits (cropping, brightness). And you can do a video chat with up to nine friends using the Google+ Hangout app.
The interface has been redesigned to let you “pin” favorite apps to the launcher at the bottom of the screen — switching among them is easy. You can display windows side-by-side, but managing all the tabs that I’d opened simultaneously at the top of the screen was somewhat messy at times.
Boot times are even zippier than before. I arrived at the login screen for Chromebook about five seconds after pressing the power button. The new touchpad is more responsive than the first model.
The Chromebox has six USB 2.0 ports and two display ports and is Bluetooth compatible. Chromebook has a decent 12.1-inch display and weighs 3.3 pounds. Google says you’ll get about six hours of continuous use off the battery.
Chromebook has 4GB of RAM, a pair of USB 2.0 ports, slots or connectors for memory cards, bigger displays and Gigabit Ethernet.
So Google is bringing Chrome much closer to the mainstream, and Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg, believes “Chrome OS is far better-positioned in the market than it was a year ago.”
But it’s still a challenging sell next to a Windows PC or Mac.
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