Google Chromebook
Posted by acstopstar
Last Updated: May 29, 2012

Google launched the next version of its Chromebook laptop on Tuesday, boosting processor speed and doubling memory capacity in an upgrade that finally makes the browser-centric tote look like a finished product.

Officially styled the Chromebook Series 5 550, the improved hardware is an impressive follow-up to last year’s Series 5 laptop. Like the Series 5, the new model is manufactured by Samsung and runs Google’s lean, browser-based Chrome OS. But where the Series 5 felt like a proof-of-concept, the Series 5 550 might actually tempt you into moving your computing workload into Google’s cloud.

Along with the new Chromebook, Google and Samsung are also launching the first Chromebox, a Chrome OS-based desktop computer roughly the size and shape of an Apple Mac Mini. The two new Chrome OS gadgets offer similar performance, but of course the Chromebox — officially called the Samsung Chromebox Series 3 — requires you to bring your own keyboard, mouse and monitor to the table.

The new Chromebook costs $450 for a Wi-Fi-only build, and $550 for a 3G-capable unit. The Chromebox is Wi-Fi-only and sells for $330. Both can be purchased online Tuesday.

Just like last year’s Samsung Chromebook, the updated model sports a 12.1-inch, 1,280×800 display and two USB ports, and weighs 3.3 pounds. Neither Chromebook generation is as thin or light as an Apple MacBook Air, but they’re still mighty easy to carry around.

The new Chromebook includes 4GB of RAM — double the memory payload of last year’s model. The Series 5 550 also features a processor bump: Last year’s Intel Atom CPU has been upgraded to a dual-core Intel chip running at 1.3GHz. Storage remains at 16GB. It’s a very, very small amount, but it’s assumed that Chromebook users will be storing the majority of their files in the cloud.

Samsung's new Chromebox.

Samsung's new Chromebox. Photo: Jon Snyder/Wired

As with the original Chromebook, if you opt for 3G support, you’ll get 100MB of free Verizon 3G service each month for two years after purchase.

Samsung didn’t make very many changes to the original Chromebook’s high-quality keyboard. The new model has an updated, recessed design, and a few keys have squared-off edges instead of rounded corners. But, thankfully, the new Chromebook has a much more responsive trackpad. There’s also a metallic palm rest surrounding the new trackpad — it’s refined and slick-looking, and speaks to a build quality you rarely find in inexpensive, commodity notebooks.

As for the Chromebox, it offers internal hardware specs that mirror the Chromebook’s, though the processor speed jumps from 1.3GHz to 1.9GHz. But where the Chromebook offers two USB ports, the Chromebox offers a whopping grand total of six. And where the Chromebook comes with just a single DisplayPort++ connection (compatible with HDMI, DVI and VGA), the Chromebox features two DisplayPort++ connectors, plus a DVI port.

Oh, and the Chromebox offers Bluetooth to connect wireless keyboards and mice. And both new computers are equipped with an SD card slot for expanded local storage.

All this new hardware makes the Google/Samsung platform more tempting than ever. But if you commit to either the ‘book or the ‘box, you’ll have to resign yourself to living in Chrome OS — which, thankfully, has received recent upgrades of its own.

Samsung's new Chromebook.

Samsung's new Chromebook. Photo: Jon Snyder/Wired

Last month, Google updated the Chrome OS on every Chromebook (except the never-sold-at-retail Cr-48), ushering in a new user interface that offers a desktop and multiple app windows. The update instantly made every Chromebook a better, more capable machine.

Remote access was introduced late last year, and by the time that Google’s I/O Developer conference rolls around next month, offline document editing and storage should roll out in a Chrome OS update, complete with full Google Drive integration. A native viewer for Microsoft Office documents is on the way as well.

The Chrome OS has a long way to go before it’s ready to challenge Windows or Apple’s OS X — after all, you can only run web-based browser apps on the platform. Nonetheless, the new desktop interface (which allows for true multitasking), as well as updates on the roadmap, should continue to nudge Chrome OS toward greater relevance and utility.

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