The Chromebook family just got a little bigger.
Google on Tuesday introduced the Chromebook 11 from Hewlett-Packard. The $279 laptop utilizes a Samsung dual-core Exynos processor -- commonly found in smartphones and tablets -- and it comes in different colors, features a Micro-USB port for charging, and sports an improved display. There is a 4G version, although HP hasn't announced the price of that device. It is available today.
That's a step beyond the inexpensive Chromebooks that start at $199 and are currently popular with bargain shoppers. Google's hope is that the improved specifications nudge this device closer to a mainstream product. Because of their limited capabilities relative to a Windows or Mac PC, they have yet to really make a dent with consumers.
Still, Google was quick to tout the increasing adoption of Chromebook. Google executive Caesar Sengupta, vice president of product management for Chromebooks, touted the Samsung Chromebook as the top-selling laptop on Amazon, and said that six of the top computer manufacturers are already making or committed to making a Chromebook. He noted 5,000 schools in the U.S. have also embraced the stripped down laptops.
For the Chromebook 11, Sengupta talked up the high-end finishes that went into the relatively budget-priced device: alongside the improved 11.6-inch IPS screen, which has a wider viewing angle of 176 degrees, it is 50 percent brighter than most laptops, features speakers that are built underneath the keyboard, doesn't have any visible screws, and has a silent, fanless design. He touted it as one of the lightest laptops in the market. It has a plastic shell, but is bonded to magnesium for a sturdier feel.
"We took a page out of X-Men," Sengupta quipped, referencing the popular comic book and movie character Wolverine and his adamantium skeleton.
He noted that the Chromebook 11 took many of its cues from the much more expensive Chromebook Pixel. Unlike the Pixel, the Chromebook 11 doesn't have a touchscreen.
Beyond the Micro-USB port for charging, the Chromebook 11 has two USB 2.0 ports, a VGA Webcam, and a SlimPort video out. It has 2 gigabytes of DDR3 RAM and a 16GB solid-state drive. It has Wi-Fi 802.11n and Bluetooth 4.0, and weighs 2.3 pounds.
While the interface and built-in tools of the Chrome OS have undergone some changes over the past couple of years, Chrome remains essentially a browser-based operating system (unlike Android, which is more app-based), and it operates almost entirely within the Chrome Web browser, which looks and feels the same as the Chrome Web browser found on a Windows or Mac OS computer.
Sengupta said that despite the popular perception of Chromebooks, consumers don't need a connection to use the Chromebook 11. The Chromebook 11 also comes with 100GB of Google Drive storage that's free for two years, as well as a 60-day free trial to Google Play Music All Access and 12 free sessions of GoGo Inflight Internet.
Despite having access to many of the same online tools Windows and Mac users do, such as Gmail, Google Docs, Netflix, and Facebook, the real challenge of Chrome has been that it does not particularly excel in any particular area, and even a budget Windows laptop offers more flexibility and the ability to run more software.
That said, the price has been right on models from Acer, HP, and others, with other Chromebooks going for $199 to $329, making them comparable to the inexpensive netbooks that were popular a few years ago. At the same time, Chromebooks can be arguably more useful, because they largely operate in the cloud, rather than being held back by the low-power processors used to run local apps that were the downfall of the netbook.
Correction at 8:40 a.m. PT: The spelling of Caesar Sengupta's first name has been fixed.