Google, Samsung offer $249 Chromebook with ARM chip

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With a $249 Chromebook, Google is taking its biggest shot yet at bringing Chrome OS to the mainstream.

The new Chromebook—that’s its official name—is built by Samsung, just like the Series 5 550 that launched last May. But unlike the earlier Intel Celeron-based model, the new Chromebook announced Thursday uses an ARM-based processor, making it thinner, lighter and about $200 cheaper.

The $249 Chromebook has an 11.6-inch display, which is smaller than the 12.1-inch screen on the old version, but it has a higher screen resolution of 1366 by 768. It weighs 2.43 pounds and measures just under 0.8 inches thick. The design of the keyboard and trackpad look similar to the previous model, with chiclet keys and a search button instead of caps lock.

As with all previous Chromebooks, the new model puts an emphasis on storing files online instead of locally. As such, there’s only 16GB of storage on board, plus an SD card slot, but Google is offering 100 GB of free Google Drive storage for two years.

Other specs include 2GB of RAM, USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, HDMI output, dual 1.5W speakers, and Bluetooth 3.0 and Wi-Fi connectivity but no 3G or 4G. Google claims that the new Chromebook gets more than 6.5 hours of battery life on a charge, which would be a slight improvement over the old Intel-based laptop.

Chrome OS got off to a lousy start when the first Chromebooks launched in 2011. The software lacked some basic features, like an easy way to switch between windows and browse local files; some websites, such as Netflix, didn’t work on the ultrabook. The Atom-based processors in these early Chromebooks weren’t up for the job either, especially for Adobe Flash or other rich Web content.

But the software has improved since then. Google has added a file browser, better window management, and Google Drive integration, and Google Docs now works offline. The Celeron-based chips in the second-generation models juggled windows and tabs with ease, so hopefully the new Exynos processor can provide a similar experience. Google says the new Chromebook supports 1080p video and uses hardware acceleration for smooth scrolling.

Chromebooks can’t run any software that doesn’t live in the Chrome browser, and they’re largely worthless without an Internet connection (although, in fairness, that’s true of many computing devices nowadays). But Google is taking a smarter approach now by marketing the new Chromebook as an additional computer for the home, not a replacement for more powerful machines. Although tablets now serve a similar purpose, Chromebooks have the upper hand when it comes to browsing the Web as you would on a desktop, and at $249, the Chrome OS may finally find some solid footing.

Amazon, Best Buy, TigerDirect and Newegg are taking pre-orders for the new Chromebook starting Thursday. They’ll ship next week, and will also be available then at over 500 Best Buy Stores and online through the Google Play Store.

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