Chromebooks You Can Buy Now
Last December, Google launched a pilot program where it gave away lightweight notebooks running the first beta of Chrome OS, code-named the Cr-48. Reportedly, 60,000 of these units have been given for free to select developers, members of the technology industry press/media, and some who signed up to be considered by Google and were lucky to be gifted one.
This program ended in the spring, but in mid-June the first devices that run Chrome OS started to ship. There's considerable skepticism about whether Chrome OS will have much of an impact in the market, especially given the current hype for tablet computing over netbooks and thin-client notebooks with minimal hardware specs like the Cr-48. Chrome OS could also face identity confusion by the public with the Google's other OS platforms, most notably Android, but even Google TV (which itself is a variant of Android for TVs).
Here's a roundup of computing devices that run Chrome OS, a few which you can buy now, or which may be on the way.
Samsung Series 5
We list this Chromebook first because it's the one most similar to the Cr-48 in terms of hardware, but with some improved specs. Essentially, if you weren't able to score one of Google's prototype Chromebooks, then the Series 5 is the closest thing to it -- for a price.
Like the Cr-48, the Series 5 has a 12.1-inch screen at 1280x800 pixel resolution, 2GB RAM, 16GB SSD, but with a better webcam that captures images at 1 megapixel (the Cr-48's showed images in a very blocky resolution) and with a slightly better battery life of eight and a half hours on a full charge (compared to the Cr-48's eight hours). The big difference is that the Series 5 runs on a dual-core 1.66GHz Atom processor, compared to the single-core 1.66GHz that the Cr-48 had (which proved to be underpowered when it came to watching streaming videos).
The Series 5 is offered either in Wi-Fi-only or Wi-Fi with 3G models. (You get 100MB of mobile data to use for free every month on the Verizon network with the 3G model.) It weighs 3.26 pounds.
Now for the sticker shock: $429 (Wi-Fi-only) and $499 (Wi-Fi and 3G). The prices bring to question whether they're worth the value over lower-priced netbooks that have stronger technical specs (like a large hard drive), or a tablet.
If the Series 5 is the Chrome OS notebook, then Acer's AC700 could be thought of as the netbook counterpart, weighing in at 3.19 pounds. It carries the same basic specs as the Series 5, but with a smaller screen (11.6 inches but at a larger resolution of 1368x766 pixels) and shorter battery life of six hours. It has a better webcam at 1.3 megapixels than the Series 5's, and includes an HDMI port.
The AC700 is also offered as models without or with 3G on Verizon (and includes 100MB of free mobile data) at $349 or $429, respectively. These prices are much more competitive with low-end netbooks. Sure, netbooks feature far larger storage space, but most don't include a 3G modem.
Kogan Agora Chromium Laptop
It has the same size screen and resolution as the AC700. But the Agora Chromium Laptop runs on a piddly 1.3GHz Pentium with 1GB RAM. Worse, it lasts only 3.5 hours on a full charge. The one plus it has over the Series 5 or AC700 is its 30GB SSD, and it weighs a little less than the AC700 at 2.91 pounds.
This Chromebook actually uses Chromium OS, the open-source version of Chrome OS, and is only available for sale in Australia for $349 AUD (approximately $370 USD). There isn't a model offered with 3G -- Wi-Fi is all you can get.
Like the Agora, the Xi3 ChromiumPC is claiming to be a first computer device running Chromium OS -- in this case, on a mini PC. Measuring 4-inch-by-3.656-inch-by-3.656-inch, smaller than a Mac Mini, this product will be sold custom-ordered to buyers who may be able to select either a single- or dual-core Atom processor for it, and other options (i.e. RAM, storage medium and size, etc.) to be announced. Along with its small footprint, its power usage will be minimal: just 20 watts.
Available: Second half 2011
Google showed a picture at its Google I/O 2011 event of a mini desktop PC running Chrome OS that was put together by Samsung. No details about the device's specs or release date were given.
Like the Xi3 ChromiumPC, we speculate interest in such small-form computers running Chrome/Chromium OS may quickly turn out to be too limited to warrant bringing most of these concepts to market.
Source: Chrome Story
Crazily enough, Google has what looks like a concept for a tablet running on Chrome OS. We do know that Google may be incorporating touchscreen capability into Chrome OS.
Why would a tablet maker consider using Chrome OS when there's already Android Honeycomb? Maybe Chrome OS could work on a tablet-plus-notebook hybrid, where the keyboard could be folded behind the screen to create a tablet form factor? (We're just speculating on this.)
Your Own Computer With Flow Installed On It
If you'd like to have a Chrome OS notebook or computer without spending the cash and you have an older system sitting around, then check out Flow. Compiled and released by a developer who goes by the palindrome Hexxeh, this is a distribution of Chromium OS that you can easily install on almost any computer, or you can run it right from a USB drive without install.
Spoiler alert! Chrome OS is basically the Chrome browser running on top of a bare minimal Linux distro, except you cannot exit from the browser to a desktop GUI.
Wen is a freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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