We live blogged the Google I/O keynote on Wednesday where major announcements were made, including the launch of the Google Chromebook computers manufactured by Samsung and Acer that will be available June 15 in the US for $449 (Samsung WiFi version), $499 (Samsung WiFi+3G version) and $349 (Acer).
“The future is on the web”…”in a browser”, Google says, so the search giant is bringing its dream to the market in the form of the Chromebook.
For those who did not follow the Google computer story, since the beta model codenamed CR-48 launched last year, here is the deal: the Chromebook runs the Chrome OS and users have access to data and applications only from the web via the Chrome Browser. Google claims that this new “computing model” enables a higher level of security, since users do not have to install anti-viruses, instead relying on web services and Google “multi-layers” security including sandboxing, data encryption, and verified boot, features that were in the CR-48, go to this page and this page to get a detailed overview.
Hardware features highlights
The Samsung Series 5 Chromebook boasts a 12.1 inch ”SuperBright” display with 16:10 ratio, an Intel dual-core N570 Processor, a HD built-in webcam and Sundar Pichai, SVP of Chrome, told us on stage that the battery last for a day of work – Samsung estimated time is 8.5 hours. The Acer has an 11.6-inch display and offer 6.5 hours of battery life. Google love to praise the 8 seconds booting time for both computers, and when asleep the Chromebook awake in 1 second, I have checked it when I got my hands on the device.
The highly requested feature from the CR-48 trial program was the ability to transfer photos to the laptop, so Google added SD card and USB mass storage support, but despite the 60 GB of internal storage, people will not be able to store any files locally, Google want to prevent users to lose data if their Chromebook is stolen and is damaged, everything has to go to the cloud! The 16 GB SSD is only used to cache movies for example.
During the keynote, Sundar Pachai shared the result of the consumer feedback they got from their CR-48 Chrome computer trial program, to which 1 million people applied: users requested the ability to plug a camera and to work with application offline (this one is so obvious!).
Samsung Series 5 Features Highlight
0.79-inch thin case
Full-size Chrome keyboard
Oversized multi-touch trackpad
Intel Dual-core N570 1.66Ghz Processor
12.1-inch SuperBright Display – 36% brighter than standard display
Boots in less than 10-seconds
When asleep, resumes in 1 second
Up to 8.5 hours battery life – varies with type of usage
HD Webcam, built-in digital microphone and stereo speakers
Two USB ports – can charge mobile phones and accessories
Almost useless 16 GB internal storage (SSD) – only used for caching movies for example
USB mass storage support
SD, SDHC, MMC support
Physical Design – ChromeBook Samsung Series 5 (good)
The white top cover of the notebook is sleek, shiny and elegant with a nice 3D Chrome logo at the bottom left corner. In contrast, the keyboard and back cover materials look plasticy and cheaper than the top, but we will not be too picky, at a $449 price point we cannot expect a state-of-the art body design. At least the Samsung Chromebook looks great when it is closed lying on a table. The keyboard is good with wide keys, and the oversized trackpad provides a better usability. Samsung chose to go with rounded corners and edges unlike the CR-48’s design.
Fast Startup / Wake up / Shut down (good)
The booting time is really fast, less than 10 seconds, like it was in the CR-48. The Linux kernel that lies below the Chrome browser allows such speed, it is similar or better than many “mini Linux” distributions that provide “instant boot” for other laptops. Google put some efforts here.
After booting, you can log-in using your gmail account, and it is pretty fast as well, it takes another second or two before you can start browsing the web in Chrome.
It takes only one second to wake-up when the notebook is inactive, after closing the computer for example.
Chromebook New features
SD Card and USB mass storage support to get your photos and files
To make people happy, Google added SD card support so people can upload their pictures directly to the cloud using the Chromebook, we got a demo on stage, see the not so good-looking user interface in the picture above – it looks like a file manager in Windows 3! It is possible to plug a camera via USB but Chrome OS will only support the devices that cannot mount as USB mass storage. you will be able to upload your pictures or files in the cloud, in Picasa or Drop Box for example, but not store them locally on the computer. This way, Google is enforcing the backup in the cloud, which is not a bad idea given the fact that a lot of people do not deal with backup very well in general.
Applications that work offline
Gmail, Google calendar and Google docs will work offline, and many third parties applications will do the same as well, see the list in the picture above.
Citrix and VMWare partnership
Sundar Pichai announced a partnership with Citrix and VMware, it will let business users connect to their applications and data running on their company’s server, basically, people will be able to remotely access Windows applications from the Chromebooks.
ChromeBooks for Business - $28 per user monthly
Additionally, Google will start to offer Chromebooks for Business at $28 per user per month and it will be available June 15 as well in the same seven countries: US, UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Italy and Spain. More countries will follow in the coming months. The monthly subscription will cost $28 per user and will include the following products and services:
- Web console
-Warranty and replacement
- Hardware auto updates
ChromeBooks for Education - $20 per user monthly
Chromebooks for education will offer similar services as Chromebooks for business but it will be discounted. I guess that it will be offered to schools and universities.
In the US, Chromebooks will be available from Amazon and BestBuy and internationally from leading retailers (see picture below), starting from June 15.
Chrome Browser updates
The Chrome browser is at the core of the Chromebook, and there were some pretty interesting updates announced at Google I/O:
In-App payment with a 5% fee
In-App Payment is now available for app developers, and it will only be charged 5% by Google, the news got a lot of applause at Google I/O keynote. Additionally, it will be very easy to integrate the feature for the programmers, it just needs one line of code as it was demonstrated on stage (picture above).
Web Store is launching in 41 languages
The Web Store is the Google online store where users can buy web applications. At the moment, it works only with Chrome, but down the road other browser should be compatible. If you access the Web Store from a Chromebook, you do not realy care since it only runs the Chrome Browser.
Angry Birds for the web
Angry birds will be available for the web from the Web Store, Peter Vesterbracka, Mighty Eagle at Rovio, the company that develops the game, announced it on stage at Google I/O (photo). He congratulated Google several times for letting his company get 95% of revenues with in-app payments.
Optimized GPU acceleration for CSS, 2D and 3D
We got a demo of a fish tank full of 1000 sprite-fishes that ran at a peak of 39 fps for a 1204×620 image resolution – then with 10,000 sprites at a 1216×614 resolution, it ran at 26 fps – which is a 10x improvement compared to the previous browser version according to Google.
Voice input and voice input API
Ian Ellison-Taylor demonstrated on stage how we can use voice input for translation with Google Translate, he tested the service with English to Chinese. The demo was fast, the sentence he pronounced was quickly translated in writing in Chinese and was played in audio by the system in Chinese as well. Using the APi, developers can dd voice input to their applications, he showed how easy it is to add the code with Clickers. Then he was able to search videos with voice commands.
Chrome Browser has now 160 million users worldwide, a more than 100% increase compared to last year number of 70 million users.
As we wrote in the CR-48 review, the Chromebook’s “new computing model”, as Sergey Brin labels it, is interesting and surely offers some value: quick booting and near-instant wake-up enable power saving, the enforced storage in the cloud prevents data loss, in case of damage, theft, fire or flood. Additionally, the browser’s “sandbox” combined with an encryption partly managed by the hardware provides a higher level of security that users do not need to manage themselves by buying anti-viruses.
However, a lot of people cannot get everything done on a computer by only using a browser, even if the latest version of the Chromebook is now giving offline access to a few applications. It is highly probable that the Google computing solution is more appealing to enterprises (for part of their needs) than to consumers, hence the launch of Chromebooks for Business service.
We may see more “always connected – everything in the cloud” technology solutions in the future, when the network infrastructure will be deployed everywhere with better performance, both in reliability and data transfer speed, but for now, this is still an experiment.