First look: Google's new Chrome OS 'Chromebooks'

By JR Raphael (@jr_raphael)

Google Chrome OS Chromebooks

After announcing two new versions of Android and new music and movie services on Tuesday, today Google turned its attention to its other mobile operating system -- you know, that little thing called Chrome OS.

Google officially unveiled the first commercial Chrome OS notebooks during its I/O keynote Wednesday morning. The notebooks follow the launch of the Cr-48, the Chrome OS test device Google sent out to users across the country last December.

Starting June 15, the two new Chrome OS notebooks -- "Chromebooks," as they'll be called -- will go on sale in the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Italy.

[VIDEO: Google's Chromebooks announcement]

Chrome OS: What It's All About

Not familiar with Chrome OS? Check out this video from Google for a quick overview of what the product's all about:

Chrome OS has evolved quite a bit since I started testing it on Google's Cr-48 device. The trackpad has been redesigned and the software has been steadily tweaked to address a wide range of issues that were present in the beginning. Chrome OS now has a new file manager that appears automatically when you download something or connect a USB device. The software provides seamless options to upload files to services like Picasa, Google Docs, and right from your external storage, too, making the Web effectively work like your own personal hard drive.

The latest version of Chrome OS also adds an integrated media player that allows you to easily play music and video files via a pop-up box or full-screen player.

The other significant change is the addition of more offline services. Google says its Chrome-based Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs apps will all be ready to run offline by the time the new Chromebooks launch this summer. Numerous existing Chrome apps already offer offline support, too.

So that's what's new in the big picture; now, here's a more detailed look at what's on the way in terms of the first two Chromebook devices.

Chrome OS Notebook #1: The Samsung Chromebook

Google Chrome OS Samsung Chromebook

Samsung's Chromebook sports a 12.1-inch screen with 1280-by-800 resolution. It weighs 3.26 pounds and is capable of providing 8.5 hours of continuous use on a single battery charge.

The Samsung Chromebook runs on an Intel Atom dual-core processor. It has two USB 2.0 ports, a 4-in-1 memory card slot, a mini-VGA port, and a full-size Chrome keyboard. The notebook also has an HP-made Webcam and noise-cancelling microphone.

Samsung's Chrome OS device will cost $429 for a Wi-Fi-only edition, or $499 for a 3G-ready model. In the U.S., it'll be sold through Best Buy and Amazon.

[UPDATE: Google's Chromebook data plans: How much will you have to pay?]

Chrome OS Notebook #2: The Acer Chromebook

Google Chrome OS Acer Chromebook

Acer's Chromebook is smaller than its Samsung sibling, with an 11.6-inch LED-backlit LCD display. It also weighs less, coming in at just 2.95 pounds.

The Acer Chromebook uses the same Intel Atom dual-core processor as the Samsung model. Its battery life comes in at 6 hours. The notebook has two USB 2.0 ports, a 4-in-1 memory card slot, an HDMI out-port, and a full-size Chrome keyboard. It also has an HP-made Webcam and noise-cancelling microphone.

Acer's Chrome OS computer will sell for "$349 and up," according to Google. Both Wi-Fi and 3G models will be available, though the exact pricing breakdown has yet to be announced. The Acer Chromebook will be sold through Best Buy and Amazon in the U.S.

Google Chromebooks: The Rental Arrangement

Remember those rumors about Chrome OS notebooks that you'd rent? Here's where that comes into play: Google is offering up Chromebooks for businesses and schools under a special month-to-month pricing arrangement. Organizations can opt to pay monthly per-user fees that will include hardware, software, full support, warranty and replacements, and ongoing hardware upgrades as new Chromebooks become available. Businesses and schools can also get "Chromeboxes" that make it easy for administrators to add and remove users, remotely manage apps, and set policies for the entire base of users.

For businesses, Google will charge $28 per user per month for the whole package. For schools, the rate will be $20 per user per month.

Google Chromebooks: More Info

Want more info on Chromebooks for businesses and schools? Click over to Google's new Chromebooks Business and Education page.

Android Power Twitter

For more details on the regular Chromebooks for consumers -- and also to sign up to be notified when the systems are available -- head over to Google's official Chromebook website.

[RELATED: Chrome OS revisited: 2 months later]

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on Facebook, on Twitter, or at eSarcasm, his geek-humor getaway.

Article copyright 2011 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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