When the first Chromebooks hit the market last year, they were greeted with skepticism, curiosity and some noisy debate. Which makes sense: after all, who had ever heard of an operating system based entirely on a browser? Laptops that were only usable when you had an internet connection? It was a wild, ambitious idea, to be sure, but since then, we haven't heard much on that front save for the occasional price cut.
Now, though, Samsung is selling the new Chromebook Series 5 550 (and Chromebox Series 3) it teased at CES, while Google is rolling out a new version of its operating system with offline doc editing, a basic photo editor and a desktop-like space that makes it easier to launch and switch between apps. Like last year's model, the Series 5 still has a matte, 300-nit, 12.1-inch display, 16GB of built-in flash storage and an optional Verizon Wireless 3G radio, but it's dressed in more conservative digs with a retooled touchpad and an Celeron -- not Atom -- processor. Accordingly, the starting price for the WiFi-only model is slightly higher ($449, up from $429), and the battery life is now rated for six hours, down from 10. Finally, the new model adds an Ethernet jack and DisplayPort -- both of which Google hopes will appeal to the schools and businesses considering using Chrome devices.
Most interestingly of all, Google is planning on selling its new Chromebook in retail, signaling an intent to expand beyond geeky early adopters and one-to-one laptop programs in classrooms. If the idea is to win over more consumers, will a faster CPU and improved user experience be enough to make up for the drastically shortened battery life? Should folks in need of a portable machine with a keyboard spend their $450 on a Chromebook instead of a netbook or Transformer tablet? That's a tough one -- meet us past the break where we'll hash it all out.