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Google Launches $149 Chromebooks, New Chromebit Computer on a Stick

Haier Chromebook
Source: Amazon

Google today introduced a new range of Chrome OS products, including its cheapest Chromebooks to date and a brand new device that can be best described as a computer on a stick.

At $149, the new Haier and Hisense Chromebooks are Google's most affordable laptops since the company launched the line back in 2012. Previously, the cheapest Chromebook started at $199.

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These are the first Chrome OS devices from Haier and Hisense. Both laptops feature 11.6-inch displays, two gigabytes of RAM, 16 gigabytes of storage and promise all-day battery life. They're also among the first Chrome OS products to be powered by Rockchip processors — a new partner for Google.

The Haier Chromebook 11 will be available from Amazon, while the Hisense Chromebook will be sold through Walmart. Preorders begin today.

Coming later this spring is Google's first convertible Chromebook for consumers, the Asus Chromebook Flip. Similar to hybrid PCs like the Lenovo Yoga 2 and HP Pavilion x360, it has a 360-degree hinge that allows you to bend its 10.1-inch HD touchscreen all the way back to use the laptop as a tablet.

The Chromebook Flip measures just 0.59 inches thick and weighs less than two pounds. It also uses a Rockchip processor and can be configured with up to 4GB RAM and a 16GB solid-state drive. Pricing starts at $249.

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Perhaps the most interesting of the new products is the Asus Chromebit. Packed into a device about the size of a mobile broadband stick is a full Chrome OS computer. You simply plug it into a display via the built-in HDMI port (or you can use an HDMI-to-VGA adapter), and then connect a keyboard or mouse using the integrated USB port or Bluetooth. (Intel introduced a similar device for Windows or Linux in January.)

Google said Asus was able to design such a small computer in part thanks to the Rockchip processor. The chips have been optimized for power consumption and heat dissipation, so the Chromebit should be able to provide all-day battery life and shouldn't overheat.

The company envisions Chromebit helping consumers, schools and businesses upgrade their old computers with a faster, more modern system on the cheap.

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While Asus is still finalizing pricing, Google said it will cost less than $100 and will be available later this summer. The company also expects other device manufacturers to come out with Chromebit models.

In addition to the new hardware, Google will be updating Chrome OS with some new features. One is a more touch-centric user interface built to work with convertible devices. So, for example, whenever you tap in a text field, a virtual keyboard will appear as an input option. In addition, the screen will switch from landscape to portrait mode whenever you rotate the device.

Also, more Android apps will be coming to Chrome OS.

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A few months ago, Google launched a program called App Runtime for Chrome that allows Android app developers to port Android apps to Chrome OS. The company has been working with a small number of developers to start, including Evernote, Vine, Viber and Duolingo, but will open up the program to everyone starting today.

Along those lines, Google is working to provide a more seamless experience across its Android and Chrome OS devices. A redesigned app launcher in Chrome OS now brings Google search and Google voice search right to the top, similar to the Android experience. The launcher also incorporates Google Now cards.

Another feature called Smart Lock allows you to log into your Chromebook with your Android phone. Whenever your Chromebook detects your Android phone is nearby, you can simply log into your account by clicking on your profile picture rather than having to type in your password. It works over Bluetooth, and in case your phone gets stolen, you'll be able to remotely disable the devices.

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While there seems to be more merging between Chrome OS and Android, Caesar Sengupta, vice president of product development at Google, said that doesn't necessarily mean they're going to combine the two operating systems.

"Users really don't care about what code runs underneath," said Sengupta during a meeting with journalists on Monday afternoon. "What they care about is the overall user experience, and so we're gradually trying to bring that experience to be seamless across both platforms."

As for whether Google is worried that the recent trend of cheap Windows laptops — like the $200 HP Stream — might hurt Chromebook sales, Sengupta says he welcomes it.

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"When we started out with Chrome OS, we were little nothings compared to the Windows ecosystem … but if Microsoft is reacting to it, that's fantastic. We love it," he said. "But the broad argument we've always made that's resonated with users is that you can't just drop prices by dropping specs. Users will see through that. You have to be able to maintain the overall quality and the experience. And that's what we've been focused on."

In total, Google plans to launch around 10 new Chrome OS devices over the next few months, including models from Dell, HP, Lenovo and LG.

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