Google Takes Another Step Into Hardware

If Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Samsung get it right with the Tuesday release of their new-gen Chromebooks, ‘dumb’ might be smart.

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Dumb, because these unconventional babies have no hard disks and are more like slave terminals needing an Internet connection to come to life, but smart because Google has re-engineered the older and not-so-successful Chromebooks into new avatars, christened the “Series 5 550,” that run two-and-half times faster and boast of high definition video and come with 16 gigs of flash memory — the sort found on the latest tablets, smartphones, and iPods. They also sport two USB ports for plugging in external hard drives and other possible devices. Under the hood, the 12.1-inch display machines are powered by an Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) processor.

Somnolent sales of the older Chromebooks and the rapid acceptance of tablets and smartphones in the meantime probably galvanized Google to action to beef up these machines. “This release is a big step in the journey to bringing (Chromebooks) to the mainstream,” said Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president of Chrome and apps.

On the software front, Google has enabled offline document editing, better compatibility with MS Word and Excel and remote access to the user’s other computers at the home or office. The machines would be geared to take advantage of the 50,000 plus apps residing on Chrome’s Web Store. An interesting option is a “Chromebox” that plugs into a display monitor, and voilà, you have a PC.

The operating system of the machines revolves around Google’s highly popular Chrome Web browser, which has garnered over 200 million users globally in just four years since its launch, another confidence booster for Google regarding the acceptability of the new Chromebooks.

Prices are $549 for a 3G compatible machine and $449 for the WiFi-only models. The Chromebox carries a sticker of $329. Sales (on-line only) commence Tuesday in the U.S. and Wednesday in the U.K.

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