With Sony, Chromebooks May Get New Blood

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Google’s Chromebooks have fallen off the radar lately, but they may soon get new life with Sony hardware and an updated interface.

As Laptop Reviews reports, photos and specs of a Sony Chromebook have appeared on the Federal Communications Commission website. Like other Chromebooks, Sony’s laptop omits the caps lock key in favor of a dedicated search button on the keyboard. A user manual describes the operating system as “Chrome OS,” eliminating any doubt that this might be a Windows-based machine.

(MORE: Why Chrome OS is Still a Big Lie)

Because one of the photos lists the processor as a “T25,” Laptop Reviews speculates that Sony’s Chromebook runs on an Nvidia Tegra 250 T25 processor. To date, Chromebooks have only used Atom chips by Intel, but an ARM-based processor, such as Nvidia’s Tegra, could allow for longer battery life. (Today’s smartphones and tablets are almost entirely based on ARM chips.)

Chromebooks are essentially laptops that run Google’s Chrome browser, cannot install any additional software and have only a small amount of built-in storage. The idea is that PC users spend the vast majority of their time in web browsers anyway, so by focusing only on the browser, Chromebooks can be faster, simpler and more secure than conventional PCs. If something happens to the Chromebook, users can buy a new one and pick up where they left off, because everything’s stored online.

In reality, the first-generation of Chromebooks, built by Acer and Samsung, were too slow–especially with Adobe Flash content–and the Chrome OS software lacked polish. Also, without a built-in online storage system to replace local files, Google’s claims of a true web-based operating system seemed a bit disingenuous.

New hardware might help Chromebooks with their speed problem. In addition to the Sony model spied at the FCC website, Samsung is working on a new model based on an Intel Celeron processor, which is more powerful than the Atom chip inside Samsung’s original Series 5 Chromebook.

Google may also be working on some interface improvements for Chrome OS. Earlier this month, Liliputing spotted an early build of the software that adds a window manager and the ability to pass individual tabs back and forth between windows. It also includes some other Windows-like conventions, such as a system tray and desktop icons for opening web links.

I’ve always liked the concept of Chromebooks, but so far the execution has made them hard to justify compared to similarly-priced tablets or Windows PCs. The idea at least deserves a second chance with better hardware and software.

(MORE: Chrome OS Coming to Tablets, As it Should)