CES 2017: Samsung adds Android-capable Chromebooks to its mix

Samsung is still refining its line of Chromebooks, this time to optimize them for use with Android apps.

Samsung Chromebook Plus
Credit: IDG

As I sit on a carpeted floor in a Las Vegas conference center, queuing up for yet another CES press event, I’m writing this article on an Asus Flip, a low-cost small Chromebook that was one of the first to be able to handle both Chrome OS and Android apps. Chromebooks are an interesting type of technology; created for an operating system meant to be solely online -- and as a result, not accepted as readily as either Mac OS or Windows. The addition of Android apps could prove a push in the right direction -- or, at least, a push toward a more popular interface.

Apparently, some content companies agree -- I happily downloaded a couple of Netflix movies onto my Flip in order to be able to watch them on the plane on my way to CES. And Samsung agrees as well -- it is coming out with two new Chromebooks that, it says, were especially designed for this partnership of operating systems: the Chromebook Plus and the Chromebook Pro.

The new Samsung Chromebooks have 12.3-in. Quad HD 2400 x 1600 displays that, like that of the smaller Flip, rotate 360 degrees so that they can be used as either laptops or tablets. Unlike the Flip, they have include higher-end tech such as accelerometers so that game-players can move the screen in response to the game play.

They also come with a small stylus that pops in and out of a slot in the side of the Chromebook, and which allows users to write using (to begin with) Google Keep and Samsung ArtCanvas. The nicely responsive display offers a relatively smooth writing experience, and  handwriting can be immediately translated to printed text, due to a machine learning algorithm that pulls data from Google’s indexing and OCR cloud databases. (Representatives were quick to reassure that the actual text written on the Chromebooks would remain local and not be sent to the cloud for analysis -- a smart move, considering the disaster that a similar project almost proved for Evernote.)

Other specs? Two USB-C ports, 4GB RAM, 32GB storage, and a promised battery life of up to 8 hours (which is useable, but not spectacular). The Chromebook Plus will be equipped with an ARM processor and will be on sale in February for $449; the Chromebook Pro will have an Intel Core m3 processor and will be on sale sometime in the spring (price not yet determined).

Right now, Android usage is only available with the Chrome OS beta channel, and this will still be the case when the Chromebook Plus ships. But despite that, and depending on how well these Chromebooks actually carry through their potential, they could prove interesting, especially for those who like using the Chrome OS for lightweight computing tasks -- and who are interested in the utility of using Android apps in a laptop environment.

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