How to run Linux in a window inside Chrome OS

Thanks to a handy set of scripts, you’ve long been able to install an instance of Linux on a Chromebook and switch between the two platforms with a simple keypress. What if you could run Linux inside the Chrome OS environment in its own window, though? That’s even better.

On this week’s Chrome Show podcast, we highlighted the Crouton Integration extension that lets you do just that. We also discussed why the new Acer Chromebook 15 isn’t likely on store shelves before April and why if you are still using [company]Google[/company] Android 4.0 on a mobile device you might want to consider a replacement for the Chrome browser. Tune in below or download the podcast here.

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Mobile recap: Pebble Time; Pixel 2 coming; Apple Watch questions

After selling one million of its original Pebble watches, the company is zigging when the competition is zagging. Pebble Time is the next product in the line, and while it adds new features and a new interface, the watch isn’t likely to be confused with either an Android Wear or Apple Watch.

pebble time timeline

That’s because Pebble Time is a gently improved watch that doesn’t sacrificing the original product’s of core strengths. It still has an e-paper display and should run for a week on a charge, for example. Pebble Time will also still work with both [company]Apple[/company] iOS and [company]Google[/company] Android handsets; there’s been some chatter and evidence of Windows Phone support, but it’s still not coming from Pebble.

So what’s new and better with Pebble Time? The device is a little wider but thinner and has a color e-paper screen. It also has a microphone for responding to notifications or dictating quick notes. And the software uses a timeline to help you manage your days, even though all of the old Pebble apps and watchfaces will still be available. Clearly, this package resounded well: Pebble Time has already surpassed its original then-record funding amount on Kickstarter and has raised nearly $11.5 million at time of writing.

While we have all of the details on Pebble Time, we don’t have the same for the Apple Watch. That’s likely to change soon, however: Apple is holding a press event on March 9, where it’s expected to launch the watch with shipping to follow in April.

Apple Watch launch event

Even though I attended the September event that introduced us to Apple Watch last year, I’m waiting for Apple to show off some additional features that will make the device a compelling purchase. I see much potential in Apple Watch but not yet a “killer feature” or must-have application. Google Now on the wrist is that feature for some with Android Wear; Siri isn’t there yet but perhaps she’ll get an upgrade soon.

Two-Pixels

One device that is getting an upgrade is Google’s Chromebook Pixel. Google confirmed that a new model is coming soon, although no details have been provided yet. I outlined my thoughts this week: Expect few if any changes on the outside of the Chromebook Pixel 2; instead, look for a new fifth-generation Intel chip and some radio upgrades. Hopefully, we see a price drop as well, although I’m leery that will happen.

Launched at CES, Acer Chromebook 15 expected in April

Acer was one of the first companies out the gate to announce a 1080p Chromebook with Intel’s fifth-generation chip early last month. Maybe that was a bit too quick: Availability of the Acer Chromebook 15 with latest processors that I had a chance to use isn’t expected until the first week of April, the company tells me. That means if you’ve been holding out for the 15.6-inch Chromebook with newest chip, you’re going to have to wait a little longer. As previously reported, the laptop will be available in multiple configurations with the base model starting at $249.99.

What to expect in the Chromebook Pixel 2

Google confirmed what we noted two weeks ago on our Chrome Show podcast: There is a successor to the Chromebook Pixel after all. OMGChrome caught the confirmation on a YouTube video, which was subsequently marked private to mask the news. Luckily the site transcribed the part where the next Pixel was discussed.

Pixel gaming

 

In the video, which was recorded at a Team Work 2015 event, Google’s Renee Niemi had this to say:

We do have a new Pixel coming out and it will be coming out soon. We will be selling it but I just have to set your expectations: this is a development platform. This is really a proof of concept. We don’t make very many of these — we really don’t. And […] our developers and our Googlers consume 85% of what we produce. But yes, we do have a new Pixel coming out.

Niemi, who runs the Android & Chrome for Work and Education group at [company]Google[/company], didn’t share any more specifics and is clearly setting expectations. Although Google will sell the next Chromebook — I’ll call it Pixel 2 for lack of a better name — the company doesn’t intend the device to be a mass-produced, consumer laptop. That message got lost on the first model, as some have considered the original Pixel a flop, while I’m sure Google internally considers it a success.

Small changes, big impact

So what can we expect in the Pixel 2? I don’t actually expect many changes. I’m basing that off the tidbits and evidence of the Chromebook Pixel 2 spotted earlier this month and discussed on our podcast. Between my own usage as an owner of the first Chromebook Pixel and what we’ve found in the Chromium bug tracker, here’s what I think we’ll see:

  • Little to no change on the outside of the laptop. There’s little there that needs an update or refresh. The trackpad is as good as the best of them out there, the keyboard is excellent and the overall design is thin, even if it’s not sleek.
  • The same 2560 x 1700 resolution touchscreen display. Again, this is one of the best features of the original Pixel and it still stands up against current screens. I wouldn’t mind if Google opted to lose the touch capabilities in a lower-priced model, though.
  • The biggest upgrade we’ll see is in the processor. Instead of a third-generation [company]Intel[/company] Core i5, Google can use a fifth-gen Broadwell chip. That would provide a slight performance boost, even though the Pixel may not need it. More importantly, it would allow the Pixel 2 to overcome one of its few disappointing attributes: poor battery life. The chip change, along with any battery improvements, could let the laptop run for nine hours or more on a charge. The original Pixel topped out around five hours.
  • Google will likely carry over the same connectivity options from the original Pixel but upgrade the capabilities due to available technology. Expect the Wi-Fi to include 802.11ac support, and the Bluetooth 3.0 of the existing Pixel will surely be 4.0 in the new one. I’d expect an LTE edition like Google offered two years ago, although I’m not sure it will use Verizon as its partner again. I could see T-Mobile make a play here, if not AT&T. Early evidence of the Pixel 2 suggested reversible Type-C USB ports as well.
  • I don’t see Google adding more local storage to the Pixel 2. The Wi-Fi model comes with 32GB while the LTE version doubles the storage. It could add more, of course, but the intended audience for this device doesn’t really need it, particularly with Google Drive integration and offers of free space. I received 1TB of Drive storage for three years with the Pixel I bought, for example.

Long story short: Don’t expect major changes in the Pixel 2, just look for the ones that will have the biggest impact.

One last note on the chip inside Pixel 2, though: Why not Intel’s sixth-generation Skylake chip inside? It depends on when Google wants to release the Pixel 2. Skylake isn’t expected in mass quantities until the second half of the year. Additionally, a Skylake board was only just reported to be used for Chromium OS a few weeks ago; it can take months for the software team to get the software working with a new chipset. With Niemi saying a new Pixel is “coming out soon,” that suggests Google isn’t going to wait for Skylake.

It can be yours, if the price is right

The final question is about price. Will Google keep the same pricing scheme as the original Pixel: $1,299 for the Wi-Fi model and $1,449 for the LTE version?

Photoshop on Chromebook Pixel

Having bought the latter edition in 2013, I hope not. Google probably isn’t going to make millions of these laptops, so it’s not going to get the best chip pricing from Intel. That puts pressure on Google to find other ways to cut the cost, use economies of scale, or reduce profit margins on a device that’s not really meant for the general population.

My best guess for the Pixel 2: Google may be able to cut $200 — $300 is a long shot — from the original Pixel prices by reusing much of the existing design and components which have come down in price over time. That would mean starting prices of $999 or $1,099 for a high-end Chromebook with solid performance, outstanding screen and build quality, and the sorely needed improved battery life.

Even if Google keeps the same prices as the first model, the Pixel 2 will still find an audience. Compared to the rest of the Chromebooks available, that’s at least a 3x premium, so the Pixel 2 still won’t be a hot seller by comparison. For those who want the best possible Chrome OS experience, however, I think it will be worth it.

Google makes it easier to back up media from Chromebooks to Drive

It’s no secret that Chromebooks rely heavily on Google Drive cloud storage. The devices have the capability to store data locally, of course, but Google provides far more capacity in the cloud and even integrates Google Drive into the Files app on Chromebooks.

Now the company is looking to improve the process of backing up local files to the cloud, particularly those on removable media. [company]Google[/company]’s François Beaufort is keeping us up to date on the experimental feature, which for now is called Cloud Backup.

cloud-backup Chrome OS

On Thursday, Beaufort provided the latest update, explaining how to use Cloud Backup to automatically sync photos and videos from a memory card or USB drive to Google Drive in Chrome OS:

Insert any removable media device such as a USB key or a SD Card which contains at its root the famous DCIM folder. Then, navigate to this folder and notice the ‘cloud’ icon at the very top right corner. Click on it and you’re done! Your photos and videos will be automatically synced to your Google Drive under a newly created photos folder.

The Cloud Backup feature is available to any Chrome OS device but you have to be using the Dev channel of Google’s operating system.

The Dev channel is generally considered to the most cutting-edge version of Chrome OS, because it has many experimental features and is updated the most often. By comparison, the Beta channel is updated every two weeks or so, while new features graduate to the Stable channel every six weeks.

This means that as Google refines Cloud Backup, it will eventually migrate over time to all users. My hope is that Chrome OS users will have the option to enable or disable Cloud Backup, though: With some Chromebooks getting just 100 or 200 GB of Drive storage, heavy camera users could lose track of their free space in the cloud.

The time is right for a Chromebook Pixel 2

Although my original Chromebook Pixel still works well, the device is a few generations behind when it comes to the chips inside. Laptops using newer chips get noticeably more battery life on a single charge thanks to reduced power requirements and optimizations. The original Pixel, for example, topped out around 5 hours of run-time, while similar laptops today can get double that.

It’s difficult to use the Pixel as a mobile laptop, as a result, even though I bought the LTE model that provides connectivity nearly anywhere. On this week’s Chrome Show podcast, we discuss the possibility of a Pixel refresh, given some strong evidence indicating [company]Google[/company] may be working on one. Tune in below or download the show here.

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Dell beefs up its Chromebook 11 for the classroom

Dell entered the Chromebook market last year, focusing mainly on education with its Chromebook 11. Now it has a refreshed model with a few small tweaks, still squarely aimed at the classroom with a rugged build and unique activity light.

dell Chromebook 11 2015

The new Dell Chromebook 11 starts at $249 and uses a newer [company]Intel[/company] Celeron chip than the previous edition. This isn’t the latest Broadwell chip from Intel inside the Chromebook 11; it’s a Celeron N2840, which has been around for a while. Still, that could help keep costs down without any huge detriment to performance or battery life, which is expected to be around 10 hours.

dell chromebook 11 classroomThat base price includes a minimal 2GB of memory and 16GB of flash storage, as well as a standard 1366 x 768 anti-glare display. The Chromebook 11 supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 for connectivity and has an integrated webcam.

Since it’s for the classroom, Dell beefed up the [company]Google[/company]-powered Chromebook to handle a semi-tough environment. The laptop is “MIL-STD (U.S. Military Standard) tested for durability, pressure, temperature, humidity, shock and vibration so it can handle student life.” Choosing the optional touchscreen configuration adds a little more environmental tolerance: It’s a Gorilla Glass screen. The keyboard is also resistant to liquids so it’s safe for snack time and the hinge can rotate 180-degrees.

Dell added a very classroom-specific feature to the Chromebook 11 in the form of an LED light on the lid. It can change colors to indicate if a student needs help, has a question or is really good at programming LED lights from a command line. Maybe the latter item isn’t a real feature, but teachers can certainly benefit from seeing visual clues when a student needs attention. Dell says the new Chromebook is available immediately.

Chrome Show: What. Is. Project. Athena?

Google I/O is next week and we expect to hear about or see some big changes in the Chrome OS user interface thanks to Project Athena. Meanwhile, Jolicloud thinks its Drive is the file explorer that will make Chrome better.