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New Chromebooks and Chromebit stick start at US$100 thanks to lower-power chips

Mark Hachman | April 1, 2015
Google and its partners plan 10 new Chrome OS devices over the next two months. Meet the big three: new $149 Chromebooks from Haier and Hisense, plus the Chromebit stick from Asus.

Many consumers might not familiar with Hisense, but the Chinese manufacturer has forged a solid relationship with Walmart, which sells its low-cost televisions and other electronics. Haier, meanwhile, is better known for washing machines and other appliances. Both the black Hisense Chromebook and the white Haier Chromebook--not the most poetic of names--will go on sale today at Walmart.com and Amazon, respectively, for an identical price of $149.

The Hisense Chromebook measures 11.7 inches by 8.8 inches by 0.6 inch, and weighs 3.3 pounds. Neither Hisense nor Google released the resolution of its 11.6-inch display, but it certainly looks more like the washed-out matte display of other cheapo Chromebooks than the utterly beautiful 2560x1700 display of the Chromebook Pixel. The Hisense Chromebook includes a pair of USB 2.0 ports, a 720p front-facing camera, a microSD card reader, an HDMI connector, 802.11ac Bluetooth 4.0, and a mic/headphone combo port.

The Haier Chromebook is slightly smaller, measuring 11.4 inches by 8.1 inches by 0.71 inch, and weighs 2.54 pounds. Otherwise, the specs are the same as the Hisense model. Recognizing the Chromebook's influence in education--where Chromebooks outsell all other computing devices, according to Google director of product management Rajen Sheth--Haier also plans a ruggedized version with a spill-proof keyboard and an actual drain hole for milk or juice to flow through.

The one notable difference between the two new models is battery life: the Hisense Chromebook is rated at up to 8.5 hours of battery life, while the Haier Chromebook promises 10 hours.

The Chromebit: a Chromebook on a stick
The Asus Chromebit shows off exactly how compact a low-cost computing device can be.

The Chromebit looks very similar to the Chromecast, Google's entertainment-oriented thumb computer that includes an HDMI connector to plug into a monitor or TV, a microUSB connector for power, wireless capability, and a processor--and that's about it. With the Chromebit, Asus has added a full-size USB connector for plugging in a USB hub, along with the hardware found inside the two new Chromebooks from Haier and Hisense. Google hasn't disclosed the exact price, but said the Chromebit will be less than $100.

With a Chromebit, you don't even need a notebook or netbook--you just slip the stick into the HDMI port of a display at home, work, or an Internet cafe.

"Think of the different use cases," Sengupta said. "Think of an Internet cafe, where you have a monitor, you have a keyboard, and mouse, [but] you're stuck with an old desktop. It's probably never been updated, pretty insecure. Think of a school lab, all the peripherals, but stuck to a desktop. Now you can replace that."

The Chromebit doesn't appear to be a truly novel idea, but rather a nice effort on the part of Google to market an existing concept. CNX Software reported on a similar device running Android last year, while Rockchip's own Wikipedia page lists a similar "mini PC" from Tronsmart. Dell showed off a prototype, known as "Project Ophelia," in 2013, and this later turned into an Android-powered computing stick for about $100.

 

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