Google just announced a new $249 Chromebook manufactured by Samsung, which you’ll be able to order starting next week (at least, that’s the official launch date, although some vendors may start taking preorders before then). It will feature a 11.6-inch screen capable of running 1080p video, weigh 2.5 pounds, be 0.8 inches thick, and should run for 6.5 hours on battery under typical usage.
Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president for Chrome and Apps, said the goal was to create a ”thin, light, portable computer which is great quality.” He said the team sees this as a second device people use at home, as a complement to their desktop computer or a more powerful laptop.
To demonstrate that idea, Pichai and his team went through a quick demo of how someone might use the Chromebook (which are basically laptops that use Google’s cloud-centric Chrome OS), emphasizing its integration with Google services like Gmail, YouTube, and Google Hangouts. He argued that when consumers make purchasing decisions, they think in terms of “ecosystems” (though they probably wouldn’t use that word) — if you use a lot of Microsoft services, you’ll probably buy a Windows device, whereas a Chromebook should be more appealing if you use lots of Google services and devices.
In that vein, Google is also emphasizing Google Drive as the best way to store files and make them available across devices, so the new Chromebooks will come with 100 gigabytes of free Drive storage for two years. (The device also comes with 16 gigabytes of flash memory.)
It sounds like Google is trying to reach a mainstream audience with the new devices — in fact, Pichai said the company is launching its first big Chromebook ad campaign tonight.
But will consumers respond? During the press conference, Fortune’s Miguel Helft noted that he had just returned from Google Zeitgeist, where he had seen a lot of Macbook Airs and very few Chromebooks. Pichai responded that it isn’t a fair comparison: “That’s like taking a Nissan Leaf and comparing it to a Tesla Model S.” If you want a high-end laptop, the Air is the way to go, Pichai said, but he argued that the Chromebook compares to favorably to other devices in its price range. He also suggested that Google might eventually launch higher end products that could actually compete with the Air.
The low price of the new Chromebook, prompted another reporter to ask if Google is subsidizing the cost; Pichai said it isn’t.
All of the reporters at today’s press event were given Chromebooks, so I’ll probably be posting my impressions in a few days.