ChromeOS 118 began its roll-out this week and with it came a nice handful of Chromebook Plus features for the entire list of devices that meet those Chromebook Plus specifications. For those non-Plus devices, the updates aren’t much to talk about this time around and this ChromeOS 118 release was clearly aimed at getting all the Chromebook Plus models up to speed and moving forward together.
Chromebook Plus vs. Chromebook
But before we dive into the features, I want to clarify something. This will mark the beginning of a bit of a new era for Chromebooks as we’ll now be looking at Plus and non-Plus devices with each ChromeOS update to see what things have changed between the two.
I highly doubt that every 4-week update will come packed with new features for Chromebook Plus and no headlining additions for standard Chromebooks, but I’m honestly unsure how it will all play out. Google had to eventually make this move to tighten up the Chromebook ecosystem and there was never going to be a great time to do it. But to get features like the built-in video calling tools, you have to have some common ground in your hardware, and Chromebook Plus gives Google and app developers both a place to land those features and apps moving forward.
And with ChromeOS 118, we’re seeing this play out in a bit more disparate way than I think we’ll see down the road. With this update basically launching Chromebook Plus to the masses, it is clearly focused on Chromebook Plus across the board. Future updates will likely be less Plus-focused as time moves on.
Now that I got that out of the way, let’s talk about some new stuff we have on Chromebook Plus with ChromeOS 118. First up, we’ll start with the wallpapers and screensavers. Both have a few new options on Chromebook Plus, and more will come before the end of the year with generative AI wallpapers and screensavers being a very fun addition we cannot wait to see.
With wallpapers, there is a new category called ‘Dawn to Dark’ that – for now – houses a couple exclusive options that change throughout the day. In the daylight hours, you get differing versions of the wallpaper in sunlight, and in the evening you get different nighttime options. It’s a cool effect that is tough to show on video, but the first time you crack open your Chromebook Plus in the evening and see the night version of your wallpaper, it’s a neat trick.
The exclusive screensavers are similar, though they don’t adjust throughout the day like the wallpapers do. Instead, both ‘Cloud Flow’ and ‘Earth Flow’ give you a looping, animated screensaver that kicks up the entire experience a notch.
As a matter of fact, I was so impressed by the ‘Cloud Flow’ screen saver specifically that I wrote a whole post about it last week. Sure, other screensavers on Chromebooks have animated before, but none have been so fun to look at as ‘Cloud Flow’.
Again, these ‘Dawn to Dusk’ screensavers don’t change with you to match the time of day. Instead, they timelapse through a full day’s worth of lighting scenarios over and over again. And between these and the new wallpapers, I like where some of these small customizations are headed.
On-device video call controls
Now we move on to some of the meatier parts of the new Chromebook Plus offerings. The new video call controls are a perfect example of what I was talking about in the beginning of this post. To achieve these sorts of on-device effects, you need to have a baseline of the hardware you are using to pull it off. With Chromebook Plus’ hardware requirements, both Google and 3rd-party software developers can feel confident knowing that the things they want to achieve can be handled by the hardware they are deploying it on.
And these video call features are pretty sweet. Again, they are happening on-device, so regardless of what service you use (Meet, Zoom, Discord, WhatsApp, Facetime, etc.), you can rest assured that these core abilities will go with you.
And what are those features? With the new video call controls, you have the ability to mute you mic and turn off your camera, but you also get some great in-call features as well like two levels of background blur, background noise cancellation, and a somewhat-magical lighting fix that feels like Google’s Pixel portrait lighting feature. And it’s all happening right on your Chromebook Plus hardware.
A wonderful OOBE upgrade
Finally, another pretty big upgrade comes via the OOBE (out of box experience) on Chromebook Plus devices. From a new, swooping intro animation to material design elements throughout the process, the new OOBE was something Google needed to focus on and they’ve nailed it.
Think about it for second: as more Chromebook Plus models are bought, there will be more and more first-time Chromebook owners having their first-ever ChromeOS experience. Giving new users a clear, clean, well-though-out path to get started is crucial to the first impression most will form when they first begin their Chromebook journey, and this new OOBE is a fantastic first step.
While the options aren’t that different from what we saw added in ChromeOS 117, the way they animate and the way they are presented looks cohesive and clean. Tuning up this part of the OOBE for users brings a groundedness to the entire experience, and I think the ChromeOS team was wise to make sure this was really honed for Chromebook Plus.
You’ll have to watch the video to see it all in action, but these upgrades are definitely the tip of the iceberg of what is coming for Chromebook Plus. After seeing the new generative AI tools on the way at Google’s event in NYC earlier this month, I’m very excited to see that stuff arrive soon. But for now, this is the official beginning of the Chromebook Plus movement, and it feels like things are off to a good start.