One of the benefits of being a Chromebook user is the schedule of regular updates your device will always receive quietly and in the background. For all the things many people think Chromebooks lack, they can’t argue with the fantastic update experience Chrome OS offers its users.
For the 71st iteration of this 6-week update cycle, Google has brought a nice bevy of updates that we initially saw on the Pixel Slate. In general, that device shipped with a near-final version of Chrome OS 71, but now many of the features baked into the Pixel Slate will become part of the normal experience on Chrome OS for everyone else as well.
Let’s list them first and then talk about each new feature you can expect to see in the coming days on your device. From the Chrome Releases Blog:
- Refreshed look for Camera app
- Fingerprint and PIN enrollment in Out of Box Experience
- Autocomplete in Launcher search
- Adaptive top UI in Chrome browser based on user scrolling
- Unified setup flow to connect with an Android phone
- Assistant natively integrated into the OS (Pixel Slate first, expanding to more devices later)
- New features for families including app management and screen time limits.
- Ability to create semi-full pages in Launcher for customizations
- Launched Android P on Pixel Slate
- Fingerprint authentication mode on Pixel Slate
- Portrait mode for Camera app on Pixel Slate
The Camera App
Not much changed here except the layout. The work continues porting the Google Camera into Chrome OS, and the layout and feel of the app, in general, is slowly starting to feel more like what you see on the Pixel phones. Additionally, the last point on that list up there reveals Portrait Mode for the Pixel Slate. Again, this shipped with the Slate out of the box and works decently, but this camera isn’t even close to being ready to take on the shooter likely in your pocket right now.
This worked right out of the box on our review unit of the Pixel Slate, so this is simply the addition of this feature to the core of Chrome OS for use by other devices down the road. While the Pixel Slate has the only fingerprint scanner available on Chromebooks, it is likely we will see more devices use this feature in the future. Additionally, every Chromebook can enroll a PIN to sign in, so this will now be set up in the out-of-box experience instead of hidden away like it was before.
Autocomplete in Launcher Search
This feature simply provides a Gmail-like auto complete as you begin typing in the Launcher’s embedded search bar. Sure, there will be suggestions below the text field as before, but Google will try to complete your sentence in the search field as it does in Gmail while you type.
Adaptive Top UI
Have you noticed that, on Android, when you scroll down a website in Chrome, the top navigation space slides off the page and out of your way? Like it or hate it, this behavior is now a part of Chrome on Chromebooks when in tablet mode. It does offer a very nice full-screen reading experience, but I’m not really a fan of it on larger screen devices.
For smaller tablets like the Acer Chromebook Tab 10, however, this is a pretty beneficial thing.
Unified Setup Flow (or Better Together)
This effort has been in the works for quite some time, but now we’re seeing it roll out to Chrome OS in general and working with most Android phones as well. In a nutshell, this service connects your Chromebook and phone during the out-of-box experience and takes care of setting up things like Android Messages, Smart Unlock, and Instant Tethering.
While Pixel phones will do this best, other phones are clearly working, too, and the list of supported phones will likely continue to expand.
Native Assistant Integration
This one is a pretty big deal. Up until now, Google Assistant was bolted on via Android, so if you turned off Android apps, you would no longer be able to use Assistant. The experience, since the launch of the Pixelbook, has been a bit buggy as well, so moving the Assistant nativity into Chrome OS is a move that should create not only greater stability, but an easier path forward to other Chromebooks getting Assistant support.
New Features for Families (Family Link)
Just yesterday we posted about Family Link and what that means for parents and their children. Simply put, expect better controls over screen time on Chromebooks if you are a parent. You can read much more about this fantastic effort here.
Semi-full Launcher Pages
This one is great for tablets, as it allows users to be able to create pages of apps that don’t require being full first. So, if you want 3 apps on one page and six on the next, you are free to do so to keep things organized.
While only launching on the Pixel Slate for now, Android P is coming soon. For most users, this will simply mean better app support for your Chromebook down the road. Android P bakes in some great stuff for bigger screens, so Chromebooks benefit greatly from all those new features and it is great to see Chromebooks getting to the latest version of Android before many flagship phones. You can read more about the benefits of Android P for Chromebooks here.
So, that’s a lot of good stuff in a single update, and that has been the trend of late. Chrome OS 70 brought some pretty big changes to the table as well, so we’re likely in for another massive round of new features and fixes in 6 weeks when Chrome OS 72 comes to town.
We’ll be waiting.