Google, Samsung unveil laptop

SAN FRANCISCO — Google will try to win more converts to a computer operating system revolving around its popular Chrome web browser with a new wave of lightweight laptops built by Samsung Electronics.

Tuesday’s release of the next-generation Chromebooks will give Google and Samsung another opportunity to persuade consumers and businesses to buy an unconventional computer instead of machines running on familiar software by industry pioneers Microsoft and Apple.

Unlike most computers, Google’s Chromebooks don’t have a hard drive. They function like terminals dependent on an Internet connection. The laptops come with 16 gigabytes of flash memory, the kind found in smartphones, tablet computers and some iPods.

Two USB ports allow external hard drives and other devices to be plugged into the machines.

Chromebooks haven’t made much of a dent in the market since their debut a year ago. In that time, more people have been embracing Apple’s iPad and other tablet computers, a factor that has contributed to a slowdown in sales of personal computers.

The cool reception to Chromebooks has raised questions about whether Google misjudged the demand for computers designed to quickly connect to its dominant Internet search engine and ever-expanding stable of other online services.

“The Chromebooks have had less to offer than tablets, so they haven’t been that interesting to consumers,” said Gartner analyst Mika Kitagawa.

Google said it always intended to take things slowly with the Chromebooks to give its engineers time to understand the shortcomings of the machines and make the necessary improvements.

“This release is a big step in the journey to bringing (Chromebooks) to the mainstream,” said Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president of Chrome and apps.

The upgraded laptop, called “Series 5 550,” is supposed to run 21/2 times faster than the original machines, and boasts higher-definition video.

Google also added features that will enable users to edit documents offline, read more content created in widely used Microsoft applications and retrieve material from another computer.

The price is $449 for models that only connect to the Internet through Wi-Fi and $549 for a machine that connects on a 3G network.