This week in Chrome OS: Chrome OS 92 hits stable
It’s been quite a busy week for Chrome OS and Google in general. Google kicked off the week by officially previewing the upcoming Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro smartphones. While that’s not Chrome OS news directly, the Google-made Tensor chip could have future implications for Chromebooks. In the middle of the week, Chrome OS 92 finally hit the stable channel, bringing a host of new features with it. AT&T also put up the LTE version of the Galaxy Chromebook Go for sale on their website.
In addition to all of the current news, there were also encouraging developments in upcoming Chrome OS features. Chromebooks will soon gain native Google Calendar support in the dock. Debian 11 ‘Bullseye’ is rolling out to Chromebooks soon, available on certain devices now. The guys over at Chrome Unboxed were also able to get Vulkan games working in Crostini on Chrome OS Canary 94. Let’s take a look at everything in more detail.
Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro feature Google’s Tensor chip
On Monday, we all woke up to the surprise of Google announcing the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. It’s fairly common to get official ‘leaks’ from Google regarding Pixel phones, but we didn’t expect them quite this early. We already knew that the Pixel 6 series would run Google’s new custom SoC. Now we now know the name of that SoC, dubbed Tensor.
The name makes a lot of sense given Google’s use of the word Tensor in their machine learning platforms. These phones are not not Chrome OS devices, but the potential of Google silicon forebodes the possibility of a Pixelbook with the Tensor chip inside. Apple already started the process of transitioning their Macbook lineup to all in-house chips, Google could easily do the same. The Pixelbook Go is already one of my favorite Chromebooks. A Google Tensor chip in the sequel could make performance and integration with Chrome OS even better.
Chrome OS 92 hits stable channel
The biggest Chrome news of the week was undoubtedly Chrome OS 92 hitting the stable channel. Some of the key features in the update include better video calling on Chrome OS, eSim support, and a new emoji picker. If you like to live on the edge like me, some of these features have been available in the Canary, Developer, and Beta channels for quite some time. It’s still nice to see experiments Google worked on for a long while trickle down to stable.
Obviously improved video calling is a big deal right now as many people are stilling working from home. The addition of eSim support is exciting, perhaps it means we’ll get an influx of LTE and perhaps even 5G-enabled Chromebooks in the near future.
There are a few other nifty flags that come with Chrome OS 92 stable as well. One of the most useful of these is:
This enables input noise cancellation if you’re using an external microphone with your Chromebook. For those of us that create tutorial videos or record podcasts, this is a great feature to add to Chrome OS.
Galaxy Chromebook Go LTE now at AT&T
Last week we mentioned that the Galaxy Chromebook Go LTE was coming soon, and now it’s here. This week, AT&T put the device up for sale on their online store. Presumably this device will not be available in physical retail stores, it’s most likely online only.
There weren’t a ton of surprises on the specs side of things, but the price was a shocker to me at least. At $349, the LTE version of this Chromebook is respectably priced. I figured there would be at least a $100 price bump over the WiFi variant. You can also knock off 50% of the purchase price if you buy from AT&T and bundle a qualifying data plan. The data plan runs $20 per month, but you’re still getting the hardware for $175, which is a great deal.
Chromebooks gaining native Google Calendar support
It’s crazy to think that Google Calendar hasn’t been directly baked into Chrome OS from the beginning. But, we all know Google makes some strange choices. Thankfully, it appears Google Calendar is finally coming to Chrome OS in the shelf.
Originally spotted in the Chromium Gerrit by Chrome Story, this commit suggest that the functionality will work similarly to the calendar integration in the system tray on Windows. You will also be able to launch the calendar view widget with a keyboard shortcut, Alt+Shift+C. The experimental flag enabling the Calendar widget doesn’t expire until Chrome OS 103, so we might need to wait awhile before this hits the stable channel.
Debian 11 coming to Chrome OS
If you use Linux on your Chromebook, you probably know that the underlying container on Chrome OS is based on Debian. As of now, the latest version of Debian for Chrome OS is Debian 10, code-named ‘Buster.’ It appears that this will soon change with the arrival of Debian 11 ‘Bullseye’ on Chrome OS.
Gabriel Brangers from Chrome Unboxed was playing around on the Canary channel with a Tiger Lake Chromebook (I presume the ASUS Chromebook CX9) and noticed that there is now a flag to enable Debian 11 on your Chromebook. This brings some kernel improvements and also the possibility of running Vulkan games on a Chromebook, which coincidentally is our next topic. You won’t notice much difference from Buster to Bullseye if you aren’t a Linux power user, but this is exciting stuff for Chrome OS fans.
Vulkan games in Crostini are now a thing
As I’ve mentioned many times in this column, Steam gaming is coming to Chrome OS, probably later this year. One of the most important steps in getting Steam games running on Chromebooks is Vulkan support.
In a post on Friday, Luke Short from Chrome Unboxed detailed his efforts to run Vulkan games in Crostini. The details of doing this are fairly technical and he apparently tricked his Chromebook Pixel 2 into thinking it was an ASUS CX9 to make things work.
The upshot of this development is that it appears we are getting extremely closer to official Steam support on Chrome OS. Borealis should revolutionize the way people think about gaming on a Chromebook. It’s quite possible that there may be flags available for wider public testing of Vulkan on Chrome OS 94, along with the aforementioned Debian 11 support.
That’s all for this week. Overall, a stellar week to be a fan of Chrome OS or just Google as a whole. We’ve got gaming Chromebooks coming, Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro this fall, and more fun stuff to look forward to. My ASUS Chromebook CX9 review is finished and submitted, look for it to go live next week. If you want to chat with me about all things Chrome OS and Android during the week, give me a follow on Twitter.