Mysterious new Chromebook with a built-in Assistant button surfaces – but I hope it’s really a Google Gemini key in disguise

Close up of the Pixelbook Go logo below the screen.
The Pixelbook Go. (Image credit: Future)

The best Chromebooks are all physically different from Windows laptops in one important way: they all have Google’s iconic ‘Everything’ button. It’s essentially a search button that can be used to access everything on your laptop and beyond; from your own files and apps to online query results.

However, a new unique button could soon be coming to Chromebooks everywhere: a dedicated key for Google Assistant. As spotted by ChromeUnboxed, a file found in the Chromium Repositories (an open-source code base behind many of the features of ChromeOS and the Chrome browser) makes reference to an upcoming Chromebook model that features a hardware-mapped Assistant key.

The new Chromebook, codenamed ‘Xol’ – a rather oblique reference to Destiny 2, while past codenames have openly referenced everything from The Witcher to Skyrim – has scant other information about it, only that it will apparently run on one of Intel’s 13th-gen CPUs. That’s an odd move, given that Intel’s 14th-gen ‘Core Ultra’ chips are already on the table. But as ChromeUnboxed points out, we might not have seen the last of Intel’s 13th generation just yet.

Return of the king?

More intriguing is the fact that we have seen a dedicated Assistant button before - but only ever on Google’s own first-party Chromebooks, the venerable Pixelbooks. The Pixelbook Go remained in several of our laptop rankings even after Google axed the product line, and I even prayed for a Pixelbook revival that sadly didn’t materialize during last year’s Google I/O event.

Does this mean ‘Xol’ could be a new Pixelbook? Unfortunately, the answer is ‘probably not’ - Google seemed pretty committed to moving away from first-party Chromebooks when it killed off the Pixelbook back in 2022, fully dissolving the team responsible for it and encouraging third-party laptop makers to go all-in on ChromeOS with the recent Chromebook Plus initiative. There’s likely a far more straightforward explanation: artificial intelligence.

Google Assistant

'Hey Google' might soon become 'Hey Gemini'... (Image credit: Google)

With AI on the rise just about everywhere, from OpenAI’s new Sora video generator to the seemingly ever-present ChatGPT, it makes sense that Google (and other Chromebook manufacturers) would want to push AI features as a key selling point for new laptops. 

A dedicated button for accessing your on-board AI companion is the logical conclusion; and would you look at that, Google has a new suite of AI tools for us to play with.

AI for the Google guy

Yes, Google Gemini is here, a powerful selection of AI software – some new, some rebranded from Google’s own previous Duet and Bard AI models – that seems like it would be right at home on a new AI-focused Chromebook. Google promises that Gemini will be able to do all sorts of stuff, from simple chatbot functionality to writing-assistant tools that rival Microsoft Copilot.

Most importantly, Gemini will be replacing Google Assistant, although not just yet - it seems there are still some teething issues to work through, and Assistant remains present on all compatible devices at the time of my writing this. But for a Chromebook in early development, the inclusion of an Assistant key when Google is preparing to deprecate the virtual helper feels… off.

So, could this be a Gemini button instead? ‘Gemini Key’ has a nice ring to it. Paired with the Everything button for accessing all your stuff, a dedicated key to instantly summon the full might of Google’s AI software suite could be a worthy addition to the ChromeOS roster. Google has consistently put ease-of-use at the forefront when it comes to Chromebooks, so this could prove to be a good way to introduce less tech-savvy users to AI tools.

There’s just one problem.

chromebook plus laptop sitting on bed with cat

'Chromebook Plus' is a step up from your everyday Chromebooks, and could benefit from a fresh injection of AI. (Image credit: Future)

As I mentioned above, ‘Xol’ runs on a 13th-gen Intel CPU - meaning it won’t have access to the powerful Neural Processing Units (NPUs) found in Intel’s new Ultra processors. You can click that link for the full rundown, but an NPU is essentially a dedicated chip for running local AI workloads; that's something you’d probably want in an exciting new AI-focused Chromebook Plus, no?

Whatever ‘Xol’ is, it might never see the light of day; Chromebooks spotted like this don’t always make it to final production, so this one might simply be a project that ends up half-finished. In any case, I’m still excited to see what Gemini means for ChromeOS – and I’m not the only one.

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Christian Guyton
Editor, Computing

Christian is TechRadar’s UK-based Computing Editor. He came to us from Maximum PC magazine, where he fell in love with computer hardware and building PCs. He was a regular fixture amongst our freelance review team before making the jump to TechRadar, and can usually be found drooling over the latest high-end graphics card or gaming laptop before looking at his bank account balance and crying.

Christian is a keen campaigner for LGBTQ+ rights and the owner of a charming rescue dog named Lucy, having adopted her after he beat cancer in 2021. She keeps him fit and healthy through a combination of face-licking and long walks, and only occasionally barks at him to demand treats when he’s trying to work from home.