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In the world of virtual assistants, the Google Assistant is arguably the most capable one. Like most services of its kind, it can set alarms and timers, conduct internet searches, open apps, handle text messages and place calls. But this one stands out for its particularly good voice recognition, natural-sounding speaking voice and integration with Google Maps, Gmail and other company products.

The Google Assistant (download for iOS or Android) is so capable that its presence is a kind of currency. But if you want it on your laptop or tablet, you normally have to fork over premium amounts of cash for the company's Pixelbook or Pixel Slate.

SEE: Google Assistant will alert you if your flight is delayed

But now the company's testing an update to Chrome OS, the operating system underneath the hood of the aforementioned gadgets, that will let you use the Google Assistant on third-party laptops and tablets that also use Chrome OS instead of Windows, MacOS or Linux.

This change may not be especially exciting for users of Android phones, since the Assistant is frequently pre-installed. But for folks in the ecosystems belonging to Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa or Microsoft's Cortana, it's potentially one more way for Google to gain a foothold by introducing its virtual assistant to a new audience.

It also generally increases the appeal of Chrome OS devices in a highly competitive market where Macbooks, Surfaces and Dell laptops tend to dominate the pie chart.

To check out the beta of Chrome OS 72 on a compatible Chromebook, click on the system clock, then Settings, then tap on the hamburger menu. Here, click on About Chrome OS, then Detailed Build Information. This will show you which "channel" you're using, which is the "Stable" one by default. Click on Change Channel, choose the beta, then select Change Channel again.

That's a lot of digging around in the menus, but betas can be unstable enough that you might not want the option right in front of you. Also note that completing the switch to the beta version will require you to restart the device, so make sure that you have your login info handy. And if you wish to return to the Stable channel, that will wipe all your locally stored data and require another reboot and login.

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But wait, there's more! Version 72 of Chrome OS also brings Android 9 Pie support to Chrome OS. Among other things, this means that you can use virtual keyboard apps like Gboard on your Chromebook, which may be an improvement over the OS's default on-screen keyboard.

Incognito tabs will also be more discreet about streaming notifications, and Incognito Mode itself may end up getting rebranded as "Private Browsing." This last tweak would bring it more in line with the competition, which generally uses intuitive labels for browsing modes that don't leave a record of what sites you visit.

Note that private browsing will not help you at all with online anonymity. All it does is erase the traces of activity on your device. The traces you leave on the internet will remain unaffected. If you want a reasonable degree of privacy against snoopers on the internet, you'll need something like Tor or a personal VPN (virtual private network) service.

Takeaways

  • The beta version of Chrome OS 72 brings the Google Assistant to compatible third-party Chromebooks for the first time, and support for apps that target Android 9 Pie.
  • Switching to the beta channel on your Chromebook will require you to restart the device and log in again.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.