Should Your Next Laptop Be a Chromebook?

Category: Laptops

I'm ready for a new laptop or notebook, but of course there's something new to consider, just as I was ready to buy. What do you see as the benefits and weaknesses of the new Chromebook?

What is a Chromebook?

The first web-centric laptop, known as the Chromebook, is based on the Google Chrome OS, and will go on sale starting June 15, 2011. They include the Samsung Series 5 and Acer Cromia. Where do Chromebooks fit into the computing landscape, and who might want one?

A Chromebook is a laptop with minimal local storage (16 GB of solid-state memory) and Internet connectivity via WiFi or 3G cellular service. Aside from the operating system and Google Chrome browser, all software (apps) and data reside on the Web. If you need email, use Google's Gmail or another webmail service. Word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and other apps are hosted at Google Docs and other on-demand application servers. Other apps, themes, games, etc., can be found at the Chrome Web Store. Your documents and other data files are stored "in the cloud." That's the Google vision.
Chromebook Laptop

Of course, there will be data you want to store locally. Chromebooks include USB ports that can accept thumb drives for local storage. And when you cannot connect to the Internet, you'll still be able to get some work (or play) done with offline apps. One of those happens to be Angry Birds, which will make lots of people happy. But aside from that, a Chromebook is pretty helpless without an Internet connection,

Google touts the simplicity of Chromebook over the "torture" of maintaining a Windows desktop. Apps are updated automatically at the server end. There is no complex file system to maintain. Google says that multiple layers of security eliminate the need for antivirus protection. "You won't spend hours fighting your computer to set it up and keep it up to date," the company says in its press release.

A Chromebook may appeal to road warriors. Its bootup time is around 8 seconds, while Windows can take a minute or more. Battery life is amazing, too; Samsung claims 8.5 hours of continuous use, while Acer is more conservative at 6 hours. Traveling business types won't have to pack power cords.

But a Chromebook seems expensive for what is essentially a laptop that can only run a Web browser. The Samsung Series 5 lists for $499 with WiFi and 3G support, or $429 with WiFi only. The Acer Cromia is about $50 cheaper. Businesses and educational institutions can "rent" Chromebooks for $28 and $20, respectively; but there's a three-year contract.

But Wait... There's LESS!

The Chrome OS has many serious limitations, including lack of support for ZIP files. Photo editing is tedious with a Chromebook. You have to upload a photo to a Web site, edit it using an online app, and then download the edited file. The few apps that work offline are mostly games. (Did I mention Angry Birds?) Google says that Docs, Calendar, and Mail will be available offline later this summer, but you know how that goes.

Oh, and there's one more thing you should know. A Chromebook won't run Windows software, so if you rely on a Windows app that can't be replaced by a web-based equivalent, you should consider a traditional laptop. Using a remote desktop app such as LogMeIn or TeamViewer might be a workable solution, though.

For now, at least, a Chromebook is just a slightly beefed-up netbook with a tablet-sized price tag. For most, the first generation is not going to replace a desktop Windows or Linux system. Long-term, users will still have concerns about dependence on Internet connectivity and Web servers they can't control. The Chromebook may see some sales in business and educational settings, but it's not going to take over the world.

Are you planning to buy a Chromebook? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Should Your Next Laptop Be a Chromebook?"

Posted by:

15 Jun 2011

Very nice read. Curious if the Chrome book will run Netflix. As of right now Linux does not support Netflix, is this going to be the same for Google?

Posted by:

16 Jun 2011

Will a person who works on simple static html websites be able to use this laptop? How about the ability to FTP webpages to my website host server?
Can a person use a text editor or html editor with this laptop? Can i download pictures to be resized and cropped? ~gg

Posted by:

16 Jun 2011

Just a bit of confusion. Sounds like almost everything will be cloud computing. How will this impact caps imposed by ISPs? Will people find themselves running out of bandwidth and having to pay exorbitant overage fees?

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