In a world full of tablets, netbooks, and Ultrabooks, Google is dipping its hand into almost every industry and seeing what sticks. The search giant recently released a refreshed version of its Samsung-made Chromebook laptop. The new Chromebook costs just $249 and runs on the same low-cost processors many Android tablets and the iPad use.
But the Chromebook doesn't function like a laptop. It feels more like a $249 web browser. If you're OK with dishing out that much to compute only within Google's Chrome ecosystem, then the Chromebook makes a solid secondary device. But it's not going to replace your primary machine.
Samsung lightened up this new Chromebook and it weighs a half a pound less than the previous Chromebook, at 2.42 pounds. Other key specs include an 11.6-inch anti-glare screen, a 0.7-inch thick body, 6.5 hours of battery life, Bluetooth 3.0 and 100 GB of free storage for two years in Google's Drive storage service.
So what exactly is the Chromebook? The idea behind the Chromebook is to run just about everything within the Chrome browser, with Google services covering your documents, email, calendar, etc. But unlike normal laptops, there's no file management system.
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It's not a laptop. It's not a tablet. It's a shell that houses a web browser. That's it.
While Google added more of a "desktop-like" feel to the Chromebook's operating system with a home screen of icons that launch web apps in the browser, it's simply a facade. There is no way to effectively manage files that aren't Internet-based. If you don't have an Internet connection, you're extremely limited in what you can do.
We reviewed the previous iteration of the Chromebook this past summer and enjoyed the experience but thought that the device really fell short because of a lack of 3G/LTE. To Samsung's credit the revamped Chromebook now features 3G connectivity, but this data connection comes at a $80 premium. The 3G only includes 100 MB per month for 2 years via Verizon Wireless, which admittedly isn't enough. If you want more you'll have to pick one of the "flexible" pricing plans for additional mobile service.
There is also a more powerful version, Chromebook 550, which is a beefed up version of the less expensive Chromebook that retails for $449 and uses an Intel Core processor to get you six hours of battery life.
• Google's new Chromebook is a lot sleeker. The OS is snappier too, booting up in just 10 seconds.
• Users have access to Google's Chrome Web Store. This is really where you can personalize the device and make it unique. The Chrome Store is full of thousands of apps, extensions, and themes.
• The device is shareable, allowing you to create your own user account and others for family and friends. Google says the benefit of multiple accounts is that, "everyone has their own files, apps and settings, and you never have to worry about anything getting messed up by someone else."
• Chromebooks can automatically update themselves, so you don't have to be bothered with staying current. Users also don't have to worry about viruses and malware.
• The Chromebooks automatically back themselves up too so you never have to worry about losing your work.
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But there are some major cons:
• Mobile connectivity is still missing from the cheapest Chromebook.
• The problem with the Chromebook is that it's a device completely dependent on an internet connection. When you don't have the Internet, you can't really do anything.
• Yes, there are offline documents, offline Gmail, and you can play media you've already downloaded, but these features work best on the internet and without a connection there is really little to do.
• The Chromebook is not for a power user. It's for a consumer who wants to get things done and enjoy the web without all the extras most computers come with. It's dead simple to go online, read email, download Chrome Store apps, and create a document. If you want to do anything beyond that, you're better off with a regular Windows or Mac laptop.
What about the thousands of apps available for the device?
Apps work just like they do in the free Chrome browser on your primary PC. Chrome Apps download from the web and open in separate tabs inside your browser. The Chrome Store has plenty of apps for offline use, which helps. If only the Chromebook would run Android apps, then we might have a real winner.
Should you buy it?
Overall, the Chromebook still feels like it doesn't have a place in the world. If you're looking for an ultra-portable device to simply browse the web and enjoy media, you're probably better off getting an iPad or similar tablet. But if you're a Google addict and require a keyboard, then the Chromebook may be for you.
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