Chromebooks: Best PC for Your Bucks or Overpriced Browser Shells?
If you use your laptop mainly for browsing the Internet, do you need all the bells and whistles that come with a standard Windows or Apple device? Google thinks there are millions out there who need way less than what the standard computers offer, and want to pay way less the price so in 2011, it gave the world Chromebook.
So what, exactly, is a Chromebook? It’s a personal computer running the Google Chrome OS operating system. Chromebooks are comparatively less expensive than standard machines and tout fast startup times. They’re designed to be used while connected to the Internet and support applications that reside on the Web, rather than traditional PC applications that need to be installed on the machines (e.g. Microsoft Office and Photoshop). In short, it’s designed to operate on the Google ecosystem of applications, including those for word processing, spreadsheets, (Google Docs) email, (Gmail) and file management (Google Drive).
Here’s the bottom line and we’re giving it straight up, no beating around the bush – Chromebooks are not for everyone. You only have to listen to defenders and naysayers to know that this device is highly polarizing. That, in itself, is an indication of its importance.
First, the naysayers. While grudgingly acknowledging that Chromebooks are, indeed, the cheapest computers around, they say it’s nothing more than an overpriced shell for a browser. Kevin Smith of Business Insider thinks that “…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.” Further, he adds that “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.”
Defenders say yes, that’s exactly the point! It’s not supposed work like a regular Windows or Mac laptop.
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols says, “Yes, you need an Internet connection to get it to work at its best. But tell me, just how much work or play do you do on a computer these days without the Internet? Yep, that’s right: In 2012, everything we do is locked into network connectivity one way or the other. As John Gage, a former Sun executive, once said, ‘The network is the computer.’ Today, it really is.”
He then goes on to enumerate the daily tasks he does on his Chromebook: “I write my stories in Google Docs; check my e-mail with Gmail; IM, talk and video-conference to my friends and co-workers with Google Talk; track my personal bills with Quicken Online; manage my business expenses with QuickBooks Online; play music from Google Play; and tinker with my photos in Picasa. I can also, unlike any other version of Linux, watch Netflix movies as well as Google Play videos.” Pretty much covers a lot of the day-to-day things you do on a computer, yes?
Here’s the thing. Chromebooks start at $199, which make them very attractive for parents of younger school children especially if they attend a school that has standardized on Google Documents and Gmail. In fact, Google offered the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook to students for only $99 over the holiday season. What’s not to like about that?