The long-awaited Google laptops are finally here. Manufactured by Samsung and Acer, the new Chromebooks will run Google's cloud-based Chrome operating system. Both Web-centric laptops will be available in 11" and 12" configurations and will feature instant boot-up times, all-day battery life, dual-core Atom processors and 16GB SSD drives. Starting at $349, these laptops are priced well under the cheapest mainstream tablet, but how much value are they really offering the average consumer?
Google describes its Chromebook as an always-on, always-connected laptop. Starting June 15, Samsung will release its Series 5 Chromebook for $429. (A $499 3G version is expected at a later date.) Alongside the Series 5 will be the Acer WiFi Chromebook, starting at $349. Both laptops will be sold via Best Buy and Amazon.com, but in a market that's overrun by sub $500 notebooks, are these new Chromebooks worth your cash?
Chromebook vs. Budget Laptop
Take a quick glance at our laptop deals and chances are you'll notice more than a few budget-minded models in the same price range as the Chromebooks. For instance, this week we listed the Toshiba Satellite C655D-S5133 AMD E 1.5GHz 15.6" LED-Backlit Widescreen Notebook for $329.99. At roughly $330, this laptop is more affordable than the least expensive Chromebook, and with a 250GB hard drive, it offers more storage space than both Chromebooks combined. If you need better processor performance and more RAM, the Acer Aspire AS5253-BZ480 AMD Dual-Core 1.6GHz 15.6" LED-Backlit Widescreen Notebook (pictured above) costs $379.98 and features 4GB of RAM and AMD's E-350 APU, which PC Magazine says packs more punch than your typical Atom-powered netbook. In both instances, the laptop is offering better value than the Chromebook.
Chromebook vs. Netbook
Netbook sales may be on the decline, but that doesn't mean the deals have disappeared. Just this week we listed the ASUS Eee PC Intel Atom 1.66GHz 10.1" LED-Backlit Widescreen Netbook for $259.99. At $89 under the least-expensive Chromebook, this ASUS netbook is as Web-ready as it gets, and like the Chromebooks, it's built to last, packing an older, but energy-efficient Atom N450 processor.
Rentals vs. purchases
Along with its Chromebook unveiling, Google also announced enterprise and school pricing on its machines. For $28/month and $20/month, respectively, businesses and schools will be able to rent Chromebooks. However, this pricing requires a 3-year contract, which means the full price of the Chromebook will come out to a minimum of $720, a hefty amount for such a bare-bones system.
Although we're fans of cloud computing, we think the Chromebook is overpriced for what it offers. The cloud is prone to failure and with a measly 16GB of storage space, Chromebooks simply don't offer a viable backup option. (Unless you spend additional money on external storage.) In addition, Google is infamous for killing off programs it doesn't deem successful (i.e. Wave, Dodgeball, Google Nexus One). If Chromebooks fail to take off, what will happen to your investment and the Chromebook platform?
Ultimately, your $349 can be better spent on a budget laptop, which lets you use all the cloud-based apps you desire, and features the added benefit of letting you back up files locally.