The Chromebook is a laptop that runs on Google's Chrome OS. This is a cloud-based operating system that runs as if it were inside a Chrome browser all the time. You can still change preferences and install Chrome extensions, but you do not have the freedom to install tons of standalone software apps like Microsoft Word or Photoshop. Whether or not this is a great option depends on why you need a computer.
In 2012, Google announced a $250 model of the Chromebook would be available from Samsung in time for the holiday shopping season. Why would you get one of these instead of a slightly more expensive Windows 8 computer? Well, one of the big reasons is certainly price.
When Google says fast boot-up, they're not kidding. I have not had a chance to test boot-up on the latest models, but the previous model boots up extremely quickly. Open the lid of the laptop, and it instantly wakes from sleep, and start it from powering off, and it takes under ten seconds to boot. That's because the OS is pared down to the bare minimum and written specifically around the idea of fast boot-ups. That said, there are ultrabooks on the market running Windows that have managed to get the boot-up time to under 20 seconds.
Easy Sharing Between Users
This is one of my favorite features. If you've got a Chromebook, it's your Chromebook, and as soon as you hand it to your spouse, it's theirs. Logging between users is easy and quick, and you save all of the preferences without having access to the other person's data. It's also easy to create guest accounts (if you allow it) to hand the laptop to a friend to check their email real quick.
My one frustration here is that in order to create a login, you need a Google Account. In order to have a Google Account, you need to be at least 13 years old. That means there are no children's accounts that can be set up, and kids must use guest accounts. We've had a guest-account, living room table policy for our Chromebook, but it highlights Google's need to figure out parental controls for all of their products. Google can't rely on third-party developers to do this for them if they want to make a consumer electronics hit. That device needs to be family friendly from the start.
The pricing, however, makes it an appealing choice for the high school student who needs to write papers but is not explicitly required to use Microsoft Word to do so. In that way, it's definitely family friendly.
The Chromebook is set up to be the most useful when you're connected. However, you can still use items like Google Docs and Gmail offline. Why email offline? If you've got an important email you need to reference, like an event invitation or flight number, it's super important to not need to rely on Internet. And if you want to bring your computer along as a light weight presentation tool, having Google Docs access makes it much easier.
Is this the computer for you? If you need a lightweight spare computer for surfing the Web and watching streaming videos, this will do the job. It's great as a companion to your more powerful computer, and for some people, it honestly all they'll need. If, however, you need access to Windows or Mac apps, you can't run them on Chrome OS.
For $250, the Samsung Chrombook has an 11.6 inch, 1366 by 768 diagonal display, weighs 2.42 pounds, has 6.5 hours of battery life, and uses dual band Wi-F. A cellular capable Chromebook with a slightly bigger screen is available for $550.
There are two USB ports and an HDMI out, a VGA camera for video chats, and Bluetooth 3.0 compatibility. Google has also offered two years worth of 100 GB Google Drive storage.
Overall this is a decent computer for Web use, but it remains to be seen whether it will be a huge consumer hit.