Chromebook: A Late 2012 Checkup

In the middle of last month, Google and Samsung announced the Chromebook “for everyone”, a $249 device running Google’s Chrome OS. The Chromebook is nothing new, and it’s a project that I’ve always been fond of in concept.

The new Chromebook has already launched online and in retail stores, and is quite possibly set to see some success as the holiday season nears. Let’s take a look at the state of the Chromebook as we reach the end of the year.

Wait, What’s a Chromebook?

Three years ago, Google announced plans to take its browser and turn it into a fully-fledged operating system, pushing users entirely to the cloud. With a strong enough ecosystem of web apps to support traditionally native tasks like word processing, Google went on to confidentially launch hardware exclusively running this new OS, so-called Chromebooks.

The concept was good. Most of us live in our browsers anyway and by running a lightweight OS, hardware could be cheaper and more available, especially to markets like education.

Chrome OS, the operating system that Chromebooks run.

Earlier this year, Google made significant changes to Chrome OS, redesigning it to resemble a more traditional operating system while staying true to its cloud-only concept. The new Chrome OS distanced itself from being nothing more than just a single Chrome window to being a desktop with multiple open browser windows and a taskbar for storing quick access to your web apps. With design elements that could remind you both of Windows 7 and OS X, it should be friendly enough for most people to use without much trouble.

The New Chromebook

While there remains available a wide range of Chrome OS hardware, Google has shifted focus to a single flagship device made by Samsung. The new Chromebook sports an 11.6″ screen, VGA camera, a Samsung-designed dual-core Arm processor, and an estimated 6.5 hours of battery life. It won’t break the bank either, at just $249.

The new Chromebook.

A higher end Chromebook, the Samsung Chromebook 550, remains available at $449. This hardware features a larger, 12.1″ screen, 4GB of RAM, an HD camera, and an Intel Core processor. With a 3G radio inside, you can connect with Verizon to get cellular data to your device, with 100mb per month for two years provided free.

Both devices come with 100GB of Google Drive storage for two years.

Still Unpopular

The Chromebook, unfortunately, still doesn’t seem that popular. Unlike Google’s lineup of Android devices and those made by third parties, I have yet to come across a Chromebook out in the wild, especially as tablet sales overshadow Google’s efforts with its line of netbooks.

A few retailer seem to be putting in more effort in marketing the new Chromebooks.

It does seem, however, that more focus is being put on Chromebooks in traditional retail now, though. PC World in the UK stocks the new Chromebooks and is putting a fair bit of effort into marketing them. While tablets remain the “it” item for this holiday season, a larger retailer presence may just make the Chromebooks a tad more popular. Amazon seems to be selling a fair number of Chromebooks, as well, as the $249 Chromebook is the 4th most popular device in their tablet/laptop/netbook ranking, just behind Amazon’s own Kindle Fire devices.

Final Thoughts

Chrome OS, as a concept, is still really cool. A lot of us don’t stray far from the browser, even on $1000+ MacBooks. Add to that a surprisingly fast, lightweight operating system and a cheap price tag, and the Chromebooks don’t seem like terrible ideas.

However, with a focus being put on tablets and more of a distinction being drawn between desktop computing and mobile devices, the Chromebook is a bit of an odd product in the technology landscape. It’s not a desktop computer in the traditional setup, but it’s still a different category of product to a tablet. It may be forward looking, with everything focused on the browser, but it feels stuck in the past in a world filled with keyboard-less tablets. Plus, with Google’s own 7″ Nexus tablet with 32Gb of storage the same price as the base Chromebook, it seems that even Google can’t decide which is the better device to promote.

Have you picked up one of these new Chromebook? Are you happy with it? Are you encountering buyer’s remorse? Share your thoughts and/or experiences in the comments!


Add Yours
  • I have a 550 Chromebook and will have the cheaper $250 version Friday. I love the 550 and we are deploying them enterprise-wide. My function in IT is as a CIO.

  • I replaced my MacBook Pro with a Chromebox and display as my home computer a couple of weeks ago. I love it. Truth be told, it had been months since I did anything on my MacBook that wasn’t web-related, so the transition has been seamless. The best thing so far is an HTML5 remote desktop app in the web store that allows me to remote into my work network without them having to install anything on the server. With that functioning, there’s no issue with not having installed desktop software: I have all of the software that I might need at work. Other than that, it works great. Fast, smooth, quiet, beautiful. We have three users in the house, and there’s no more having to log into and out of each other’s various accounts, we just log on at the start screen and everything is set. The Chrome Web Store has tons of apps, and I already have more capabilities than I did on my MacBook because I was too cheap and lazy to buy/install software. With Chrome, you just add it to your browser in seconds, if you don’t like it, take it off even faster.

    I think in theory the Chrome OS model would work for a lot of people. Most people use their computers for email, Facebook, web surfing, YouTube, and word processing. A Chromebook does all of that wonderfully. And the things that typically kill the computer experience are viruses, incompatible software, bogged down performance, Chromebooks are relatively immune from. It’ll probably be a while before more people start using them just out of force of habit, but the average, non-professional computer user, or a professional with access to full desktop someplace else, would be remiss in not considering a Chromebook or Chromebox as their next computer.

  • I don’t have one but I want one. Getting it now for $249 would facilitate my efforts in this phase of making a full transition to the Google cloud-computing concept. I still have to transfer a ton of files from my PC to Docs, Music, etc., but after that I’ll have no good reason for continuing to invest in and maintain a machine running Windows. The only program I’ll miss is OneNote, which has no equal anywhere.

  • I’ve been using crhomebooks since the inception – cr-48 then, samsung series 5 550 now. No looking back. It suffices very well for all office, collaborative, browsing needs. New web aps coming all the time. I remote into my windows work machine. Its all really good. I’ll be getting my parents the new one this christmas instead of upgrading their windows xp laptop to windows 8.

  • Google Chromebook’s webpage is very annoying. No wonder these things are not that popular. Annoying flash ad style listing with big pictures and minimum info make you feel like they are snobbing you. There is actually no listing of i/os on the machine. I am used to a list of actual features not yet more photos of the chromebook with no close up of i/o. It is ridiculous, completely absurd! and annoying as all hell. I think I wouldn’t by a chromebook just on principal because there ads suck so hard.

    • P, truth be told, there’s not all that much to say about a ChromeBook. It’s a browser with a desktop interface to browser windows and tabs. It’s Chrome running atop Linux with the bare necessities and quite a few niceties.

      Specs are kind of useless as it doesn’t take that much processor/memory/storage to run javascript and html. Everything you do is faster, easier and with less steps. The main Google apps (Docs, Sheets, Slides) can handle enterprise use (or personal, certainly) and there really are some interesting “apps” in the web app store.

      I use whatever gets my job done with the least hassle. I had been a Windows user who switched to the Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air). But these ChromeBooks are so much easier to use and, from an enterprise standpoint, easier to deploy.

      Don’t let the ads, webpages, etc. put you off. Go to Best Buy this weekend and play with one. They’ll have the $250 model by then. The 550 is an excellent hardware build. And it has a great trackpad–good as the MacBook Air (and it had the best).

  • If you do a lot of email, you still need a keyboard. This is a collaborative device, while a tablet is only for consumption of purchased media.

  • For me, Chromebooks aren’t such a bad idea. In fact, I wouldn’t mind having one. But truth be told, there are people out there like me that have a very poor and useless internet connection, and doing everything in the cloud would become something very frustrating when you know your internet connections fails you every once in a while. Aside form that, I think that for the general public a tablet is more accesible since it’s more portable and you can save your documents and media in your device so you can access them while being offline, while with a Chromebook everything has to be on the cloud. My guess would be that Chromebooks are better suited for work companies that require all their employees to have a computer in their office, or even for schools and universities. That way, collaboration between employees or students (whichever the case is) would become easier since everyone must be connected to the same network at all times. All that companies and universities would require is to provide their employees or students with a Google account.

  • In one word – SENSATIONAL

    I bought the latest Chromebook just for when I’m travelling but it has no become my number 1 PC.

    The sheer joy of its simplicity, its quietness and its speed make it a great bit of kit.

    For the 90% of PC users who use their laptops just for browsing this is the answer. All other machines are over-specified and, I’d suggest, obsolete.

    Not having a disk drive or a fan makes this completely silent which is a very calming experience. The 7 second boot-up time and the fact that all the anti-virus stuff and tedious updates are done in the “cloud” take away a massive hassle.

    I love the online range of office-type software which is always completely up to date.

    The keyboard is very nice though compromises have been made with the screen – but at this price who cares.

    What is a real and pleasing surprise is the quality of the built-in speakers.

    I was worried that it had only 2G of RAM – but the sytstem makes much less demand on it so it doesn’t seem slow.

  • I believe that innovation has to be aligned with timing. The Chromebook is ahead of its time — it’s for when the world is 100% internet. Regardless, I’m glad they’ve taken the initial step — it’s an inspiration to see just how much of our lives we can live online.

    I think it’s only a matter of time when we’ll have every app we need available online. Then, the Chromebook may make a dent in the market.

  • Our small company of 5 used Chromebooks (the first Samsung Series 5) for 2 years, but finally scrapped them for Macbook Airs. While we found we could always find a way to accomplish what we needed to accomplish, we were increasingly frustrated with the amount of time and effort that went into seemingly simple tasks. We began daydreaming about file management, picture editing and repetitive tasks on a “real computer”. We now all use them at home and love them again because we’re not trying to be productive in a business setting.

    They’re great for personal and multi-user casual use, but not for business IMO.

  • Just got my $250 ChromeBook. A day early! I had it unboxed and running in about 15 mins…10 of which were spent waiting for an update of the ChromeOS which it insisted I needed.

    Impressions after 1.5hrs

    Sadly, I don’t even know its name (“New Chromebook?). Sad, because it is a device worthy of a great name. It is a teeny bit slower in some situations as compared to the Chromebook (CB) 550, but a few things are snappier and cooler.

    Somehow, the keyboard is more quicker in getting the characters on the screen. Voodoo? It has a keyboard every bit as good as my $1,000 MBA.

    Some of the screen updating is snappier. The screen itself is a better proportion…bit wider, but not as short as an 11” MacBook Air (MBA). I like the screen’s finish and luminosity better than the CB 550.

    There are some cool animations and visual effects when all windows close and the desktop becomes prominent.

    The trackpad will allow tap-to-click only when tapping its upper portion. I’m a big tapper, so I will undoubtedly adapt. The CB 550 did something similar, but not so strict. The trackpad is shorter than a MBA and the CB 550.

    It is very light weight. the plastic doesn’t feel like plastic except that it’s light and not cold like metal. It looks like aluminum.

    It does not feel chintz per se, but plastic devices that are lighter always give rise to fears like “I better be careful with this thing.” I keep reminding myself it cost $250. 25% the cost of the MBA on my desk.

    Some folks whined about the sound quality. I have no quarrel with it. I sounds about the same as my CB 550 stereo speakers. Both have better volume than my MBA. I can easily listen to podcasts even outside where it’s pretty noisy.

    How is the screen outside? Not great, but no worse than my MBA and maybe better than my CB 550

    It runs cool on my lap. And is S I L E N T . No fan. I’m a fan of no-fan as long as the device does not become a griddle for my thighs.

    All the things I like about the older CB 550 are still here. All my stuff was just “here” thanks to the baked-in cloud functionality.

    I am writing this comment with the New ($250) Chromebook.

  • I would get one but I can’t afford it and I already have a late 2008 MacBook Pro which I cautiously protect. But I like the built in cellular data option, I haven’t seen it before on a laptop. I would definitely buy it over a crappy Acer or Dell, or even the Samsung Ultrabook (which is the laptop that is turned into a Chromebook). I also am a Chrome user, but I would still keep my MacBook Pro, because it rocks as a portable gaming and multipurpose everyday laptop

  • This would be a great option for my mom. She uses an old email station which can’t be replaced when it breaks. This would let her do email and a little web browsing. That’s all she needs. Without a full fledged laptop there isn’t so much for her to “break”.