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!