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Confessions of a Chromebook addict

One year later: The good, the bad and the ugly truth about Google's ChromeOS-based notebook.

By Howard Wen, Network World
December 26, 2011 08:05 AM ET

Network World - Last December, Google started shipping the Cr-48 -- a lightweight notebook running Chrome OS -- to select people across the U.S. This pilot program was meant to test the experimental "Chromebook" platform under real-world use, helping Google work out any kinks. About 60,000 Cr-48's were given away by the company. Acer and Samsung released their own Chromebook models for sale to the public on June 15.

HISTORY: Rise of the netbooks

Since then, there hasn't been much news about Chromebooks or Chrome OS. Depending on how you choose to look at things, the platform turned out to be a flop or another Google project in beta for an indefinite duration. (As of this writing, Google has yet to publicly release figures of how many Chromebooks have been sold.)

I was sent a Cr-48 by Google a year ago and I've found myself using it almost every day since. Here are my thoughts on the strengths, weaknesses, and mixed aspects of the Chromebook platform -- one year later.

BAD: THE PRICE

The Cr-48 came at a great price: Free. But those who weren't lucky enough to get one had to buy a Chromebook made by either Acer or Samsung, and the price wasn't cheap. They started at $349 for a low-end model by Acer, which dropped recently to $299.

Unfortunately, and obviously, $299 is still not a significant price differential when compared to a basic Windows 7 netbook with comparable or may be even better hardware specs. And a low-end Windows notebook can be had for less than $400 now.

So the price for a low-end Chromebook simply needs to go down lower (to $250 or even $200) in order to make the platform a more compelling consideration by potential buyers.

GOOD: BUILT-IN 3G

The Cr-48 came with a built-in 3G modem, which I found really handy whenever I was on the road, or when the Wi-Fi connection in a coffeehouse or office I was in was flaky or down. The 3G service is with Verizon, and all Chromebook models with 3G include 100MB of data per month that you can use for free for two years. (If you use up this monthly 100MB quota, you can then pay a monthly rate, with no contract, for more data.)

Currently, the lowest price for a 3G-enabled Chromebook (by Acer) is $399, compared to an Acer or Dell Windows 7 notebook with a built-in 3G modem that has similar hardware specifications to a Chromebook. Each sells for $650. (This price is for the notebook without the buyer having to sign up for a long-term 3G contract with either AT&T or Sprint.)

GOOD: BATTERY LIFE

Depending on the particular model, Chromebooks are rated to run from 6 to more than 8 hours on a full charge. My Cr-48 could run for up to 8 hours when I first received it. A year later, its battery manages to last a little over 6 hours, which is pretty good considering I've been using the computer almost every day.

UGLY: FORM FACTOR

All Chromebook models are light (a bit under or a bit over 3 pounds) and small (with a thickness of 1 inch or slightly less).

However, the new Ultrabook platform, a hardware specification established by Intel for super-slim and light notebooks that compare to the styling of the MacBook Air line, underscore that the Chromebooks are just not as sleek looking -- despite costing less than a low-end Ultrabook which starts at $899.

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