I spend most of the day, every day, in front of a computer. And recently, I’ve done it all on a $249 machine. Not an outmoded, used, refurbished or secondhand computer—we’re talking brand new out-of-the-box. And it’s not running Windows or Macintosh software.
Google, which turned the cell phone world on its ear with Android, now hopes to do the same with computers via its Chromebook system.
Essentially, it’s a way to live your computing life in a web browser. This goes beyond visiting sites—Chromebook comes with effective browser-based word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software. Additional programs to handle most common computer tasks are readily available through Google’s online download store, for free or very nearly so.
So here’s the rub: While dozens of Chromebook programs work when you’re not online (including the crucial word processing, e-mail and presentation functions), many others require an Internet connection. For example, you can read a spreadsheet offline, but you need the Internet to edit one.
Is that a dealbreaker? Not for me. Most of my work is done within shouting distance of an Internet connection and, in a pinch, I can log on using my cell phone’s Mobile Hotspot capability. The Chromebook I’ve lived with for the past few months, built by Samsung and selling for just $249, is extraordinarily lightweight (just 2.4 pounds) with exceptional battery life (they claim 6.5 hours, I routinely do even better), a comfortable keyboard and bright 11.6-inch display. What’s more, it’s blissfully silent—no nagging fan noise. No worries about updating software, the operating system or even virus protection—it’s handled automatically online. And a free program, Chrome Remote Desktop, securely views and remotely controls my existing Windows machines. Sweet!
But what if you want something with a little more power, style and screen size? Check out the no-holds-barred Chromebook Pixel, with a spectacular 12.8-inch touchscreen that boasts even higher resolution than Apple’s famed Retina display. The Pixel boasts a fast Intel Core i5 processor, expanded internal storage, a full terabyte of online storage free for three years and top-of-the-line look and feel. There are two models priced at $1,299 and $1,449—the higher-priced version includes Verizon wireless data, with 100MB at no additional charge every month.
If you’re feeling flush, the Pixel is a luxurious laptop. If not, even a lowly writer can afford the Samsung, and enjoy the same fundamental Chromebook advantages.