Google Chromebook ideal for students and users on a budget
Oct 30, 2012 (Los Angeles Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The third time may be the charm for Google, which with its third-generation Chromebook has built a computer consumers might actually buy.
The Mountain View, Calif., company began selling the $249 Chromebook last week in preparation for the holidays, and if you're looking for a laptop and on a tight budget Google's machine may be right for you.
Chromebooks have very little internal storage capacity and run on Chrome OS, Google's computer operating system, which won't let you install software. It mainly lets you run a Web browser, play music and video files and utility applications such as a notepad and a calculator.
Google's idea is that with so many programs online now, users really only need a computer for connecting to the Internet where they can access the programs they need and their favorite websites.
That makes the Chromebook ideal for students or consumers who don't want to do much else than watch movies, post Facebook statuses, email friends and write documents.
The Chromebook, built for Google by South Korean electronics giant Samsung, does a good job with all of those tasks if you have a good Internet connection.
It performed admirably connecting me to websites I visit regularly such as Hulu, HBO GO and Pandora. Sadly, it failed to work with Netflix, but Google has said it is fixing that issue.
Consumers who are looking at buying a tablet may want to consider the Chromebook because of its price, screen size and keyboard.
The Chromebook costs less than most high-end tablets such as the 9.7-inch iPad or new 10-inch Nexus 10. But with an 11.6-inch screen and a full-size, backlit laptop keyboard, the Chromebook is better suited for office and school work. Users can easily create documents, edit spreadsheets, craft slide show presentations and view PDF files.
Other highlights of the Chromebook include its boot time. The Google laptop can power on in just a few seconds. It also gets a respectable 6 1/2 hours of battery life.
Additionally, it has plenty of useful ports, including an SD card slot, an HDMI output, and two USB ports -- 3.0 and 2.0 versions. It also has a webcam that can be used for a Google+ Hangout video chat.
Yet, it is still petite, at just seven-tenths of an inch thick and weighing less than 2 1/2 pounds. Also, unlike its laptop counterparts, it never seems to heat up or get noisy.
But to keep the price down, Google had to compromise on features that you might find in higher priced laptops.
For starters, the material used for the Chromebook doesn't feel as durable or refined as more expensive counterparts. Its exterior is a gray plastic that's made to look like the aluminum Apple uses on its MacBook computers. However, you can easily tell it is made of plastic. The hinge bar that sticks out at the top of the laptop when it's closed feels like it could easily snap off.
And, though the Chromebook has a bigger screen than most tablets, it uses a matte display. This is fine for watching an HD video or writing a document, but the display delivers very dull colors and the final image does not compare in any way to what you get on other laptops or tablets using glossy displays such as the 10.6-inch Microsoft Surface.
Its speakers were also a letdown. I tried watching a video using them, but the audio was so soft and poor that I just ended up putting on headphones so I could understand what the actors were saying. It doesn't help that the speakers are located on the underside of the computer.
I also had trouble connecting to some Wi-Fi networks, including at multiple Starbucks stores, and connecting to other devices, such as a speaker, using Bluetooth.
Additionally, storage might become a problem over time. You get 16 gigabytes of internal storage and 100 GB of free storage in the cloud linked to your Gmail account. But after two years you have to pay about $5 a month for that storage space.
All in all, however, Google's Samsung Chromebook does everything it's supposed to at a very affordable price.
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