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Google Chromebooks: What You Need to Know

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Netbook sales are in decline for some, but that’s not stopping Google (s goog) from launching a Chrome OS notebook that boots in eight seconds. Dubbed the Chromebook, Google today introduced an updated consumer version of the CR-48 netbook it previously sent to thousands of beta testers. Best Buy (s bby) and Amazon (s amzn) have partnered with Google for sales of the Chromebooks, the first models of which are built by Samsung and Acer.

Samsung’s model will be priced at $429 for a Wi-Fi version, while $499 includes a 3G / World Mode radio for use on Verizon’s mobile broadband network; the carrier will provide 100 MB of monthly data use for two years at no change, with additional data available for purchase. Additional specifications include:

  • 12.1-inch display with 1280×800 resolution and 300 nit screen
  • Dual-core 1.66 GHz Intel(s intc) Atom processor
  • 8.5 hours of continuous battery life
  • HD webcam, noise-canceling microphone
  • 2 USB ports, 4-in1 memory card slot, mini-VGA port
  • Full-sized keyboard and clickable trackpad
  • 3.26 pounds
Acer’s model is slightly smaller and shares many similar specifications. Here are the key differences for its Chromebook, which starts at $349:
  • 11.6-inch HD Widescreen display
  • 2.95 pounds
  • 6.5 hours of continuous usage
  • World Mode 3G model will be available at a future announced price

Both devices launch on June 15 in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, The Netherlands, Italy and Spain. Each also runs on Google’s version of Chrome OS, a browser-based operating system that relies heavily on web apps. However, the platform includes an improved file manager, notification system, integration with for cloud storage and both Netflix (s nflx) and Hulu for entertainment. While the device is web-centric, Google plans offline versions of some of its apps this summer, including Gmail, Docs and Calendar.

Consumers aren’t the only audience Google is targeting with its Chromebook. Businesses can pay $28 monthly per user to get a Chromebook and software support, while students get the same for $20 each month. Google will manage the operating system updates and provide warranty service for new hardware in the case of an accident at these rates.

Potential buyers may balk at the full purchase price of Chromebooks, given that a Microsoft Windows (s msft) netbook can be had for less money, while offering a wider range of popular third-party applications. On the surface, a traditional netbook may look as the more attractive deal. However, consumers that dig deeper may see the value provided by a cloud-based computer that self-updates: Data can be quickly regained in the event of a hardware failure or use of another device. Google’s web expertise has turned data synchronization into a core feature instead of a useful, but tricky to manage add-on.

18 Responses to “Google Chromebooks: What You Need to Know”

  1. Tony Camilli

    This is simply Google’s take on a thin client. Like current thin clients, it will have an opportunity for task workers in the enterprise (help desk, call centers, reception desks) and K-12 education. Given pricing and the fact that it’s less capable than a tablet, I don’t see much of a consumer play. Keep in mind that mobile thin clients have been very slow to catch on and linux netbooks were returned in droves when users realized the limitations. Both are more capable than a chromebook.

  2. Justin

    Will they mine the data for improved advertising opportunities? How private will the data be? Will you have to see ads while using the apps?

    • The data mining bit, owning every click and keystroke one makes tied to an account name, when chromebooks are sold off to schools at hard to beat bargain prices is a bit creepy in my mind. I like much of what Google does but this hook of getting chromebooks into schools and thus moving the whole Google privacy thing down potentially to 7 year olds IS part of Google’s school pricing calculus and troubling to me.

  3. Droidfan

    Between the Chrome OS release last fall and what was presented today, for my small business it could make total sense. Local support for Google Doc (my word processing and spreadsheet needs). Citrix and VMware providing support to run my conventional MS software (with local support). Cloud syncing to provide the best backup support my little company could imagine. And the ability to use my laptop to securely access my files anywhere I have an internet connection. Security and upgrade support for $ 28.00 per month. Process and print anywhere. And tablets able to sync into this OS as well. What’s not to like? There is something very Apple-esque about this, in that Chrome OS is providing a very controlled, simplified platform here.

    • That makes total sense to me: I think this will be bigger in the enterprise and education markets as opposed to the consumer market for the reasons you mentioned. There’s much to like for a SMB!

      • Lucian Armasu

        I also think Chrome OS could be very successful for businesses. It’s so much less hassle and so much less secure, and not to mention cheap.

        On the consumer side, things are not so obvious yet. It could be because it’s still very early for HTML5, but disruptive innovations are usually not obvious to most people anyway, so it could be that. I do think web apps will eventually replace “mobile” native apps too just like they are doing on the desktop (for the most part), and if Chrome OS has the potential to disruptive traditional OS’s like Windows and Mac OS, then it will also have the potential to disrupt Android and iOS once it becomes touch based too, because those 2 are also more like traditional OS’s with native apps.

        I think Chrome OS needs an incubation period and we shouldn’t jump to conclusions yet. Let it grow (or fall) organically in the market, and we’ll re-assess its potential to disrupt the whole computing market a year or two from now when there should be a lot more high quality HTML5 web apps and WebGL games.

    • I am not sold on this yet. One needs to take a few leaps of faith to get where you guys have. Also while making sense to you – probably the really smart people – it can confuse the consumer market. I don’t know. I am a Google fan and pride to work around vision – but I am probably the lesser thinker here amongst you. I still need to think it over :) So you say that Chrome is the client OS for Hybrid cloud environments. It would still need a very robust application base. One which is so much similar to the Android Tablet market. Anyways – thanks for your point of view.

    • AdamC

      What you think may not be what it is…

      Since you think it works for you well good for you and good luck.

      It is not as secure as once thought google and you will find its security had been breached.

  4. Hong Cho

    I still believe Chromebook (or Chrome PC) is a DOA. It may compete with OLPC, but that will be about it. As others have said, with an Android tablet (with a desktop Chrome browser), it just doesn’t make sense to have both. I think even for the OLPC market, a cheap Android tablet makes more sense.

  5. “Potential buyers may balk at the full purchase price of Chromebooks, given that a Microsoft Windows netbook can be had for less money…”

    Ha! Six second boot time sells itself. Regular folk see it in action, they’ll be like “Whoa!”

      • Keep in mind: there’s a difference between a device booting and waking. ;) No tablet boots instantly, but many of them wake instantly. I’m not sold on fast boot time on a netbook being a huge selling point though. It’s nice, but if users are booting their device multiple times a day, they’re overlooking sleep/wake features IMO.

  6. Looking for your opinion how much sense this makes. Android for Tablets and Chromebooks. I think that they need to get a hold on their act so to speak. Too many people pulling the strings over their strategy. Its confusing and counterproductive. Better make honeycomb work and invest on Tablet apps. Or making the mobile/pocketable version one step ahead of the competition with Google voice integrated with Gtalk, phone, video – and international … etc.

    • Agreed on the confusion Tal. Stay tuned because we’re lined up to have an interview with the Google folks this afternoon and we’ll be posing some of these questions. I’m not sold that consumers will jump on this due to price and because of competing devices. Businesses and education might be the better play.

      But that still doesn’t address the need for both Android and Chrome, which Google hasn’t yet made clear… at least not to me. ;) More thoughts to follow for sure.

      • Humbly asking you to consider asking them about their integrated Android communication strategy – phone, voice, text, video. And when GV going international – especially Canada ;)

    • ChomeOS says: “Local apps are obsolete, so let’s just abandon the whole tangled messed entirely. But in order to do so, we must rethink the OEM hardware business.”

      Android says: “I don’t care what the hardware is, OEM can use Android for $0.00, no licensesing fees (ever) and sell phones for a profit.”

      Two different, entirely separate, things for OEMs to consider. The two aren’t up for consumer consideration, thereby they cannot cause “confusion”.