In-depth: Google's Chrome OS and Samsung's Chromebook

New Chromebooks from Samsung and Acer trade the desktop for the cloud. We dive in deep to see how Samsung's system -- and Google's Chrome OS -- stack up.

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Pricing

As of today, the Samsung Chromebook is scheduled to be available via Amazon.com and Best Buy at a price of $429.99 for a Wi-Fi-only edition or $499.99 for a 3G-connected model. Acer says its Chromebook will be priced at $349.99 for the Wi-Fi version and $429.99 for the 3G model. Google is also offering Chromebooks at special monthly rates for businesses and schools; those plans include technical support and ongoing hardware replacements.

With any Chromebook, a 3G model includes 100MB of mobile data per month for two years from Verizon Wireless. Aside from that, you can opt to buy unlimited "day passes" for $9.99 a pop or month-by-month data boosts ranging from 1GB ($20) to 5GB ($50). No contracts are required.

The bottom line

All considered, Google's Chrome OS is a very interesting concept. The notion of a lightweight, nearly instant-on notebook is certainly appealing -- and it comes with plenty of perks, too. The cloud-based experience of a Chromebook means synchronization is simple and built in, and you inherently get the same experience (and access to the same data) on any device you use. You don't have to worry about viruses or antivirus protection, either, since Chrome OS runs every page and app in a restricted environment that can't affect the rest of the system.

As Google has repeatedly stressed, Chromebooks get faster and better over time. Updates to the OS and to individual apps roll in regularly and are applied automatically in the background. Thanks to the lack of a locally focused operating system, the computer doesn't get increasingly bloated and bogged down -- something Windows users in particular may appreciate.

But Chrome OS comes with a big caveat: It's dependent on the idea that you can do everything in the cloud. While it's true that most common functions now have Web-based equivalents, in my experience, the Web apps aren't always as fully featured -- or, to be honest, as good -- as their desktop brethren. And there are still some things you can't do in the Chrome OS environment, like using Skype or Netflix, or running specific desktop-based utilities like Photoshop (though Web-based alternatives do exist).

Remember, too, that Chromebook use assumes you'll have all your data accessible in the cloud -- something you may or may not be comfortable with at this point. And that speaks to the broader issue of Chrome OS: It's a serious adjustment. Whether we're talking about the idea of cloud-exclusive data storage or the notion of dumping the desktop-based environment you've always known, Chrome OS is different. Depending on your needs and perspective, that may be good or bad.

Based on the six months I've spent with Chrome OS via the Cr-48 test unit, I can tell you that I've found the operating system to be a useful addition to my computing arsenal. I couldn't see myself transitioning to a Chromebook as my primary PC right now -- it's just too challenging to get through my day-to-day work in that strictly browser-based environment, and the Web apps don't do everything I need the way I want it done. I could definitely see myself enjoying a Chromebook as a supplementary PC, particularly for quick tasks and on-the-road use.

Once Google finishes filling in the gaps -- building out the file manager and adding offline support for its core apps, for instance -- I think the Chromebooks will offer an intriguing option for people who like the concept of living in the cloud and the perks that accompany that lifestyle. Chromebooks won't be right for everyone, but for some users, they'll be a welcome change from the tethered-down and often bloated world of traditional PCs.

If you consider yourself a potential cloud dweller, the question ultimately becomes whether the experience is worth $350 to $500 when that same cash can get you a decent Windows 7 laptop with all the bells and whistles. In the end, it all comes down to what you want your notebook to do -- and that's a question only you can answer.

JR Raphael is a syndicated writer and the author of Computerworld's Android Power blog. You can find him on both Facebook and Twitter.

Are Google Chromebooks right for the enterprise?

 

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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