Chromebooks get welcome price cuts, new OS update

Remember Chrome OS and Chromebooks? That other ecosystem that Google is developing aside from Android? Chromebooks are still a thing, though they haven't gotten very much attention lately.

Last year, on Christmas Eve in fact, one of Google's pilot Chromebooks, the CR-48, arrived on my doorstep. I used it for a while and it was interesting but ultimately I found it to be a bit under-powered. I was intrigued by the idea of a traditional format laptop that could run for hours and hours (7-8, in practice) on a battery charge and that kept all my stuff in the cloud, but the commercial Chromebook offerings from Samsung and Acer were just too pricey for what they were. They ranged from $349 for the WiFi Acer model to $499 for the Samsung 3G model. For $500 you can get a perfectly functional Windows 7 machine that does much more than a Chromebook does, after all.

A month or two ago, Google gave out $100 discounts on commercial Chromebooks to active users of the CR-48, and I was lucky enough to snag one. I put it to use on the Acer WiFi model, bringing the price down to $249. I found the better CPU (the CR-48 has a single core Intel Atom processor, the commercial units have dual-core Atoms) and improved trackpad made a huge difference and the Acer has become a favorite web-surfing, Google Docs-writing, Flash-game playing machine around our house.

Tablets are the hot holiday gadget this year, but if you're in the market for something with a keyboard that's still a little bit different, Google (and Acer and Samsung) have good news: price drops on Chromebooks. I'm sorry to say you won't be getting the Acer for $249 like I did, but it's at least come down to $299. Samsung is also adding a black (the earlier model was white) WiFi only Chromebook at $349. The Samsung Series 5 with 3G has dropped to $450 (a $50 reduction).

In addition to the price cuts, a new revision of Chrome OS is rolling out. If you're running the Chrome browser and keeping it up-to-date then you've seen the new "New Tab" feature, and now you'll be seeing that on Chromebooks too. That experience makes for a much nice launcher than the old Chromebook UI did, in my opinion.

Google has a blog post with more details about these new Chromebook developments. I still find them to be interesting machines and I'm glad to have upgraded, but I have to admit they're kind of niche. If you want a lightweight laptop that you can carry around all day on a single charge, and you're comfortable with web-based applications and services, then a Chromebook might make sense for you. I prefer it over my traditional laptop because it's lighter and runs cooler and I can leave it off-charger for days a time before I use up its 7-8 hours of usable charge. I can also open it, look something up on Wikipedia or IMDB, close it and put it down in less time than it takes the Windows 7 laptop to wake from sleep mode.

That said, I liked my price and still think $300 is a little bit high for a WiFi model. I'd like to see them get these things down to $249 for WiFi, $299 for 3G.

Oh, and in case you're wondering why I chose the Acer over the Samsung, it was partially due to the price difference, and partially because the Acer has an HDMI port. The Samsung has VGA out (via a dongle) but I guessed I'd be more likely to want to pipe YouTube to a TV than to want to set up an external monitor for doing work.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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