Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tech Column: Is Chromebook the Best Laptop?


Photo by Google Chrome Blog
by Bill Adler


In the debate over what's the best travel laptop or device --the Mac Air, iPad, Android tablet, Windows Ultrabook-- Google's Chromebook often gets overlooked. But if you're thinking about a laptop for travel, it's worth giving a few minutes' consideration to this very versatile and capable machine.

I've been using a Chromebook ever since it first came out, and if there's one feature that sets Google's Chromebook apart from every other portable device, it's that it never becomes obsolete. My Chromebook, actually a pre-release beta version, is fast, powerful, and does everything I expect it to do.

How goes Google accomplish this? How can hardware be future-proof? Most of what the Chromebook, http://amzn.to/PQYNEq, does is cloud computing: It connects to Gmail, Google Docs, and all Google services; it browses the web; it makes use of mini-programs via Google Chrome extensions; it lets you manage your tasks, contacts, calendar, and watch movies online -- just about anything you might want to do while on the road. But it needs the Internet to work at full capability.

There's no setup, no software updates, no software patches, no viruses to worry about. Using a Chromebook is stress-free computing, even more so than with an iPad.

I often travel with my iPad. There are times when I've left my Chromebook at home, but wish I had the versatility that comes with a full keyboard, trackpad and function keys that the iPad doesn't have.

If you're tired of driver updates, cryptic error messages, and being on hold with tech support, then a Chromebook might be just what you need. Chromebooks are computing minus all the hassle.

If you use Gmail, Google Calendar, or Chrome as your browser, it's a treat to turn on your Chromebook and have everything the way you saw it last on your PC.

On a Chromebook, you can easily switch between users, and when you log in, all your settings are exactly the way you left them. Which brings me to this important caveat about Chromebooks: If you're not tied into the Google universe, a Chromebook may not be for you. Chromebooks are the big brother of Google's Chrome browser. The real beauty of using a Chromebook is that all of your desktop or regular laptop's settings in Chrome are mirrored on the Chromebook. Tabs, extensions, privacy settings, bookmarks -- they're all there by Google magic. Chromebooks are part of Google, so unless you use Gmail or Chrome as your web browser, there's probably no extra advantage to getting a Chromebook over, say a Mac Air or Windows laptop.

At $450, http://amzn.to/PQYNEq, the Chromebook is one of the most affordable laptop options.

Chromebooks boot fast: 7 seconds from power on to work. No mechanical hard drive means that the Chromebook is durable, too. I can personally attest to the fact that it can survive a close encounter with Dr. Brown's Diet Black Cherry soda.

Chromebooks come with other features, too, including a webcam, video output port, USB ports, wired ethernet port, and a 4-in-1 memory card. Battery life is about 6 hours.

Unlike a Windows laptop, a Chromebook doesn't slow down with age. If you use Windows, you're familiar with the un-joy of an aging computer that takes longer to boot than it takes to brew a cup of coffee. After three years, my first edition Chromebook is as fast as it was on the very first day.

You could spend $700 and up on a Windows netbook, $1,000 or more on a Mac Air, or for $450 you could have a lightweight (3 pounds), speedy, traveling laptop that's perfectly integrated with your desktop browser.

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Bill Adler is the co-publisher of the Cleveland Park Listserv, www.cleveland-park.com. He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," http://amzn.to/rspOft. He tweets at @billadler.


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