by Bill Adler
Last week Google released their new Chromebook, a $249 laptop. Have you picked yourself up off of the floor yet? That's right, a laptop for under $250. That's roughly half the price of an iPad, and one-quarter the price of a MacBook Air.
At $249, Google's new Chromebook is serious competition to the iPad -- and all other tablet computers, including Google's own Android tablets. (You can read more about Chomebooks in a previous tech column here: http://bit.ly/thechromebook.)
I take my iPad everywhere. But the iPad, too, has limitations, and when I put the Chromebook and iPad side by side, thinking about them as objectively as I can, the Chromebook may edge out the iPad as an on-the-go machine.
The iPad is more portable than the Chromebook. The tablet format is more convenient. The iPad is lighter, the battery lasts hours longer, and has a better (though smaller) screen than the Chromebook. Score 10 points for the iPad.
Both the iPad and Chromebook derive most of their functionality when connected to the Internet. But both the iPad and Chromebook let you create and edit documents offline, as well as listen to music and watch movies while not connected to the Internet. The iPad, however, does let you play more games while offline. You can see which web apps work offline on the Chromebook here: http://bit.ly/Rhb4nu. Both the iPad and Chromebook come in 3G flavors at a premium price, so if you need to, you can have your Internet anywhere.
Both the iPad and Chromebook are instant-on. Both devices are also fanless, which means that they don't make your lap feel like a well-done steak, the way a regular laptop does.
The iPad doesn't have a keyboard. You can get a Bluetooth keyboard for your iPad, but it's not the same as using a real keyboard, especially when it comes to positioning the cursor on the screen or copying and pasting. Bluetooth keyboards don't have trackpads either. Carrying a Bluetooth keyboard increases the weight and bulk of your carry-bag. Score 10 points for the Chromebook.
Keyboards are what make computers useful. Like oxygen, you can't go without a keyboard for very long. A keyboard is what can make the difference between doing a little work and getting the work you need to do actually done.
You can read more about the Chromebook on Google's website, http://bit.ly/RO8zrC and buy one from Amazon at http://amzn.to/QAK8ip.
If you use Chrome as your browser on your home or office PC or Mac, the Chromebook will sync with your computer: All of your tabs, extensions, web apps, bookmarks and other settings will be identical. In other words, if you already use Chrome, there's virtually zero setup to do with a Chromebook. If you lose your Chromebook or if it breaks, you're set back $249, but setting up a new one takes just minutes.
The Chromebook is designed for people who reside either fully or partially in the Google universe, using Gmail at a minimum. But it's an Internet machine, too: Through the browser you can go anywhere, do anything. The iPad has a plethora of apps, as everyone knows, but Chrome is no slouch when it comes to apps and extensions: You can get apps that do everything from read Kindle books to play Angry Birds.
What about you? How long can you go without oxygen, without a keyboard? Is your tablet good for a day, a weekend -- or a week in Sicily, where you shouldn't be working anyway? When, if ever, do you start to experience keyboard withdrawal?