Chromebooks Market Niche Still Mystifies

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Angry Birds on Cr-48

I’m not sure I understand the Chromebook pricing model. Acer is introducing an 11.6″ Chromebook [Ars Technica] in June, with wifi-only for $350. Samsung’s 12″ model will come with 3G wireless in addition to wifi, and cost $500. I could buy a Gateway dual-core Windows 7 11.6″ netbook today for $330 [Amazon]. The Gateway has 160 GB of hard drive space; the Chromebooks are limited to a much smaller amount of SSD space (16 GB).

So, where’s the market for a notebook computer which costs as much as (or more than) a notebook with a known OS? Don’t get me wrong, I love my Cr-48, which I call Stealthbook. It works pretty well, and it cost me nothing, which is a nice bonus. It really has gotten better since I got it in December, which fits the hype from Google. I have noticed that the single-core CPU in the Cr-48 is not enough to run even Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook, so the addition of the dual-core chips for the shipping models is a good move. I said when I got mine that the major stumbling block I foresaw in the entire ChromeOS model was cost. These machines cannot be used as a primary computer by many (most?) people, so if they’re going to be just an additional machine, they need to be cheap. Some may say that $500 is cheap, but it’s not when compared with a full-fledged laptop. I can get an Alienware gaming 11″ laptop for only one hundred dollars more than that, and I can use it to play Crysis! Sure, Angry Birds is a cool little game, but it’s no Crysis.

Carly has a Cr-48 as well, and thinks it’s wonderful. I think it’s neat, for what it is. What it is to me is a quick reference machine, a companion to let me check something on Wikipedia while I’m watching television. I recently ran into a malware site while wandering Google Images (something which my wife encounters frequently and which freaks her out every time). The site is a variation on the theme which has become very common in recent years – the fake antivirus scan. If I were on Windows, the site was ready to download a payload to my computer which many people would probably open. The site looked very much like Windows XP’s security center. Of course, I knew that I was safe and secure, with my Linux-based computer with the tamper-resistent operating system. So, there is that benefit to the Chromebooks, and it’s one that Google is selling to enterprise and education customers hard this week.

I don’t want to say that Chromebooks have no use. When I asked Kat what she’d want to replace her netbook when it inevitably dies, she said she wants another netbook. She likes the small size and long battery life, and doesn’t need anything more powerful than Office to run. I catch her on my Cr-48 frequently, and she has no problems with it as a computer, for her uses. But, if I had $500 to spend on a new portable machine, I’m not sure how I would justify buying a Chromebook instead of a Windows laptop.

What do you think, is the Chromebook priced too high for adoption, or is it a good fit for the netbook niche?

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