Chromebooks have come a long way since their introduction in late 2010. What were once machines with tablet internals barely capable of surfing the web are now spec'd like more expensive Windows laptops. Earlier this year Google announced a few new Chromebooks that would be running Haswell CPU's, Intel's latest processors. The Acer C720 is the first to arrive and the reviews are looking positive.
Chromebooks, what are they good for?
Chromebooks run the Chrome OS, which is basically the Chrome web browser and its apps and extensions like Gmail, YouTube, Google Docs, Google Play Music, etc. They usually boot up very quickly and are capable of performing basic tasks like surfing the web, watching movies, listening to music, and doing light word processing and spreadsheet work. They don't come with a lot of storage and are meant to be connected to the internet most, if not all, of the time (some functions will work offline.) Precisely how most of us use our laptops these days. If you're in the market for a new laptop and are considering a Macbook or a midrange Windows 8 laptop I recommend you consider a Chromebook also.
How do they stack up against Windows laptops and MacBooks?
I'm going to compare the newest Chromebooks against a popular Windows 8 laptop and the least expensive Macbook on some basic criteria:
The Acer C720 Chromebook is probably the best value above. It has a great mix of performance, features, and battery life in a lightweight and affordable package. It is selling for $250 on Amazon right now.
The HP 11 Chromebook has been praised for its good looks and solid build quality, but comes with an underpowered processor, less RAM, almost half the battery life, and still manages to cost $30 more than the Acer. The Samsung Exynos processors are ARM-based CPU's originally made for smartphones and tablets and aren't quite suitable for laptop tasks. I'd recommend passing on this model unless you really like the looks. It can be had for $280.
The HP 14 has a 14" screen, the same processor as the Acer, and 2GB of RAM. It's a capable machine and a good choice if you prefer a larger screen. Amazon has them for $300 in a few different colors. The $370 Dell Inspiron 15 is the best selling Windows 8 laptop on Amazon as of this writing. It has an Intel Celeron processor (but an older Ivy-Bridge model) and 4GB of RAM. It does have a larger hard drive, DVD drive, and a full-featured operating system, but is heavy and has poor battery life. There are plenty of other fully capable Windows 8 laptops to fit every budget and performance need. I'm comparing this one because it shows how Chromebooks stack up against popular affordable Windows 8 laptops.
The least expensive Macbook is the 11" Macbook Air at $1,000. It can actually be found much cheaper than what Apple charges. For example, it's only $900 at Amazon right now. It may not be fair to compare a $250 laptop to a $1,000 one. However, this illustrates just how light the Chromebooks are and how long their battery life can be. Before plunking down $1,000 on a Macbook consider what you'll really be using it for and whether it's worth the extra money. Macbooks are beautiful machines that come with lots of great software, but they aren't cheap.
The Acer and HP 14 Chromebooks are great values, and there are more Intel Haswell powered models coming. Get more info on all of the current Chromebooks here. Best Buy usually has some on display, go check them out for yourself. Get a feel for how the operating system works and how fast it loads some web pages and YouTube videos. You may just find it'll meet your needs and leave you with a few hundred extra dollars in your pocket.