Two cheers for the Chromebook

These laptop look-alikes use software, and even storage, from the Web. They take personal computing to a new level, but connectivity is vital and options are limited. Gagandeep Singh Sapra writes.

| Updated on: Dec 03 2013, 01:55 IST
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This article was written on an Apple iPad with a Logitech keyboard, and edited on one with an Apple keyboard. We have truly come a long way from the simple personal computers.

While the PC gave way to the Netbook — laptop-like device built for on-the-go Net-oriented use, the latest is a more advanced version of this that increases the depth of software.

Welcome to the Chromebook, championed by Google.

Using Web-based software that reduces the processor and storage requirements, these machines are to laptops what the Android phone, championed by the same Google, is to smartphones — made with partners to proliferate mobile computing. Prices tend to drop as the hardware in question need not be top of the line.

Chromebooks run on an operating system developed by Google, called Chrome, which is also the name of the browser from the stable.

They can handle some basic tasks offline, but for most things one needs to be online, which in a country like India, where stable broadband connectivity is still distant, may not be the best option.

Google has announced two Chromebook models in India in partnership with Acer (C720) and HP (Chromebook 14).

The C720 costs just 22,999 and the Chromebook 14 costs 26,990, both coming with a 16GB solid state disk (SSD) built-in, Intel Celeron processors and bundled with a 100-GB Google Drive account free for 2 years.

Both machines boot up in 7 seconds, and feature full-day battery life — C720 rated at 8.5 hours and Chromebook 14 9.5 hours, and both returned more than 7 hours in practical tests.

Does 16GB storage sound measly? Not really, if you consider that you are getting a 100GB Google Drive account free, with options of parking content on other clouds such as Dropbox, Box.Net and even the Microsoft Sky Drive. Of course, you have to use the Web browser to do this.

The HP Chromebook scores over Acer in screen size — 14" vs 11.6" — and has a higher resolution web camera that works better in low-light situations. The catch is that for video calls, you would need to use Google Hangout. Skype is not an option as the software cannot be installed.

Formwise, the HP is heavier (1.85 kg vs 1.25 kg for Acer), but built better. Chromebook keyboards have the letters stamped in lower case. In our tests, the Acer keyboard felt more comfortable and gave better tactile feedback than the HP.

If you have Internet connectivity all the time, these are doubtless great machines. But not a lot of third-party applications are available, and this limits their usage, especially when you consider that you can buy laptops as cheap as 20,000 and install Ubuntu Linux on them.

Not only do you get more storage, you can also use those machines offline, which you would appreciate if you are traveling, perhaps in the interiors of the country with no access to the Net.

Another alternative to the Chromebook is the iPad (or any other tablet PC, in fact). Though it does not have a keyboard, accessory options are aplenty, and there is a lot of options for both on-board storage and cloud storage.

Moreover, with tablets, you can install applications, connect a TV, and even buy a wireless portable hard-disk to expand memory. It comes in both 3G and wi-fi only versions, and can share the 3G of your cellphone. It does not need an anti-virus, rarely crashes, and a user hardly misses the absent USB port.

Price-wise the tablet genre may not compete with Chromebooks, but functionality is rich, with the touch-screen broadening the horizon even more.

Chromebooks do take personal computing to a new level, but the next leader of the pack may well be something we have not seen or heard about, on the verge of hitting the market.

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First Published Date: 03 Dec, 00:34 IST