chromebook

Chromebooks are finally getting serious about penetrating the mass market. No, it’s not better offline capabilities, though that would help greatly. And no, Minecraft is not making an appearance any time soon.

Chromebooks are getting serious because finally, Acer is releasing a 15.6-inch version of its Chromebook, supposedly on March 2015.

Months ago, I wrote about how the most popular computing device of the future will be a 15-inch tablet weighing less than 1.5 pounds with a keyboard accessory. While we are a good three to five years away from that getting there, the rationale is that the 15-inch display size is actually the most popular category of laptops.

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The $200 HP Stream 11 is an intriguing laptop — it comes with full Windows, has 32 GB of eMMC memory and houses an attractive design (though that’s subjective) — all for $200. You also get Office 365 and 1 TB of OneDrive storage for one year; and just for kicks, HP is throwing in a $25 Windows Store coupon.

That’s incredible value. If you are in the market for Office 365 and want to spend money on the app store, this laptop effectively costs $105.

Tempting!

Reviews around the web are positive. Performance is fine for low computing tasks and the laptop can even manage bigger Windows programs, albeit slowly. It boots from sleep quickly. You don’t want to overload it with too many tabs on your browser however. The keyboard is great while the touch pad is finicky. The display isn’t the greatest but average for the price. Battery life is excellent. You’ll want to buy the Signature Edition direct from Microsoft; otherwise the laptop is weighed down by bloatware.

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I’ve long maintained that the real competition for Chromebooks aren’t Windows PCs, they’re tablets. Here’s what I wrote:

[The Chromebook] is a device people with low computing needs might deem good enough. It’s capable for mail, web browsing and light office work; and for most people, that’s all they ever need…You know what else is excellent for low computing needs? Tablets, which have already been eating into the PC market for years for precisely that reason. If Chromebooks didn’t exist today, I suspect more tablets would have been sold in its place instead of Ultrabooks.

Chromebooks so far have found most success in the education market, where the device has gone head to head with — you guessed it — the iPad. I also wrote how ridiculous it is for schools to choose iPads over Chromebooks:

Education for children of that age is also relatively basic — it’s about teaching them where and how to research information (browser), how to type (keyboard) and how to write reports (Google docs) — and for that Chromebooks are perfectly adequate. You don’t need anything more advanced (Office) until later, where a similarly priced Windows machine might make more sense.

What doesn’t make any sense are iPads. iPads are consumption devices — what would you need to teach about consumption to kids? Here’s a videogame you should play? Here’s how you watch videos? Here’s how you use Facebook?

Why would you teach a child how to type with an onscreen keyboard instead of a real one?

Add to it the fact that iPads cost nearly twice as Chromebooks, and it just boggles the mind that iPads are doing well in schools at all.

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That Adobe and Google are working to bring Photoshop to the Chromebook as thin client computing is big news. It works just as how you might imagine: the Chromebook receives inputs and displays outputs; servers elsewhere do all the heavy lifting.

The cloud is going to be a big deal. Photoshop Streaming is one small step towards that future.

Ironically, image editing may not be the best app example to start with. It’s unlikely that pro users will find this solution good enough. Is that artifact inherent in the image or a flaw in the streaming? Is color reproduction faithful? Is the experience going to be fast and stable enough? I still find Google Docs unworkable for complex presentations and spreadsheets.

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Salon posted an article last week that seemed to escape the notice of most in the tech world, but it’s a fascinating read for those interested in the business of gadgets and education.

The story in a nutshell: the LA school district, despite needing money to spend on basic things like repairing its infrastructure, bought US$1 billion of iPads from Apple with little to no discount. Which turned out to be a terrible decision because iPads don’t have keyboards and make poor learning devices for students.

Read it here and then come back. Done?

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While I was researching my story about Chromebooks for TechSpot last week (a synthesis of stuff I’ve written before), I found this interesting article from OMG!Chrome!, a Chromebook enthusiast site.

It’s a strong argument that the people buying Chromebooks in retail and online aren’t normal people with low computing needs — they are in fact tech savvy people looking for a cheap second device.

Based on past articles, it might seem like I hate Chromebooks. Nothing of the sort. Thin clients like Chromebooks are the future and I can’t wait for us to get there. However, that future is still far away, and the amount of hype and coverage dedicated to Chromebooks today far exceed what it deserves.

An excellent device for your grandma? I think not. A companion device for gadget lovers? Sure, I get that. Chromebook’s simple nature and fast boot times can make a great experience for specific use cases.

But I wouldn’t recommend Chromebooks to “normal” people. If you think Windows RT or 8 are difficult to comprehend, Chromebooks are worse.

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The Cornerplay has made some crazy predictions we know, some of them involving Chromebooks. We’ve long argued that in comparison to Windows PCs, Chromebooks sell only because of price and that Microsoft’s efforts to lower the cost of Windows PCs will be effective.

Chromebooks are in the news again because HP is launching the Stream 14 for $200, a Windows laptop the press is designating as a Chromebook killer. This laptop will probably be powered by Windows 8.1 with Bing, a version Microsoft is providing free to OEMs in exchange for Bing as the default search engine. The Stream 14 has an AMD chip so it’s unclear whether the laptop will perform well, but it will probably sell well regardless due to price.

It’s not clear when the HP Stream 14 will launch, but we don’t need to wait that long to evaluate our argument that Chromebooks sell only because of price. Low cost Windows laptops have already been proliferating on Amazon, the place where advocates like to point to as proof of Chromebooks’ success. And those cheap Windows laptops are winning.

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