Poor Google. Every time it unveils a new Chromebook, like the $249 version announced on Thursday, the company gets confronted with critics who think the concept has no business existing.
You can’t blame people for being skeptical. The new Samsung Chromebook, like all its predecessors, is little more than a Chrome web browser running on a laptop. It raises questions about why anyone wouldn’t prefer a more full-featured laptop instead, and one that isn’t as crippled without an Internet connection.
I’ve made the case for the Chromebook once before, when I reviewed Samsung’s Series 5 550 in June. My argument was that Chromebooks strip away the baggage of other laptops, things like long start-up times, viruses and extraneous keyboard keys. Trimming the fat allowed the Series 5 550 to focus on things like slim design, a solid keyboard and trackpad at a low price. If you spend most of your time on the web, it was a fine choice for a secondary computing device.
The problem with my argument then was that it didn’t address tablets. Devices like Apple’s iPad and Google’s Nexus 7 also ditch the baggage of traditional laptops. They are thinner, lighter and often cheaper. They’re mostly safe from viruses, and they resume from standby in a snap.
With the cheapest Chromebook now less expensive than many tablets, the relevance of Google’s browser-based laptops is worth revisiting. I still think there’s value in the Chromebook, because unlike inexpensive tablets, it’s still capable of providing the experience of a desktop browser.
I know, I know. Mobile is the future of everything, right? But in the present day, sometimes the mobile-optimized, appified version of what you’re trying to do just isn’t good enough. When that happens, you need a laptop browser, and you want it to be up and running right away. I can think of a few personal examples:
- Gmail is better on a laptop. You can see more messages at a time, use search filters and type faster on a real keyboard.
- Tab management is easier on a laptop. If you’re the type that likes to sort tabs into windows, or juggle more than a few tabs a a time, a tablet or smartphone browser won’t cut it.
- Blogging is better on a laptop, especially if you’re looking for links to copy and paste. I know there are apps like Blogsy that address the need to browse and blog at the same time, but nothing works as well for me as a full-featured browser.
Those aren’t the only examples, just my favorite ones. And maybe I’m an anomaly but I don’t always want to boot up my work PC just to use its web browser.
Maybe some day better apps and websites will eliminate Chromebook’s usefulness. In that sense, it’s funny to think that a supposedly futuristic concept–that of the entirely web-based computer–risks obsolescence. But for now, a full-featured web browser inside a $250 laptop makes a lot of sense.