Google Announces Expensive Web-Only ‘Chromebooks’

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As the second and final keynote address at Google’s developer conference winds down, we’re left with news of Google’s web-only Chrome OS (operating system) and the machines that’ll power it.

You may recall that Google announced Chrome OS notebooks late last year and shipped out a whole bunch of prototype units to people in anticipation of an actual retail launch this summer. The Chrome OS computers, now called Chromebooks, launch directly into a Google web browser and are geared at just about anything you’d care to do online.

There are a few offline features as well, but the promise of Chrome OS is that everything “just works” and is seamless so that if your computer breaks or gets stolen, for instance, you can just buy another Chromebook and all your stuff will still be right where it was since it all lives online when you use the Chrome operating system. See the above video for more detail.

Rumors began going around last month that these upcoming Chrome notebooks would be available under some sort of monthly payment plan. The big news was that for $20 per month, you’d get a Chromebook and whenever a new model of that Chromebook came out, you’d get the newest version of it. You’d be forking over $20 per month to Google for as long as you wanted a Chromebook but in exchange, you’d get the latest and greatest hardware. I thought it was a fair deal and a smart move.

However as Google revealed today, that $20-per-month deal is only good for educational institutions. There’s also a $28-per-month deal that businesses can use, too. So what’s the deal for regular consumers?

There are two Chromebook models that’ll be available at launch on June 15: one from Samsung and one from Acer. The Samsung version will cost $430 for a Wi-Fi only version and $500 for a Wi-Fi + 3G version. The Acer version’s pricing will start at $350.

Both machines have an eight-second boot time and instantly resume from standby, which is impressive. The Samsung one has an eight-hour battery, a 12.1-inch screen, and weighs 3.26 pounds. The Acer has a 6.5-hour battery, an 11.6-inch screen, and weighs 2.95 pounds. Models with the built-in 3G connections come with 100 megabytes of free Verizon mobile data to use every month for two years, with the option to purchase additional data.

To be honest, I like the idea of these Chromebooks. They’re simple, they’re portable, they’ve got great battery life, and they boot up quickly. But they’re way too expensive right now. They’re basically functionally-limited netbooks—and netbooks are already somewhat functionally limited.

The free Verizon 3G is really Chrome OS’ killer selling point, so that may sway some people but there’s not a whole lot else that’s going to be able to dissuade people from buying a netbook, cheap notebook, or even a tablet.

The educational and business avenues being addressed by Chrome OS make a lot more sense, especially given its minimal to non-existent maintenance costs and built-in security features, so perhaps that’s Google’s end game anyway. Build them for businesses and schools, and then consumers can play along if they’re willing to pay full price.

Oh, and Angry Birds is now available in a free online version, playable from right within your web browser. Google should have announced that last to soften the blow of the consumer Chromebook prices.

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