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Google Laptops: One Year Later


This week marks the anniversary of the first Google laptop. Yes, that first one, called Cr-48, available for approximately six months, was only given to enthusiasts, journalists and other de-facto beta-testers for free, but still it provided allegedly over 60,000 people with real-world experience of this revolutionary product.

That initial Cr-48 model in December 2010 was followed in June to July this year by commercially available models from Samsung and Acer. I have not seen any reporting on how many were sold, most probably from Amazon (AMZN) and Best Buy (BBY), the two main outlets of availability to date. Prices have ranged from $300 to $500 for different models.

After a long period of using three different Google laptops -- one for a year, and two others for approximately six months each -- I can report that all of them get a 100% reliability and 100% zero-maintenance score. Even the otherwise-revolutionary Apple (AAPL) iPad isn't nearly as easy to use and trouble-free as a Google laptop. And like so many tens of millions of people, I revere the iPad and give it a verdict very close to a flawless 10.0.

The Google laptops -- often referred to as "Chromebooks" for the Chrome Operating System -- are effectively zero-maintenance and fault-free. Updates to the OS are pushed out typically once every two weeks, and take 10 seconds to install simply by rebooting. When you install a new OS on any other kind of computer, the process may take as much as an hour or more, plus some work that you may need to do after that. It's a huge pain -- but not on the Chromebook.

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Some of the initial shortcomings of the Chromebook, such as the less-than-perfectly precise trackpad and the lack of offline support for key apps such as email, calendar and documents, were fixed a few months ago. Yes, one would still like faster hardware (CPU/GPU), but that's coming probably by next summer, and in the meantime the current hardware is sufficient for basic productivity tasks.

I have both Mac and Windows (MSFT) laptops, but when I leave my office to head to a cafe or perhaps a meeting, and I want to bring a laptop, I almost always bring the Chromebook. Why? Primarily two reasons: (1) It's faster, booting up from cold in approximately 10 seconds and no delay thereafter, and (2) It's more secure if I should need to connect to a WiFi network -- which I seek to avoid at all cost.

Speaking of connectivity, if you buy the Samsung version of the Chromebook for $450 from a place such as Verizon (VZ) or Best Buy, you get two years' worth of Verizon EV-DO service included, although only 100 megabytes per month. That may not even last you a day, depending on what you're doing, but is a nice lifeline in case you don't have your own separate "MiFi" (portable WiFi router) or if you want to avoid a potentially unsecured WiFi network. You can then add more Verizon data on a pay-as-you-go basis, if you want to consume above 100 mg. For example, five gigabytes is $50.

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