Yesterday, Google suddenly unveiled, in cooperation with Samsung, the first ARM-powered Chromebook and for remarkably affordable price -- $249. There also is a $329.99 model, that includes 3G. Both are available for pre-order now from major retailers, and Google Play will join stores selling the WiFi-only model next week.
The question: Will you buy? It's the right time to ask, because the price is so appealing. From my initial testing, about 24 hours now, it's hard not to recommend this new Chromebook, if for no other reason than price. But as I'll further explain in my forthcoming first-impressions review, there are plenty of trade-offs for the price -- and benefits, too.
At this early stage of testing, I see two major buying categories for the new Chromebook: Someone who considered an older model (but was put off by the price), or even purchased one, and buyers looking for something else that doesn't require purchasing a new PC. The latter group could include everyone owning one or more aging PCs to those new to computing and put off by it. Easy is the best way to describe any Chromebook, from setup to ongoing management to daily use. If you can navigate a browser, you can use Chrome OS.
Google and Samsung unveiled the second-generation Chromebook, the Series 5 550, in May for $449. A 3G model sells for $549. I wouldn't recommend either 3G Chromebook. The cellular radio simply is not good enough, when Verizon, which provides the service, is largely standardized on much faster 4G LTE.
How do the WiFi models compare?
$249 Chromebook: 1.7GHz Samsung Exynos 5250 dual-core processor (ARM); 11.6-inch matte display, 1366 x 768 resolution, 200-nit brightness; 2GB RAM; 16GB SSD; SD-card slot; Webcam; USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports (one each); WiFi A/N; Bluetooth 3.0 compatible (dongle required); HDMI port; Chrome OS 23. Weighs 2.5 pounds (1.1 kg) and is 0.8 inches thick.
$449 Chromebook: 1.3GHz Intel Celeron 867 dual-core processor (x86); 12.1-inch matte display, 1280 x 800 resolution, 300-nit brightness; 4GB SDRAM; 16GB SSD; Intel HD graphics; webcam; two USB ports; Bluetooth 3.0 compatible (dongle required); DisplayPort; WiFi A/N; Gigabit Ethernet; 4-in-1 media card slot; and Chrome OS 21.
Yesterday, BetaNews reader Bobby Frank asked: "Should I swap out the two Samsung 550's i just bought last week for my teenagers for this new model and save myself a total of $500? Will this new model perform as well? Btw, is an ARM processor better than the one x86 in my kids' current Samsung 550?"
Performance is absolutely slower on the $249 Chromebook. The Q is what's good enough for the money. I really like the keyboard and overall ergonomics better of the cheaper model. At the request of someone on Google+, I did quick Peacekeeper benchmarks yesterday from my live account (extensions loaded) rather than guest account: 971 for $249 Chromebook, 1848 for the 550. The newer one has Chrome OS 23, but the older is (supposedly) up to date at Chrome 21.
Bottom line: I find video to disappoint on the cheaper model compared to the older one. If the teens do Netflix and YouTube, this might not be best choice. Otherwise, the higher screen resolution, better keyboard and coolness (no fan needed with ARM) make up for what performance what your teens will loose from the 550.
I will rerun the same benchmarks from guest mode for my first-impressions review. Meanwhile there is another value proposition regarding both Chromebooks. The cheaper one comes with 100GB Google Drive storage -- two years, for free.
Today is Labor Day in the United States. It's a federal holiday dedicated to the American workforce, celebrating, as the U.S. department of labor puts it, the "contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country."
Every year, the Labor Day holiday falls very closely to the anniversary of Google's launch of the beta version of the Google Chrome Web browser. Released on September 1, 2008, Google Chrome is now four years old, and I am taking the opportunity on this holiday to celebrate the workhorse that is Chrome.
Chrome is my pickup truck
The first graphical Web browser I ever used was Netscape Navigator. This was in 1994, and it was on X11-based SGI workstations at the UMBC computer lab where my older brother was studying Computer Science. After eighteen years and two so-called browser wars, I can say with a certain amount of confidence that I no longer derive any personal identity from the browser I use.
For many, browsers are like cars. They serve not only as a tool for transportation, but they also serve as an identity for the driver. The appearance of the vehicle, the style in which he uses the vehicle, and the aftermarket customizations are all points of pride for drivers and browsers alike. Yet at this point in my life, the browser I use is purely utility, and if it can't do what I need, I am not even going to try to fix it. I'm just going to use something else. It's a pickup truck.
That is why I'm still using Chrome today. Four years ago, when I started testing the beta of Chrome, my daily browser was Opera and I was more or less satisfied with it. Of course, it couldn't do everything, and I had to keep both Internet Explorer and Firefox installed for those occasions where I encountered something Opera couldn't handle.
The beta of Chrome also encountered things it couldn't handle, and it lacked a lot of the shortcuts that I'd gotten used to in Opera. Yet the simplicity of the UI, omnibox, settings management, and built-in security of Chrome were all appealing. In Chrome's public beta period between September and December 2008, I found that I still had to open other browsers to get my work done, but Opera wasn't one of them. Chrome simply slid in as the default window through which I'd view the Web. It wasn't until recently that I've found I can get by without ever opening another browser. I've stuck with Chrome, and my behaviors have been molded to it.
Four more years
In addition to being near Labor day, this particular Chrome Anniversary falls in an election year, so It's a good time to see what Google has done for Chrome in the first four years.
In the first year, Google provided a grand total of 51 developer updates, 21 beta updates and 15 stable updates to Chrome, and pushed some 3,505 bug fixes. In July 2009, Google announced the concept of Chrome OS. Then, upon Chrome's first anniversary, Google introduced an overhauled UI with skinnability, a refreshed "new tab" page, and new HTML5 capabilities.
In the second year, Google finalized and released Mac and Linux versions of Chrome, debuted side-by-side view, autofill, password manager, bookmark and preference sync, and nearly 6,000 browser extensions. Upon Chrome's second anniversary, Google released a version with an even further stripped-down UI.
On June 1, Net Applications and StatCounter will release browser usage share for May. But why wait? Ten days ago I asked which is your preferred primary browser. You answered, and Chrome takes the crown, followed by Firefox and Internet Explorer. The days of IE dominance are over. No wonder the European Union is crawling down Google's throat over search.
Technology News and Analysis
What timing. I posted my iPad for sale on Craigslist over the weekend -- and two people are jockeying to get ahead of the other to buy it today. But I'm suddenly unsure about selling, after seeing a Macquarie Capital report claiming that Chrome will come to iOS as early as this quarter. Hot damn!
I rarely make decisions based on rumors, nor should you. Besides, the "timing is unclear, but it could be as soon as Q2 and is very likely to be a 2012 event", according to Macquarie Capital. "Could" be this quarter and "likely" this year stink of pure speculation -- or big back door should there be no Chrome for iOS this year. In the end, I'll likely sell the iPad, but must convey this: Chrome would be a very good reason to buy an iOS device but be akin to Google cutting off one limb to save another.
Shine That Tablet's Chrome
Yesterday, Ian Betteridge and I bantered back and forth about Chrome and iOS on Google Plus. He called Google services on Apple devices a "pretty good experience", to which I responded: "I would agree about the Google ecosystem with iPhone (and iPad) if Chrome was option. That's the deal breaker for me, sadly. I'm seriously thinking about selling my iPad, for that reason -- and another: Galaxy Nexus is tablet enough for me, so far".
As expressed last week, "You can have iPhone 4S, I'll take Galaxy Nexus". But there's more. I find the Google and Samsung branded smartphone good enough replacement for my iPad, too. Chrome for Android is one reason, Galaxy Nexus' super sharp, 4.65-inch, 1280 x 800 resolution screen is the other. Repeating a sentiment from my Galaxy Nexus HSPA+ review: I'd by the phone just for Chrome, which currently is only available for Android 4 "Ice Cream Sandwich", in beta.
Presumably, Chrome would be available for the newest iOS version, which means broader distribution than Android, since Apple doesn't have the same fragmentation problem. Based on number of devices accessing Google Play during the previous 14 days, Ice Cream Sandwich accounted for just 4.9 percent of the Android install base on May 1. Chrome has limited reach at best on Android, while distribution could be enormous on iOS, assuming people using the browser on the desktop go mobile, too. There, Chrome is third-most used browser and closes on Firefox, according to Net Applications.
Chrome is a huge improvement over the stock Android browser. It's fast and flows, but sync capabilities, which include active tabs on the desktop, really stand out. Last week's huge Google+ for iPhone update shows that the search and information giant can deliver exceptional user experiences on iOS. Why shouldn't Chrome be same?
A TACtical Decision
The problem: Chrome for iOS, particularly iPad, removes an important reason to choose Android tablets over Apple's. Google gains in one area, while giving up somewhere else. If Google offered Chrome for iOS right now, I'd keep my iPad. How many other people considering Apple's tablet would choose it over an Android because of Chrome? You can help answer that question by taking our poll.
In April, with considerably smaller install base, iPad took decisive mobile browser usage share lead from iPhone, according to NetApps. More broadly, in the mobile device category, Safari has 63.84 percent usage share, compared to 18.87 percent for Chrome. Google's browser could make usage share leaps competing alongside Safari on iOS devices. The cloud-connected device era is all about mobile. Google should want Chrome on market-leading devices like iPad.
Then there are traffic acquisitions costs, which eat into Google search margins. Macquarie Capital: "If GOOG gains market share, it could reduce our estimate for Google.com TAC meaningfully". Google pays Apple to compete with Android -- and Chrome, for that matter -- via Safari's search bar. Google's TAC goes down when people use Chrome.
Something else: Google services have a cloudy future on Apple devices. There already are rumors Apple will ditch Google Maps for a home-grown option in iOS 6. I expect to see a Siri search service someday replace Google. Chrome for iOS would be an important anchor for Google services as Apple offers more of its own from the cloud.
Even then, Chrome faces hurdles placed by Apple. Based on the browsers currently available for iOS, Safari is default for mail and other services. So Chrome would be at disadvantage, as long as Apple only allows Safari to be default. However, surely Chrome could be default for Google services -- gulp, right?
From that viewpoint, Chrome will always be better on Android. That said, Chrome on iOS ought to be pretty good, and if Google is going to feed the hand that bites it, better to extend existing services rather than pay TAC to Apple.
My question for you: Would you use Chrome over Safari on iPad or iPhone? Please answer the question below and take our poll above.