The Chromebook: Yes, Investors, It Matters

When Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) unveiled the new Chromebook at its I/O developer conference in San Francisco, the audience cheered. I know: I was there. The PC is dead! All hail cloud computing! This wasn't Google talking. These were the developer fanboys, and their enthusiasm was genuine.

They've more to cheer today. Samsung has made what appears to be a special effort to meet a backlog of promised Chromebooks due to the 5,000 or so attendees of I/O, and the reviews are starting to pour in -- some good, some not so much. On Google+, several of those I follow complained about the hardware design, and for good reasons.

As intuitive as Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) tries to make its Macs, the Chromebook has an oddly placed search button where the caps lock should be. Clicking to place a cursor in Google Docs is also difficult, while having the "alt" button where Macs and PCs keep the "command" key has taken some getting used to. Yet I find these to be annoyances more than design flaws.

Not so for The New York Times' David Pogue. "Maybe in Silicon Valley, where Google's engineers live, you can live your entire life online. But in the real world, you can use this laptop only where you can find, and afford, Wi-Fi hot spots. Or a Verizon cell signal, if you've bought the $500 Samsung model," Pogue wrote.

Ouch.

Trouble is, he's right. As a consumer laptop, Samsung's Chromebook doesn't do enough well to merit a $500 price tag when Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) , Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) , and Toshiba sell fully featured PCs for the same price or less -- although initial sales of the Chromebook proved to be remarkably brisk.

Fortunately, this isn't the aim. Instead, Google wants its Chromebook to become a small-business PC for mobile workforces. They'd rent rather than buy infrastructure, pulling services from the cloud as needed while using cheap, leased 4G hardware and mobile hotspots to get work done. For that type of company and user, Samsung has delivered an excellent machine.

I've been writing for an hour with Meebo and a Google+ hangout active, Facebook working in the background, and a YouTube playlist streaming continuously. Despite all that, and starting with the battery at just 39% full, there is still an 18% charge left. Whatever Samsung did to conserve power in its Chromebook, it did well.

Work remains to be done, of course. Google has to figure out offline access. Commissioning hardware specialists other than Acer and Samsung to get in on the game would also be a good idea. For example, I'd love to see HTC give a try at building a Chromebook, even though smartphones tend to be the company's historical strength.

In the end, I see myself using the Chromebook as my work-away-from-the-office option on trips to Fool HQ, at conferences, and while sitting through my kids' taekwondo and ballet lessons. But that's also because I already use a wide variety of Google services to get work done and never leave home without a portable hotspot. Those who haven't committed to the Big G's cloud software may feel differently. Where do you stand? Use the comments box below to weigh in on the Chromebook and Google's cloud-computing strategy.

And if you care to learn more about cloud computing, I encourage you to try this free video report. You'll walk away with a winning pick from our Motley Fool Rule Breakers scorecard and a better understanding of how the Web is reshaping entire industries. Watch the video -- it's 100% free.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He owned shares of Apple and Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Google+ or Twitter, where goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google and Apple and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (9) | Recommend This Article (8)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 08, 2011, at 9:11 PM, meatsoda wrote:

    Well as a new ChromeBook user who is testing and comparing them to the iPad, Xoom (Android), Blackberry Playbook and HP TouchPad, specifically for the enterprise, I have to say, it's been a big disappointment.

    No access to simple things like opening a Word or Excel doc that someone might have sent you via email, is completely debilitating.

    This is really relegated to a person who is a Google-doc centric business user - no one else.

  • Report this Comment On July 08, 2011, at 10:24 PM, horiah00 wrote:

    Tim, I agree with you that the Chromebook is excellent for road warriors and will be adopted on a large scale by businesses that rely on the cloud.

    However, what Google has missed so far, and most surprisingly Samsung has also missed, is that the Chromebook (and its brother the Chromebox) can be turned into a perfect internet appliance, to be used by not-so savvy computer users -- those grandma and grandpa who have only basic needs to read their email, maybe read the news and maybe do a video chat with their kids or grand-kids. Because of the built in security, the Chromebook is also perfect for those users who click on every flashy ad that announces them they just won a million dollars, who get their computer regularly infected by viruses and malware, and who never update Windows, Adobe Reader or Java on their machines -- all these problems are gone with the Chromebook.

    The authors at http://chromebookreviews.net/ make an excellent point describing how the Chromebook is an internet appliance: you just turn it on and use it like a toaster or a fridge. It's that simple. Can't wait to have them here in Canada!

  • Report this Comment On July 09, 2011, at 12:23 AM, Rangjut wrote:

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  • Report this Comment On July 09, 2011, at 12:55 AM, JHawkinTexas wrote:

    LMAO! "Chromebooks" have been around for a few years. They're called net books. We all know how popular those were. Now tell me, what road warrior is going to adopt a Chromebook when it becomes a boat anchor the minute they step on an airplane. Can't even use it to listen to music or play games. How about when you're in an area with no wifi and limited or no 3G/LTE? I'm constantly at customer sites where their wifi is encrypted and 3G is weak inside the building or non-existent. Finally, why would I pay $500 for a device with less capability than an iPad or other tablet device? Makes no sense to me.

  • Report this Comment On July 09, 2011, at 1:03 PM, melegross wrote:

    For a max of $300, I could see this as being of some value, sometimes. But for $500, it's a waste of money. All you need is their Chrome browser on any notebook, and you can do everything this can, and much more.

    The purpose of this is to drive people to their online services, so they can throw Ads at you. There is no other purpose for this. I don't see it doing well long term.

  • Report this Comment On July 10, 2011, at 8:08 AM, Aviq25 wrote:

    Google continues to show that it is company which is stuck with Group Think. All the bright talent is thinking alike, that they forget how the normal world uses these products.

    Google needs to think beyong Search, they continue to only make investments in areas that enhance search. Chromebook is also focused for search that they completely forgot how to have the right interoperatability with other devices. Get out of GROUP THINK.

  • Report this Comment On July 10, 2011, at 10:14 AM, normcf wrote:

    A lot of comparisons to "netbooks" with the "and it's only good when you have internet". There are also some good points which are often ignored. Netbooks run Windows (mostly) and are therefore susceptible to all the security problems (do I need to list them?), but the chromeb* (chromebook or chromebox) are probably safe for some time to come. The verified boot will be very difficult to defeat. Thus, when accessing banking or investment sites, the chromeb* are much more secure. Netbooks are also mostly purchased for accessing the net, that's why they're called NETbooks. They're as useless for their primary task as chromeb* when no network is available. Netbooks are also underpowered, so arguing that they can work offline is true, but they can't do much but edit a document or small spreadsheets (if you can read it on the small screen). Google will soon have offline versions of their docs and when that happens the comparison will be pretty small except for the security. When the hassle free security of chromeb* becomes known, there will be plenty of people that look at their lifestyle and realize that at least some of their home computers can be chrome*. I don't travel much, but when I do it's for vacation. I want to do banking and check investments while away. With a chromebook I can use the hotel wifi and feel safer than using the hotel windows machines which I never know how they've been modified.

  • Report this Comment On July 11, 2011, at 11:50 AM, EnzymeX wrote:

    I bought a ChromeBook because I hate backing up and restoring general purpose computers, and I can do 95% of what I do on my MacBook with greater ease, amazing battery life, and without serious security worries. I don't use the 3G much, but when I do turn it on it's a lifesaver.

    It's not "sexy" because it doesn't do anything new, but where it is revolutionary from a consumer perspective is that everything is "backed up" online. More accurately, it forces a certain discipline to leverage online services like Evernote and Google and therefore eliminates clutter on your hard drive that accumulates out of old habits.

    Sharing is another big deal. My daughter lives online, and I have no problem letting her use the chromebook (with her own profile). I know when I log back in, in seconds I'll see my thirteen open browser windows just like I left them, and I won't have a new virus waiting in the background to ruin my weekend. A netbook can't do that.

  • Report this Comment On July 11, 2011, at 2:22 PM, Borbality wrote:

    I like my chromebook (mine was a free beta version) but I think it's a little steep at $500. Maybe once they tweak it a bit and work out some of the bugs, but in its current form $500 is a little nuts for people who mostly already have smartphones and laptops.

    Once they figure out the offline stuff (and maybe lower the price to $350), I think it'll be a good value (not necessarily a hit with consumers though). My wife has an HP netbook we bought for about $350 and it runs windows 7 just fine, but for both of us who are basically just playing on Chrome and checking facebook and blogs, the chromebook is a lot faster and makes more sense for today's consumer. This cloud-business stuff doesn't really make sense to me when you have so many casual internet users who might not want a data plan for a smartphone (like me).

    I figure by the time my PC gives out, there will be a chromebook-type computer good enough to replace it completely.

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