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At first glance, the choice of a laptop computer may seem to have no particular relevance to travel – and travel is what this column is about. And yet many of us travelers want to bring a laptop when we travel. And we therefore look for a laptop that is extremely light in weight, enjoys a considerable amount of battery time and has a full-size keyboard, so we can type easily and confidently on it (that latter requirement, for many people, rules out use of a small netbook).
Until recently, the only laptops meeting these criteria were either MacBook Airs or the new UltraBooks, most of which cost a minimum of $999 (the tiniest MacBook Air costs at least that much). And yet, a third and far less costly option is now at hand: A cheap Google Chromebook laptop manufactured by either Samsung or Acer (and available from Amazon or Tiger Direct). One of the versions of the Chromebook – which weighs less than 3 pounds, has a full-size keyboard and an amazing nine hours of battery capacity – costs only $299 from Acer and $349 from Samsung (through Amazon or Tiger Direct), with rumors abounding that they are about to be further reduced in price.
And how was this low price level brought about? It’s because the Chromebook has no hard drive, in fact no storage capacity at all, and contains none of the expensive Microsoft or Apple software programs that add cost to most laptops. Using a Chromebook, you simply access the Internet for everything you want to do or consult (word processing, spreadsheets, websites, etc.), storing what you want to retain in the “cloud” (namely, a central Google server located somewhere in the U.S.). If you lose the Chromebook, or it gets destroyed, the files you’ve created continue to exist, unharmed, in the cloud.
I’ve been taking along a Chromebook on some of my recent trips, and am happy with it. It cost a fraction of what an Ultrabook or MacBookAir costs, and has – as noted before – a full-size keyboard and an amazing nine hours of battery time (the latter fact confirmed by my own use of it).
Now a great many “techies” have posted damning reviews of the Chromebook on the Internet. It is unsuitable for “power users,” they say. It cannot perform all sorts of unusual, arcane tasks of the sort that “power users” require. And most important, they point out, it requires access to the Internet; it cannot be used where Wi-Fi isn’t available.
But a standard laptop also can’t access the Internet where such access (usually by Wi-Fi) doesn’t exist (or you don’t employ an expensive 3G service). And who among us carries a laptop without planning to use it mainly for the Internet? How often do we make use of a laptop simply for writing purposes, without accessing the Internet? In that regard, therefore, the Chromebook suffers no greater an infirmity than any standard laptop. And when you do access the Internet through your Chromebook, you can then write on the cloud-based Google Docs rather than on Microsoft Word.
It also might be noted that one version of the Chromebook permits its users to obtain 100 hours a month of free access to Verizon’s 3G service, for use when you’re in a location where there’s no Wi-Fi.
I happen to believe that the Chromebook and its cloud point the way to the future of personal computing. And in defense of my own objectivity, let it be known than I don’t own a single share of Google (I wish I did), Samsung or Acer, nor do I have the remotest connection to any of those companies. In fact, I am currently infuriated over the mishandling of an information request by Samsung customer service. I simply believe that the Chromebook is unusually helpful in traveling situations.
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