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Google Chromebooks: The pros and cons

Curious what y'all thought about the (Google) Chromebook or if you could point me to a post if you've already covered it. - Cathy

Mobile computing has become the battlefield for many technology companies that are vying for your commitment to their platforms. Lost in all of the hype of the Microsoft Surface vs iPad vs Android tablets is Google's offering: Chromebooks.

If you live your life online and have access to Wi-Fi on a regular basis, the Chromebook may well be worth considering.

Google has spent a considerable amount of time and effort creating valuable online resources outside of its world-class search engine and, the more of these resources you use, the more likely the Chromebook can provide value. The device is essentially a web-enabled Google terminal running the Chrome OS but looks like a traditional laptop at a fraction of the price.

Chromebooks start at $199, which make them very attractive for parents of younger school children, especially if they attend a school that has standardized on Google Documents and Gmail. If your child needs to run Microsoft Word or Powerpoint, you can't install those programs on a Chromebook. You can only run apps that run through the Chrome browser or apps that have been created and approved for use by Google (via the Google Play store).

Users have reported some functionality issues when trying to use Microsoft's online version of Office (Office 365), so sticking to Google Docs would be the best solution for Chromebook users.

If you want a light duty travel computer, the Chromebook may also fit the bill, as long as you have access to an Internet connection when you need it.

Early versions of the Chromebook were essentially useless if you didn't have an Internet connection, but Google has updated Gmail, Docs, Calendar and other essential tools with offline capabilities, which overcomes one of the biggest problems with the original devices.

Chromebooks are light at 3 lbs., inexpensive and boot up almost instantly because they lack the overhead of a traditional operating system. Chromebooks that use traditional hard drives have substantially more storage space than an iPad, Android or Microsoft Surface tablet, but the battery life is lower at four hours if they use the power-hungry mechanical hard drives.

Chromebooks that use a solid-state storage drive have better battery life (about 6.5 hours) but offer a fraction of the storage (16Gb vs 320Gb).

They typically have many of the standard connectors found on traditional laptops: USB, VGA, HDMI and SD card readers and webcams for Google Hangouts or other web-based video uses. Google has incorporated Cloud storage, security and automatic updates into the operating system to make owning the device less complicated.

You can also buy a more expensive version ($449) that has a Verizon 3G modem and two years of free access on the Verizon data network, but it's limited to a scant 100 MB per month, so don't plan on streaming any media using the cellular network.

There is a reason that you don't see Google Chromebooks as much as you do the other devices: limitations. Before you decide to buy a Chromebook, make sure you thoroughly understand these limitations; if they don't bother you, you may have found one of the most cost effective and useful mobile devices available. If they do limit your computing needs, you will be buying an expensive paperweight!

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