What Is The Best Back-to-School Computer?
It ships with a bright, sharp 13.3 inch screen. Battery life is ten hours. You get 100 GB of free Google Drive storage (for two years; it's $1.99 per month thereafter). Weight: 3.1 pounds.
Read More: Applie iPad Fad Is Over
Yes, this is a ChromeBook - built around the Google operating system - and that means it does not run Windows (or Mac) software. But, first introduced in mid-2011, ChromeBooks can be considered a mature platform, and while there are drawbacks, there also are plenty of advantages that may appeal to the back to school crowd.
Price is the plus of ChromeBook. The cheapest MacBook Air sells for around $900. The $299 Dell Inspiron is indeed a Windows 8 box but, dude, it's a Dell. Just kidding about that. The Dell laptop is a good choice for budget driven shoppers who insist on a Windows computer, but the Inspiron comes with a blah screen, blah performance, humdrum just about everything. Ditto for the other sub $500 Windows laptops. They exist to serve bargain hunting Windows buyers, period.
ChromeBook is different. It's cheap but it does not feel cheap. It was concocted originally by Google as a taunt at Microsoft, and maybe Apple, and you can't taunt with chintzy bland. Google - which works with a number of manufacturers, from Samsung to HP and Asus, to create ChromeBooks - wants ChromeBook to be a dazzling buy.
Read More: 8 Expensive iPad Apps Worth the Cost
The price also is the price . When you pay $249, you probably won't pay a dime more. This reporter is on his fourth ChromeBook (all but one are functional and in the family) and cannot recall spending a penny beyond the initial purchase. No cases. No peripherals. No software. No nothing.
Read More: Vacation Malware Alert - Are You Infected?
The biggest drawback - there still aren't that many apps that run on Chrome. That's one of the reasons there is nothing to buy. You want Skype? Forget about it (although Google Voice and Hangouts adequately substitute). You want Quicken? Sorry.
But you do get - all free - Gmail, Google Docs and the rest of the Google apps. Every basic computing function is handled, usually reasonably well, with free apps provided by Google.
There also are many educational apps, from typing tutors to foreign language apps, all free (although the latter are notorious for chronically upselling users into paid features).
Read More: Top 10 Back-to-School Laptops
Another drawback: ChromeBook essentially requires a working WiFi connection. With little on board storage capacity (16 GB of solid state storage; the Dell comes with a 500 GB hard drive), and less installed software (not much beyond Chrome Operating System and Chrome browser), the computer is fairly dumb when offline.