Want to spend more time with your head in the "cloud"? Google has licensed Samsung and Acer to manufacture the first two Chromebooks, small laptop-like computers that depend on the Internet "cloud" for almost all of their functions and storage.
We took a First Look at Samsung's Series 5; a Wi-Fi-only model costs $430 and one that adds 3G access (a service contract is extra) is $500. Our early verdict: The one we tried, with 3G, is interesting but has significant limitations. We haven't fully tested the Chromebook yet. Our Select Ratings (available to subscribers) has top laptops and netbooks to consider. Here are the Chromebook details:
It starts up from a full shutdown in about 10 seconds and wakes up instantly from sleep mode. The only software installed on the computer is a special version of Google's Chrome browser, and everything works through it. The laptop weighs about 3.3 pounds and has a bright, crisp, 12.1-inch matte display. It has the latest Intel Atom dual-core processor, 2GB of memory, an HD webcam, and a 16GB solid-state drive. Two USB ports and an SD memory-card slot allow you to add storage.
When you open a new tab in the browser, you'll see links to online applications such as Google Docs, Google Calendar, and Gmail, as well as a Web Store from which you can access other online applications. The idea is to store everything online—documents, photos, music, and other files. But if you can't get online, your Chromebook doesn't do much more than a rock sitting on your desk. Google plans to enable applications to work offline.
The Chromebook didn't have enough power to play videos in full-screen mode from a USB drive or from its hard drive. They stuttered and paused, and there were audio breaks. But videos played well in a small window. Battery life was about 8 hours, close to what's claimed and comparable to that of many netbooks.
The Chromebook is an easy-to-use laptop that could appeal to buyers looking for something bigger than a netbook and cheaper than a laptop. But we think it's too limited for most users. For better functionality, consider a more powerful laptop or a lower-cost netbook.