Chromebooks vie to replace netbooks

Chromebooks are being offered by Samsung, HP, Lenovo, Google and Acer

The once-hot netbook may have been decimated by the arrival of tablets, but inexpensive, lightweight laptops are showing staying power. The latest iteration in that category is Chromebooks, laptops with Google's Chrome OS, which is seen as a lightweight OS alternative to Windows for users who do most of their computing on the Web. There is substantial backing for Chromebooks with companies like Google, Lenovo, Samsung, Hewlett-Packard and Acer offering models with different screen sizes and hardware.

A first wave of Chromebooks released in 2011 from Samsung and Acer failed to catch on, but a new wave that went on sale late last year have better hardware and a more refined OS. Typical features include 100GB of Google Cloud storage, Wi-Fi, webcams, and in some models, 3G connectivity. However, IDC suggested that early sales of Chromebooks have been weak, and it remains to be seen if they will fill the void left by netbooks.

Acer's Chromebook C7

The US$199.99 Acer Chromebook C7 is the cheapest Chrome OS laptop available. It has an 11.6-inch screen and a 320GB hard drive, while other models have 16GB of local solid-state storage. One disappointment is the three-and-a-half hours of battery life, while more expensive models offer up to six-and-a-half hours. The C7 has an Intel Celeron dual-core processor running at 1.1GHz, 2GB of memory and an HDMI port. Like a majority of other Chromebooks, the screen displays images at a resolution of 1366 by 768. Acer maintains the C7 has sold better than expected, and has said it will come out with more Chromebook models in the future.

Samsung's Chromebook

Starting at $249.99, Samsung Chromebook models come with 11.6- and 12.1-inch screens. The most expensive $449.99 model has a 12.1-inch screen and 3G mobile connectivity. Samsung's Chromebook is the only one running on an ARM processor: It has Samsung's Exynos 5 dual-core chip, which is based on an ARM Cortex-A15 design and is also found in Samsung's and Google's Nexus 10 tablet. The Chromebook weighs under 1.13 kilograms and has a battery life of under six-and-a-half hours, which is better than Intel-based Chrome laptops. The Samsung Chromebook models have a standard of 16GB of storage, a webcam and USB ports.

Samsung has also extended the Chrome OS to its $549.99 Series 5 laptop, which has a 12.1-inch screen. Based on an Intel Celeron processor, it has 16GB of storage, 4GB of memory and USB 2.0 ports. It also has Verizon Wireless 3G connectivity for two years, with a data limit of up to 100MB per month.

Lenovo's ThinkPad X131e

Lenovo's $429.99 ThinkPad X131e laptop has an 11.6-inch screen that displays images at a 1366 by 768 pixel resolution, and is targeted at the education market. A selling point is its ruggedness, with rubber bumpers so that it can withstand being dropped. The laptop has an Intel Celeron processor and weighs about 1.8 kilograms. It has 16GB of storage, Wi-Fi, a USB 3.0 port, and an HDMI interface to hook the laptop up to large-screen TVs and monitors. The laptop is available by contacting Lenovo directly.

The X131e is also available with Windows 8, starting at $499.

HP's Pavilion 14 Chromebook

Hewlett-Packard's long-standing reliance on Windows for laptops was broken when the company introduced the Pavilion 14 Chromebook with Chrome OS earlier this year. The $329.99 laptop has a 14-inch screen and runs a dual-core Intel processor. It weighs 1.8 kilograms and offers just over four hours of battery life. It supports up to 4GB of memory, has 16GB of local storage and USB 2.0 ports. Like Lenovo, HP is targeting the laptop at the education market.

Google's Chromebook Pixel

Google's first laptop offering is the $1299 Chromebook Pixel, which has the most advanced hardware in Chrome OS laptops.

A standout Pixel feature is the 12.85-inch screen that displays images at a resolution of 2560 x 1700 pixels. That tops Apple's MacBook Pro with Retina display, which has a 2560 x 1600 pixel resolution. It weighs 1.52 kilograms and offers a battery life of around five hours, which may be due to the power-hungry Intel Core i5 processor. While local storage is limited to up to 64GB, laptop buyers get 1TB of Google Cloud online storage.

For the U.S. market, a $1,449 model includes two years of LTE mobile broadband service from Verizon, limited to 100MB per month.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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