Computing Differently

In 2009, iPad was iPod spelled incorrectly, we only endured one Hangover, the Motorola Droid was the archaeohipster’s solution to the iPhone, and a fair number from the senior class bought their first laptops, many of which are still in use today.

While the cell phone industry pushes a 2-year lifecycle  for smartphones, the demarcation for laptops is blurrier. As the summer approaches, and a quarter of our classmates prepare to write a new chapter in  their lives, many are bound to think: “Should I write it  in a literally cutting-edge  computer, like the Air or an Ultrabook? Should I get a traditional laptop? Is  there another solution?”

My answer: it depends.

For users with medium-to-heavy computer usage, I am not going to offer a recommendation in this column. For the more casual user, for whom money is a concern, however, a more radical departure from the computing norm makes sense. As the technology evolved, a new option emerged in 2012, one with increased versatility, decreased cost, and improved functionality: the Tablet-Chromebook combo.

What is a Chromebook? Think of the Chromebook as a descendant of the netbook. A Chromebook is a trimmed down laptop that runs Google’s Chrome OS (a Linux-based operating system, basically an advanced Google Chrome browser). It centers around web-based applications and on- or offline document creation using Google Drive. Drive is a service that allows users to create and store documents, spreadsheets, presentations and forms. Files can be stored on the Chromebook, but Google is promoting data storage on “the Cloud,” with 100 GB of space on Google Drive included. For heavy duty typing, web browsing, and presentation-creating duties, a $249 Samsung Chromebook (Amazon) fits the average user’s needs. (Also a great gift for Grandma!)

Americans who own tablets

For media consumption, light and low-cost gaming, portability, and especially for reading and marking up documents, a tablet – namely the iPad, because of its ubiquity – easily fills the rest of your computing needs. The ability to mark up documents, in a world where free printing is not the norm, is my favorite feature. Using the Notability app, I have avoided printing roughly 4,000 pages worth of homework PDFs and other documents in the last year alone (4,000 pages x $0.04 per page = $160). In addition to the iPad, the Surface from Microsoft is also worth taking a look at among larger tablets. The iPad Mini and Google Nexus 7 are nice entrants in the mid-size category. So, what’s so great about tablets? They are not absurdly expensive, considering all the functions they fill – $329 for the Mini, $399 for an iPad 2, $499 for the New New iPad (4th Edition) or Microsoft Surface RT. Add a Chromebook, to their prices, and they run $578, $648, and $748, respectively.

Looking at Amazon’s top laptops (as we go to print), after the Chromebook is the $1,129.98 MacBook Pro 13.3-inch, more than twice the cost of the first two options. The MacBook Air 128 GB version is $1,035.99. Ok, so let’s assume Apple is overpriced. Dell’s Inspiron i15R (heavily discounted) is selling for $469.99. For an Ultrabook, the Lenovo U410 14-inch is selling for $599.99. The Tablet-Chromebook option may not be the cheapest upfront, but factoring in savings over time – printing far less, buying cheap game apps rather than expensive traditional videogames, cheap or free books with Kindle for iPad, the convenience of receiving a discounted newspaper or magazine directly on the machine, and a decent camera on the new iPad to boot, switching to this combo is a relatively cost-efficient, versatile, and green (in all senses of the word) option for the average consumer.

One thought on “Computing Differently”

  1. Chris-Great comparison/analysis! Thanks! Now, how do you think Acer’s soon-to-be-released Chromebook with a touchscreen at $299 will change the game? Dave

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