Google Chromebook – has the affordable laptop for the common man arrived?


The Personal Computer revolution started in August 1981 when IBM launched its original IBM PC. Over the 32 years PC has grown a lot; more than 350 million PC’s are sold year after year. The performance of the PC has grown thousand-fold; millions of applications have been written for this dominant platform. At least for the first and second world countries, Bill Gates vision of PC in every desktop has come true.

 

PC has morphed in shape and form too. Originally a desktop, it changed in form to a laptop and notebook (some time back Netbook too) form factor that made the PC mobile inside an office / home. With Internet connectivity through phone line (earlier landline and currently mobile phone), PC has become truly mobile.

 

Laptop computers became specially attractive for small business / rural India / common man for three reasons;

 

  • First, desktop took to much space (not many rural homes had a desk in the first place);
  • Second, desktop PC needed continuous supply of reasonable quality electricity, that is simply not available in most parts of rural India; in addition, desktop PC consumed much larger amounts of electricity 100+ watts of power for PC compared to 20+ watts of power for a laptop.
  • Third, PC usage at home and office would necessitate double investment for hardware, and more importantly software for small businesses; in turn, even with marginal higher cost of laptop compared to a desktop PC of similar configuration, laptop was a clear winner.

 

That explains the reason why laptop sales have been increasing in India over the past several years. Yet, laptops were not easily affordable for the common man; Windows OS cost alone pushed the cost of laptop by a couple of thousands of rupees; laptop display of reasonable quality cost lots of money too.

 

Over the last decade laptop manufacturers have focused on reducing the weight and improving battery life. Unfortunately, the weight reduction has not been dramatic; nor has the battery life improvement; weights in the range of a couple of pounds and battery life of 8+ hours alone will be a game changer.

 

During the year 2007 there was a promise that Netbooks attempted. They were slightly less powerful Laptops, but they could not achieve substantial weight reduction; and, they had only 3-4 hours of battery life; Asus and Acer pioneered such Netbooks; unfortunately, interest in Netbooks receded by year 2010.

 

Starting in 2010, Ultra-books (promoted by Intel) started to show up and they started maturing by 2012. They could bring down the weight and increase the battery life considerably; unfortunately, they are still pricey (in the $ 1,000 range) unlike Laptops and Netbooks in the $ 300-600 range.

Apple MacBook Air used SSD dramatically to reduce the weight (1.5 kg) and increase battery like to 10+ hours; unfortunately, the price point $ 1,000+ makes it unavailable for the common man.

Chromebook from Google represent a new “avatar” for laptop computers. They run completely on Chrome browser that takes the role of could based operating system. With GMail for messaging, Google Docs for personal productivity (word processing and spread-sheet), GDrive as a File store, YouTube for entertainment, Google Calendar and Contacts for Personal Information Management, Google Hangout for Video Conferencing and Google Chat for Instant communications, all running on Chrome browser, Google Chromebook represent yet another viable alternative to traditional PC.

 

Launched in USA in 2011, the first generation was unavailable in India. Google launched in October 2013, a new generation of Chromebook including Acer C 720. Costing just Rs 20,000, Acer C720 represents a new hope for small businesses, individual professionals, students, faculty and senior citizens looking for an affordable Laptop.

 

The combination of Laptop form factor, reduced weight, Instant On, 10+ hours of battery life, excellent screen, full keyboard, cloud-based applications at no extra cost and an attractive price appears to be the “killer combination” that appears to favour Acer C 70 Chromebook as the “winner” for users looking for affordable and useful laptop. Of course, time alone can tell the real success story.

 

 

 

Powered by Intel processors optimized for power consumption, Acer Chromebook C 720 has 4 GB of RAM and 16 GB of SSD (solid State Device) storage that ensures “instant on”; its 11.6” display with 1366×768 resolution ensures you get excellent display for web-browsing, e-books reading, watching slideshows of photographs or full length movies and videos. Weighing 2.42 pounds with just 0.7” thick, it is convenient to hold too. With HDMI port, DS card, USB 3.0 port and 3.5 mm headphone jack multimedia is well supported by Acer C 720 Chromebook. Connecting to the Internet using Wi-Fi (that is widely available, thanks to BSNL Internet pack that addresses the “bottom of the pyramid” users), Chromebook is a full featured Laptop with a good screen, a large Keyboard and Touchpad (for “mouse” functionality), good multimedia support (audio speakers, video rendering) and USB port for additional storage, connectivity. Thanks to Google tools most users can do get most of their work done that includes personal productivity – word processing, spread-sheet, presentation using Google Docs, personal information management using Google Calendar and Contacts, communication (email using Gmail, Chat / Instant messaging and Video conferencing) using Google Hangout, Social networking using Google+, entertainment using YouTube and a whole range of Apps that run on Chrome browser. Google offers 100GB of Storage on Google cloud. Google Play store too is available on Chromebook. Google provides “offline access” for many of the tools including Google Docs and GMail.

 

In my trial over a week I found using Acer C720 Chromebook absolute breeze. It connected to my router the minute it was switched on and with my Google Account I could be productive in minutes. Mail access and browsing was fast; even YouTube videos rendered fast including some online News channels. My Google Calendar, Contacts were loaded instantly; so are my Google+ that one could get on to Google Hangout instantly. My documents, spread-sheets and pictures were all there on my GDrive. More importantly, after a week of usage in just a few seconds I could “powerwash” so that I was sure that there is no trace of my data left behind on the “demo machine” supplied by Acer India!

 

There are Windows-based Laptops in this price range but they make far too many compromises in the screen, weight, battery life, operating system, storage and applications. In addition, there a whole range of Tablets – “post PC” devices – including Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab and Google Nexus Tablets that are great “consuming devices” that do not serves the PC needs of the common man; Tablets with reasonable power, are far more expensive too.

 

 

Professor Sowmyanarayanan Sadagopan is the Director of IIIT-Bangalore. These are his personal views. He can be reached at s.sadagopan@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

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