$249 Google Laptop vs. $499+ Windows 8: Fight!

NEW YORK (TheStreet) --Poor Google (GOOG). On the day of its most exciting product announcementever, it becomes the victim of one of stock market history's mostinfamous "fat finger" events.

Google's unveil of its revolutionary $249 fan-less laptop comes only acouple of days after Microsoft ( MSFT) announced pricing of its line ofSurface tablets/laptops, and they will both be available next week.

With Microsoft's Windows 8 machines starting at $499, are they worthpaying anywhere from two times and (way) up, compared to the Google laptop?

Round 1: Heat and Noise

Windows 8 RT and Google's newest laptop have one thing in common: Theyhave both abandoned the kinds of x86 chips that have powered PCs todate. Made by Intel ( INTC) and AMD ( AMD), they generated so much heat that a PCrequired one or more fans to blow out the scorching heat, oftenstraight onto your private parts if you were using the laptop in yourlap. Perhaps Intel and AMD are responsible for more malesterilizations than a 1930s genetics experimentation program.

These fans, in turn, drew so much power that the battery life suffered.It was an evil circle.

What Windows 8 RT and Google/ Samsung now have in common is that theyare ditching Intel and AMD in favor of ARM chips -- Samsung has itsown, and Microsoft is using Nvidia ( NVDA). This means that these newmachines run cold, and there is no need for a fan. As a result, theyare quiet, resilient over time, and require a smaller battery for thesame performance. This reduces cost and makes for a much better userexperience.

Verdict: A draw. Google/Samsung and Microsoft are now taking aspectacular leap forward in computing technology, at the expense ofIntel and AMD. The winners are Samsung itself, as well as Nvidia and Qualcomm ( QCOM).

Round 2: Display/Screen

Microsoft's Surface tablet/laptop is 10.6 inches, compared toGoogle/Samsung's 11.6 inches. 10.6 inches is perfectly fine for mediaconsumption -- the iPad is 9.7 inches -- including reading, but itdoes not work if you want to be productive, at least for me. 11.6inches is the absolute bare minimum for "part-time work." To use as aprimary computer, at least I will only be happy if the screen is 12.1to 13.3 inches, and obviously something larger works too.

The size of the screen also has something to do with the size of thekeyboard, but I'll get to that below. In the meantime, the verdict isresoundly in Google/Samsung's favor.

Round 3: Keyboard and Trackpad

The Google/Samsung hardware is as close as it's possible to get ofbeing a copy of the Apple ( AAPL) MacBook Air 11.6 inch, so the keyboard andtrackpad are outstanding. Basically, as good as they get on any 11.6inch laptop, bar none.

The Microsoft Surface RT represents Microsoft's vision of theconvertible tablet/laptop format. Microsoft accomplishes this with aflexible rubber/gel-ish "cover" which snaps on with magnets. Thisseems very elegant at first.

However, once the conceptual novelty value of Microsoft's visuallybeautiful solution has worn off, a set of questions arise. I'm sayingthis with the disclaimer that the Surface RT hardware has not yetshipped (will do so in a week from now) and that the journalisticpreview was very limited. I have not spent any quality time with it.
  • A. The rubber-ish keyboard looks like it needs a hard and flatsurface to work in a reasonable way. If you have your laptop in your,well, lap -- it seems to be a non-starter. Want to type while you'rewaiting for your flight, or otherwise don't have a flat table? Toobad.
  • B. Related to (A) above, the keyboard doesn't support the screen, sothe screen has a separate stand, in turn requiring mostly flat andadditional tabletop real estate. It seems to make for a sensitivesetup.
  • C. As for the Surface RT keyboard+trackpad itself, I obviously havenot been given the opportunity to type on it yet, but it looks to be avery bad experience compared to even a mediocre "regular"keboard+trackpad, let alone Google/Samsung's outstanding hardware. Ifyou see a review from someone else claiming otherwise, let me know!

Verdict: The Samsung/Google gets an A, and the Microsoft Surface RThas an inherent handicap that looks difficult to overcome.

Round 4: Software

There can be no clear "right or wrong" on this count. Neither OS isobjectively better or worse than the other in this case. Both areexcellent for what they are and seek to do. Instead, let me tell youabout the misconception between the two.

The main objection to Google's Chrome OS is that "it's just a browser."

However, you can do almost everything in a browser. Some people wantto run "Office" but don't realize that Google Docs/Drive isessentially a free and mostly compatible version with much ofMicrosoft's Office suite. I converted all of my user behavior awayfrom Office in a jiffy, and I couldn't have been happier as result.

There are, of course, some things you can't do on a Chromebook. Youcan't run Photoshop, Skype or other specialty applications. Forsomething such as Skype, Google has a perfect substitute, but perhapsnot for something such as Photoshop.

People make these kinds of arguments in the automobile world as well.For every review of a small economy car, someone objects saying thatit won't tow his boat or won't haul his 20 hogs on the truck bed. Noone product fits all, okay? That heavy-duty Ford F-350 pickup truckalso gets 15 MPG and loses against any car in terms of going toSafeway to pick up a pint of milk.

There are seven billion people in the world. There may be fewer than sevenmillion people in the world requiring some esoteric specialty app thatGoogle doesn't match. Fine. Seven billion vs. seven million?

Okay, then -- If you are one of the seven million, don't get a Google PC -- but if youare one of the other 99.9% of the world's population, the Google PC islikely for you -- and not just for being less than half the price.

As Steve Jobs said, PCs are trucks and iPads are cars. Except thatyou could also say that a Windows PC is a truck and a Google PC is acar -- much easier to operate, at a fraction of the cost.

Verdict: Inconclusive, but basically more people than you thinkshould consider the Google OS. Its Chrome OS is suited for themainstream -- not the other way around.

Windows 8 RT could out-sell the new $249 Google laptop, even thoughits starting price is twice as high, with the potential to go muchhigher. At least initially. But... that will more likely be areflection of very poor consumer awareness of Google's new computers.

Almost nobody among the "general consumers" today know they evenexist, let alone that you can now buy what is in many ways a superiorcomputer for only $249.

If Google and Samsung prove they are as good at marketing as they havenow shown to be in delivering a superior PC at a dramatically lowerprice, they could strangle Windows 8 in the cradle and achieve almostovernight world domination. But that's a bet on the Google marketingdepartment I'm not willing to make -- not right now anyway.

Pro tip: The Google laptop + the $199 Google Nexus 7 tablet are $51less combined than the starting (no keyboard) price of the MicrosoftSurface tablet. Game over.

At the time of publication the author had positions in GOOG, MSFT, AAPL, QCOM, NVDA and AMD.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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