Google Ups the Ante: $199 Laptop

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- What is the first word that should come to mind when you hear Google ( GOOG)? The correct answer is price.

Some examples:
  • Smartphone: The $349 SIM-unlocked, contract-free, Nexus 4, which goes on sale today, undercuts the equivalent Apple ( AAPL) iPhone 5 by $300, or almost 50%.
  • 7-inch Tablet: The $199 Nexus 7 undercuts the $329 iPad Mini.
  • 10-inch Tablet: The $399 Nexus 10 undercuts the $499 iPad 4.
  • Laptop: Already the price leader with the $249 laptop, Google's new laptop -- made by Acer -- at $199 undercuts most new Microsoft ( MSFT) Windows 8 and Apple laptops by 60% to 80% or more.

    It wasn't even a full month ago when Google caused jaws to drop when it announced the $249 laptop made by Samsung. I wrote about it in Google Drops the Neutron Bomb: $249 Laptop and $249 Google Laptop vs. $499+ Windows 8: Fight!.

    The new $199 Google/Acer Chromebook laptop has an Intel ( INTC) Celeron processor, for which Samsung charges $449 in their Intel-based Chromebook. It's also got a 320 gig hard drive, which seems totally pointless in a computing architecture where only the little stuff you need right now can fit within a few gigs or even less. You can still get 100 gig of storage in the cloud, which Chrome OS makes available to you as you need it.

    I have yet to actually test this Acer, which was announced only hours ago. I hope to start testing it within the next couple of days. It does seem as if the boot time (18 seconds) will exceed that of other Chromebooks who run 8 to 10 seconds for the same task.

    Who might prefer this $199 Google laptop over the much more expensive $249 version? (That was a slight joke, by the way.) The answer is probably found in either of these three categories:

    1. Those for whom the Intel processor will be faster than the Samsung ARM version.

    2. Those who have unusual local storage requirements, such as extreme photo needs or very large loads of huge documents needed locally. The emphasis here is on extreme.

    3. Price, price, price: $50 may be what some tip a barista in a week; for others it's a minor fortune.

    With the material caveat of not having laid my paws on this new $199 Google laptop yet, I can imagine there are still numerous real and potential advantages of the $249 Samsung version over the $199 Acer. Here are the top four:

    1. Weight: The Samsung is 2.5 lbs compared to Acer's 3.0 lbs.

    2. Battery life: The Samsung is 6.5 hours compared to Acer's 3.5 hours.

    3. SSD reliability: The Samsung won't suffer a hard drive breakdown.

    4. Heat and fans: The Samsung doesn't have any.

    Who would buy the $199 Google laptop over the $249 version? They may be schools, storage freaks, or those who do computing-intensive tasks, perhaps gamers. It's somewhat unclear until I have had a chance to actually use the Acer.

    Here is the larger point, though: At $199 or even $249, Google may have granted the world an entry ticket into "disposable computing." For Christmas this year, why not buy half a dozen? It's only $1,200 or $1,500 depending on the version. One for each child and relative.

    Other use cases: Put a Chromebook in every room, at home as well as at your office. They are inherently multi-user in architecture, so you never have to be afraid that someone else will mess with your settings, access your documents or email, or attract a virus. You are completely sandboxed from your kids, other family members, visitors, colleagues and other guests. Painless and safe.

    In the old paradigm, you would take your laptop from work to home, then back to work again. Unless you have to stop and use it somewhere along the way, the Chromebook allows you to forget about this transport. A Chromebook is essentially the same experience whether you own it or not. Your documents are most likely always accessible from any Chromebook you happen to have in front of you.

    Users of Microsoft and Apple PCs sometimes laugh at Chromebooks. Often, I think that nervous laugh is mostly because they can't admit that they just spent anywhere from $500 to $2,500 on a laptop that will require many trips back to the store, back to the antivirus program and back to the update button. And we didn't want to get rid of those trips, did we?

    Well, Google did.

    At the time of publication, the author was long GOOG, AAPL and MSFT.

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

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