Review: Google's $199 Laptop Is a Champ

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I'm typing this product review on what may be the best value for the dollar of any computing equipment in the market today. Now that you may have to pay higher income tax, higher Obamacare tax, higher capital gains tax, higher dividend tax, higher gift tax, higher death tax and higher state sales tax come Jan. 1, it may also be theonly new laptop you will be able to afford.

The days of the $999 or $2,799 MacBook Air/Pro are soooo 2012. In theinterest of "fairness" and "a balanced approach", the government willnow claim tens of thousands of your hard-earned dollars, cutting intoyour discretionary income. Your trips to the Apple ( AAPL) store and the Microsoft ( MSFT) store will soon be as much a memory as Tsar Nicholas II's trips to the St. Petersburg Winter Palace after Lenin's 1917 power grab.

But do not despair! There's still a small plot of a private gardenthat can keep you alive even after the government takeover of the restof your private property. In the laptop world, this is called theAcer Chromebook C7, aka the $199 Google ( GOOG) laptop, which went on saleearlier this week.

Software: It Doesn't Get Any Simpler

The Acer C7 runs Chrome OS, of course, so you know what this means interms of setting it up: It takes less than one minute. Gone are thedays when you have to spend the better part of a long weekend to fullyset up your new PC so that it looks just like your previous one. Oneminute vs. one weekend? I think I just added 1% to this quarter'sGDP in terms of personal productivity. At this pace, Google's $199Chromebook may even solve half the fiscal cliff.

So why would you choose a Chromebook instead of a "regular" laptop?The Google laptop is for you if this is what you do:

1. Gmail or private-labeled Gmail, which is what many companies havestarted to do.

2. Google Docs. This is a must. This is your equivalent of Microsoft Office.

3. Web surfing. Duh! But I would argue that the Web surfingexperience on a Chromebook is at least equal to that of any other Macor Windows.

4. Google Talk, Google Voice: For communications.

I don't know about you, but this is pretty much 99% or 100% of what Ido on a laptop. For my portable entertainment needs, I have an AppleiPad, among other things. The Apple iPad and the Google Chromebookcomplement each other like a latte and a croissant -- except one is alot less expensive than the other, in this case.

Obviously, you also get the other advantages of every Chrome OS PC:Security, automatic backup, automatic updates, multi-user ease of use,fast boot-up and shutdown.

This is the kind of PC you can hand to your 2-year-old or 102-year-old family member and be relieved that you don't have to make "tech support specialist" into your second job.

The Chromebook is for everyone.

But I think you get the message here: The Chromebook -- whether this$199 variant, or the $249 or the $449 versions -- is for work. It isnot your optimal gaming machine. It is not a toy. It is not ascience lab supercomputer either. It's a work tool that is reliableand works all the time, requiring zero maintenance in its life. I'mtyping this article on it -- which I would never do on an iPad, andfor which a Windows or Mac would be total overkill.

Hardware: Mostly Very Good

The body: This is one sturdy laptop. It's a lot sturdier than theSamsung $249 Chromebook, which exhibits a lot of flex. It's also some20% heavier. Sure doesn't feel like $199. More like $499.

Keyboard: For some reason, I don't think it matches the $249 version. The keys are smaller, although their feel is more than decent.

Screen: Not as matte as the $249 version, but it's brighter and withmore intense colors. Overall, barely good enough.

Battery: The obvious bad news is that it's rated at only 3.5 hours.The good news is twofold: (1) So far, my particular unit looks to beoutperforming the 3.5 hour rating. (2) It's a REMOVABLE battery, soin theory you could buy a second one (and a third, and...).

CPU: This one is Intel ( INTC), instead of a Samsung ARM (Cortex A-15) in the$249 version. This should mean it's more powerful, but it's hard tonotice any difference in regular use.

Fan/noise/heat: The $249 version runs cold as a fish and has no fan. This one has a fan and generates heat like all other typical laptops.This also means that there's a moving part that can fail, unlike the$249 version.

Ports: The $199 Acer version improves on the $249 Samsung by adding native Ethernet, one extra USB (three instead of two) and analog videooutput. What it misses is an SD card slot and cellular/GSM SIM cardslot/modem.

Storage: The $199 Acer is the first Chromebook to have a spinninghard disk, 320 gig in this instance. All other Chromebooks have a 16gig SSD. Given the nature of Google Docs, I don't see any need foranything other than 16 gig, and SSD obviously beats HDD in terms ofspeed and reliability. Why anyone would need 320 gig or anythingremotely close to it in this cloud-centric architecture is beyond me.Must have been a cost issue.

Verdict: The $199 Laptop Is a Breakthrough

Reviewing a Google Chromebook is like reviewing a General Motors' ( GM) Chevrolet Volt: You end up with hundreds of comments where 99% of those who comment have never used the product, but . . . they are 100% sure that the productsucks. It's just like the iPhone reviews from the Summer of 2007.

The bottom line is that if you use your laptop to surf the Web,process your Gmail, work in Google Docs and want to do securely andwith no maintenance or administrative hassle, a Chromebook is for you.Whether you should pick the $199 version, $249 version or the $449version is up to you. In my book, all of these Chromebooks get veryclose to a perfect 10.0 on a 10.0 scale, all in relation to theirprice, of course.

The biggest tax hike in memory is coming. Can you afford not to make your next PC a Google PC?

At the time of submitting this article, the author was long AAPL, GOOG and MSFT.

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

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