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 the only new laptop you will be able to afford.

The days of the $999 or $2,799 MacBook Air/Pro are soooo 2012. In the interest of "fairness" and "a balanced approach", the government will now claim tens of thousands of your hard-earned dollars, cutting into your 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 garden that can keep you alive even after the government takeover of the rest of your private property. In the laptop world, this is called the Acer Chromebook C7, aka the $199 Google ( GOOG) laptop, which went on sale earlier this week.

Software: It Doesn't Get Any Simpler

The Acer C7 runs Chrome OS, of course, so you know what this means in terms of setting it up: It takes less than one minute. Gone are the days when you have to spend the better part of a long weekend to fully set up your new PC so that it looks just like your previous one. One minute vs. one weekend? I think I just added 1% to this quarter's GDP in terms of personal productivity. At this pace, Google's $199 Chromebook 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 have started 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 surfing experience on a Chromebook is at least equal to that of any other Mac or Windows.

4. Google Talk, Google Voice: For communications.

I don't know about you, but this is pretty much 99% or 100% of what I do on a laptop. For my portable entertainment needs, I have an Apple iPad, among other things. The Apple iPad and the Google Chromebook complement each other like a latte and a croissant -- except one is a lot 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 is not your optimal gaming machine. It is not a toy. It is not a science lab supercomputer either. It's a work tool that is reliable and works all the time, requiring zero maintenance in its life. I'm typing this article on it -- which I would never do on an iPad, and for 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 the Samsung $249 Chromebook, which exhibits a lot of flex. It's also some 20% 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 with more 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 be outperforming the 3.5 hour rating. (2) It's a REMOVABLE battery, so in 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 to notice 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 video output. What it misses is an SD card slot and cellular/GSM SIM card slot/modem.

Storage: The $199 Acer is the first Chromebook to have a spinning hard disk, 320 gig in this instance. All other Chromebooks have a 16 gig SSD. Given the nature of Google Docs, I don't see any need for anything other than 16 gig, and SSD obviously beats HDD in terms of speed and reliability. Why anyone would need 320 gig or anything remotely 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 product sucks. 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 and with no maintenance or administrative hassle, a Chromebook is for you. Whether you should pick the $199 version, $249 version or the $449 version is up to you. In my book, all of these Chromebooks get very close to a perfect 10.0 on a 10.0 scale, all in relation to their price, 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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