HP Unveils Its First Chromebook

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - Hewlett Packard ( HPQ) has made it official. Less than one week after leaking some information its Web site (and then quickly taking it down) , the tech giant has formally announced its first Chromebook - the Pavilion 14.

Chromebooks are lightweight laptop/notebook computers runnin Google's ( GOOG) Chrome OS, which is simply a Chrome browser. For the most part, that's it. The underlying operating system is a form of Linux. But, for the end user, all you need to know is that everything you can do on a Chromebook is done via the Chrome browser. Everything.

Need to write an "Office" document? You do so using Google's online office suite. Need to store or share those documents? You do that in Google's Cloud. You can access that cloud from any computer with a Web browser then print it anywhere you need.

There are also thousands of Chrome-based apps for nearly everything else. Everything from games, news and business sites, to photos, music and video. Just like a real computer.

HP's new device has a full-size 14-inch screen (1,366 by 768 pixels), a 1.1 GHZ Intel ( INTC) Celeron processor, 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of flash internal storage, a SD card slot and HDMI port. The device will retail for $329.99 when it goes on sale on Feb. 17.

HP joins the ranks of Samsung and Acer, who've been making Chromebooks for years, as well as Lenovo. Last week Lenovo announced a Chromebook that it will sell to school systems nationwide. The new HP has similar specs to the $199 Acer C7, except for the larger display and battery.

At the moment, Chromebooks are hot - the netbooks of today. Look at the latest ranking from Amazon.com ( AMZN) and you'll see the most popular laptop sold on the site is the Samsung Chromebook. It's currently listed as going for more than its $250 suggested retail price.

In questionable economic times, buyers (especially bulk-purchasers such as school systems) look for the best deals. In our tests, we've found that Chromebooks are very capable and very affordable devices for many computer tasks. They're especially affordable when you consider that many popular tablets are selling for $500 to $600, Microsoft's ( MSFT) new Windows 8 Surface computers start in that same region (which is why initial sales are slow) and Apple's ( AAPL) MacBook Air begins at $1,000.

I'm guessing we'll see more manufacturers - possibly Asus, Dell ( DELL), and others - as well as buyers - joining the Chromebook ranks as time goes on

--Written by Gary Krakow in New York.

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Gary Krakow is TheStreet's senior technology correspondent.