The Google Laptop That Beat Apple and Microsoft

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In 2013, Google (GOOG) went from zero to hero in the laptop market.  This is one reason Google stock generally outperformed Apple (AAPL) and Microsoft (MSFT) in the last year or two.

Being one of the first users of Google laptops, I started warning about this trend in a long series of articles already in December 2010.  People laughed at me all the way, but I was finally proven right.  It took two years for Google to work with its key hardware partners to get the product right in order to dramatically outgrow Microsoft and Apple.

Unlike Apple and Microsoft, Google doesn't report laptop or PC sales -- or in Microsoft's case, OS licenses.  Therefore, we rarely see a big quarterly headline showing what we now know, that Google murdered Microsoft and Apple in the laptop market in a record-fast time.

For market share data, we go to our new King of retail, Amazon (AMZN).  Of the top 14 best-selling laptops on Amazon, five are Google laptops and only two are Apple.

Of these five best-selling Google laptops, three are variants of the Acer 720.  This new Acer 720 has become the Honda (HMC) Accord -- or Toyota (TM) Prius -- of the laptop world.  It's the new volume king -- "America's laptop" if you will.  It's the laptop that saved Acer as a company, after it intelligently chose to ride the Google laptop wave shortly after Microsoft started to decline.

Briefly speaking, this is a 11.6-inch laptop that weighs 2.8 pounds.  It doesn't have integrated LTE but relies on WiFi for wireless connectivity.  When you buy the Acer 720, you get an extra 100 gigs in your Google Drive account, and the device intelligently makes sure that the stuff you are likely to need can be cached on the device's 16-gig solid-state storage.

The Acer 720 first came in two versions: One with 2 gigs or RAM and the other with 4 gigs of RAM.  The former is $200 and the latter is $250.  I reviewed the $250 version on Oct. 17 as it was just hitting the market.



Now, Acer has added a third version of this best-selling laptop to its arsenal: one with a touchscreen.  It's $300.

First of all, just to be clear, the only thing you will notice that's changed with this new version is the touchscreen.  If you didn't know that it had a touchscreen, you would never guess.

This begs the question:  Do you need a touchscreen on a laptop like this?

My answer is that, for close to 99% of you out there, the answer is a resounding "no."

At this point, putting a touchscreen in a Google laptop is the answer to a question nobody was asking; a solution in search of a problem.  In over three years of using a Chromebook every single day, at no point did I say to myself, "Wow, if this thing just had a touchscreen, it would be perfect."

It's perfect anyway!

Be honest: How many of you are using the touchscreen on your touchscreen-enabled laptop?  When do you reach forward, pointing like an orangutan exercising a new yoga pose, with your greasy fingers onto the precious screen?  Other than in a Microsoft ad, never.

Using your fingers on the screen is something you do on your tablet and obviously on your smartphone.  Not on your laptop.

The reason for this is it's far more productive to use a mouse or trackpad, than trying to edit your article or email on the screen with your finger.  Why?  Your finger needs big touch targets.

In order for a laptop to be useful for fingers on a touchscreen, it needs to have a completely different kind of interface than the one we are used to on a laptop.  A laptop is optimized for fine granularity that the trackpad and mouse afford.

This is another way of saying that Apple is and has been 100% right about the laptop and tablet being two very different animals.  Microsoft has tried to marry the two in the same device, using two different software interfaces -- one for fingers, the other for trackpad/mouse.

In order for a touchscreen to be of any use on a Google Chrome OS laptop such as this Acer 720, two things need to happen:

1.  The screen needs to be removable, such as it is on so many Microsoft-based laptops these days. By removing the screen, it becomes a tablet. Alternatively, you need to be able to convert it in a way such as the Lenovo Yoga.

2.  The software needs to become touch-friendly; in other words, finger-optimized. This is simply not the case with a basic Web browser today.

I think we can safely say that Google is working on both -- in the former case together with several hardware partners such as Acer and Lenovo.  I would not be surprised to see this kind of product I envision become available later this year.  Judging from Microsoft's failure in making such a product successful, I suspect that Google will not do much better with this "convertible" or "2 in 1" concept.  Hey, they'll try anyway.

As such, I see no need today to spend $300 on the touchscreen version of the Acer 720 when the non-touchscreen versions are $250 and $200.  Buy one of those instead and you will be extremely happy.

How does the Acer 720 compare to the HP (HPQ) Chromebook 11, which sells for $279 in its WiFi-only version?  Here are the pros and cons:

The HP has a better screen (IPS), slightly better keyboard, is lighter, fanless and can charge with standard MicroUSB, as with every non-Apple smartphone.  These are all laudable advantages and could have made the HP the best laptop in the market.

But for one thing.

The HP Chromebook 11 has a CPU that's just too weak.  It's a Samsung ARM processor, and it's simply infuriating to use.  There are few new computing devices today that are too slow, but this is the one.  If the HP Chromebook 11 only had a much faster CPU/GPU, it would probably be better than the Acer 720.

Alas, it is not.

The Acer 720 has a dramatically much faster Intel CPU, similar to the kind used in many Microsoft laptops, and when mated with Google's Chrome OS, it flies.  As for the HP's other advantages, they are not decisive because on all of those points the Acer is plenty "good enough" to pale in comparison to the CPU difference.

Simply put, the Acer 720 is the laptop to get if two conditions apply:

1.  The 11.6-inch screen size is large enough.  If it isn't, go with another Chromebook instead such as the newly launched Toshiba 13-inch or the HP 14-inch model.

2.  You don't need integrated LTE.  If you need integrated LTE, buy the HP Chromebook 14 instead for $350.  It's got the same Intel (INTC) CPU/GPU as this Acer, unlike the smaller HP Chromebook 11 with its dramatically inferior processor.

Bottom line: There is no point in having your Chromebook with a touchscreen.  The Acer 720 is available without a touchscreen for $200.  There is a very good reason the Acer 720 has become the best-selling laptop on Amazon.  I give it my highest recommendation.  For $200, it's a steal.

At the time of publication the author was long AAPL.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

If you liked this article you might like

There Are Many Signs Investors Have Totally Forgotten About S&P 500 Correction

There Are Many Signs Investors Have Totally Forgotten About S&P 500 Correction

Quick Tips: Now What Should Investors Do?

Quick Tips: Now What Should Investors Do?

7 Inexpensive ETFs for Small-Cap and Micro-Cap Exposure

7 Inexpensive ETFs for Small-Cap and Micro-Cap Exposure

Buy Stocks That Are Right for You: Cramer's 'Mad Money' Recap (Friday 2/16/18)

Buy Stocks That Are Right for You: Cramer's 'Mad Money' Recap (Friday 2/16/18)

Shorts Trampled In Bull Market Rally; UPS Share Structure Examined -- ICYMI

Shorts Trampled In Bull Market Rally; UPS Share Structure Examined -- ICYMI