Low-end laptop
Apple contender: MacBook Air ($899)
Alternative: Google Chromebook ($199-$319)

That MacBook Air price is the recently announced reduced rate -- from $999.

That's it. That's Apple's low-end, base laptop and its concession to the fact that Google's been letting laptop owners in on the ground floor cheaply since 2012.

Now Hewlett-Packard, Acer and Toshiba have joined Samsung in cranking out Chromebooks that are the exact same size as the MacBook Air and have similar battery life. Do they have Apple's proprietary apps and OS? Nope.

But will any of that really help a nonpartisan consumer justify paying four times more for a MacBook Air when a Chromebook will get the job done? Holiday 2012 should be a decent test.

Do they have the Mac ecosystem? Nope? Do they give someone looking for an entry-level laptop a fighting chance by keeping a slim profile, using Google Drive for storage and booting up in a reasonable time? Absolutely, and it's working in a segment of the market that Apple can't even bring itself to sniff.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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