Chromebooks are simple, web-centric laptops that do basically everything in the "cloud," through Google's Chrome browser. Don't try it if you need Windows (it's missing) or want to run traditional software -- there's lots of user reviews from disappointed buyers who didn't understand that going in. But for web browsing, streaming video, running apps, etc., experts say a basic Chromebook could be all you need.
The Samsung Chromebook (*Est. $250 and up) dominates the Chromebook class. You can find fancier Chromebooks (and cheaper ones), but reviews say the Samsung Chromebook hits the right balance of cost and features. If you're looking for a cheap second computer or don't ask for too much from your primary PC, reviewers say the Samsung Chromebook is a good option as long as your Internet connection is fairly reliable.
The 11.6-inch Samsung Chromebook is slim, light and built for travel, but its plastic body isn't as sturdy as pricier laptops. Of course, you can't expect aluminum unibody exteriors with a $250 notebook. Experts say the keyboard and touchpad offer surprisingly solid performance, although the backside port placement irritates TheVerge.com's Chris Ziegler.
Samsung's Chromebook runs on the company's own Exynos 5 Dual chip built around powerful new ARM mobile chip designs. The result is nearly seven hours of battery life plus a decent level of online processing prowess.
The Chrome OS itself benefits from its deep ties to Google's cloud-based ecosystem; when you sign in to the Chrome browser, you'll find all your bookmarks there if you use Chrome on other PCs, while Gmail and Google Calendar tie into those respective services. Google also offers 100 GB of free Google Drive cloud-based storage for two years to Chromebook buyers. That helps ease the pain of the notebook's scant 16 GB of flash memory.
Earlier Chromebooks were basically crippled when they ventured away from an Internet connection, but recent tweaks to Google's services let you view your Gmail messages and Google Docs when offline after a few basic modifications. If you're worried about losing the connection, Samsung also offers a 3G-enabled Chromebook (*Est. $330) .
Want to go even cheaper? The Acer C7 Chromebook (*Est. $200) undercuts the Samsung Chromebook by $50, plus it packs a 320 GB hard drive. Corner-cutting is obvious, though: The Acer's skimpy trackpad and anemic speakers irk testers. It's chunky and cheap-looking, runs hot, and its battery gives out after just three to 4.5 hours of use in tests.
If you can swing the extra $50, experts say you'll probably be much happier with the Samsung. With free Google Drive cloud storage, they say, you don't really need the Acer's hard disk at all.