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Chromebook price cuts: Will users bite, finally?

The Web giant slashes the price of its always-connected laptop, as analysts say Chromebooks from Samsung and Acer haven't performed well in the marketplace.

Google has cut the price on its Chromebook laptop computers, offering the Web-connected device with minimal offline capability at prices starting at $299.

When Google unveiled the product in May, the base price was $349.

The new Samsung Series 5 Chromebook in black Google

In a blog post, Google senior product manager Venkat Rapaka said the company has been "working closely with our partners to continually improve the overall Chromebook experience while making them even more affordable." Google, though, declined to disclose specific sales figures for the devices.

"Our partners just launched their devices into the market a few months ago, and we're encouraged by the positive feedback we've received from consumers and the rate of adoption by schools and businesses," a spokeswoman said.

But the price drop suggests the devices aren't moving off store shelves as quickly as the company and its partners want, said Roger Kay, president of market research firm Endpoint Technologies Associates. Kay believes Chromebooks have sold "poorly" since their launch.

The idea behind the Chromebook is to simplify computing. Users never need to worry about software updates since their computing is done on the Web, through Google's Chrome browser. That makes updates automatic and invisible. And with little software on the device itself, Google has kept the Chromebook's boot time to just eight seconds.

But the simplicity comes at a cost. Users store photos, videos and documents on the Web rather than the device. That requires a persistent Web connection to get most tasks done. But ubiquitous Web connectivity is not yet prevalent, something that has seemingly discouraged customers.

It's also a reason why some critics have panned the device. CNET's Joshua Goldman steered readers away from Samsung's Chromebook Series 5, saying the device was "expensive for its features and abilities, and using it can be frustrating depending on your wireless signal strength."

One of the challenges for Chromebooks has been its price, which climbed as high as $499 when the products debuted. Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with Gartner, said that price tag put Chromebooks in direct competition with low-end laptops and tablets, such as the iPad. So the price cuts should help. But Google still seems to be wrestling with who the target customer for Chromebooks is.

"Without a lot more evangelizing from Google to consumers this effort still feels more like a science project than a mass market consumer item," Gartenberg said.

Samsung dropped the price of its Series 5 Chromebook from $429 to $349, and added a black model. It previously offered only a white version of the device.

The other Chromebook maker, Acer, cut the price of its two AC700 models. The Wi-Fi version retails for $299 now, down from $349 while the Verizon 3G broadband model sells for $399, down from $449.