Chromebooks are the latest laptop variation to capture the PC-buying public's fancy. It shouldn't be surprising; these systems -- which run Google's Chrome OS rather than Windows -- are sold largely on price, and have already captured a big part of the budget laptop market.
Toshiba is the most recent company to step into the Chromebook fray, with a new $279 13-inch system simply named Toshiba Chromebook. In fact, this is the first Chromebook to feature a 13.3-inch display. That's a common enough size in Windows laptops, but most Chromebooks to date have been 11-inch systems, with a few 14-inch ones popping up occasionally.
The screen has only a 1,366x768 native resolution, but for less than $300, it's hard to expect more. At 3.3 pounds and 0.8 inches thick, it has an upscale feel for such an inexpensive system. Because the Chromebook is only running the Chrome OS, it can get away with having a current-gen Intel Celeron processor and 2GB of RAM, plus a 16GB solid-state drive. Battery life is said to be up to nine hours.
The Chromebook pitch, much like the pitch for similarly inexpensive netbooks several years ago, is that many people would be willing to buy a laptop with limited functionality at the right price -- as long as you could still do the things that really mattered to you.
While Chrome OS (essentially the Chrome Web browser experience) will only run Web-based apps and requires an internet connection to be even vaguely useful, the shift in recent years to web-based tools, such as Gmail and Netflix, at least help make the case that a Chromebook can be a good secondary or travel PC.
The Toshiba Chromebook will be available starting February 16, for $279.