Should the New Chromebook Be Free?

Google's (NAS: GOOG) press event to introduce the new Chromebook was interrupted by an errant earnings press release that contained not only a "pending" quote from CEO Larry Page but also a whole mess of disappointing numbers.

Let's add another to the list: $249. That's what Google and Samsung want retailers to charge for the new Chromebook, undercutting not only Apple (NAS: AAPL) and the MacBook Air, but also Dell (NAS: DELL) , Hewlett-Packard (NYS: HPQ) , and every other Windows machine maker. But at that price, why not just make the Chromebook free?

I'm completely serious. In the wake of the rollout, analysts panned the idea of paying up for a Chromebook when cheap Windows machines offer at least as much power and native software for nearly the same price.

You know what? They're right: the Chromebook comes with just 2 gigabytes of RAM, 16 gigs of solid state storage, two USB ports, a VGA camera, SD card slot, and HDMI port. Good, yes, but hardly different when compared to other portable computing options.

If there's a key difference here, it's the Chromebook is powered by a new Samsung processor built on ARM Holdings' (NAS: ARMH) low-power architecture common to tablets and smartphones. An additional 100 GB of online storage for two years via Google Drive is a nice bonus, although at least one observer says this kicker isn't as applause-worthy as it might seem.

"Consumers do not want to choose between apps and Internet; they want both," Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi told Computerworld. "The $249 is certainly an interesting price point, but consumers have been burned with netbooks and will be cautious and look beyond the price tag."

Fair point. As awesome of the device will undoubtedly be -- and I say that writing from a Chromebook I've been using for a year and a half now -- there simply isn't enough to differentiate the Googly PC from alternatives. Making a limited-run free version would alter the equation entirely. Call it an open source laptop, where fees are limited to premium service and support.

Now it's your turn to weigh in using the space below. Is Google making a mistake pricing the Chromebook at $249? Would giving it away disrupt the market, or the search star's profits? Those aren't easy questions to answer, though we can be sure that the overall spread of fast wireless networks is helping boost demand for consumptive devices such as the Chromebook.

One of our star analysts sees a huge opportunity in these devices. Specifically: a Samsung competitor that is making a killing powering a range of inventive new wireless devices. Do you know this disruptor? A free special report has the name and all of our analyst's research. Click here to get your copy instantly.

The article Should the New Chromebook Be Free? originally appeared on

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He owned shares of Apple and Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's web home, portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Google+ or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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I personally think the Chromebook is great for older people, 65+...I know I am going to Best Buy tomorrow to buy one for my mother...her computer is from 2003 and very slow, she doesn't even use it anymore but she does use her iPhone a lot and wishes she could use an actual computer to open links and whatnot sometimes...she doesn't want an iPad and I think she will love this. I know she wants a disc player on the computer but I can always buy an external one

October 22 2012 at 12:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The line that consumers go burned by Netbooks should give many food for thought. I have more gadgets then a sane person should and the fact is I still favor my HP Netbook and it is sitting on my lap right now. BTW I do own a MacBook Air and 3 tablets if you consider the Kindle e-reader a tablet ( +I pad & Kindle Fire).

Will tablets run their course is a good question. I may give the Chromebook a try. Heck this stuff are now inexpensive commodities.

October 19 2012 at 7:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You say that there's little in the hardware to differentiate the new Chromebook from existing netbooks, but that indicates that you're totally missing the point. Yes, if this was running Windows, it would be very "meh" and run-of-the-mill. The fact that it's running ChromeOS, which I'm sure is much lighter-weight than Windows, means that similar hardware can provide much more "power", as you put it. Another advantage of an ARM-based machine over the usual x86-based ones is a much smaller power profile, leading to either far more battery life or a lighter machine (smaller battery needed).

You also quote Carolina Milanesi, who claimed that users want both apps and the Internet. Apps are moving online at an increasing rate - there are many people who primarily use their computer to access websites like Facebook and play web-based games like Farmville or Words with Friends. Google also provides online, cloud-based equivalents of common desktop applications like Google Docs/Drive instead of Microsoft Office, and even applications like Photoshop or Quicken have online equivalents. How many of the desktop applications that you use on a daily basis have no web-based equivalent?

Oh, and your plug at the end of the article for your "star analyst's report" is absolutely shameful.

October 19 2012 at 7:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Iam Dust

I dont know what to do with it, even it is free. I use windows 8 tablet

October 19 2012 at 6:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply