I’ve been using my Samsung Chromebook for around 6 months now, which has given me time do do several things. I’ve gotten to find my way around the “Chromniverse” and figure out how to do what I do; I’ve learned to appreciate this little computer’s many virtues and begin to overcome its deficiencies; and I’ve had the chance to consider its existence, the fact and meaning of it, in a real-world context. I’ve also gotten to watch a new user (My Dear Wife) adapt to a MacBook Air, and to compare the two machines. Guess which one I think is the better value?
Perhaps the first question to answer is whether or not the Chromebook is worth buying in the first place. In a word…it depends. The lack of a traditional operating system and on-board storage vault, plus its limitations on what programs it can run and platforms it can use, might be a deal-breaker for a lot of people. My advice there is to do the homework: find out what the thing can and can’t do, and think hard about how you use a computer. If after all that you decide you can live in the cloud and want a tough, cheap, light, fast little notebook, you need to give the Chromebook an audition. Those folks who have specific platforms or programs to run will need to go with those stipulations and get something that satisfies those requirements.
I was a bit harsh in my first review, but with experience has come knowledge and an increased comfort level with the device and its ecosystem. First of all, the Chrome OS is really quite solid. In my Office Job, I have to use three browser windows at a time, and Chrome is the least troublesome. In addition, the number of cloud-based computing solutions (thank you, Netflix!) has either increased dramatically in the last six months or I’m getting a lot better at finding things. Either way, there seems to be less and less you can’t do on the Chromebook. There’s even a way -two, actually- to install a Linux desktop environment. To me, then, the Chromebook has turned out to be a worthwhile purchase, especially for the modest sum of $250.
Comparing the Chromebook to the MacBook Air might seem unfair at first, but too bad. That’s what people do when shopping; they compare things. And, by most objective measurements, the Mac is a superior product: aluminum versus plastic; backlit keyboard; dazzling display; familiar environment; and a history of good product development and support. The Mac also enjoys a level of brand prestige that, while sometimes over-the-top, is undeniable.
The next question, then, is both awkward and inevitable: is the MacBook Air worth the money? Now, I realize that for a lot of people, $1,000 to $1,300 is not an unreasonable price for a notebook computer. That’s nice, really. I’m happy for them. I’m not one of them, though. Faced with such a decision, I have to ask myself if Product A is five times better than product C, since it costs five times as much. That’s an easy one: no. Is the Mac Air nicer, lighter, brighter, and just a little more shiny than the Chromebook? Sure it is. Is it five times so? I think not. I’d call it 30 percent better. Yet it’s not merely 30 percent more expensive. Strange, how economics works (or doesn’t). But cost and value are two different creatures. One is on the bottom line, and one in the eye of the beholder.