Will Gen 3 Chromebooks Finally Hit the Mark?

by Patrick Moorhead   |   February 12th, 2013

Now on their third generation, Chromebooks have taken a deserved perceptual and business beating samsungover the last few years. Generation one and two were flawed in many basic ways, with high prices, sluggish performance, and lack of robust off-line capabilities. This makes Lenovo’s and HP’s latest entry into the category all that puzzling. Is their entry into the market an indication that the third generation of Chromebooks will be a success?

When Google introduced the Cr-48 Chromebook prototype in late 2010, hopes were high that the industry would see a viable alternative to the PC notebook. In 2010, most notebooks sold were thick, heavy, with around three hours battery life, and were sold between $499 and 599. The Cr-48 prototype got 9 hours battery life, weighed 3.8 lbs, was less than an inch thick, and came with integrated 3G. Chromebooks promised an inexpensive, enjoyable and simple, connected experience with very fast start times. That’s not exactly what was delivered.

What was delivered was way short of delivering on the value proposition. Prices were as high as a PC at $499, performance was sluggish, had limited storage, limited battery life, and didn’t operate well or at all offline. As expected, the first two generations were only embraced by Samsung and Acer, and only a few consumers actually bought them.

The third generation Chromebook experience is a positive step forward. Compared to the promise, here is how it stacks up.

  • Instant on: almost immediate
  • Google offline capabilities: Drive, Mail, Calendar, Docs, and Slides
  • Prices: between $429 and $199
  • Battery life: between 4 and 6.5 hours
  • Storage: 16GB SSD to 320GB HDD
  • Weight: as low as 2.5 pounds
  • Thickness: as low as .8 inches high

The “feel” is hard to characterize, but generally, with simple apps like Docs in one windows, the experience felt very snappy. Get on a complex web site with lots of J-script, videos and ads, and the experience starts to get very sluggish. It gets even worse as more tabs are added to the experience. Oddly, SD videos purchased off Google Play were very choppy on the Samsung Series 3 but HD YouTube videos were fine. Keyboards have remained solid and some models have even added the caps lock key. I wish there were a delete key, though. With 95% of the world on Windows PC’s this make a lot of sense.

Will all these improvements turn the tides for the Chromebook? No.

The challenge for Chromebooks as a category is that as they are improving their value prop, so are tablets and PCs and the “feel” is compared to a phone. The biggest of these issues is that PCs are improving.

For nearly the same price, consumers can buy a Windows 8 PC that’s nearly as thin, with mores storage, and similar battery life that can run millions of apps. No, you don’t get the crapware or malware, but consumers don’t think like that. Tablets are an issue, too. If a Chromebook cannot replace the PC then it is an add-on to the experience, which then becomes a question of tablet versus Chromebook. Chromebooks are too much like a PC form factor and consumers will choose the tablet.

Chromebooks have improved their value proposition over the three generations but it won’t be enough to significantly provide the boost that it needs to become a credible category. Chromebooks need to make a much more significant jump in utility or a lower price to do that. By adding better performing processors and graphics combined with more offline capability, it could do that, but that’s for the future.

 

Patrick Moorhead

Patrick Moorhead was ranked the #1 technology industry analyst by Apollo Research for the U.S. and EMEA in May, 2013.. He is President and Principal Analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy, a high tech analyst firm focused on the ecosystem intersections of the phone, tablet, PC, TV, datacenter and cloud. Moorhead departed AMD in 2011 where he served as Corporate Vice President and Corporate Fellow in the strategy group. There, he developed long-term strategies for mobile computing devices and personal computers. In his 11 years at AMD he also led product management, business planning, product marketing, regional marketing, channel marketing, and corporate marketing. Moorhead worked at Compaq Computer Corp. during their run to the #1 market share leader position in personal computers. Moorhead also served as an executive at AltaVista E-commerce during their peak and pioneered cost per click e-commerce models.
  • mhikl

    Our small town had hitching posts in front of local bars, the hotel, train station and drugstore into the sixties. Draw the parallel.

    Apple’s first forays work as claimed, expected and satisfy. The second iteration tightens the knot. Note the difference.

    Off topic: Apple needs to run its own search engine. It could piggyback off anyone other than Google and make one heck of a dent: Yahoo, Bing, DuckDuckGo, (Start Page?); and let slip the dogs of war.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ian-Ray/30902884 Ian Ray

      mhikl, Apple needs to do this like Apple needs to make the iHitchingPost. Google pays Apple an estimated $1 billion to use Google search. So, throw away $1 billion to gain a negative marketplace perception like they did abandoning Google Maps. Why not just stop using the Internet too and make a peer-to-peer AppleNet?

      • mhikl

        Forgot about the Billion, Ian, but both Yahoo and Bing show up as alternatives, and I have set Bing as my alternative and Start Page as a Bookmark. I just see how Google snooped on Apple while on the board and seems to do what it can to undermine Apple and I think, “all’s fair in love and war”. :) But Apple has more scruples than that old saying it seems.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ian-Ray/30902884 Ian Ray

          Apple realizes who their main opponent is: Samsung. That’s why Apple sued Samsung.

          The spat with Google over maps and youtube licensing looks to be over. I’m actually glad that all happened as the Google versions of their own apps in the Apple App Store are better than the tired ones Apple was bundling.

        • http://profile.yahoo.com/U7AFSEL3LIL7NJLFKPVUELMKMQ Jordan

          Ian is absolutely right. Apple makes roughly a billion off Google per year for simply maintaining the status quot. Replace Google search with Bing? Are you kidding? Apple users have been hating on Microsoft since before Google existed. This would surely enrage the user-base more than Apple’s recent map’s debacle. And Yahoo search is simply a less viable alternative. Compare it’s second and third page results to Google’s. I guess Apple could develop a search technology in house. YEAH! They could take the one billion from Google and spend it developing a search engine that their customers will resent them for!

    • diddler

      I think many people would see Siri as Apple’s search engine. It obviously has some way to go, but it represents a long term risk to Google if it catches on as the go to first search choice.

  • Ezequiel Gonzalez

    Me thinks this guy don’t like Chromebooks and is rationalizing his feelings. Me have a CR-48 and found it GREAT!!!!! SO do most of those who actually use them.

    Advantages of Chromebooks, CR-48 included. Fast boot time. Easy Graphical User Interface. No need for virus or malware software. Automatic upgrades, my CR-48 is running the latest stable version of ChromeOS, directly from Google. If I wanted I could change to the Beta and even the Developer channels, but then I may run across a few bugs that still need to be iron out.

    And back to the Chromebook advantages: Great keyboard. Largeer, 12.1 diagonal screen size (as compare with a tablet). Best browser built in. Cloud storage and back up built in. Applications for common task already “installed” or readily accessible via the ChromeWebStore ( Apps are not actually installed on the unit. They are on the cloud you just installed a small piece of code or extension to the browser to interact efficiently with those cloud based apps).

    • fandroid98

      I think Chrome OS is the future for the 85%

      • Ezequiel Gonzalez

        The best PC for 85% of the end users, 100% of the time. And the best quick internet acess/surfing 2nd PC for 100% of the users at any time.

        • fandroid98

          agreed!

  • David C

    I’m delighted with my Acer C7 Chromebook! It does EVERYTHING that I expected. It is Not a replacement for my desktop Mac, but it is a great email, stay current with everything on the internet tool, and it syncs important docs with my desktop Mac.

    I really do not understand what “standard” this reviewer is holding the Chromebook to.

    My Chrome OS was just automaticly updated to version 25. I re-ran some benchmarks and found that my wonderful Chromebook is Much faster!

    My chromebook has a robust response to WiFi at McDonalds and all the other free WiFi spots that I try.

    My Chromebook has EXCEEDED MY EXPECTATIONS!

  • http://twitter.com/leicaman leicaman

    As long as its purpose is to sell the user to advertisers, the answer is no. In other words, no, and not ever most likely.

    • proletaria

      As opposed to Microsoft and Apple who both data-mine their customers AND have them pay for the software or hardware they sell? Or maybe like Canonical who have the most popular Linux distro snooping on their users?

      Fact is, people respond to the price incentive and no, they really don’t care about Google or anyone else gathering marketing data on them.

      Welcome to econ 101.

  • CAC1031

    The $250 Chromebook is an ideal second computer for most people who spend 90+% of their time on the web and who prefer typing with a real keyboard. Just read some of the reviews of the mostly very happy customers at Amazon (I’m one of them). I have two Windows computers (XP and Vista) at home that I have barely used in the two months that I’ve had the Chromebook because they are so slow both to start up and to open a browser (yes, I’ve tried all the technical stuff to clean them up and make them faster). Maybe Windows 8 is better than its predecessors for now, but for how long? Is there a guarantee that in two years it won’t be just as slow and encumbered? At least we know that a Chromebook will only get better with its automatic updates and its ability to do a complete reset without losing data.

    Using Alt+Backspace to forward delete is easy as pie. And Chrome OS offers you the option to turn the search button back into Caps Lock with the keyboard settings.

  • Rex Benjamin

    Take down the Apollo Research award from your mom’s refrigerator and proofread your article. It contains errors.

    I am a seasoned Windows developer and manage an expert development team. I earn my living writing and selling Windows-based software. My personal, number one PC is a Chromebook. Windows PCs are as bloated as the operating system. Valuing “mores (sic) storage” and “millions of apps”, reflects the user’s inefficiency regarding information management and productivity.