Saving with 6abc: Chromebook computers

May 15, 2013 8:57:13 AM PDT
If you've been thinking about getting a backup laptop -- either for yourself or one that's easy for your kids to use -- there's a new kind that's being heavily advertised. It's called a Chromebook. Consumer Reports takes a first look at several.

This commercial for the new Chromebook may have you intrigued: "Chromebooks fall between traditional laptops and tablets. They're meant to be secure, easy to use, and inexpensive."

You can pick one up for as little as $200. Rich Fisco, a Consumer Reports electronics expert, looked at five different models from Acer, HP, Samsung, and the Chromebook Pixel, which is the first laptop from Google.

"Instead of using the traditional Windows and Mac operating systems, it uses the Google Chrome operating system. It's Web-based, so everything you do needs to be done online," Fisco explains.

That's an important distinction. When you're working on a document and you close it, it saves automatically to a Google drive in the cloud, not locally on your hard drive. You do have a downloads folder that gives you some limited local storage.

The upside is your information is more available with a Chromebook.

"If it gets lost, stolen, damaged, all of your data is still there, on the Web, and you can access it from anywhere."

But the fact that Google is storing your data in the cloud is also the downside. Depending on which Chromebook you buy, you do get 2 to 3 years of free cloud storage. But after that, Google charges you a monthly fee for anything above 5 gigabytes.

Consumer Reports says there is value in the lower-priced Chromebooks - if you just want one to surf the Web, check on your e-mail, read a book, or watch a movie.

Testers found most are pretty lightweight, start up quickly, and should be fairly immune to viruses. If you're willing to give up a keyboard and sacrifice some screen size, you might want to consider getting a lower-priced tablet instead.

Consumer Reports named the Google Nexus 7 as a Consumer Reports Best Buy, for $200.