The dream of procuring a super affordable laptop running the latest version of Windows has been like a ball rolling down hill – people have been chasing the idea, but no one can quite catch it. Google on the other hand, has had a good degree of success with their affordable Chromebooks; in the educational sector, they are serving as an excellent alternative to more expensive Microsoft branded PCs. However, HP has stepped up to the plate with a $199 Windows 8.1 laptop, the Stream, but is it already too late or can Microsoft win back the extreme budget market?
Forgetting the netbook
Affordable laptops running Windows are not a new conception. In 2007, we saw the birth of the “Netbook”; these ultra-low-cost computers were to fit somewhere in-between your laptop and smartphone – more portable than the former, but more productive than the latter. Unfortunately, Netbooks were generally underpowered machines that featured cramped keyboards, small track pads, and a notably poor user experience. Tablet computers, such as the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire, which were able to hit low price points and deliver much more positive experiences, eventually superseded these tiny machines.
While tablets provide an excellent alternative to Netbooks of the past, Google has had their own affordable solution, the Chromebook. For those unfamiliar with the devices, they usually sell in the $199-$299 price range, and host a boosted up version of Google Chrome, known as Chrome OS.
For the typical consumer, a purported laptop for under $200 sounds like a dream. While Chromebooks have not been popular with everyone, due to their inability to run Windows software, they have found themselves serving a purpose to the extreme budget market.
Microsoft takes action
Microsoft could feel the burn though, as they launched their Scroogled campaign against Google last year. If you have not yet seen the infamous Pawn Stars commercial featuring a Chromebook that the star, Rick, refers to as a “brick” and “barely a laptop”, you can check it out by clicking here.
Well, now Microsoft is not just taking the defensive route – they are taking the offensive route. Partner, HP, has announced the launch of their new ultra-affordable notebook, known as “The Stream”. The new competitor will start at $199, and feature a full copy of Windows 8.1. However, is HP’s new laptop simply the Netbook horror experience rising from the past? It does not seem to be.
The new Stream laptop will feature 2GB of RAM, a 14-inch 720p HD display, up to 64 GB of storage, and a quad-core 1.6 GHz AMD chipset. The larger size of the unit means that the keyboard and track pad should not encounter the same cramped experience that came with many past Netbooks. Moreover, if you worried about your Skype experience – do not be, the Steam 14 will include four Beats Audio speakers and a 720p webcam.
The future of affordable
So what does this mean - has Microsoft and its partners just created a machine to dominate the ultra-affordable PC market? While I do not see Google’s line of Chromebooks dying off just yet, it is apparent that Microsoft now has a serious weapon to fight their battle. Google and their blue, reader, yellow, and green letters should start taking note.
One of the primarily selling points for the Chromebooks continues to be their low price tags, but if Microsoft can offer a full-fledged laptop for the same price, it is worth asking – why even bother with a Chromebook. Students looking for an inexpensive machine to take notes, surf the web, and use Microsoft Office now have a real solution. Not to mention the fact that purchasing the Stream 14 from HP will include two years of 100 GB OneDrive cloud storage.
While Google fans, and those who push aside Microsoft, may find reasons to stick with Chromebooks, it is hard to deny that Microsoft has created an arguably much more powerful machine for consumers. You could point out the fact that you need to purchase Microsoft Office and Antivirus, but there are always free routes for both options.
I make it seem as though the Chromebook will soon be dead, after all, I am saying that Microsoft is now able to offer a more powerful machine for the same price, but as previously stated – I believe Chromebook will be here to stay.
The race to the bottom of pricing never stops, and it is very likely that as soon as Microsoft begins to approach upon Google’s Chromebook pricing territory, we will begin to see much cheaper Chromebooks. Google has invested well into their hardware, and they do not intend to be backing out any time soon.
Time to win
With Microsoft’s other partners such as Dell, Lenovo, Acer, and Asus, likely to jump onboard soon – it soon will not be an odd occurrence to step into your favorite computer store and find a collection of mini Windows laptops for low prices. I hope that what shows up will not be another Netbook nightmare, but instead the answer to old dreams – this will depend on more than just internal hardware though.
Designing an affordable, yet durable chassis has proven to be a problem in a world where many manufactures are switching to thicker plastics, metals, and (in Lenovo’s case) carbon fiber. Luckily, we have seen HP produce quite a few Chromebooks of their own, and they have proved comfortable to carry around day-to-day and for your daily typing needs.
Death of the Chromebook might not be around the corner just yet, but Microsoft is ready to fight – it is all up to its partners and consumers on whether or not the new budget machine model will truly work.
What are your thoughts – will new $199 Windows 8 laptops kill Google’s Chromebook army?