Having used my Chrome Notebooks given to me through Google's beta testing program for some time now, I can safely say two things:
- I love the Chromebook for what it is (and so does my wife, for that matter)
- The Chromebook has several major shortcomings
So what does this have to do with the MacBook Air, a device to which I gave these glowing words:
The new MacBook Air actually isn’t a terrible choice for high school students...as a highly portable machine for the average liberal arts college student, it isn’t a terrible choice either. At least the aluminum would ensure that it could survive most backpacks.
My problem really, as usual with Macs (despite typing this on a Mac right now), is that value-for-your-money proposition. That problem, though, has always seemed to be exacerbated with the Air. Aging processors, too little RAM, anemic graphics, all in a wonderfully trendy, super thin little package. At least if I'm dropping some serious cash on a MacBook Pro, I'm getting myself a new Core i7 and some AMD graphics power.
But wait! The MacBook Air isn't for Photoshop power users. It isn't for running Final Cut. It is for accessing the Internet in an extremely light-weight, convenient package. My Chromebook is also thin and light, and is made for accessing the Internet. In fact, it's worthless if it isn't connected to the Net.
The Chromebook's shortcomings are largely performance- and durability-related. Try opening a few browser windows and several tabs on a Chromebook and you'll be reminded that you're only using a glorified netbook with all of the performance limitations that go with them. The plastic body flexes and the keyboard is very good, but nowhere near great.
A MacBook Air would address both of these issues. While the Core 2 Duo processors in the Air are hardly speed demons, they'll blow away Atom processors any day. I can crank up the Air to 4GB of RAM and, if I keep my background applications to a minimum and stick with a web browser, I suddenly have a Chrome notebook with an awesome keyboard, extreme durability, excellent portability, above-average notebook performance, and local storage besides.
If I look at the MBA for what it is (an instant-on, extremely portable Internet access device), suddenly its technical shortcomings don't seem so significant. Sure, it's still too expensive. But I've come to rely on my Chromebook for hours of correspondence and writing every week. I'd happily pay for a premium version of it. Since even a retail version of it doesn't actually exist, the MacBook Air is about as close as you can get.
Samsung and Lenovo may both have it beat with their latest ultraportables, but (and I never thought I'd say this), the MBA's cost is easier to justify. It's dated processors put it at an attainable pricepoint in the super-portable-but-not-a-netbook category.
No doubt, the Chromebook was built for low prices and will more than meet the needs of the average consumer. My wife has yet to complain about performance. It will be perfect for school installations and a variety of business settings. But the next iteration of a Chrome OS notebook needs to be a lot more MacBook Air and a lot less Asus eee PC. Those of us who live in the cloud and make our livelihoods here need some more get up and go. And we shouldn't have to buy a Mac to get it.