Windows laptop, MacBook, or Chromebook? Let's ask Amazon

Windows laptop, MacBook, or Chromebook? Let's ask Amazon

Summary: Are you looking for a clamshell-style laptop? The world's largest online market, Amazon.com, has a huge selection, with cheap Chromebooks at the top of the list. What does that list say about the three very different ecosystems for this familiar form factor?

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TOPICS: PCs, Microsoft
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Tablets might be one of the fastest-growing categories in technology, but for sheer numbers conventional PCs still rule, especially those available in the classic clamshell format: Windows laptops, MacBooks, and Chromebooks.

If you want a snapshot of that market, go to Amazon.com and examine the 100 products on their Best Sellers in Laptop Computers list. I took a close look at that list this week, following up on a post I wrote about these same Amazon listings in April 2013, six months after the launch of Windows 8. (If you haven't yet seen that article, it's worth a second look: As the PC market turns, touchscreens start to take over.)

Here's the latest snapshot:

amazon-top-5-laptops

It took me several hours to collect, clean up, and analyze the data. If you'd like to inspect it for yourself and even do your own analysis, be my guest. I've shared the spreadsheet publicly on SkyDrive: http://sdrv.ms/1eLphao. Note that the rankings at Amazon change hourly, so the list you see now will not match my snapshot from November 11. Likewise, I have compiled both manufactuer's suggested prices and actual for-sale prices for each item on the list. As experienced Amazon shoppers know, those numbers change regularly as well. The prices listed were accurate at the time I collected this data. 

There's a natural human tendency to focus on the horse race aspect of a list like this, declaring winners and losers. I'm more interested in teasing out clues to what's next for the companies that build tech products and those who use them.

The fact is, all three of these platforms exist and will continue to exist for many years to come. Their size, strength, and ability to attract an ecosystem are important factors to understand when making buying decisions, especially if having a large diverse ecosystem is important to you. But personal preferences and business needs get involved too. Different people can come to different conclusions about which product or service is right for them, even when they're looking at the exact same data. That doesn't make anyone's decision right or wrong—just different.

This week, the sub-$249 11.6-inch Samsung Chromebook (Wi-Fi, 11.6-Inch) is at the top of Amazon's list of best-selling laptops, just as it was back in April and indeed has been since its introduction in October 2012. Acer's $249 C710 Chromebook, which was in the top 5 back in April,  is in the top 5 in November as well.

But the rest of that top 100 list is worth looking at as well. Here's how it breaks down.

Windows laptops

Three-quarters of the entries on the top 100 list run Windows. Those 74 SKUs represent 43 different models from 11 different manufacturers. The variations are models that have the same screen size and exterior design with different combinations of CPU, RAM, and local storage. You'll find Dell's 15.6-inch Inspiron 15, for example, in no fewer than seven different configurations and prices. Likewise, ASUS has 19 SKUs but only 13 models.

Apple laptops

You can get a MacBook Pro (in one of 8 configurations) or a MacBook Air (with 4 configurations available). The list of Apple products also includes 3 very old products that have not been available from Amazon or its retail partners for years.

Chromebooks

I found 5 Chromebook models in a total of 10 variations, from HP, Acer, and Samsung. For the most part, Chromebook makers appear to be hedging their bets, offering one or two models compared to a wide variety for form factors and configurations and price ranges for their Windows machines.

Now, trying to draw definitive conclusions from this list about the current market is not always possible. For starters, Amazon is a small slice of the retail market, which in turn is a slice of the larger market for PCs and technology products. Even in its own domain, Amazon's rankings have quirks. Sales of used computers are counted, for example, which means that a G4-based iBook from 2008 was at position #46 in the Amazon Best Selling Laptop Computers list yesterday and moved up to #36 today, all via the used marketplace. On the PC side, the extremely popular 2008-vintage Dell D620 laptop is perennially in the top 100 as well. There's also one weird $99.99 Chinese Android device (a netbook, essentially) that is only available for sale through a third-party advertiser.

But throwing out those outliers, some clear patterns emerge that I think can be extrapolated to the retail market at large.

Price matters. A lot.

Amazon's audience (and much of the consumer PC marketplace as a whole) is driven by the quest for a bargain. So it's not surprising that the top 20 sellers on the Amazon top 100 list are mostly dirt-cheap. In fact, when I graphed the correlation between sale price and sales ranking, there was an unmistakable trendline: as price rises, sales ranking drops. Only one pricey MacBook Air made it into the top 15 laptops by price. The 10 Windows-powered laptops in that list average $388.01; the 4 Chromebooks average $242.56. Chromebooks by design are cheap. Windows OEMs are only just beginning to create form factors that can sell in the same general price range.

Samsung is dominating the Chromebook market.

Wisely, Samsung offers only one model of Chromebook at Amazon, in two configurations: the top-ranked Wi-Fi model and a less-popular 3G model. The two models combined have collected 3,454 reviews and ratings from Amazon buyers. The MacBook Pro is a distant second, with 867 reviews. The very popular ASUS VivoBook X202E is the most-ranked Windows laptop, with 489 rankings. Samsung's showing jibes with the recent report from ISC, which noted that Samsung was the only hardware manufacturer having any luck in the cutthroat Chromebook category. HP's brand-new Chromebook 11, with its white and blue design, has managed to crack the top 5, but it remains to be seen whether it can stay there.

Variety is the hallmark of the Windows market.

One reason Samsung is perched at the top of the list with its Chromebook is that it hasn't cluttered up the supply chain with multiple models. In fact, there are only five models of Chromebook compared to 43 different models of Windows laptops. If someone's in the market for a Chromebook, they have a limited choice. If you're looking for a Windows PC, on the other hand, the range of choices is maybe a bit too dizzying. That explains why no single model dominates among Windows OEMs, whereas Samsung can claim the crown in the uncrowded Chromebook field.

This fall's crop of Windows 8.1 devices have huge potential.

I have lost count of the number of readers, Twitter followers, friends, and family members who have asked about the new ASUS Transformer Book T100. And sure enough, this $379 BayTrail-powered Windows 8.1 hybrid has rocketed to the #2 spot on Amazon's sales charts only a month after it went on sale. ASUS also has a $299 touchscreen notebook, the Celeron-powered X200CA, in the top 10. Most Windows 8.1 devices are still too new to have made their way into Amazon's catalog, much less its sales rankings. It will be interesting to see what this list looks like next April.

I also looked at user ratings from Amazon customers in this category. Those results were illuminating as well and will be coming up shortly.

Topics: PCs, Microsoft

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144 comments
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  • wow, someone actually analised the numbers

    instead of simply looking at a page and coming up with a headline
    thekman58
    • Gee I wonder who the heck you

      are talking about... __ __ __ __
      ScanBack
      • They are gone

        Talkback started with a lot of comments about you know who. They are all gone now. Some were even a good comparison between the two writers. Most favored Ed over you know who.

        By the way this really is great article that offers a balanced analysis instead of just numbers or excessive opinions.
        MichaelInMA
    • Analised Numbers

      *shudder*

      After they'd got kinky with the maths, maybe they also analysed it...... let's hope so..... :D
      Mouseboy007
      • they also may have:

        analyzed it
        apoteke
        • zpelling

          Analyse is the correct spelling; just the renegade colonies to the West keep getting it wrong
          dongennl
      • Good one ;-)

        sorry about the Freudian s.. I mean spelling error
        thekman58
    • pun intended? ;-)

      nt
      Mytheroo
      • How about an Android notebook

        What about something like aTransformer?
        Use mine more than my Surface.....
        rhonin
    • Amazon? Analised the numbers???

      Since when did Amazon become the knowledge base for PC sales?

      I've never bought a PC from Amazon in 35 years. Cheap is the only "value" prized on Amazon. What's the point of this article anyway ... Cheap wins? Of course
      padapa
      • cheap?

        Never understood where people get this idea of less expensive computers on Amazon -- some are priced over retail. The Samsung Chromebook is basically retail. Other than parts, I see few big deals on computers.
        mytake4this
    • Amazon Sales

      So, if Amazon sells a lot of something, that means it is the BEST? Or does it just mean that Amazon sells a lot of it?

      Can you offer any comments concerning the QUALITY of the products sold by Amazon, not just the QUANTITY?

      QUANTITY does not necessarily equal QUALITY. All QUANTITY means is that the seller (in this case Amazon) is selling a lot of stuff, (Oh, and, BTW, making a lot of money selling that stuff). Amazon does not seem to care very much about the QUALITY of the items it sells, as long as it sells a large QUANTITY of those item, thereby making a lot of money.

      Reliance on Amazon's sales figures just gives you that: WHAT QUANTITY OF AN ITEM DID AMAZON SELL, regardless of the QUALITY of those items!
      ktree32510
  • Great Article

    That's a good point, when you have 100 samsung chromebook sold, it will be more than 43 windows laptop each one sales is 90! but windows has sold 3870 laptop while chrome only 100.
    Hope SVJN founds a working calculator on his linux machine!
    FadyNabilNashed
    • Looks like chromebook 11 by HP is being pulled from shelves

      No reason is given, but Best Buy is pulling them. Hardware issues maybe?
      otaddy
      • According to an article I read

        "Amazon has stopped directly selling it as well, saying that customers have told them that “there may be something wrong” with their inventory of the HP Chromebook 11"

        Could be a hardware issue from the sounds of it.
        William.Farrel
        • Where are the Googleites

          to defend it?
          Darko Gavrilovic
          • Why should they defend anything?

            When Xbox had issues, MS did the right thing and replaced the faulty units. Yes, this cost them the profitability they would have otherwise produced, but it was the right thing to do for the customer.

            If it turns out to be a hardware issue, let's hope HP does the same.
            otaddy
          • no surprise...HP is officially the worst quality pc maker

            my experience with their defective pc's is in line with that stat.
            oh and i am a google...goo..."googleite". :)
            captainhurt@...
          • HP Knew how to make a PC

            HP enterprise desktop tech is still solid. However, I've never been particularly impressed with their mobile alternatives. For years and years I was issued HP laptop after HP laptop. One was really good, a few were OK and some were horrible (for a couple product life cycles, they had flimsy plastic cases that flexed when used in a road warrior manner. Eventually the parts on the inside that don't take kindly to flexing, cried uncle.)

            Of course when iOS exploded with growth and everyone wanted to be the first to deliver an enterprise app, I was also given a MBP. Of course it cost so much I think Lloyd's of London insured it. It was a really nice piece of hardware. Most of the stuff Windows hardware vendors create is just beyond compare. Although I'm not a Mac OSX fanatic, the MBP is a really fine piece of hardware.
            robradina@...
        • Chargers

          overheating
          Texrat