Cheaper computing devices are coming to market as the rivalry between Microsoft and Google heats up. Until recently, Google's big push into computing – the Chromebook – wasn't selling very well, but that has changed, and Microsoft is taking notice.
You can now buy a Chromebook for well under $200, and two new models go on sale next week for $149 each. In response to Google's moves, Microsoft is releasing the Surface 3 tablet, which costs $499. This base version of the Surface 3 and is much cheaper than the Surface 3 Pro, though not as capable.
Chromebooks are laptops that run Google's Chrome OS and not Windows. That means you cannot use them to run typical Windows applications such as Microsoft Office or free Office clones like Libre Office. However, Google and its partners developed a large number of apps for Chromebooks. Google Docs and other programs you can find on the Web offer basic Office functionality. Chromebooks don't have much storage, but if you don't mind keeping most of your stuff in the cloud, Google Drive works quite well. (Here are some tips for using Chromebooks.)
The Haier Chromebook 11 and Hisense Chromebook (pictured above) both have 11.6-inch displays, 2GB of RAM, and they run on Rockchip 3288 processors. Interested consumers can preorder the Haier Chromebook for $149 on Amazon and the Hisense model for $149 on Walmart.com.
The Surface 3 tablet sells for $499, compared to a range of between $799 and $1,949 for the higher-end models. The discounted version has a slightly smaller screen — 10.8 inches rather than 12 inches — a slower processor, and a less flexible kickstand with only three angles rather than unlimited positions. Unlike past cheaper versions of the Surface that ran a strange OS called Windows RT, this one runs the real Windows and offers most of the familiar Windows applications.
I say most, because it’s powered by a relatively weak processor that might not work well with demanding applications, such as Photoshop. The device is, however, getting good reviews and is quite capable. You can preorder the Surface 3 next week, and it will be in stores in May.
If you want to buy a conventional laptop, I suggest waiting a month or two. You'll likely see terrific sales. That's because Windows 10 will launch this summer, and before PCs loaded with the new OS hit the market, manufacturers including Dell, HP and Lenovo, along with retailers such as Best Buy and Walmart, will clear inventory by cutting prices.