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Photo illustration of the MacBook Pro with Retina display, right, with the Google Chromebook behind it. (Photoillustration/Images courtesy of Apple Inc. and Google Inc.)
Photo illustration of the MacBook Pro with Retina display, right, with the Google Chromebook behind it. (Photoillustration/Images courtesy of Apple Inc. and Google Inc.)

Back to School

A contrast in laptop extremes: MacBook Pro vs. Chromebook Add to ...

Right now, you can’t buy the Chromebook in Canada, possibly because our telecom carriers can’t be bothered (or don’t want) to make the 3G version available; possibly because of regulatory hurdles; possibly because Canada isn’t a big enough market for Google to feel any sense of urgency. As such, if you want one, you’ll have to do the same thing you already do when you want to buy smartphones at a non-criminal price or watch half-decent TV on the Web – you’ll have to pretend you live in the States.

On Best Buy, Amazon and a couple of other U.S. retailers, the Chromebook starts at about $450 for the 1.3-gigahertz, Wi-Fi only model with 4 gigabytes of memory and 16 gigabytes of storage. The 3G-equipped model will run you another hundred bucks. Previous years’ models, if you can find them, cost as little as $300.

The first thing you see when you switch on the Chromebook is the Chrome logo atop a calming white background. Then, like other operating systems, Chrome lets you choose a personal profile to log in with. There’s also a “Guest” login, which essentially allows you to use the browser but doesn’t save any of your history, cookies or similar information once you log out.

Besides the browser, there’s very little going on in the screen. In the bottom-right corner you’ll find the familiar desktop staples: a battery life icon, a clock, a Wi-Fi status and default language indicator. In the bottom-left corner you’ll find Google’s equivalent of the Windows Start button – a Chrome logo. The only thing this button does, however, is launch a new browser tab. Click on the “Applications” button next to the Chrome logo, and you’ll find just three options: Launch a new browser tab, launch the Web-based Chrome app store or launch the mostly impotent file manager.

It may seem strange to have a file manager when the computer doesn’t have too many files to access. But the Chromebook does come with a USB port, which means you can conceivably try to launch files off a USB key or external drive.

The key word here is “Try.” When we plugged a USB key in and tried to launch a .Doc file, a notice popped up saying: “To view this file, convert it to a format that’s viewable on the web.”

This is a laptop designed exclusively for people who live their digital lives fully on the Web. Don’t buy this thing if you want to save files locally, or if you intend to use it outside the borders of a good wireless Internet connection, or if you like to yell a lot (Google has done away with the Caps Lock key).

But if you’re part of that fairly specific demographic that wants little more than a Web browser and good keyboard, this is the best laptop for you. And, hell, it only costs about one-fifth of the price of a MacBook Pro.

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