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Google's new $280 Chromebook is great if you're broke and need a computer
Meet the HP Chromebook 11
 
The Chromebook 11 has a plastic body that is reinforced with a metal skeleton.
The Chromebook 11 has a plastic body that is reinforced with a metal skeleton. Google

Today, Google announced the latest version of its Chromebook, a cheap, functional machine that does most everything you need it to.

If you're not familiar with Chromebooks, just imagine a laptop that runs a Chrome browser and not much else. The big plus is that a Chromebook costs just a fraction of what a normal laptop does (the beautiful but expensive Chromebook Pixel notwithstanding), and unlike tablets, the Chromebook is arguably better for getting work done thanks to the keyboard and the Chrome browser's ability to run multiple tabs and windows simultaneously.

A few years ago, using a browser and only a browser was a pretty tough sell. But you can actually accomplish quite a bit of work through a web-only portal. Thanks to the Chrome Web Store, you can set up dedicated web apps to do most of the stuff you do on a fully loaded laptop — things like basic photo editing, composing a document in Google Drive, listening to Spotify, etc. Most of them even work offline. (My roommates and I have an apartment Chromebook we keep in the living room for very important things, like when we need to IMDB the cast of Dawson's Creek or make last-minute adjustments to our respective fantasy football teams.)

HP's new Chromebook 11, which is available starting today, will run you around $280 and looks like the Frankenchild of an old plastic-bodied Macbook and a netbook. It's exceptionally portable with an 11.6-inch screen, and Google promises six hours of battery life, which is an improvement from the three-hour max of older models.

The company gave out review units at a press event earlier today, and I'll spend a few days using it before giving a full-on review. But here, a few impressions after a brief hands-on:

    • The plastic feels really sturdy, which is apparently due to the plastic body being structurally reinforced with a metal skeleton.

    • It's pretty light! Not as feathery as a tablet, mind you, but it weighs in at just a little bit over two pounds.

    • The trackpad isn't that great. It has a cheap, rubbery feel that makes the cursor feel imprecise. (This is an issue with the older Chromebook, too.)

    • It charges using microUSB, which is really, really handy.

    • Google was really pushing it as a Chromecast-friendly media hub during a live demo, which was held in a big and ostentatious Manhattan art gallery. (They had an indoor re-creation of both an airplane and the Highline? Go figure.) I'm looking forward to testing it out with my Chromecast back at home.

Bottom line: If you're in desperate need of an affordable machine that does a little more than a tablet, consider giving the Chromebook 11 a look. You can order one via the usual online outlets, including Best Buy and the Google Play store.

 
Chris Gayomali is the science and technology editor for TheWeek.com. Sometimes he writes about other stuff. His work has also appeared in TIME, Men's JournalEsquire, and The Atlantic.

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