If you’ve been living under a rock, or just don’t follow the tech industry all that closely, you might not be aware that Google has been working on their Chrome operating system and a notebook that runs off of it.  In late 2010 they began taking applications for people to test out the never-to-be-released, beta notebooks known by the moniker CR-48.  They’ve since distributed the notebooks to a select group of media people and other random folks chosen from the applications, and on Wednesday word began to leak about when a Chrome-powered notebook might actually be available to consumers for purchase.  It looks as though at least one Chrome notebook will hit the market this summer, but how do you know if this would be the right purchase for you?  Here are a few things to consider:

What will you use it for?

If you’re hoping to get a Chrome notebook to replace your existing laptop or desktop computer, it’s not quite there yet.  Having used the CR-48 for several weeks now, I would say it’s a great internet device.  There is no physical harddrive included in the setup, and you can’t run programs like Photoshop on it.  But if all you want to do is surf the net or type up a report, it’s perfect.  It’s lightweight, boots incredibly fast, and has an amazing battery life.  It’s great for taking along, and for browsing the web while lounging on the couch.

Like Android and iPhone smartphones, Chrome notebooks rely on apps for additional functionality.  Apps for the device are available in the Android Market.  And if you really do need to save something, the device includes a SD card slot so you may as well invest in a fairly large capacity SD card if you just can’t break away from the habit of saving everything on a physical piece of memory, rather than having it out there in the cloud somewhere.

Right now, a Chrome notebook won’t completely replace a traditional computer.  You’ll want to check them out though if all you really want is another cool toy that will let you surf the net.

How much do you have to spend?

For a notebook that lacks a harddrive and a CAPSLOCK key (they replaced it with a search button — genius!!), I can’t say I’d see them pricing it ridiculously high. My guess is they’ll be valued at around $500 MSRP, give or take a few dollars.

The latest rumor is that the search giant will release the notebook as a subscription service, with users paying in the $10-20 per month range.  Those who’d rather not deal with monthly fees could skip the installment payments and just buy it outright.  In other words, if you’re lacking funds to pay for it, you can get on the subscription service and pay only a little bit at a time.  Or if you’ve got extra cash and, you can just pay for the thing all at once and not have to worry about making a monthly payment. The subscription service, however, will make the Chrome notebook available to more people.

Summary:

The Chrome notebook isn’t quite up to snuff to compete with enterprise computing, but for the average Joe consumer, it’s got mostly everything needed.  You can still plug-in your digital camera and upload your photos to Picasa, Flickr, Photobucket, or whatever other online photo sharing service  you use, you can check your email, surf the net, and write a report with Google Docs.   It’s a great device for when you really don’t need “everything”, and boasts some pretty good specs. It’s just so simple and easy to use.

If you’re itching to get your hands on a Chrome notebook and weren’t selected to be a part of the CR-48 program, don’t fret — they’re hitting the market soon.  On Wednesday sources indicated that at least one model would be available in June/July, which is not that far around the corner.  It will be interesting to see how the consumer devices have been altered from the CR-48 test units, but I don’t expect it to be a far cry from what I’ve already seen.

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