Say Hello to the $149 Chromebook

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There’s no such thing as a laptop for under $200, right? Wrong: HP blew the doors off that theory with the HP Stream 11, a reasonably capable (and extremely popular, if you look at user reviews on Amazon) Windows system priced at $199.99.

Well, okay, but there’s no such thing as a laptop for under $150, right? That’s just…impossible.

Not only is it possible, it’s possible times two: The Haier Chromebook 11 and Hisense Chromebook have price tags of just $149. They’re about to go on sale at Amazon and Walmart, respectively.

What in the wide, wide world of Web is going on here? How can a full-fledged 11.6-inch laptop sell for about the same price as a 7-inch Kindle Fire tablet? Surely these are cheap, slowpoke machines not good for any real computing tasks. Right? Right?!

Ultimately, it depends on the tasks. As you’ve no doubt guessed from the names, these are Chromebooks, meaning they run Google’s Chrome OS, not Microsoft’s Windows. That’s a good thing in many ways: Chromebooks boot and shut down in seconds, are more or less impervious to viruses, run smoothly on minimal hardware, don’t bog down over time, and come with everything you need for everyday computing.

Hisense ChromebookBy that I mean Web browsing, natch, but also e-mail, word processing, image editing, Evernote, Netflix, Twitter, and so on. You know how you can do pretty much anything on, say, an Android tablet? Same goes for a Chromebook, except you get the added benefits of a keyboard and larger screen.

The flipside, of course, is that you can’t run any Windows software you might need to run — in which case a Chromebook makes little sense. But for students, grandparents, anyone on a tight computing budget, and people who are fed up with Windows hassles anyway, this is kind of amaze-balls.

The Haier and Hisense machines are extremely similar on the spec front, each with a 1.8GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of flash storage and a 1,366 x 768-pixel native resolution. Hisense promises 8.5 hours of runtime between trips to the outlet; Haier, 10 hours — despite being the slightly smaller of the two. But Hisense’s model adds a design flourish in the form of a metal wrist-rest beneath the keyboard.

Still, make no mistake: These are cheap laptops with low-end hardware. By all accounts viewing angles are mediocre, and I wouldn’t expect much from the speakers. Plus, like most laptops of this size, the keys are probably a little on the cramped size.

But come on. These are fully capable computers for $149, more powerful than the netbooks of a few years ago that cost twice as much. As a card-carrying cheapskate, I’m overjoyed to see these two models hit the streets. My guess is it’s just a matter of time until a Windows system cracks the $150 barrier as well.

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