Google is dangling a low-priced laptop computer in front of consumers as rivals Microsoft and Apple prepare to release their latest gadgets. The lightweight computer unveiled Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012 will sell for $249 and is being made in a partnership with Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., which also makes smartphones and tablet computers that run on Google's Android software. (AP/AP)

Google and Samsung announced Thursday that they will be launching new Chromebooks to follow up on the cloud-based laptop Google introduced last year.

The WiFi Chromebook will be available on Monday, for $249. It has an 11.6-inch screen, weighs 2.43 pounds and is less than 0.8-inches thick. The company says it has 6.5 hours of battery life, a 16GB solid-state hard drive and comes with one USB 2.0 port, one USB 3.0 port, an HDMI Port and is Bluetooth compatible.

Amazon, NewEgg and Samsung have pre-orders for a 3G version of the notebook, which will cost $329.99 and comes with 100 MB of free 3G data per month from Verizon.

The Chromebook seemed pretty far ahead of the curve when the company announced it last year — a notebook with very limited local storage and nothing but a browser. Like its predecessor, the new Chromebook is uniquely tailored for Google’s biggest fans — the ones who use Google Docs, Gmail, Google Search, YouTube, Chrome’s app store and Google + — and don’t need a computer to do much else.

Those programs do cover a lot of ground from basic document creation to video-conferencing, but those looking to buy a Chromebook still have to be prepared for an all-Google, all-the-time experience.

In a review from Computerworld, JR Raphael said the machine’s performance was fairly good, though he did see some “slowdowns” once he had around a dozen tabs open. The Chrome OS that powers the Chromebook— and is, essentially, the whole point of the device — has “come a long way” since its introduction, he said. And the ability to have a computer that automatically syncs with one’s Google account is pretty darn useful.

So what’s the bottom line?

Raphael says that the computer is a useful little tool, but not for power users who need to run serious programs or do heavy multi-tasking throughout the day. For the price, he said, it’s a great value as long as buyers recognize that limitation.

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