Android laptops: The $200 price is right, but the OS may not be

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When Intel said recently that its Bay Trail chips will power a wave of $200 touchscreen laptops, the company wasn't talking only about Windows.

Those $200 notebooks will predominantly run Android, Intel Executive Vice President and Chief Product Officer David "Dadi" Perlmutter told CNet. Windows laptops could reach the $200 mark, but that “depends on how Microsoft prices Windows 8,” Perlmutter said. “It may be a slightly higher price point.”

David "Dadi" Perlmutter at IDF 2012.

An earlier report by The Wall Street Journal claimed that Microsoft may slash licensing costs for small, touch-equipped notebooks. The lower cost of Windows, combined with lower resolution requirements and low-end Intel processors, could make for some cheap Windows 8 devices later this year.

Even so, Android laptops will likely be even less expensive, because Google doesn't charge a licensing fee for the operating system.

But is Android a good fit for laptops? Some companies have tried the Android notebook before—most notably Asus, with its Transformer and Slider hybrids—but these have been niche products at best.

To make Android more practical as a laptop operating system, Google needs to make some tweaks. Although Android supports external mice, the operating system and apps aren't really optimized for trackpad input. The things you'd expect from a trackpad, like right-click context menus and hover-over functionality, aren't supported. Android would also need more desktop-like features, such as a version of Chrome that supports windowing and a more robust version of Google Drive.

Besides, Google already has a notebook operating system in Chrome OS, and already it's much better suited for productivity than Android. It fully supports trackpads and other pointing devices and it offers the full desktop Web. One Chromebook has already reached the $200 mark.

In the past, Google has said that Chromebooks and Android devices serve separate purposes, but their respective user experiences will merge over time. That hasn't really happened yet, so at this point, throwing Android onto a laptop seems like jumping the gun.

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