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Only you can decide if Chromebook is right for real estate

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Last week I field tested a Samsung Chromebook.

Over the holidays the local Best Buy store ran out of them. They were also out of stock on Amazon.com, with a waiting list to buy one. I wanted to know what all the hype was about.

I finally got my hands on a Chomebook when a family member got one and let me play with it.

I borrowed the Chromebook for a few days, logging into my own Google account and testing everything I use on a day-to-day basis for real estate.

Any agent reading this knows this truth but I’ll say it anyway: Real estate is local, and there is no one-size-fits-all software or hardware solution that works with every multiple listing service and all the other systems we need to get into.

The most wonderful thing about the Chromebook is that you can get a good idea of its capabilities using any computer with Internet access.

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Just download the Chrome Internet browser — which you should be using anyway — and use it to access your MLS, answer email and write contracts for your clients. Think of the Chrome browser as your Chromebook simulator.

As soon as I logged into the Chromebook with my Google account, all of my bookmarks, extensions and settings that I use in my Chrome browser on my computers were all there. No other personalization was needed.

The Chromebook boots up almost instantly and is surprisingly fast, especially with a high-speed Internet connection. I noticed a lag if I landed on a slow-loading website, but found it to be far superior to the netbooks of yesteryear. In general, the Chromebook is a joy to use.

There is little difference between using a Chromebook and using a Chrome browser. The Chromebook I tested was a Samsung model that sells for $249. It weighs less than three pounds and has a 16GB hard drive and 2GB of system memory (RAM). See the full specifications on the Samsung website.

I thought the manual on the Samsung website was pretty poor, but I quickly found answers to my questions by searching Google. I did find a couple of books about the Chromebook, including one in the "For Dummies" series, that could be useful.

Word processing, presentations and spreadsheets are all available through Google Docs, and there is storage space in the cloud. This article was written in Google Docs and stored on my Google Drive.

For email there is Gmail, and for everything else there is the Chrome store. A brokerage could provide agents with special software developed in-house, but it won’t be as good as what we can find in the cloud.

Through browser extensions and add-ons, I was able to access my Evernote account and my Dropbox account. I could get into our MLS and write contracts and send them out for electronic signature. I was already set up with Google cloud printing and could print without having to hook up a printer.

The battery lasted most of the day. It is supposed to last more than six hours.

I didn’t think the sound was very good and I didn’t like the touch pad, so I ended up attaching my own mouse using one of the USB ports.

The keyboard is nice and big and it was easy to hook up a Bluetooth keyboard.

The webcam works with Google Plus and can be set up to use as a still camera. I watched some video on it and looked at some photographs to see how they looked on the screen, and have no complaints.

Chromebooks are a cheaper alternative to iPads, Android tablets and laptop computers, and it’s easy to try one out before buying one by using the Chrome browser on your current computer to do some testing. Write a list of everything you need to do and test each item.

If you cannot figure out how to do something, go to the Google Chrome store and search for add-ons. There are add-ons for most business tasks, from invoicing to sending and receiving faxes and customer relationship management. There is even a nifty mortgage calculator.

The biggest downside to the Chromebook is that it’s fairly useless without an Internet connection. The model I tested allows you only to connect to the Internet using Wi-Fi. Models that can provide Internet access through cell phone companies’ 3G networks cost more. Chromebooks with 3G capabilities can also be purchased with data plans.

Do Chromebooks work for real estate agents? If you are a Minnesota Realtor, the Chromebook may be the perfect mobile device to use on the job. For all others, start with a list of things that you routinely do on your computer, fire up a Chrome browser, log in to your Google account and start testing.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.

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