If Chromebooks are to move beyond the beachhead they have established in schools and large companies, they will need a variety of models to counter the sameness of their cloud-based operating system, apps and data. On Monday, Toshiba helped fill out the platform’s portfolio, with the release of its first Chrome OS laptop.

This model is the first to offer a 13.3-inch screen, which provides 1,366-by-768 resolution. HP’s recent 14-incher is larger, but most are smaller. The new model’s Celeron processor isn’t going to win any power awards, but a computer based on a thin client isn’t supposed to.

A $280 price tag

The new model is receiving some kudos for its silvery look. It offers 2GB memory, a 16GB solid-state drive, a 9 hours of battery life, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, Bluetooth, 802.11n Wi-Fi and, like other Chromebooks, 100GB of cloud storage at Google Drive.

Chromebooks’ use of the cloud for its OS, apps, and most of its data storage have made the platform a maintenance and security dream-come-true for IT departments, which certainly don’t mind that they’re also cheap (the new Toshiba is $280) and any user can grab any unit.

A recent NPD Group report noted that Chromebooks captured 8 percent of all computer and tablet sales via B2B commercial channels in 2013 through November, a whopping increase from its 0.1 percent position in 2012 and an upward arrow to downward ones for Apple and Windows machines. More surprisingly, three of Amazon’s top four best-selling laptops in the 2013 holiday season were Chromebooks.

User experience

To this point, the circumstantial and anecdotal evidence points to IT departments becoming enthused, not necessarily students or employees, and some consumers or businesses buying them as cheap second units. The key question is whether users like them enough to keep the ball rolling.

Ken Dulaney, the vice president at industry research firm Gartner, pointed out to VentureBeat that “anything that’s inexpensive seems to sell for a while.” He recalled “cheap computers in Germany a while back that sold like crazy,” and we remember a run on discontinued HP TouchPads tablets once their price plummeted.

But Dulaney said that the question about the quality of the Chromebook user experience depends on “whether you’re OK staying within the browser and using Google Apps.”