Product Of Acer’s C7
I have two big problems with Chrome OS and Chromebooks as a product category. The first is I think that Chrome OS, while an interesting experiment, is limited by its very nature to a narrow set of use cases (mostly individuals and small businesses who rely overwhelmingly on Google and Google Apps for most of their work). The second problem is price: given how little Chrome OS does, the computers running it have typically been a bit too expensive compared to budget Windows laptops.
Samsung’s ARM-based Chromebook helped to address the second point by offering a relatively decent laptop for $249, a much more reasonable price than the $449 Series 550 Chromebook introduced earlier this year. Now Acer has limboed even lower, offering its new Intel-powered C7 Chromebook for just $199. There’s no question this laptop, which is simply a rebranding of its $329 Windows-running Aspire One AO756-2641, is being sold at an appealing price. But are the trade-offs inherent to any laptop this cheap worth making?
Acer’s C7 Body and build quality
This Chromebook is priced at $199, but the build quality is reasonable, definitely not as bad as some $199 and $299 netbooks released over the last few years. It’s a bit chunkier than Samsung’s ARM Chromebook; it’s 1.08 inches thick, up from about 0.66 inches, and weighs three pounds rather than the ARM Chromebook’s 2.4 pounds.
As is to be expected, the body is all-plastic—the lid and palm rest are a smooth grey plastic, and the base of the cover is a textured black. The computer is small and tightly-constructed enough that there’s not much bending or flexing, even in the display. This isn’t build quality that they’ll write songs about, but it’s quite passable considering the price.
The laptop’s port selection is robust, but not cutting edge. There are three USB 2.0 ports, two on the right and one on the left. USB 2.0 is a bit disappointing, since the laptop’s Intel HM70 chipset provides four USB 3.0 ports natively, but it’s eminently forgivable in a $199 Chrome OS laptop. Joining the USB ports are a 100 megabit Ethernet port, a VGA port, and an HDMI port, enough to connect the laptop to both networks and external displays new and old. A headphone jack, Kensington lock slot, and an SD card reader round out the cast. While I had some issues getting the ARM-based Chromebook to output video over HDMI when I reviewed it, both the VGA port and the HDMI port worked as intended on the C7. A recent developer channel build of Chrome OS actually enables an extended desktop mode for the first time in the operating system’s history. That’s something that should trickle down to the stable channel within the next few weeks.
The laptop’s biggest sticking point is probably the display, an 11.6-inch 1366×768 number. The color and brightness are actually pretty good. However, as is common in the low-quality TN displays used in low-end laptops, the contrast ratio is bad and the viewing angles are worse. With an 11-inch display you should usually have the room to open the screen as much as you need even if you’re on a train or plane. In the case of the C7, this is lucky because looking at the screen from anything other than the optimal angle completely washes it out in a hurry. A stuck pixel on our Google-provided review unit may also be indicative of less-than-perfect quality control on Acer’s part, though this is difficult to ascertain from using only one machine.
Not all is rosy with the keyboard either. It’s the standard chiclet-style keyboard you’ll get in almost any consumer laptop these days. As you’d expect from the C7’s price point, the keyboard is decidedly mediocre and has decent key travel but with a bit of a mushy feel. The worst thing about it might be its layout, but the problems go beyond Acer’s weird-shaped return key. The single biggest issue is definitely the arrow keys, which are half-height horizontally as well as vertically. This renders them tiny and difficult to touch-type if you’re used to standard arrow key layouts.
The trackpad is a standard-issue buttonless multitouch affair. Clicking and dragging, using two fingers to right-click, and other motions like two-finger scrolling all worked as intended. I didn’t have any issues with palm rejection or unresponsiveness. These sorts of trackpads are only noteworthy if they don’t work properly and, at least in my usage, I found the C7’s trackpad to be pleasantly unremarkable.
Finally, the C7’s heritage as a Windows laptop makes it slightly different from other purpose-built Chromebooks. The Caps Lock key is still a Caps Lock key rather than a Search key—instead, a Search key is located where the Windows key would be on a standard PC keyboard. There’s also no hardware “developer switch” to disable the secure bootloader. On the C7, you can access developer mode by pressing the escape key, the F3 key, and the power button at the login screen to enter restore mode, then Ctrl and D to toggle developer mode.
Compared to the ARM Chromebook, Samsung’s offering is slightly thinner, lighter, and more attractive, though the screen quality is about the same as the C7. It’s also fanless, which is preferable to the C7’s single, sometimes whiny system fan. However, the C7 has the better selection of ports, and as we’ll see, it actually outperforms its more expensive cousin in most meaningful metrics.
Some Of The Features Of Acer’s C7
|SPECS AT A GLANCE: ACER C7 CHROMEBOOK|
|SCREEN||1366×768 at 11.6″ (135 ppi)|
|CPU||1.1GHz dual-core Intel Celeron 847|
|RAM||2GB 1333MHz DDR3 (two slots, officially upgradeable to 8GB)|
|GPU||Intel HD Graphics (integrated)|
|HDD||320GB 5400RPM hard drive|
|PORTS||3x USB 2.0, VGA, HDMI, 100 megabit Ethernet, card reader, headphones|
|SIZE||11.22 × 7.95 × 1.08″ (285 x 202 x 27.35 mm)|
|WEIGHT||3.0 lbs (1.38 kg)|
|BATTERY||4-cell 37Wh Li-polymer|
|OTHER PERKS||Webcam, Kensington lock slot, 100GB of Google Drive storage for two years|