- Review Date: 06/03/2013
- Bottom line: Though it still has a couple of faults, the new version of the Acer C7 Chromebook is faster, longer lasting, and better all around. All this and its very low price tag makes it the best inexpensive Chromebook on the market.
- Pros: More RAM for better, zippier performance. Swappable 6-cell battery lasts longer on the road. Very affordable. Big 320GB hard drive for a Chromebook. Full selection of ports, including Ethernet and VGA. Keyboard blends traditional and Chrome layouts.
- Cons: Unchanged design is still clunky. Chrome OS is limited. No 3G option.
The Acer C7 Chromebook (C710-2055) updates last year's Acer C7 Chromebook (C710-2847) with better performance and longer battery life. Google's Chromebooks have long promised affordability and simplicity, and Acer's C7 Chromebooks have delivered in spades—the previous model sells for as little as $199.99 (list), and the new C710-2055 offers its upgrades for $279.99 (list). While the Web-centric Chrome OS isn't for everybody, the new Chromebook is yet another extremely affordable way to hop online for all of your regular Internet uses. It's faster, better, and lasts longer than other Chromebooks on the market. All this is why we award the C710-2055 the Editors' Choice for Chromebooks.
While the C7 Chromebook (C710-2055) utilizes the same 1.1GHz Intel Celeron 847 processor as its predecessor, it doubles the RAM, bumping it from 2GB to 4GB. While this doesn't change the raw horsepower offered by the processor, it does give the system a bit more zip, and it's a noticeable improvement. The other change is the switch from a 4-cell battery to a larger 6-cell. While this extends the usable life of the Chromebook—more on battery life in a moment—it's also worth noting that it also adds a bit of thickness and bulk. The new C710-2055 Chromebook is 0.5 inch thicker and 0.1 pound heavier than the previous iteration from Acer.
The all-plastic chassis has a matte black underside with dark grey metallic plastic on the lid and palmrest. The C7 Chromebook doesn't have the same slim build of the Samsung Chromebook Series 3 (XE303C12), opting for a removable battery, which allows swapping with a second battery for longer use between charges. With a large vent grille, a bulging battery, and a clunky design, the Acer C7 looks more like last year's budget netbooks than this year's slick ultrabooks. In fact, the Acer C7 is nearly identical to the Acer Aspire V5-171, another 11-inch system announced in late 2012.
The C7 Chromebook (C710-2055) has an 11.6-inch screen, offering the same 1,366-by-768 resolution seen on both the Apple MacBook Air 11-inch (Mid 2012) and the Microsoft Surface with Windows RT. The resolution is high enough to enjoy Netflix and Hulu in 720p, but the screen size may be too small for comfortable side-by-side multitasking. The speaker quality isn't quite as impressive—the volume is quite low, the bass is almost nonexistent, and the speakers have a distinct buzz when cranked up to full blast. Headphones are definitely recommended.
The keyboard, while still tweaked for Chrome, will take a little less time to get used to than that of other Chromebooks, boasting both Caps Lock and Delete keys. As with the keyboards on other Chromebooks, the Windows key is swapped for a dedicated Google Search key. The arrow keys are small, but are joined by Pg Up and Pg Dn keys, saving the need to learn that particular shortcut. The only other quirk in the keyboard is the Enter key, which is merged with the Backslash (\) key. The F1-F12 have gained Chrome-specific functions (Across from left to right: Escape, Back, Forward, Reload, Full Screen, Next Window, Brightness Down/Up, Volume Mute/Down/Up, Power). These are joined along the top row by keys for Home, End, Insert, and Delete, which weren't seen on the Samsung Series 3, but should make transitioning to the Chromebook a bit easier.
The C7 Chromebook (C710-2055) gets a small clickpad, with support for one- and two-finger tapping instead of the usual right- and left-click buttons. Google has also tweaked it for faster navigation in Chrome, with simple two-finger scrolling, and an easy click-and-drag function.
The defining feature of the C7 Chromebook (C710-2055) is not its hardware, its price tag, or even its unique keyboard; it's Chrome OS. Google's Web-centric operating system is little more than the Chrome Web-browser, with Web apps built-in, and some added offline functionality.
Dedicated icons in the lower left corner of the screen pull up Gmail, Google Search, Google Drive, and YouTube. A selection of apps offers even more Chrome Apps, like Chrome Web Store, Google Calendar, Google+, a calculator, camera (which uses the C7 Chromebook's 1.3-megapixel webcam), and Chrome Remote Desktop, which lets you access other PCs remotely through the browser. It's a workable (albeit slow) solution to Chrome users who want to either access their primary computer and software, or who need to do some remote troubleshooting for a relative. In an effort to expand the usefulness of these apps, Google has also added offline capability to Google Drive and Gmail, letting you access at least some of your stuff when Wi-Fi isn't available. Further apps and extensions can be found in the Chrome Web Store, with thousands of offerings, many for free.
There's also a basic file manager in Chrome OS, but the key word here is basic. Plug in a USB flash drive or SD card, and it will pop up a list of the drive's contents, with an interface that looks much like Gmail or Google Drive. Documents and PDF files are opened using Chrome's in-browser document viewer, while photos are viewed and edited with Chrome's light image editor. Music and video files are opened with Chrome's media player, but Google expects most media to be streamed over Wi-Fi (using apps like Google Play Music), and for robust cloud-based editing tools (such as Aviary and Creative Kit in Google+) to be used for extensive media editing.
While the C7 Chromebook (C710-2055) may not have the sleekest design, the feature selection is surprisingly robust, given the price. On the edges of the chassis you'll find three USB 2.0 ports, a combination headphone and microphone jack, a case lock slot, an integrated card reader (SD/MMC), and an HDMI-out port for connect to a TV or monitor. You'll also find both VGA output and an Ethernet port, two options that required accessory dongles on the Samsung Series 3. In addition to the Ethernet port, the C7 Chromebook (C710-2055) is equipped with 802.11 a/b/g/n WLAN. You won't find Bluetooth, however, or the faster USB 3.0. There's no 3G or 4G LTE equipped configuration available yet. In contrast, the relatively expensive ($329) 3G version of the Samsung Chromebook Series 3 comes with a 3G radio and 100MB per month free service.
The C7 Chromebook (C710-2055) is also the Chromebook to choose if you want to save a lot of data locally. It's outfitted with a 320GB, 5,400 rpm spinning hard drive, offering much more capacity than the 16GB flash memory of either the Samsung Series 3 or the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook 550 (XE550C22-H01). It's also something of an anomaly, since file storage is expected to be in the cloud, primarily using Google Drive. To encourage this transition, Google offers new Chromebook owners a free 100GB Google Drive upgrade, good for two years. Acer covers the Chromebook with a one-year warranty.
The additional RAM keeps things zippy, improving the system's boot time to 8 seconds—on par with the Samsung Series 3. When tested with BrowserMark 2.0, a browser-based performance test, the C7 Chromebook (C710-2055) outpaced both comparable Chromebooks, with better results than the Acer C710-2847 and the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook. In actual use, the C7 Chromebook (C710-2055) simply feels faster. It's more nimble when loading pages, and it doesn't bog down as quickly with numerous tabs open.
The other big change is in battery life. With a new 6-cell battery, the C7 Chromebook (C710-2055) lasted 4 hours 12 minutes during our battery rundown test. In this same test, the previous Acer C7 lasted only 3:02. The endurance winner for low-cost Chromebooks, however, is the Samsung Series 3, which lasted 5:25 with a slimmer, non-swappable battery.
Though it doesn't have the same claim on affordability that the previous $200 C7 Chromebook had, the Acer C7 Chromebook (C710-2055) is still less expensive than almost any Windows laptop, and now offers better performance and battery life. With twice the RAM and a larger battery, the Chromebook (C710-2055) offers improvements in both overall performance and battery life, making it an all-around better option than the previous C7 Chromebook. Among the inexpensive Chromebooks we've reviewed, it's the one to beat, offering better performance, a solid feature set, and a healthy mix of local and cloud storage, and is our Editors' Choice for Chromebooks.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.