- Review Date: 12/10/2012
- Bottom line: The Acer C7 Chromebook (C710-2847) isn't the slickest laptop out there, but it runs Chrome OS, has a roomy hard drive and a full selection of ports, and sells for a song. We'll overlook a lot for its $200 price tag.
- Pros: Dirt cheap at $199. Relatively enormous 320GB hard drive. Full selection of ports, including Ethernet and VGA. Swappable battery. Keyboard blends traditional and Chrome layouts.
- Cons: Clunky design. Short battery life. Chrome OS is limited. No 3G option
The netbook isn't dead, it just got Chrome'd. With the Acer C7 Chromebook (C710-2847) , Google has finally cut down the price of the Chromebook to an undeniably affordable $200, using a netbook-esque design, but infusing it with the web-centric Chrome operating system. The result isn't as slick as the Samsung Chromebook Series 3 (XE303C12), but it does offer a wider selection of ports, a larger 320GB hard drive, and a keyboard that won't require as much adjustment, and does it all for $50 less.
The Acer C7 Chromebook doesn't have the same slim build of the Samsung Series 3. Instead of resembling the current crop of ultrabooks, the Acer C7 is a dead ringer for the Acer Aspire V5-171, another 11-inch system announced this quarter. 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.
The chassis is all plastic, with a matte black underside and dark grey metallic plastic on the lid and palmrest. Measuring 1.0 by 11.2 by 7.95 inches (HWD), the C7 Chromebook is thicker than the Samsung Series 3 (0.69 inch) in order to accommodate both a hard drive and cooling fan. Where the Samsung Series 3 sealed the battery into its slim chassis, the Acer C7 has a removable battery that bulges out the back. It's heavier, as well, weighing in at three pounds, while the Samsung Series 3 weighs 2.5 pounds.
The 11.6-inch screen is surrounded by a glossy black bezel, and offers 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 not enough for comfortable side-by-side multitasking. While the display is decent, the built-in stereo speakers are not. The volume has to be turned up just to be heard, which is problematic since the speakers have a pronounced buzz at any audible volume. Even without the buzz, the sound is anemic with almost no discernible bass. You'll definitely want headphones.
The C7 Chromebook is based on the Acer Aspire V5-171, and it looks as though Acer simply relabeled a few of the keys instead of using the Chrome-specific layout seen on other Chromebooks. The keyboard, while still tweaked for Chrome, will take a little less getting used to. For example, it boasts both Caps Lock and Delete keys. Also, where a Windows key would normally reside, you'll find 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 joins the Backslash (\) key.
The F1-F12 have been replaced with Chrome-specific function/hotkeys (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 trackpad on the C7 Chromebook is a 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 Chromebook Series 3 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 Acer C7 may not be the cream of the crop in terms of sleek design, it certainly has a robust selection of features. On the right side of the chassis you'll find two USB 2.0 ports, a combination headphone and microphone jack, and a case lock slot. On the front edge of the palmrest is an integrated card reader (SD/MMC). On the right, a third USB 2.0 port also offers power for charging mobile devices, 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 is equipped with 802.11 a/b/g/n WLAN. You won't find Bluetooth, however, or the faster USB 3.0, and there is no 3G or 4G LTE equipped configuration available. 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 is also outfitted with a 320GB, 5,400 rpm spinning hard drive, offering far more capacity than the 16GB flash memory of either the Samsung Series 3 or the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook 550 (XE550C22-H01). As a result, this is the Chromebook to choose if you want to save a lot of data locally. 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, new Chromebook owners are offered a free 100GB upgrade to their Google Drive capacity, good for two years. Acer covers the Chromebook with a one-year warranty.
Instead of the Atom processor used in the Samsung Series 3, the C7 Chromebook is equipped with an 1.1GHz Intel Celeron 847 processor, a dual-core CPU similar to the one found in the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook 550. The Celeron CPU is paired with 2GB of RAM, but unlike the other Chromebooks on the market, this can be expanded, bumping up to 4GB total.
The processor may not be particularly impressive, but it does provide enough oomph for Chrome OS to run smoothly. In fact, according to BrowserMark test results, the Acer C7 is slightly faster than the Samsung Series 3, and both outpace Microsoft's ARM-based Surface RT tablet. It is, however, slower to boot, taking 21 seconds from cold start to password prompt—the Samsung Series 3 booted up in 8 seconds, largely thanks to its small but zippy flash memory.
The biggest disappointment of the C7 Chromebook is battery life. When tested with an hours-long YouTube video, streamed over Wi-Fi and running fullscreen—the same test used on the Series 3—the C7 Chromebook lasted just 3 hours 2 minutes. By comparison, the Samsung Series 3 lasted 5:25. Unlike the Samsung Series 3, however, the C7 Chromebook has a swappable 6-cell 56Wh battery, so you could pack along an extra battery ($82 street) or two to carry you through the day.
The Acer C7 Chromebook (C710-2847) is the most affordable of the three Chromebooks currently on the market, and the first to hit the $200 price point that Google has been aiming for since the concept was announced in 2011. In terms of cheap, reliable, and functional Internet access, the Acer C7 Chromebook is serviceable, with the largest hard drive of the bunch. Whether or not it has a better feature set than the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook depends upon what features you want, picking up VGA and Ethernet connectivity, but dropping the USB 3.0, Bluetooth, and optional 3G offered by the Samsung Series 3. With a thick and heavy design and short battery life, the Acer C7 Chromebook isn't quite as slick as the Samsung Series 3, but the larger drive and cheaper price will grab plenty of attention, and entice a lot of people to buy.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.