- Review Date: 10/31/2013
- Bottom line: The Acer C720 (C720-2800) comes closer to Chromebook nirvana, but we still haven't reached that level yet. It's a couple of tweaks from being the perfect low cost bridge between mobile device and full-fledged laptop.
- Pros: Quite light and thin. Chrome OS is constantly updated. Matte finish on display. Quick boot times. HDMI and USB 3.0 ports. 6.5 hour battery life.
- Cons: Chrome OS offers limited offline use. No 3G option. No Touch screen.
The Acer C720 Chromebook (C720-2800) is an evolution of Acer's C7 Chromebook line, in a redesigned thinner and lighter chassis. If you need more power and functionality than a mobile tablet, but less cost and complexity than a full-fledged Windows PC, then the C720 Chromebook is a good fit. With the C720 Chromebook, you can browse the real Internet, not just the truncated mobile version. It's not quite perfect yet, but it's certainly an improvement over the last generation of Chromebooks. We like where this is going.
Design and Features
The C720 Chromebook follows in the footsteps of the Acer C7 Chromebook (C710-2457) and its predecessors including the Editors' Choice for Chromebooks Acer C7 Chromebook (C710-2055). The new C720 Chromebook is thinner (0.75 in) and lighter (2.59 pounds) than the previous generation, thanks to a new sealed battery design. The chassis is still a dark silver-grey matte metallic finish, with a smallish but usable trackpad in the middle of the palm rest. The chiclet style, non-backlit keyboard has a slick touch, with very little keyboard flex. The keyboard layout matches that of the previous C710-2457, with a mix of traditional and Chrome OS keys.
The competing HP Chromebook 11 ($279.99) is a much more colorful Chromebook, with a white exterior and colored accents, including accents around the keyboard and on the rubber feet on the HP Chromebook 11's base. This brings us to the C720 Chromebook's display. The C720 Chromebook has a bright LED-backlit LCD display measuring 11.6 inches with a 1,366-by-768 resolution: Essentially it is a netbook's display on a Chromebook. This setup is perfectly usable, but for $30 more, you can get a very bright and more color accurate IPS display with a wider viewing angle on the HP Chromebook 11. Both are non-touch, so that's a non-issue, but the IPS display has much better black levels and should ultimately be easier on the eyes after long browsing sessions or online video watching stints.
The C720 Chromebook trumps the HP Chromebook in terms of ports, however. The C720 Chromebook comes with a single USB 2.0 port (on the right), a single USB 3.0 port (on the left), SD card reader, Kensington lock port, and a HDMI out port. The HP Chromebook 11 has to make do with only two USB 2.0 ports. While the HP Chromebook 11 has a better internal display, the C720 Chromebook one-ups the HP by allowing you to hook the C720 Chromebook up to a HDTV via HDMI. Of course, the HP fires back by recharging via a micro-USB adapter, while the C720 Chromebook uses a standard nettop-style AC adapter. If you're keeping score, the Samsung Chromebook Series 3 (XE303C12) ($249.99) also comes with ports for USB 2.0, USB 3.0, SD card reader, and HDMI.
The C720 Chromebook is dependent on its 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, like most Chromebooks. The 4G LTE-equipped Google Chromebook Pixel ($1,449.99) and the 3G version of the Samsung Chromebook are currently the only Chromebooks that continue to be fully functional away from access points and hotspots. This means that the C720 Chromebook downshifts to a small subset of apps when you aren't connected to the Internet. Depending on your use, this can be a deal-breaker. To alleviate some of the burn, Google includes 12 free Gogo in-air Internet passes for use on airlines in the U.S., a 60-day trial for Google Play Music All Access, and 100GB of Google Drive cloud storage to supplement the relatively small 16GB SSD local storage. In any case, using storage over the Internet will always be slower than local storage, so plan wisely if you decide to buy a Chromebook with only 16GB of storage.
The C720 Chromebook boots in only about five to seven seconds in our tests. The system sleeps and wakes from sleep in about one to two seconds. It has a Haswell-based Intel Celeron 2955U processor, 4GB of memory, and integrated Intel HD Graphics to thank for its speedy performance. Unlike the mobile Chrome browser built into the Android-powered HP Slate 21 ($399) desktop, the browser in the C720 Chromebook is fully functional, letting users run a good selection of plug-ins, visit virtually the entire Internet including Flash-based sites, and operates with nary a crash or slowdown. This C720 Chromebook can certainly sub in if the only reason you keep a PC around is because you need a fully functional Web browser.
The C720 Chromebook improves upon its predecessors by lasting about six and a half hours (6:26) on a streaming video test. This trumps the previous C7 Chromebooks (three to four hours), HP Chromebook 11 (5:13) and the Samsung Chromebook Series 3 (5:25). Right now, the C720 Chromebook is the battery champion in its category.
The Acer C720 Chromebook (C720-2800) comes closer to Chromebook nirvana, but still has to overcome the short 16GB of storage and the fact that its screen pales in comparison to that of the HP Chrombook 11's IPS display. If there's any system that's screaming for a 16GB SSD + 500GB HDD hybrid setup, it's this system. Because of the innate desire to keep lots of files on local storage and the spottiness of Internet coverage, the current Editors' Choice remains the Acer C7 Chromebook (C710-2055). That said, if you already have a mobile hotspot like a MiFi Liberate or Verizon JetPack, the new Acer C720 Chromebook (C720-2800) is a great affordable alternative to a laptop or tablet.