Google is dedicated to bringing its Chrome operating system -- and the best of the Web -- to all, and the Acer C7 Chromebook hits the lowest price yet. Beating the recently released Samsung Series 3 Chromebook by a full $50, this laptop costs just $199. That's the same price as bargain tablets like the Google Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HD, but can Acer deliver a quality notebook for such an aggressive price?
Put bluntly, the Acer C7 Chromebook is like a poorly designed Samsung Chromebook Series 3, exceeding it in thickness and weight, but with a darker gray plastic body. There's a chrome Acer logo in the center of the lid and a small Chrome logo above this and to the left.
This notebook is heavy at 3.1 pounds for such a small device, measuring 10.9 x 11.2 x 1 inches. While the Samsung Chromebook Series 3 felt slim and sleek, at 11.4 x 8.1 x 0.7 inches and 2.4 pounds, the Acer C7 feels clunky, like the netbooks of years past.
Opening the notebook reveals a similarly colored dark gray deck with black keys and a black glossy plastic framing the display. The power button has been separated from the keyboard, located above and to the right.
The Acer C7 got a little warm in our testing, but never uncomfortable. After streaming Hulu for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured 87 degrees Fahrenheit, the underside 89 degrees and the space between the G and H keys 90 degrees. The deck also got warm, but not hot, measuring 90 degrees. There was a single hot spot located on the bottom middle left of the notebook that got up to 100 degrees. We consider anything over 95 degrees to be cause for concern.
Keyboard and Touchpad
While the keys on the Acer C7 Chromebook look and feel small, we were able to achieve our average typing speed of 68 words per minute at TypingTest.com. Compared with the Chromebook Series 3, the C7's travel was about equal. However, the keys were a bit more stiff. As you'd expect for a $200 notebook, there's not backlighting on the keys.
While the Series 3 replaced the Caps Lock key with a Google search key, Acer put a small dedicated Google search button between the Function and Alt keys. We prefer this placement.
The C7's touchpad is fairly small, measuring 3.5 x 2 inches. There is no support for multitouch gestures, such as pinch-to-zoom, but two-finger scrolling worked comfortably in both horizontal and vertical directions. The integrated mouse buttons were responsive and easy to press as well.
The Acer C7 Chromebook has an 11.6-inch 1366 x 768 display, just like the Samsung Chromebook, but offers a glossy finish instead of matte. While colors and images popped more on this system, the glossy finish increased screen reflectiveness; there were a few times when we needed to adjust the screen to compensate for bright light behind us.
In terms of brightness, the C7 trumped the Samsung Chromebook, measuring 189 lux against 176 lux. However, the Acer C7 falls well below the ultraportable average of 236 lux.
The trailer for "The Hobbit" looked crisp and clear in both bright and dark scenes, but we still wished we could turn the brightness up just a few more notches. Still, we could make out the fields of grass covering the hills of the shire as well as individual hairs in the many extravagant beards. Viewing angles were decent from side to side, but images quickly discolored at up or down angles.
There are two speakers mounted on the bottom front of the Acer C7, which amplifies sound by bouncing audio off the surface where the notebook rests. Still, we weren't impressed with this notebook's top volume; it filled our testing room, but we still wanted to crank it up a few more notches.
Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" was crisp and clear, although high notes were tinny. The same was true with high notes in Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," where the bass was flat.
Acer scores points here versus Samsung's Chromebook because the C7 places its ports on the sides instead of on the back, making them easier to access. On the left is the Ethernet port, VGA connection, an HDMI port and one USB port. The right side houses an audio input/output jack, two more USB ports and the power connector. The Samsung Series 3 doesn't have VGA or Ethernet ports, which may influence some shoppers. (We expect few.)
Google has made numerous improvements to Chrome OS since its debut. Version 23 feels a lot less limiting than previous versions. There is even a desktop now, rather than keeping the user trapped in a Chrome browser. The desktop, however, doesn't provide much functionality, as you can't add icons or folders.
Much like Windows 7, there's a menu bar along the bottom of the screen, providing quick access to app icons as well as the clock, volume adjustment, Wi-Fi connection and battery life. Ultimately, Chrome OS is about getting online quickly and not having to worry about incessant security updates because it all happens in the background.
The Chrome App Store has tens of thousands of apps according to Google, but the selection still doesn't match the ecosystems of Google Play or the Apple App Store. Some of the more popular apps include like Pandora, Tweetdeck and "Angry Birds."
Not all apps in the Chrome App Store, however, work on the Acer C7. There is no support for the Unity3D plugin, which is utilized by numerous games. We tried to play "Counter Strike Portable" and were prompted to install the unsupported plugin.
The Acer C7 has a 1.1-GHz dual-core Intel Celeron 847 Processor and 2GB of RAM, bringing enough power for basic tasks, but not much else. The Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550 has the more-powerful Intel Celeron 857 processor, with 4GB of RAM, while the Samsung Chromebook Series 3 switched to ARM with a 1.7-GHz Exynos 5 Dual processor and 2GB of RAM. Fortunately, tons of power isn't needed for the Chromebook.
Chromebooks are known for their blazing fast boot times. The Acer C7 beat the Windows ultraportable average of 38 seconds by loading in 21 seconds, but other Chromebooks are faster. The Chromebook Series 5 550 loaded in just 12 seconds, and the Chromebook Series 3 was our top performer, booting in 11.3 seconds.
We loaded WebGL Aquarium and averaged a measly 34 to 36 frames per second with 50 fish and all the effects enabled. The Chromebook Series 3 performed slightly better, with 37 to 40 fps. The older Series 5 550 was the top performer, with 45 to 60 fps with the same settings.
To tax the C7 further, we loaded WebGL Aquarium while streaming a Hulu video at full screen in a second tab. We also had NYTimes.com open in a third tab and finally opened the "Plants vs. Zombies" game. The frame rate on the Acer C7 dropped to the 25 to 35 fps range. When we performed all of the same tasks on the Series 3, frame rates were in the lower 28 to 30 fps range.
Chromebooks continue to rely heavily on the Web, and the Acer C7 Chromebook is no exception to this rule. Without Wi-Fi or a direct Ethernet connection, many of the features of this notebook are simply unavailable. There is, however, a growing number of offline apps.
Google's main applications, such as Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Drive, all function offline, allowing users to write, edit, create or modify entries that will automatically sync when an Internet connection is restored. Other apps, such as the "Angry Birds" and The New York Times, also work offline, but news from the Times needs to be downloaded onto the device first.
Rather than a traditional file manager, the Acer C7 uses Google Drive, Google's cloud-based file storage system. Traditionally, Google Drive accounts only offer 5GB of free storage, but Chromebook users can upgrade their account to 100GB at no charge, allowing for plenty of storage that can be accessed from any Internet-connected computer.
There are two ways to access Google Drive on the C7 Chromebook. The first is through a Google Drive icon, which launches the browser-based version of the Web app. The second way to access files in Google Drive is through the Files icon, which opens a view similar to a traditional finder window. Next to the tab for Drive files is the Downloads folder, which can be used to locally store files on the Acer C7's 320GB hard drive.
The Acer C7 natively supports only minor photo editing, so tweaks are limited to cropping, brightness adjustments and image rotation. For more advanced tweaks, however, there are numerous apps available in the Chrome App store. PicMonkey is one of our favorite photo editing Web apps.
The functionality of the Acer C7 can be increased, in a way, by using the Google Remote Desktop app to access a computer running a Windows or OS X operating system.
Connecting the Acer C7 to a remote machine was very simple. We just needed to make sure that we were logged into Google Chrome on both devices and install the Google Remote Desktop app from the Chrome App Store on the remote device. We set a PIN and could immediately connect.
The remote desktop runs in a Chrome browser window by default, but we could enter full-screen mode and make use of the Chromebook C7's 11.6-inch display. We highly recommend entering this mode; otherwise, text will be too small.
While the Acer C7 supports printing, it's a bit more complicated than on a notebook running Windows or OS X. This Chromebook supports Cloud Print, which allows the C7 to print remotely to cloud-ready printers, including certain models from Canon, Epson, FedEx, HP and Kodak. Printing through classic printers is also possible, but this notebook needs to be networked to another computer that is physically connected to the desired printer.
On the LAPTOP Battery test, where we continuously browse the Web via Wi-Fi on 40 percent screen brightness, the Acer C7 lasted just 4 hours and 24 minutes. While this is longer than the battery life touted by Acer (up to 4 hours), it's still well below the average of 6 hours and 22 minutes. The Samsung Chromebook, by comparison, lasted 7 hours and 34 minutes.
The Acer C7 Chromebook has an extremely tempting price, but it's not the best Google-powered laptop out there. This machine does have some advantages over the latest Samsung Chromebook, including a roomier hard drive (320GB versus just 16GB), more and easier-to-access ports, and a slightly faster CPU. However, we would much rather own the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook. Not only does that system last more than 3 hours longer on a charge, it sports a much sleeker design. We also prefer the keyboard on the Samsung. All of that is well worth the extra $50 in our book.