Product Review: Acer Chromebook C720-2800

An interesting mix of laptop, with an Intel processor and full keyboard, and a tablet-all powered by what’s essentially a Web browser. By James E. Gaskin

An interesting mix of laptop, with an Intel processor and full keyboard, and a tablet, connected to the world but able to execute only programs turned into apps, the Acer Chromebook C720-2800 does some things great and some things a little oddly. Let's look first at the hardware that Acer made, then the operating system from Google.

Hardware

Acer calls it "iron gray" but the color is a classy medium-dark gray with a matte finish that looks boardroom-ready. The "acer" name on the lid (that other people see when you're using the Chromebook) is less noticeable than the Google swirl and "chrome" at the top. The Acer name uses a larger font, but the Google swirl adds a splash of color that catches the eye.

At three pounds light and well short of an inch thick, the Chromebook can almost hide under a piece of paper. While bigger than a netbook (so not ideal for purses), this device will easily fit into any paper-sized bag.

The keyboard works quite well, with only one adjustment for size and a second change for Google. It takes a little time to get used to the keyboard, but no more than when switching to any new laptop. And the feel when typing is as good as any laptop keyboard, after adjusting to the slightly smaller keybed (this is an 11.6 inch screen device, remember). It's not without it's quirks, though.

Google (no doubt) demanded a specific "Search" key that replaced the Caps Lock key. Pressing this key opens the App display, which can also be opened by clicking the Apps icon which sits on the status bar on the bottom of the screen in the farthest left position. To get the Caps Lock function, hit Alt-Search. Actually, making Caps Lock harder to find should be regarded as a good thing.

The four arrow-direction keys have become three keys, with the middle one split for up and down. Adjusting to this key arrangement was seamless. Function keys are missing as well, replaced by the Escape key where you'd expect, then two arrow keys for right and left, a screen refresh key, the 'maximize viewing area' key, a screenshot key (when pressed with the Control key) or a minimize open window key when pressed alone, two screen brightness control keys, three sound volume keys, and power / lock screen key.

The touchpad is large, but there's no right and left buttons like on a PC laptop touchpad. Right-click can be emulated by touching two fingers at once to the touchpad and quickly removing them. Keep the two fingers down, and you can scroll. The standard left-click to select you use so often on a normal touchpad or mouse? Gone, and often missed even when there's workarounds.

Ports on the left of the Chromebook include the power port, an HDMI port, headphone jack (quite good fidelity) and a USB 3.0 port. On the right are another USB port (2.0), a card reader (SD and MMC cards), and the Kensington lock opening.

The screen, 11.6 inches measured diagonally, provides 1366x768 resolution, the same as most 11 inch laptops. Acer calls it a "CineCrysta" LED-backlit display. It does provide a sharp, clear display that keeps up with videos and presents clean, readable text. Again, as good as any small laptop armed with a fancy-named display.

4GB of DDR3 RAM (the maximum) seemed to be plenty enough to provide performance and keep multiple browser tabs and even other apps open at once. The 16GB Solid State drive means there are no moving parts, and the system booted so fast it was hard to even start counting before it was ready. Acer says seven seconds, we counted five.

Unlike netbooks and some other Chromebooks, this Chromebook runs on an Intel Celeron 1007U chip with dual-cores clocking in at 1.5GHz over a Atom chop. Performance surprised us; news pages loaded from CNN.com faster, on average, on the Chromebook over wireless than on a desktop with an Intel i7 and fast wired Internet connection. Kudos, Acer.

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Comments

Submitted by AG4EM on
I give Google and their hardware partners like Acer credit for sticking with the Chromebook, despite a lot of resistance. The more improvements they make, the more the Chromebook becomes attractive to more users. But what about Chromebook users that need to access Windows applications like Microsoft Office, or that want to connect to work applications like CRM and ERP from home? They can try products like Ericom AccessNow, an HTML5 RDP solution that enables Chromebook users to connect to Terminal Servers and/or VDI virtual desktops, and run Windows applications or desktops in a browser tab. There's nothing to install on the Chromebook, so AccessNow is easy to deploy and manage. For an online, interactive demo, open your Chrome browser and visit: http://www.ericom.com/demo_AccessNow.asp?URL_ID=708 Please note that I work for Ericom