Acer C7 Chromebook review
The Acer C7 Chromebook is the second Chrome OS laptop we've seen recently, and it follows hot on the heels of the excellent Samsung model we reviewed a few weeks back. With netbooks disappearing fast, it appears manufacturers are keen to fill the void.
As with the Samsung Chromebook, the Acer C7 is a compact, light laptop running Google’s browser-based Chrome OS. The software means it isn’t as flexible as a full-blown Windows 8 laptop, but the OS’s recently introduced offline capabilities, and the huge collection of extensions, games and apps available through the Chrome Web Store, means it’s still a practical proposition.
The C7’s hardware is more than serviceable. There’s nothing that makes you sit up and say “wow” about the design, with nondescript grey plastics cladding the lid and base – but it isn’t ugly, it’s light at 1.32kg, and the 11.6in 1,366 x 768 display provides a usable space in which to browse the web and work.
The quality of the display is middling. The maximum brightness of 213cd/m2 makes it usable indoors, if not in brighter conditions, and the contrast ratio of 234:1 is acceptable, too. These are similar to the Samsung Chromebook’s figures; the main difference is the Acer C7 has a glossy finish, lending movie scenes and photos a fraction more saturation and depth.
When it comes to ergonomics, it’s close once again. The Acer is equipped with a similar Scrabble-tile keyboard and a broad, buttonless, multitouch touchpad. Typing and mousing is largely comfortable. The keys don’t have much travel, but they’re well spaced and we found it easy to get up to a reasonable touch-typing speed.
The fact that the dedicated Search button doesn’t replace Caps Lock as it does on the Samsung Chromebook is another bonus. We can see ourselves getting used to the tiny cursor keys in time, although our first few days saw us repeatedly hitting Pg Up and Pg Down, which are located just above the left and right keys.
The improvement in performance is most keenly felt when playing video. Where the Samsung spluttered and puffed, this Chromebook played back both BBC iPlayer and YouTube HD content smoothly, and coped well with high bit rate MP4 files played from local storage.
Another point of difference for the Acer C7 is the presence of a 320GB 5,400rpm hard disk, an unusual inclusion for a Chromebook (the latest Samsung had only a 16GB SSD), giving extra space for a sizeable video, music and photo collection. The selection of ports around the edges is also more comprehensive. Although there aren’t any USB 3 ports, there are three USB 2 sockets, D-SUB and full-sized HDMI video outputs, a combined headphone/microphone jack, an Ethernet port and an SD card slot.
The Acer C7 is altogether a more powerful and capable machine than its Samsung rival, but the downside is battery life isn’t stellar. We can’t run our standard laptop-based tests on Chromebooks but, even with the screen dimmed a little, we were able to extract only four to five hours’ work time from the C7. This was with Wi-Fi turned on, however, so you can expect an hour or so more in offline mode.
Still, we can see people taking the plunge and buying the Acer C7 simply because it packs so much in for so little. It costs £194 - £30 less than the Samsung - and thanks to its sizeable hard disk and Chrome OS’s offline capabilities, it could be all the laptop many people need. For anyone requiring a machine for basic computing and browsing the web, it’s a bargain.