- very cheap
- extremely portable
- excellent battery life
- durable design
- poor speakers
- dim display
- limited ports
Quick TakeThe Acer C720 Chromebook offers an excellent ChromeOS experience in a very portable package for a very affordable price.
When Chromebooks were first introduced, the most common reaction from consumers was, “If I’m not browsing the web or working in Google Docs, this machine is useless to me.” While these low-cost laptops are still great for doing those activities, the Chromebook experience has improved greatly over the last two years thanks to many new apps and notably better capabilities.
The Acer C720 Chromebook has advanced beyond its predecessor, the Acer C7, in almost every measurable way. The build is more solid, battery life is much longer, and ChromeOS now features more diverse apps, better-integrated services, and a streamlined browsing experience that enables users to achieve what the old Chromebooks could not deliver on.
Designed for easy web browsing, document editing, productivity and light media consumption in a low-price category all its own, does the Acer C720 still deliver a quality computing experience on a budget? Read the full review to find out.
Build and Design
At only .75” thick and 2.76 lbs, the Acer C720 is a very portable and light machine. The chassis and top of the machine are a rich matte gray plastic, and the bottom is black plastic. The Acer and Chrome names are printed on the top of the machine, along with an embossed colored Chrome logo. The C720’s hinges are solid-feeling, with good stiffness to prevent the screen from wobbling too much when typing. It is thin and light enough to easily be held with one hand when closed.
Ports and Connectivity
As a Chromebook, the C720 requires an internet connection to access most of its functionality. The C720 features 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, but does not feature a physical Ethernet port. As there are only two USB ports on the device (one USB 2.0 on the right side, one USB 3.0 on the left), using a network-to-USB dongle is not always a great option for most users, so wireless connectivity is something that is needed wherever this computer goes.
|Right: SD Card Reader, USB 3.0, PC Lock Slot||Left: Power Adapter, HDMI, USB 2.0, Headphone Jack|
The C720 has Bluetooth 4.0 capability, which is easily turned on or off via the Chrome Settings menu to alleviate the lack of spare USB ports for external mice or other accessories. An HDMI port on the left side allows the C720 to be connected to an external monitor as well, and a Kensington PC lock slot and snappy SD card reader on the right (handy for getting one’s photos onto Google Drive quickly) rounds out the package.
Software and Operating System
Google’s ChromeOS, which is what makes a Chromebook a Chromebook, is a unique operating system that is very different from the standard executable-running Windows or Mac OS X. On ChromeOS, all applications (be they for web browsing, document editing, music, games or instant messaging) are run through the Google Chrome browser.
The Linux-based operating system is optimized to run Chrome, and that’s it; PC executables cannot be installed or run on ChromeOS. While it has the obvious drawback of preventing programs like the Adobe Creative Cloud, Microsoft Office, desktop games, or even Skype from running on the machine, it also keeps the computer safer. Executables are a dangerous file format, and by preventing them from running, ChromeOS keeps the computer safe from any bundled malicious code that may be embedded within these programs. Many viruses simply do not work on the Chromebook.
Chromebooks are also incredibly easy to restore data on, as almost all files and settings are stored in the cloud on Google’s servers. If the device is lost or broken, all the user’s data is safe in the cloud, and anything remaining on the computer’s internal storage is encrypted with the user’s Google account password. This safety, coupled with their affordable price and ease-of-use, makes ChromeOS devices (such as Chromebooks and Chromeboxes) excellent computers for children and educational institutions.
While most programs do not run on Chrome, Google’s Web Store offers many interesting apps that replace a lot of that missing functionality, usually with well-integrated web capabilities. The Chromebook comes pre-installed with app shortcuts to Google Drive, Google Docs, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Hangouts (for web calling and group video chat), Google Play Music, and more in its Start menu-like launcher. New Apps can be downloaded from the Chrome Web Store, including many free apps and extensions for the Chrome browser. And if a user downloads a Chrome App on another computer, it will automatically download to any ChromeOS device that their account is synced to as well.
There’s also a collection of apps that can be used without an internet connection, and while they may not replace the full functionality of programs like Photoshop or Skype, the options presented in ChromeOS are usable enough that, as a secondary machine, it is still capable of holding its own in terms of productivity.
Display and Sound
The C720’s 1366×768 pixel, 11.6-inch LED screen is not a full HD display, but it’s small enough that the pixel density is higher than on a larger laptop with the same resolution. Deep blacks are a bit washed out looking, and the screen is a bit dim overall, even on the highest brightness setting. Due to its matte finish negating reflections, this should still be fine for most environments though. Acer also make a $299 touchscreen Chromebook, the C720P.
When flexed, there is some rippling on the screen, but overall the screen does not bend too easily, so it should be a non-issue for most users. The glossy black area around the screen does attract fingerprints and smudges very easily, but this is the only place on the laptop where this readily occurs.
The internal speakers, located near the hinge of the device and hidden within the chassis, can easily fill an entire apartment at maximum volume. However, since they’re small, there is a bit of tinniness as the volume increases, and the overall sound lacks much depth (despite being very loud for their size). Audiophiles would be advised to use separate speakers or headphones when listening to their favorite songs, especially heavily layered ones such as metal or orchestral tracks, which tended to sound a bit muddled. The speakers are fine for watching YouTube videos and the like though, and are about as good as you can expect for the price.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The C720 has a chiclet-style keyboard with flat-top matte-finished black keys. They are very comfortable even for a user with large hands, and are very responsive and quick to snap back. The travel distance of the keys is small, but they do still offer a decent tactile sensation when pressed.
The most interesting thing about a Chromebook keyboard as opposed to a normal PC keyboard is its addition of special function keys tied to Chrome and Google. Additional keys include Browser Back, Forward, and Refresh, Fullscreen Window and Display All Windows, and, in place of a Caps Lock key, a Search button. These work well with the browser (and thus, all Chrome apps as well), though I admit I used Alt-Left and Alt-Right more than the dedicated Browser Back and Forward buttons just due to my being not used to the placement of the function keys above the number row.
The Search button is handy due to its easy placement; when pressed, it brings up a window with all installed apps from the corner of the screen, making it seem like the Windows Start menu. However, if a user starts typing in the Apps window, it will search not only the computer for that keyword or App, but also the Chrome Web Store and the web via Google proper.
Since the Alt and Ctrl keys are located where the Caps Lock would normally be on the left, they’re both much wider than on other keyboards. The Up and Down arrow keys are each half-height compared to the other keys, and take up the space of one whole key in between the Left and Right keys. While it took some getting used to, it may make playing certain games a bit trickier for users unaccustomed to the layout.
The buttonless touchpad is smooth, and its a slightly darker matte gray color than the rest of the chassis. The touchpad slopes down slightly towards the user, leaving a tiny bit of a ridge inside the bottom edge of it. This is not overly noticeable during use, however, and the touchpad features tap-to-click capability (toggled on or off via the Chrome Settings menu) and two-finger ‘flicking’ and scrolling.