Google stack day one: Acer’s stunning $400 C720 Chromebook

Acer C720 Chromebook

Acer C720 Chromebook

After ending a week working just with Apple technology, followed by a Microsoft-only week, it’s time to look at Google.

For the next seven days I’ll be using the Acer C720 Chromebook and the Sony Xperia Z1.

The two devices are at opposite ends of their respective price spectrums. The test laptop is almost one third the price of the test phone.

Acer C720 Chromebook

You can buy an Acer C720 for under $400 if you shop around. It’s one of the cheapest computers on sale in New Zealand – if not the cheapest. It costs much less than you’d pay for even the cheapest Windows 8 laptop and about 25 percent of Apple’s most basic MacBook.

That low price means a few limitations. On the outside the C720 looks a little plain vanilla. It’s grey and made of plastic, not that there’s anything wrong with any of that. This is clearly a straightforward workhorse computer, not a fashion accessory.

Despite the utilitarianism, or maybe because if it, I rather like the C720. It’s well built – like a Russian tank. And it comes with all the right modern ports including HDMI and USB 3.0. Heck it almost cost me the price of the C720 to add USB 3.0 ports to my old desktop warhorse.

Play it loud

The speakers are loud and not especially high fidelity. I found this out the hardware when accidentally navigating to a site with an autoplay ad and deafening my household at 7am.

While the chiclet-style keyboard is no match for my MacBook Air, it’s usable. I have some trouble with my touch typing and I’m not as fast as normal, but it’s a step-up from the Touch Cover 2 you can add to a Surface tablet.

I have a minor niggle about the control key being in the wrong spot – I keep hitting alt by mistake – but that’s not a major problem.

Although the Trackpad works, it’s a little erratic, but you can do two finger scrolling. I’m spoilt by the MacBook Air’s trackpad, but frankly the Acer C720 does a better job than most Windows laptops.

For me the Acer C720′s weakest spot is the display. You can’t reasonably expect much when you’re paying under $400 for laptop. And you don’t get that much. The screen measures 11.6 inches and resolution is 1388 by 768. It’s perfectly readable – within certain limits that I’ll mention in a later post when I cover the Google software stack.

Surprisingly good overall

There’s a Celeron processor, 4GB of Ram and a 16GB SSD – all more than enough to keep everything ticking over nicely. It’s not fast, but the lightweight software overhead and Google’s cloud doing the heavy lifting means it doesn’t need to be. I’ve been using the C720 solidly for nearly two hours and the battery is a 84 percent. I suspect the measure is non-linear, but it looks like I can get a day’s work out of this baby on a single charge.

On the whole I’m staggered by how much computer Acer has shovelled into the $400 C720. It’s plain and utilitarian yet functional. If the Soviet Union was still in business and made personal computers, this is what it could have come up with on a good day. It makes you wonder how much of the value and cost of other computers goes into supporting heavy duty operating systems.

[digitl 2013]

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3 thoughts on “Google stack day one: Acer’s stunning $400 C720 Chromebook

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