Chromebooks have become a thing of late — they’re about the only segment of the PC industry seeing growth these days — and it’s easy to see why. Attraction number one is that they’re cheap without having to deal with the tiny display of a netbook or the hassle of using a Bluetooth keyboard with a tablet. But cheap means compromises and I haven’t been a big Chromebook fan. I think they could make a good choice for a student, a second home PC and some business applications, but the inability to run desktop software plus some hardware choices (in the name of keeping costs down) have left me feeling pretty “meh” about using them. However, I just wrapped up a week with an Acer C720P Chromebook and I think these devices are finally starting to gel.
The Acer C720P retails for about $300 ($298 at Amazon), which makes it a $50 or so premium compared to typical Chromebooks. The reason for the extra cost is that this is the first Chromebook (other than Google’s $1,300 Pixel) to feature a touchscreen display.
But don’t buy it for that. Touch all you want if that’s your thing, but using touch input on a laptop is a recipe for a smudgy screen, a sore arm and possibly knocking the thing over with a miscalculated poke.
What makes the Acer C720P worth the extra cash is its use of an Intel Celeron CPU (instead of the mobile processor some cheaper Chromebooks rely on), a backlit LED display (11.6-inches at 1366 x 768 pixels) that doesn’t result in a headache from looking at it for a few hours, a 32 GB SSD (twice the usual for Chromebooks giving you a lot more room for offline document and media storage) and 7.5 hours battery life. The keyboard is also very usable, something that’s often a weak point with less expensive machines.
Using a Chromebook takes some getting used to, but once you use Google’s Chrome OS, you quickly get the hang of it. Although the best experience is online, you can still create, review and edit documents offline and this display and CPU are well suited to playing video (whether streaming or stored locally). The built-in speakers, not so much, but headphones can take care of that.
If you have a student at home in need of a light, portable computer for web access, writing up assignments and watching video, a Chromebook can be an inexpensive alternative to a Windows PC or MacBook. It won’t play video games other than some casual online-type things and you can’t run PC software, but it should cover off the needs of many users without blowing the budget. But while saving money is good, the Acer C720P is a good example of how spending a bit extra is well worth it — even if you never use that touchscreen.