A Hands-On Review of the Acer C7 Chromebook
A Hands-On Review of the Acer C7 Chromebook
Chromebooks, small laptop computers that run the slimmed down Chrome OS operating system, have become popular among many business users and hobbyists. The appeal is, obviously, based on the small form factor and the lower than average cost of the devices. Chromebooks are primarily cloud based systems, which require an “always on” connection in order to function properly. Newer versions of the Chrome OS, however, claim to work in offline mode as well. But are they really all that they’re cracked up to be? To find out, I purchased an Acer C7 Chromebook from a local retailer, with the intent to use the computer for work related things like writing and research.
Acer C7 Chromebook Specs
On the surface, the Acer C7 sports a decent set of specs. While only having 16gb internal storage (similar to many tablets and handheld devices currently on the market) the small space is made up for with the fact that the drive is solid state. Solid state drives contain no moving parts and are generally much quicker than standard hard drives. 2 gigabytes of DDR3 RAM and a mobile Intel chipset combine to make the C7 a pretty hefty little machine for the size and cost. Add to that an HD webcam, an HD display, and both wireless N and 10/100/1000 (gigabit) connectivity, and you have a miniature dream machine. At least, according to the specs.
There were a few noticeable things right off the bat that I was thrilled about:
- Load time: I was pleasantly surprised at the very minimal amount of time the Acer C7 takes to boot up. According to the spec sheet, the system completely loads in less than 7 seconds. All things considered, that’s quite fast. Especially when compared to load times for other operating systems. The secret, of course, is in the solid state drive.
- Cost: The C7 Chromebook is priced at $199, a small enough cost to be affordable to almost everyone. However, low prices aren’t as meaningful if the device isn’t user friendly or is lacking in functionality.
- Ports: The device sports a large number of ports, surprisingly. It has 3 USB ports, a dual (SD and MMC) card reader, a gigabit ethernet port (as well as internal wireless) and both VGA and HDMI outputs
- Solid State Drive: A solid state drive is almost identical to standard flash drives in that there are no moving parts, meaning less wear and tear and faster speeds. The primary difference between the two is form factor. While internal flash memory is generally soldered onto the motherboard, solid state drives are often removable and upgradable. The SSD is the biggest reason for the C7’s fast loading and response times.
- Automatic updates: The Acer C7, like many Chromebooks, offer behind-the-scenes updates. These updates, when available, generally fix critical issues with the operating system. Rather than needing to actively check for updates, the system automatically does it, and alerts the user with a small icon in the system tray, at which point the user is prompted to reboot the device to finish updating.
As with most technology, there are some bad points to the Acer C7 Chromebook:
- Settings: There aren’t many settings that you can manipulate, other than a few basics like syncing, network and account (being Chrome based, a Google account is required in order for the device to function). This is similar to settings option on most Android devices, but I expected more from a “computer.”
- Sound: Quite frankly, the sound sucked. Even when set to the highest volume, I had to practically stick my ear next to the device to hear music being played. Sure, I could have plugged in a set of speakers, but that defeats the purpose of having such a small portable device.
- Microphone: Just like the speakers, the microphone volume levels leave much to be desired. While testing a voice recognition app, the microphone failed to hear me at all, unless I leaned toward the keyboard and yelled at it. I don’t imagine that would go over very well in the office or on an airplane.
After spending a few hours with the C7, the following horrible aspects really stick out, and practically make the device unusable to me.
- Apps: Because of the way the Chrome OS works, there is absolutely no option to install normal software. Everything is done through apps (similar to Android and iOS devices). Normally, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, except for the fact that the Google app store is severely lacking. The irony, of course, is that Chrome OS is built off Linux, a full-fledged operating system. It would have been easy for Google to enable a full computing experience.
- Keyboard/Trackpad: The keyboard, while not being completely horrible, is a little hard to use. Not only to the keys feel stiff, but the spacing between the keys is hard to adjust to. Keyboard shortcuts are a nightmare, as well, often requiring a series of 3 or 4 keys to be pressed together in order to use special function keys like volume and brightness controls. And the trackpad is almost a joke. There are no buttons. Left-clicking is done by pressing the corners of the trackpad. Right-clicking is nonexistent. In order to “right click”, you must press and hold the “Alt” button while pressing the corner of the trackpad. This is very cumbersome, and quickly gets annoying.
- Offline mode: Since the Chromebook relies heavily on Google’s cloud services, the majority of functions are online. However, the biggest draw for me was the claim that the device was able to work offline as well. Unfortunately, Google’s idea of offline, and my own, apparently vary tremendously. In order to do anything offline, I had to jump through hoops to enable it on Google’s website. The directions were unclear (sometimes even not matching up at all to what I was actually seeing in the settings) and took almost 3 hours to get sorted. Finally, once everything was done, I found that, while you could see your Google docs in the file app while offline, there was absolutely no option to create a new document.
The potential for the Acer C7 Chromebook was great. The price was even better. Unfortunately, when it came right down to it, the C7 fails miserably to be a usable replacement for a traditional computer. With the inability to perform while offline, and the hassles with usability, I can’t see this being a good device for anyone except the hardcore Google fans. The C7 will definitely be returned, and hopefully replaced with something that actually works as expected.