Acer C7 Chromebook review
The Acer C7 Chromebook is a budget, sub-£200 laptop built around the Chrome "browser only" operating system. The price sounds attractive, but it means basic specs rather than a powerhouse are on the cards - which is exactly what some people will be looking for.
Here at Pocket-lint we've always said that Chromebooks need to be affordable to be an attractive prospect, and the Acer C7 sure seems to tick that box - but at what cost to performance?
The Acer C7 is all matte "gunmetal" plastic, matched with some shiny black plastic for the screen's bezel surround. It's a budget laptop and, we have to say, it sure does look it.
Despite its small size and 11.6-inch screen, the C7 weighs in at around 1.4kgs. That's heavier than the larger-bodied but thinner Samsung 303C Chromebook, which only goes to point out that somehow Acer's made the C7 a chunkier wedge.
It's the C7's extra width which is to blame, but on the upside it does mean it can afford an Ethernet port at the side - something that other Chromebooks, including the 303C, can lack - as well as a monitor output. No fewer than three USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI out and a 3.5mm headphone jack complete the package - it's only really an SD card slot that's missing from this set-up.
The inclusion of the HDMI and monitor outs might come in real handy because we're not fans of the C7's screen at all. It's not so much the size or resolution, which are fine enough, it's the poor viewing angle that makes it hard to see the whole screen perfectly at almost any angle.
The glossy finish also means that the screen is rather reflective, so you'll often be staring back at the outline of your own mug from an unflattering angle. Colours do look vibrant from the right angle, but given that finding that angle is about as likely as stumbling upon a lost Egyptian tomb it doesn't make for fun viewing of movies and full screen content.
The C7's keyboard size looks fair against the model's overall size, and it could be ideal for typing if it wasn't for the excess resistance of the keys. There's too much return bounce, so it's easy to "miss" a letter when typing. Not even this Caps Lock key has an indicator light, which makes an already poor typing experience that much more irksome.
The trackpad to navigate around the screen is a little better, but it is small which can mean doubling up on swipes to navigate effectively. A larger, trackpad would have been preferable.
As we've explored in our other reviews of Chromebooks - including the Samsung Series 5, Series 5 550 and Series 3 303C - Chrome OS is, at its core, just like a web browser with the addition of cloud storage and some apps thrown in for good measure.
For the best experience you'll need to be on Wi-Fi at all times to connect with the cloud. This ability means delving into Google Drive to tweak documents, for example, is useful for auto synching of content. Without even thinking you can continue a document on your mobile phone later while standing on the bus, for example. This, of course, is the nature of Google Drive irrelevant of hardware used to access.
If you're not connected to Wi-Fi then surely a browser-based operating system has limited use? It's a yes and no answer. The C7 doesn't become an over-sized paperweight by any means though: load up a USB stick of content - which happens automatically - and it's possible to run movies, view pictures, play music or, if you've already downloaded some built-in "offline" apps then it's possible to play those too.
Otherwise using a Chromebook is like a mash up of using a browser with some dressed up Windows-7-esque start bar and desktop navigation for quick access to apps, email and the like. However, all these shortcuts will effectively ping your experience back into the browser where applications are run.
We're not too fussed where things are run so long as the experience is a good one. Chrome OS has potential. It's simple, stripped-back and, therefore, easy to understand. But it's not particularly rich - you can't instal specific programmes as per a Windows machine or Mac. There's a kind of beauty in that simplicity, but it does mean no Skype, no Spotify (quite yet - there's a Chrome app in beta testing), no Photoshop, and the list goes on into a fade-to-black-like end scene. Some won't care, but the lack of richness from the Chrome app store won't appeal to all.
One of the biggest benefits to Chrome OS is that it avoids "bloatware". You know what we mean - those nasty pop-ups that persist to tell you that your computer is knocking on death's door before you've so much as set it up. Yes, those. Chrome keeps such nasties at an arm's length.
The Acer C7 does have one apparent trump card against its Samsung Series 3 rival: a 320GB hard drive. Only, it backfires for the simple reason that it slows things down. Loading up the OS takes over 20 seconds which, while not long is double that of the Samsung Series 3 equivalent. It's also noisier and can be heard "waking up" and kicking back into gear.
As much as internal space sounds appealing, it's at odds with the very concept of a cloud-based machine. Nice to have, but without it a yet-cheaper C7 model would have had yet more appeal in our view.
Battery life also suffers as a result. Operating a mechanical hard disk drive has its toll. The C7 tends to offer up around three and a half hours of life per charge, perhaps four hours, which is okay but not a patch on the competition.
Chrome OS has its highs, but it's not the smoothest, fastest experience out there on the Acer C7. This modern-day netbook-like machine may sound appealing from a price point of view, but cheapness, as we've seen, isn't an assurance of quality. Bread and butter tasks are fine, but don't expect more.
Although the Chromebook concept is a partial success, there are too many fundamental errors with Acer's C7 laptop for it to score well.
It might well be a budget purchase, but the screen has a poor viewing angle, battery life isn't great and the keyboard is hit and miss for typing - all of key importance to a device such as this, and all short of the acceptable threshold in each case. There's also no 3G option for on-the-go connectivity.
The £200 price tag is certainly the C7's biggest appeal, but for only £30 more the larger Samsung Series 3 Chromebook - while still not great - is a better overall experience.
Google OS is practical for day to day tasks, and with a separate screen and keyboard wired up this could make a straightforward "homework machine" for the kids. However, for anything more demanding outside of browsing, video playback, word processing and basic apps you'll want to look elsewhere.
In short, we have the same reservations about the Acer C7 as we did with the initial spread of Chromebook releases. It's not up to form and lacks the quality factor.