The $199 Acer C7 Chromebook

Category: Gadgets

Acer has just released a new sub-$200 Chromebook, a netbook which runs Google's Chrome OS. There are some appealing things about the Acer C7, but other aspects seem like steps backward. Let's take a closer look at the Acer C7 Chromebook and see exactly what comes in that package with the tiny price tag...

Acer C7 Chromebook Review

An unusual competitor appeared in the Chromebook market on November 13, 2012: the Acer C7 Chromebook. It sets a new price low for the Google Chromebook operating system netbook category: only $199. It also incorporates a 320 GB hard drive, appealing to buyers who think 16 GB of SSD storage isn’t enough.

The upsides of the Chromebook genre are speed and simplicity. They boot up in about 20 seconds, and require almost no setup or maintenance. All your software is web-based, so there's nothing to download or update. So what's the downside?

First, it supports only WiFi, not 3G or 4G mobile service like some netbooks and most tablets. So users will be tethered to WiFi hotspots - unless they are flying. The C7 comes with 12 free sessions on the GoGo in-flight WiFi service which regularly costs $14 a day -- a value of $168.
Acer C7 Chromebook - $199

And unlike devices with ARM-based processors, the C7’s 1.10GHz Intel Celeron 847 processor with 2 GB of RAM needs a fan to keep it cool enough for sensitive laps. The hard drive adds weight, bringing the C7 up to 3 pounds; Samsung’s latest Chromebook ($249) weighs half a pound less.

Battery life may be the biggest shortfall of the C7. It’s rated at just 3.5 hours, and vendor ratings are notoriously optimistic. If you're always plugged into a wall socket, that's not a problem. But if you're hoping to use it on a long flight, you might be disaapointed.

Oh, and don't expect to run your favorite Windows apps on this little wonder. Chromebooks run the Chrome OS, not Windows. You won't be able to install or run Microsoft Word, Quickbooks, Adobe Photoshop or any other programs that require Windows. Instead, you'll be using web-based apps such as Google Docs for documents and spreadsheets. The Chrome Web Store also has plenty of free apps for most common tasks.

Three USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet port, HDMI, an SD card slot, and even a VGA port provide some welcome connectivity options. But there’s no Bluetooth. A 1.3 megapixel Webcam is some solace. The C7’s 11.6 inch, 1366-by-768-pixel display, is the same as the Samsung Chromebook. Acer says the C7 boots in just 18 seconds, with even speedier wakeup from sleep mode. The C7 is available through Google, on BestBuy.com, and through some Best Buy stores in the U. S. In the UK, it’s also sold through Amazon UK, PC World, and Currys.

Is the C7 Worth It?

If you're a frequent flyer looking for a low-cost, lightweight netbook, your cost drops from $199 to just $31 when you factor in the free in-flight Internet access. The C7 also comes with 100 GB of Google Drive Cloud Storage for 2 years. The rack rate for this is $5/month, so that's another $120 freebie. (After two years you’ll have to pay for the online storage or pare down your stash of data.) If these features are something you'll definitely use, you could justify the purchase by pretending that you're actually getting paid $89 to buy it.

Depending on your needs and usage, the lackluster battery life and lack of mobile data access may or may not be a problem. To be fair, most laptops don't have it either, and when I travel with mine, I always find an A/C power plug and use a Wifi connection in the airport, hotel or coffee shop. If 3G and longer battery life are must-have features for you, consider the Samsung Chromebook 550 which has double the battery life and 3G capability, but sells for $449 -- more than twice the price of the Acer C7.

The C7’s low price will make it attractive to cost-conscious students and occasional users; the multiple connectivity ports are useful for presentations at clients’ premises. The hard drive provides much more local storage space, but it seems at odds with the whole cloud-centric Chromebook paradigm.

As I see it, the Acer C7 is a niche product, and not really an advancement of the Chromebook’s horizons. For some, it may be a bargain. But the truly horrible battery life and lack of 3G capability make the C7 suitable only for the least mobile user.

Will you consider a Chromebook when shopping for your next mobile computing device? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "The $199 Acer C7 Chromebook"

Posted by:

Gordon
14 Nov 2012

Hi Bob,
though a more avid Mac fan (and I know you delve into that realm from time to time, too) I have been following your email advice newsletter for some years now, and with pleasure in the knowledge that you articulate well on hi-tech matters, in plain language and objectively.
So, to my modest comment on 'The $199 Acer C7 Chromebook' - surely one can get around the limited mobile data access by tethering this laptop to one's mobile phone hot spot facility? Of course there may be a little extra Service Provider charges there.
Furthermore, most if not all Google apps can be used offline nowadays, so only occasional direct Internet access will be required.
Though, I have to pose the question that being globally limited to online apps, is there much advantage in lugging around a 'hefty' laptop, when you can most of the same services with the current crop of powerful yet ever lower cost tablets? iPad mini combined with a roll-up keyboard?
What concerns me more is the poor battery life, 3.5 hours is hardly a viable proposition - again, compared to today's tablets, which really does seem the way forward for mobile computing, and with scale prices will no doubt decline...


Posted by:

Andrew Spence
14 Nov 2012

Having read the review, I will not be considering a Chromebook. As I see it, any really mobile computer must have at least: (1) a day's worth of battery life (6 - 8 hours); (2) a usably-sized screen; (3) a usable keyboard for serious work; (4) a weight under 3 kilos; (4) decent RAM; (5) fast start-up and shut down; (6) various options for Internet connection; (7) OS options (I would run Windows XP, preferably as a virtual machine under Linux Knoppix); (8) a machine under US $350.

At the moment, there is nothing like that on the market and I will not buy a new computer until there is one.


Posted by:

Gary
14 Nov 2012

Bob, I agree: This machine won't "ruin you favorite Windows apps". It takes a genuine Windows OS to really mess those up. Talk about your mixed blessing!

EDITOR'S NOTE: That was either a Freudian slip, or a side effect of the numbness in my thumb and index fingers. :-)


Posted by:

J Fischer
14 Nov 2012

I agree with Gordon that a tablet could be a better option. I now travel with a 7 inch Android tablet and leave my laptop behind.

I have used an iPad2. Using the camera/usb/sd card adapter, I can plug in a regular usb keyboard if I need to do a lot of typing.

I am looking forward to trying the Apple mini iPad.


Posted by:

Dave S
14 Nov 2012

It sounds to me like this will quickly go the way of Oracle's low cost PC back in the 1990s: The infamous NC (network computer).

I surely wouldn't be spending the money on this.


Posted by:

Charlie
15 Nov 2012

My preference is still my ASUS Eee PC Seashell series netbook. I run Open Office on it, use Windows 7 and it is great when I travel. Battery lasts about 8 hours, and it is light enough to keep me happy when I have to carry it around all day. I still find netbooks he best alternative when I am on the road.


Posted by:

Steve
06 Dec 2012

Afraid that Chrome is taboo for me permanently or until/unless someone comes up with an interface or way to use MS Office products. Is that even POSSIBLE.


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