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Hands on: Acer C710 Chromebook


Gadgets on the go

Adam Turner is an award-winning Australian freelance technology journalist with a passion for gadgets and the "digital lounge room".

View more entries from Gadgets on the go

Acer C710 Chromebook.

Acer C710 Chromebook.

Brimming with potential and priced to sell, Acer's stripped-down Chromebook is the perfect travel companion. 

We're still finding our way in the post-PC era and so far gadget-makers have produced a few duds along the way. Apple's slick iPad still sets the standard when it comes to striking a good balance between portability and usability, but Acer's AU$299 C710 Q1V2C Chromebook proves that the traditional notebook form factor has plenty of life left in it.

The Chromebook runs Google's Chrome OS, which is basically a stripped-down version of Linux designed to do little more than run the Chrome web browser. That's not as inconvenient as you might think in this age of web apps and cloud services.

Meanwhile Acer's $299 hardware is surprisingly impressive considering the budget price tag. The 11.6-inch, 1366x768 LED screen is bright and crisp, while the keyboard is firm and well-spaced. The notebook weighs in at only 1.38 kg and comfortably slips in a travel bag, while you'll squeeze three to four hours from the battery. In terms of connectivity you've got three USB 2.0 ports, an SD card slot, Ethernet, VGA, HDMI, webcam, headphone/mic jack and 802.11b/g/n wi-fi (supporting 2.4 and 5 GHz networks).

Overall the Chromebook puts every budget Windows netbook I've tested to shame. In the last few years I've seen Windows netbooks and notebooks which cost much more, offered much less and were far less pleasant to use. To be fair, this isn't the only Chromebook to reach our shores. We've also recently seen the launch of the $349 Samsung 11.6-inch Series 3 Chromebook in Australia. The $399 HP 14-inch Pavilion 14 Chromebook is also coming, so if you're sold on the Chromebook concept you'll want to weigh up the Acer's hardware against these alternatives.

Acer's Chromebook boots up in around 20 seconds, including the time taken to log into your Google account, and it revives from slumber in 1 second when you lift the lid. The Intel Celeron 1.1 GHz dual-core processor accompanied by 2 GB of RAM isn't exactly a powerhouse, but remember this is Linux -- not Windows -- and it's more than enough to support day-to-day tasks. The Chromebook certainly handles multi-tasking, complex websites and Flash-intensive games better than the AMD-powered HP Pavilion DM1-4108AU running Windows 7 which I bought last year to take to New York, but we'll get back to that in a minute. Even with the improved performance running Chrome OS, it's still worth considering Flash and script blockers to ease the load on the Chromebook (Flash really hammers the battery).

Of course the Chromebook's key selling point is not the hardware but rather the "just works" convenience of using Chrome OS. I must confess that my opinion of the Chromebook is influenced by the fact that I've long been a keen user of Google applications and services such as Chrome, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Reader (R.I.P.) and Google Docs. When it comes to hardware I learn towards Apple's iGadgets and MacBooks, but I'm much more comfortable with Google's platform-agnostic services than locking myself into Apple's tight but limited ecosystem.

The fact that I'm already a keen Google user made the transition to the Chromebook smooth and painless. Once it synced my extensions, bookmarks, browsing history and search history from Chrome on my MacBook Pro, this little Acer instantly felt like it was my computer. As a productivity tool I've taken to it faster than any other post-PC device I've tested, and I'd also put it ahead of many awkward netbooks and Ultrabooks with hideous keyboards and trackpads. If money was no object then the exquisite but expensive 11.6-inch MacBook Air would be the pick up the bunch, but spending more than $1000 on a secondary travel companion is more than some people can justify.

I know the fact I live in the Google ecosystem makes the Chromebook more attractive to me, but of course the inclusion of the full Chrome browser means you can just as easily tap into other cloud services such as Microsoft's impressive SkyDrive and Office Web Apps. Yet if you're a newcomer to the cloud and still wedded to a range of desktop software then the transition to the Chromebook might be more pain than you're willing to bear.

Foregoing desktop applications such as iTunes, Skype, Outlook, Word, Excel, Photoshop, Premiere and Audacity might seem like an instant deal-breaker and that's understandable. I certainly wouldn't trade in my collection of Macs and PCs in favour of Chromebooks.

Acer's Chromebook features a 320 GB hard drive, which seems excessive for a supposedly cloud-focuses device but it means you can load the hard drive with your multimedia library -- copied from USB stick, SD card or downloaded from the web. Chrome OS features a basic built-in media player which should meet your needs. Of course you can store any file on the Chromebook, but if you want to edit Office files you'll need to upload them to the cloud -- something which doesn't bother me but will naturally frustrate some people.

But at $299 the Acer Chromebook is pitched more as your secondary computer and a perhaps travel companion rather than your everyday workhorse. Your reliance on internet access might seem like another deal-breaker, but Chrome will happily cache Gmail, Google Docs and Google Calendar for offline editing and then sync them up to the cloud when you get back online. You can also store an extensive multimedia library on the 320 GB hard drive rather than constantly rely on the internet for entertainment. With these safeguards, I'd be more than happy to trust the Chromebook to serve me well on the road whether I was a student or an information worker.

The cheap yet rather useful Chromebook might also suit less-tech savvy users looking for easy-to-use alternatives to the iPad. People who currently perform all their consumer-oriented tasks in the browser should find moving to the Chromebook should be fairly painless, while reducing the headaches of software updates and malicious software. Of course they need to appreciate what they're sacrificing in return.

The Chromebook is not for everyone. Like all post-PC devices you need to go in understanding its limitations or else risk serious disappointment. Last year I weighed up all my options when looking for an international travel companion and decided that the $399 HP Pavilion running Windows 7 was the best fit for my needs. If I was forced to make that decision today I believe it would lose out to the $299 Acer Chromebook. Your mileage may vary but, short of spending more than $1000 on a Macbook Air, I'd say the Acer C710 Chromebook is the best fit for my travel bag.


9 comments so far

  • Looks awesome, oh wait, it would of if it was still 2009

    Seriously, why bother, its a netbook, same bad specs, not very useful, try toggling between your browser, word and excel and see how laggy the thing is

    I have an ACER netbook from 2010 with full office, similar specs, it has been sitting in the cupboard for a year, just like these things will for anyone foolish enough to take the chance

    Date and time
    April 03, 2013, 11:50AM
    • I have had 2 Acer Aspire netbooks since they were first released, what is it now, 5 years ago? Best tech purchases I ever made. I don't know what people are doing that requires the heavy lifting power so many critics of the form factor keep arguing for, but my bet is most people don't need it. I for one am not trying to reconcile the national debt of Greece or video render my own private sequel to Avatar. I'm doing what everyone else mostly does: Watching online videos, surfing the news and Wikipedia and generally arseing about online. And for that a netbook fits the bill perfectly.

      Craig More
      Date and time
      April 03, 2013, 12:30PM
    • I expect chromeos devices will not gain real traction until enough people have actually seen and used them. Comparing any of these devices to a full blown Windoze netbook is chalk and cheese, completely different expectations of what they achieve. I agree that they may not suit everyone, depending on what you expect to do with your computer, for people who just want to consume internet content chromeos is brilliant. I use my chromebox much more than my regular computer and would be pretty unhappy if it died, but would get another without blinking (amazon willing or samsung supplying to Aus). Happy and amazed that manufacturers have finally woken to the fact that Australia does have the internet, maybe Australians will see some googletv devices sometime in the future.

      Date and time
      April 03, 2013, 5:24PM
    • windoze?


      If you used your netbook for only the things you use chromebook for, you will find they are very similar, its as you said, with windows on netbook, people expect full windows capability, and complain about it.

      with chromebook, people expect very little, and don't complain if it achieves this or exceeds it.

      Date and time
      April 04, 2013, 9:10AM
  • I like the 320GB hard drive, but I guess it needs a fan? The Samsung version has no fan, so is silent. But has no hard drive space to speak of.

    Date and time
    April 03, 2013, 3:59PM
    • Where are the usual hoardes of Windows zealots? Usually they are quick to condem any alternative and to profess Windows to be the most secure and table operating system in the entire universe..........

      Date and time
      April 04, 2013, 7:25PM
      • Chromebooks have come a long way since they first hit the market. Lower prices, improved performance and additional offline capabilities have made Chromebooks a realistic (and even attractive) option for many.

        The fact that Lenovo and HP have recently joined the ranks of Chromebook manufacturers shows how much Google is finally making the market take notice.

        There are even solutions for accessing Windows applications. For example, Ericom AccessNow is an HTML5 RDP client that enables Chromebook users to connect to Terminal Server or VDI virtual desktops, and run Windows applications or desktops in a browser tab. So AccessNow can help make Chromebooks more viable for business use, even if it's just the case of enabling employees to access work applications from home.

        Click here for a live interactive demo:

        Please note that I work for Ericom

        Date and time
        April 05, 2013, 1:29AM
        • I don't understand your enthusiasm for Chromebooks, Adam. $499 just bought me a brushed aluminium 13.3' i5 ASUS VivoBook with 4GBRAM/500GBHD/USB3.0/HDMI/SDCard/Ethernet/VGA. Boots Windows8 in less than 20 seconds, comes out of hibernation in 1 second, has a full ten point touchscreen, and battery life is 5 hours+.

          Chromebooks just don't make practical, functional or financial sense.

          Date and time
          April 05, 2013, 1:41PM
          • I've ordered an Acer Chromebook from USA, just for fun to try out.
            Paid $169 postage included.
            I belive it's possible to partition the HDD and run an Ubuntu operating system and it will make it to an fully functional inexpensive laptop.

            Date and time
            April 26, 2013, 11:46PM

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