There’s a Chromebook for virtually every need and budget. And while we’ve been looking at some of the newer form factors (like the all-in-one desktop), it’s time to go back to basics. Smooth performance and a budget friendly price – is this the Chromebook you’re looking for?
At the end of this review, you’ll be able to enter a giveaway for a chance to win the Acer C720 and C720P (we have one of each to giveaway).
About the Acer C720 and C720P
The Acer C720 ($199) is currently among the cheapest Chromebooks on the market, joined by the Asus 11.6″ model and a few others with a similar form factor. Though similar on paper, I’d be inclined to recommend the ASUS Chromebook over the C720 due to its superior build quality and keyboard, and larger trackpad.
The C720P ($309) differs only in that it has a touchscreen – and while it represents great value for money, there are slightly cheaper models that also have a touchscreen, such as the Lenovo Chromebook (review).
The packaging is nice yet straightforward. The Chromebooks were nicely protected by wrapping and styrofoam bumpers, and came with a power cord and a small user manual — that’s it. That keeps the entire package lean, which I like.
The Chromebooks have a very nice yet simple design that is in line with its low price tag. The entire Chromebook has one color, but the screen is surrounded by a black bezel (on the C720 this bezel reaches the edge while on the C720P it does not).
We also get a decent amount of ports: on the left side there’s the power jack, a full-sized HDMI port, a USB 3.0 port, and a combo headphone/microphone jack; on the right side there’s an SD card reader, a USB 2.0 port, and a Kensington lock slot.
It’s dimensions are 11.34 x 8.03 x 0.75 inches with a weight of 2.8 pounds, which makes it very thin and portable — two crucial characteristics of a good Chromebook.
The build quality is interesting to note, because the materials used in making these Chromebooks feel like they aren’t terribly cheap despite it most likely being a very cheap plastic. However, although there’s tons of plastic all around, it feels decently sturdy and could handle a few bumps and scrapes.
Since the device is so cheap and made of plastic, I can’t guarantee that the device will be very durable. If you treat it well, it should last quite a long time, but it might not hold up very well to heavy beating. Don’t confuse those statements with the device being flimsy — it’s not flimsy, but the quality of the materials just isn’t great. Which doesn’t surprise me at all — I believe that this is probably where most of the cost savings comes from.
Like any other Chrome OS device, you just need to plug in the power cord to get it to boot up (it’ll refuse to until you plug it in, even though the battery is half full). From there, you just sign into your Google account and off you go. Everything that you have synced with Chrome on any other computer will show up on your Chromebook in just a few seconds.
Display (and Touchscreen)
The 11.6-inch display comes with a 1366 x 768 pixel resolution, which isn’t extraordinary but quite good for such a display. The viewing angles were acceptable — although it’s still best if the screen is facing you directly — and the color representation was good for the price. Saturation of colors was a little low but not to the point that it looked strange.
The touchscreen on the C720P is very nice and easy to use. It was responsive and accurate to my input. Chrome OS supports quite a few gestures on touchscreens, so the experience there was productive.
The speakers were actually very good, and I’m not saying that they’re good for the price. They’re actually good — no matter what the price was. I was surprised by this, as speakers are usually one of the areas where Chromebook manufacturers tend to make sacrifices. But nope, these were loud and clear.
There was virtually no distortion at higher volumes, and there was even some bass in them. Not a lot, but I was expecting none at all. This alone makes these Chromebooks good devices to consume media, particularly music, on the go for cheap.
With an Intel Celeron 2955U processor and 2GB of RAM, I had been expecting to see some stuttering or lag during my use of these Chromebooks. However, it performed quite well. It wasn’t a perfectly buttery smooth experience, but it wasn’t really laggy either. Updates after first booting the device made it perform better, so I’d expect further updates to do the same. There might have been an occasional, minimal hiccup once in a while, but it’s otherwise fantastic to use.
Even YouTube videos playing at 1080p worked without a hitch, though given the low resolution display there would be little point in playing anything beyond 720p. The included 802.11n WiFi is mature and fast enough for anything that the Chromebook can handle.
I was expecting battery life to suffer, but that wasn’t the case either. Acer advertises 8.5 and 7.5 hours for the C720 and C720P, respectively. I actually got approximately a half hour better on each device for light to moderate mixed use. You shouldn’t have to worry about plugging these Chromebooks into the wall unless you have a very, very long day to tackle.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The keyboard and trackpad were acceptable, but here’s another area where sacrifices were made by Acer. While the keyboard looks good and there’s plenty of spacing between the keys, the tactile feedback is minimal, so it’s difficult to tell whether you’ve reached the threshold for keystroke recognition. Your eyes can confirm or deny that fact, but your fingers will get confused and will keep getting confused until it gets accustomed to the keyboard.
The trackpad works pretty well, but it isn’t as smooth and sensitive as I would have liked it to be. The area of the trackpad is rather small (which most 11.6-inch Chromebooks suffer from). With the C720P, I found myself using the touchscreen more often than the trackpad. I’m not a big fan of touchscreens generally, and while I would prefer a better trackpad or mouse, in this case it complimented the system nicely.
Webcam and Microphone
Another trademark of any Chrome OS-powered device: the webcam isn’t great. It’s a 1.3 MP webcam, sufficient for 800 x 600 video conferencing. It’ll get the job done, but it won’t be the best experience. The microphone is also of standard quality — good enough to clearly capture your voice, but it’s nothing “high-definition.”
In the end, are the Acer C720 and C720P worth your money? Yes! While they do have their downsides (and at that price, how could they not), but they are certainly much better than I was expecting them to be.
The winner will be selected at random and informed via email. View the list of winners here.