It's become abundantly clear at this point that Chrome OS isn't going anywhere. Google's foray into browser-driven computing is more than an experiment: Chromebooks are still hanging on in the fringes of the laptop market, and even gaining in number. So let's accept their existence, even if you don't necessarily believe in them.
For example, the Chromebook Pixel is a fine-feeling Chromebook...that costs $1,299. But Google really needs great Chromebooks at $300.
If you look in a retail circular or browse online sales, that cheap sub-$200 laptop that looks like a Netbook is probably a Chromebook nowadays -- if you aren't already looking at a tablet. But have things really changed from a year ago?
The Acer C710-2457 shows that the real changes in most Chromebooks aren't likely to be about the hardware, but about the evolution of Chrome OS itself. As a product, the "new" C7 looks a lot like the old C7 we reviewed last year, which in turn felt like an old Netbook outfitted with Chrome.
Bargain-hunters might like the simplicity of the C7, but you're still not getting something in terms of hardware that's going to beat most laptops or even cheap tablets, unless you really value a keyboard-and-touch-pad experience over touch-screen tapping. I'd recommend a cheap tablet like the Nexus 7 or spending a little more for a real-deal sub-$500 laptop, over a bargain-basement Chromebook.
Close your eyes. Open them. That Acer C7 sitting in front of you is a Netbook, isn't it? Of course it is. It even has an old VGA port sticking out the side.
Plastic, generic, utilitarian: the C7 fits all these descriptors. It won't win a beauty contest, but it packs up compactly, and its power adapter is small.
The plastic body feels undeniably budget, without the often more premium touches of many tablets. A somewhat flexible plastic top lid, glossy plastic screen bezel, and thicker-than-you'd-expect sides with ugly vent grilles complete the portrait of a product that defies any desire to show it off. I said exactly the same thing about the last C7 I reviewed, because they're basically exactly the same.
Like all Chromebooks (except the Pixel), the Acer C7 lacks a touch screen. You'll be interacting solely with the keyboard and touch pad, which are fair and subpar, respectively. The keyboard's raised, island-style chiclet keys have the same travel and shape as found in many ultrabooks, but no backlighting. Typing feels comfortable enough, with no unnecessary columns of keys on the sides. You do have to get used to the Chromebook keyboard conventions, which are subtly different: a search key marked with a magnifying glass icon is installed between the Alt and Fn keys, but the function buttons all work directly to raise and lower volume or change screen brightness, a nice plus. The keyboard feels nearly full-size.
The clickable touch pad, well, that's another story. It works reasonably well for basic one-finger navigation around Chrome OS, but for two-finger scrolling or multifinger gestures, it's lousy. There's no inertial scrolling, so Web page browsing becomes herky-jerky. Tap-and-drag moves were also hard to pull off consistently. It's a far cry from the smooth feel of better-made laptops or the touch screen on any tablet. And, in the 10 or so months since I last reviewed the Acer C7, it's even less impressive compared with the wonderful feel of, say, the Chromebook Pixel's touch pad. Touch pads can be done well on Chromebooks, just not on this one.
Display and speakers: Less than optimal
Look, this is a $199 device at heart. Still, tablets like the Nexus 7 manage impressive display quality in this price range. The 11.6-inch, 1,366x768-pixel-resolution display on the Acer C7 matches what you'd expect on a standard laptop, but it lacks vibrant screen brightness or colors, and images wash out at extreme viewing angles. The glossy surface throws a lot of glare, too.
The speakers don't help. Generic speakers under the chassis generate faint audio that makes your favorite movie's soundtrack sound like it's pumped from an AM radio. Headphones are a must, but even so this isn't a killer way to watch media on the go: you're better off packing a smartphone. For e-mail and basic reading and productivity, it's a better bet.
Configurations, performance, battery life
The base $199 Acer C7 in the Google Play store has an Intel Celeron dual-core processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 16GB solid-state drive (SSD). Our review version, with 4GB of RAM and costing $229, is sold via Acer, at retail, and on other online sites.
At least the Acer C7's port offerings are shockingly diverse: there are three USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI port, an Ethernet jack, an SD card slot, and even a VGA port for time travelers. It's more than you'll need. The C7 also supports 802.11a/b/g/n dual-band Wi-Fi, but there's no Bluetooth.