Acer C7 Chromebook review: At $199, you get what you pay for

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CNET Editors' Rating

2.5 stars OK
  • Overall: 5.8
  • Design: 6.0
  • Features: 7.0
  • Performance: 7.0
  • Battery life: 4.0
  • Service and support: 7.0

Average User Rating

4 stars 27 user reviews
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good The Acer C7 Chromebook's very affordable price is its best asset, plus it's got plenty of ports and a large hard drive. It boots up quickly and is simple to use.

The Bad Saddled with an ugly design, finicky touch pad, and short battery life, this feels like a far cry even from most budget laptops. The Chrome OS is still too limiting, though it's made some strides in a year.

The Bottom Line At $199, the Acer C7 is an attractive proposition for anyone looking for a supercheap portable laptop, but the Chrome OS and short battery life mean you'll have to accept a lot of compromises.

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Chromebooks are an oddity of the modern computing world: neither tablet nor laptop, and eschewing the concept of apps in the way an iOS or Android user might know them. A Chromebook is a Web browser-centric device that looks at first glance like a Netbook, but actually does far less.

Of course, the "far less" that a Chromebook does is arguably of better quality and reliability than what older Netbooks did. Google's Chrome OS is a clean, fast, fluid type of browser-based operating system, but it's still more browser than anything else. And it requires living completely under the thumb of a Google ID, which handles all cloud-syncing concerns. (Then again, iOS and Android work in a similar way -- and even Windows 8 for the most part.)

Sarah Tew/CNET

Chromebooks have, as of late, been better-functioning, and more fluid. But they've also been too expensive ...until Samsung's $249 Chromebook finally moved the price down to sub-Netbook level, where it should have been all along. The Acer C7 Chromebook brings the price even lower, to $199. Is this the holiday bargain supreme?

Hold your horses a little bit. Yes, the Acer C7 packs a 320GB hard drive, Wi-Fi, an SD card slot, HDMI, and all your other basic ports into a very portable gadget that can surf the Web. Yes, it could be your on-the-go way to work online, check your e-mail, Skype, and even play some games and edit some documents.

But, so could most tablets. The Acer C7's advantages are a physical keyboard and touch pad, that larger hard drive, and the price.

The disadvantages? Seriously short battery life, and Chrome's very odd, streamlined operating system.

You'll have to ask yourself: do you want a Netbook for Web browsing only? If so, the Acer C7 might be perfect. Otherwise, consider something from the ever-more-affordable world of tablets, or invest a bit more to get a regular Windows laptop.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Design: A Netbook by any other name
Pick up the Acer C7 and you'd swear you're holding a Netbook. Acer's clearly taken a Netbook body and shoehorned Chrome OS in. That's okay, but the Acer C7 isn't as thin or as clean-looking as Samsung's recent Chromebook offering. At 3 pounds and a little under 1 inch thick, it's still easy to tuck in any small bag, and the AC charger plug is pretty small, too.

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Its 11.6-inch display has a standard-for-a-laptop 1,366x768-pixel resolution, with adequate but not impressive brightness, color richness, and off-axis viewing angles. It's good enough for Web browsing and basic apps, but pictures and movies won't look that impressive.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Like all Chromebooks, 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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The clickable touch pad, well, that's another story. It works reasonably well enough for basic one-finger navigation around Chrome OS, but for two-finger scrolling or any of Chrome's limited multifinger gestures, it feels horrible. 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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Which brings me to the real question, once again: why Chrome OS? Why not a tablet, or a laptop? To me, Chromebooks still haven't answered this question; they've just become more affordable. A price of $199 doesn't seem nearly as egregious as the $500 that the last Chromebook I reviewed cost, but it's not chump change. You can get a Nexus 7 tablet for that money, or put it toward a better laptop or another tablet.

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Where to Buy

MSRP: $199.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Weight 3 lbs
  • Hard Drive 320 GB HDD
  • Operating System Google Chrome OS
  • Installed Size 2 GB
About The Author

Scott Stein is a senior editor covering iOS and laptop reviews, mobile computing, video games, and tech culture. He has previously written for both mainstream and technology enthusiast publications including Wired, Esquire.com, Men's Journal, and Maxim, and regularly appears on TV and radio talking tech trends.