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

The Chrome Web Store sells apps, but they're really Web apps, glorified browser pages that can do offline caching for some functions; it's a very different experience from using real, downloaded offline software. Games are available, but they run so choppily that you wouldn't want to play them.

The Acer C7 has vastly larger internal storage than other Chromebooks, thanks to a 320GB hard drive of the old-fashioned kind. No solid-state drive (SSD) here, but that means you have more than the measly 16GB of space on previous Chromebooks. There's still an SD card slot for additional storage flexibility, as well as two USB ports.

Files that get downloaded or sideloaded onto the Chromebook show up in a Files directory, but it's minimal. Pictures, movies, and documents can be browsed and shared, but that's it.

Speakers convey fair-enough volume and the Webcam is good enough for basic Google Hangouts and video chat, which is easy to initiate from within Gmail.

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You get a pretty laptop-like selection of ports on the Acer C7: three USB 2.0, HDMI, SD card slot, a physical Ethernet jack, and even VGA. Bluetooth, however, isn't included.

The 320GB hard drive is the Acer's real advantage over a Samsung Chromebook, especially if you're the type to load up a bunch of movies for offline viewing. A whole music and video collection could easily reside on here with plenty of room to spare. Actually, that's the one oddity: on a Chromebook that's so cloud-based and app-minimal, 320GB is almost too much space. It's hard to figure out what to do with it.

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Even though having a physical hard drive rather than an SSD should make this Chromebook feel slower, on Chrome OS there are so few physical applications to run -- everything's Web-based, really -- that it doesn't seem to slow down effective performance at all. The C7 wakes from sleep in a second or two, and boots more quickly than a laptop. It's fast enough.

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The dual-core Intel Celeron processor and 2GB of RAM in the Acer C7 are fine for this Chromebook's basic functions, but I did notice that videos didn't always have silky-smooth playback, and games such as Angry Birds and Bastion that are cached for semioffline play feel a lot choppier than their iPad app counterparts.

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The biggest drawback to the Acer C7 is its battery life. In two video playback battery drains, adapted for Chrome from our usual Windows/OS X laptop battery test, we averaged 2 hours and 39 minutes while playing a continuous video stream on YouTube. That's not an exact match for our regular video file playback test (which requires software that Chome can't run), and it's arguably more intense, making use of the system's Wi-Fi connection for video streaming. But, hey, at least the AC charger is small.

Over a day's use out and about, the battery life lasted longer than that for document editing and Web browsing. Even so, the Acer C7's battery ran down more quickly than I'd have liked over a typical day of solid use. It's not an ideal device to take on a long plane trip. Considering the long battery life (5-plus hours) of most ultraportables, tablets, and Netbooks, this is a disappointing outcome.

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The Acer C7 can be ordered directly from Google's online Play store. It comes with a two-year subscription to 100GB of Google Drive storage and 12 free passes for Gogo Inflight Internet, nice perks for a $199 product. They help subsidize the C7 even more, in a way.

Many will ask what the difference is between the $199 Acer C7 and the $249 Samsung Chromebook. The Samsung model has Bluetooth connectivity, USB 3.0, better battery life, and a smaller 16GB SSD. The Acer C7 has only USB 2.0 ports, doesn't have Bluetooth, has a larger 320GB standard hard drive, and costs $50 less. Both have SD card slots. The differences are minor. The Samsung model is slimmer, and with its better battery life, most will prefer that option. I probably would go for that one, too.

Either way, I'd have second and third thoughts about buying any Chromebook, including the Acer C7. The limitations of the total package may not be ideal for some. However, if you consider the Acer C7 a true Netbook -- as in, a device solely made for getting on the Internet and getting things done there -- then you might find this Chromebook a perfectly affordable and useful tool. I'm willing to accept the logic of a Chromebook at this price, but I'd still prefer a cheap tablet instead.

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