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Acer C710-2457 Chromebook review: Cheap Chromebook feels cheap

The SSD-equipped Acer C7 is cheap at $199, but that's about all it has going for it.

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Scott Stein
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Scott Stein

Editor at Large

I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets.

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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.

Acer_Chromebook_C710-2457_35823905_09.jpg
5.8

Acer C710-2457 Chromebook

The Good

The <b>Acer C710-2457</b> is the least expensive Chromebook on the Google Play store, and comes with a set of base features competitive with Samsung’s $250 Chromebook.

The Bad

Cheap-feeling Netbook-like construction, small touch pad, limited battery life, and unimpressive display and speakers; plus, Chrome OS is inherently limiting for offline use so this isn't as versatile as a traditional PC. Meager 16GB of onboard SSD storage.

The Bottom Line

If you want one of the least expensive Web-browsing devices that feels like a laptop but is really a Chromebook, the Acer C7 is fine. But its limitations match its price.

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?

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Design
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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Last year's C7 had a 320GB standard mechanical hard drive, which at least offered a ton of local storage space compared with the competition. Some of that value's lost in the Chrome OS ecosystem, but the switch to a faster 16GB SSD also means that the C7's available space for downloaded files matches the Samsung competition. It's stingy for something that aspires to be a kind-of laptop.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The SSD does seem to help performance a bit, but it's hard to tell; the hard drive version of the C7 was fast enough for basic Web surfing. And either way, the dual-core Intel Celeron in this Chromebook guarantees that the harder-core duties you might want to throw at this machine won't exactly feel lightning-fast.

Battery life of the C7, even this SSD-equipped version, continues to disappoint. We didn't do a standard video-loop playback test because, even though Chromebooks can do this offline, most people will use Chromebooks to stream video online. It only lasted about 3 hours doing so before needing a recharge. That's not great, but it's a little better than the last C7 did on a similar test. Keep the charger handy. For everyday tasks beyond streaming, I found this Chromebook hung in there over the course of a decent day's work, with coddling.

Like other Chromebooks, the Acer C7 comes with 100GB of added Google Drive cloud storage for two years, and credit for 12 free sessions of GoGo in-flight Internet. That helps subsidize the base cost a little more for frequent travelers.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Chrome needs better hardware
I know Samsung has a decent $250 Chromebook, and from a pure design-and-feel perspective the Chromebook Pixel is a sleek experience, should you be willing to accept the giant price tag and subpar battery life.

But it might be time for Chromebooks to get their own affordable Nexus-level flagship designs. Or, perhaps, time to fold Android and Chrome into a real laptop/tablet killer device to make Windows 8 run for the hills.

Chrome is getting a little better all the time, and it's actually a very functional way to get work done if all you do is live in a browser on your computer -- something that I'm doing more than ever thanks to services like Google Drive. But that software success happens despite the lackluster hardware on machines like the Acer C7. And right now, I still don't see why most people wouldn't just pick a more portable tablet or a slightly more expensive but far more versatile budget Windows laptop.

Yes, you'll save up to $50 over the price of the equivalent Samsung Chromebook if you buy the C7, but just like I said last time, you get what you pay for.

Futuremark Peacekeeper browser test
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Acer C7 Chromebook
1,566 

SunSpider JavaScript benchmark 0.9.1
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Acer C7 Chromebook
586.4 

Streaming video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Acer C7 Chromebook
185 

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations

Acer C7 Chromebook
Chrome OS; 1.5GHz Intel Celeron 1007U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM; Intel GMA HD Graphics; 16GB SSD

HP Pavilion 14 Chromebook
Chrome OS; 1.1GHz Intel Celeron 847; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM Intel HD Graphics 16GB SSD

Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550
Chrome OS; 1.3GHz Intel Celeron 867; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM; Intel HD Graphics; 16GB SSD

Dell Latitude 10
Windows 8 (32-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760; 2GB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 747MB (Total) Intel GMA; 64GB MMC SSD

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5.8

Acer C710-2457 Chromebook

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 7Performance 7Battery 5Support 7