I’m not a Mac, and I’m not a PC, but I can certainly work with both, and I’m less expensive than either. Hello, I’m a Chromebook.
It’s the sort of advertisement you can imagine existing, and Google’s Chromebook certainly needs something to explain what it is, because it’s like no other computer out there, sitting in between any ecosystem, and allowing a sort of middle ground notebook computer to anyone who uses a Google service at home on their regular computer.
Built from a similar design as previous Acer netbooks, the C7 Chromebook is an 11.6 inch laptop that carries a decent set of specs and an operating system unlike any you’ve ever seen, but we’ll get to that later.
First up is the screen, and this goes beyond what most netbooks we’ve seen have had. Here, Acer has equipped the C7 Chromebook with a glossy 11.6 inch screen backlit with LEDs and running the HD capable 1366×768 resolution.
Then there’s the hardware, which in this laptop includes an Intel Celeron 1.1GHz processor, 2GB RAM, a 320GB hard drive, and your regular bunch of connections, including 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, Ethernet wired networking, three USB 3.0 ports, VGA, HDMI, SD card slot, and headset jack.
A webcam and microphone are both built into the frame surrounding the screen too, so if you decide to use Google Hangouts for a video chat, this machine can serve that purpose too.
An online storage amount is added to your Google account too, with the Chromebook offering you 100GB free storage for two years on the service, over that of the 5GB limit you normally receive.
The battery is replaceable and the power pack is very small.
Google Chrome browser… as an operating system?!
The Chromebook is a bit of a new concept, so before we tackle whether or not this particular model is good or not, we should probably talk about what it is.
Instead of relying on a known operating system such as Windows or Mac OS, the Chromebook takes advantage of an operating system based on Google’s own web browser, Chrome.
It’s a custom operating system, and one that works similarly to the browser, with an emphasis on minimalism and tabs, and lacks the ability to install any apps you might already own for Windows, Mac, iOS, or even Android.
Rather, this computer installs “apps” made specifically for the Chrome browser, of which there are quite a few, and includes things such as music managers, video clients, games, and a whole lot more.
Because of its reliance on Google, you’d think that you would need to always be connected to use the Chromebook, but there’s more to it than that, as you can actually do things offline and then have everything synchronise when you’re in range of an internet connection at a later time.
While other parts of the world have had computers running Google’s Chrome OS for around a year, Australia has missed out.
But hey, it’s 2013, and now it’s time for Aussies to see what the fuss is about, with Acer and Samsung both gearing up and launching models respectively.
In this laptop, everything you do in some way connects to the web and, more specifically, Google’s Chrome browser.
For instance, every app you use runs inside the Google Chrome browser, even if it doesn’t necessarily look like it does. Google Mail is a shortcut to the web browser loading the website. Google’s note-taking Scratchpad is basically a tiny window to a document editor on Google Drive. Google Play Books is an online eReader handled through the Google Chrome browser.
Even the apps that aren’t made by Google follow this logic, such as PopCap’s “Plants Vs. Zombies” which runs the game inside a website with Flash, the music service “Soundcloud” being little more than a shortcut for the browser, and Microsoft’s “Skydrive” app which just loads the Skydrive website and allows you to see and edit files using web-based versions of Microsoft Office applications inside the browser.
Yes, it really is an operating system inside a web browser. We weren’t kidding.
The upside to this is that it means that any files made or edited on this system are linked to their respective online services, and if you say write a document offline, when you go online it will be synchronised and accessible anywhere through another browser, like that of a regular computer, regardless of operating system.
That makes it a truly platform agnostic experience, and whether you use Macs at home, Windows at work, or Linux in school, provided you have access to a modern web browser and can login to your Google account at one of these places, the files can be shared.
Acer’s C7 Chromebook does this in a body that’s reasonably slim (2.7cm) and weighs 1.38 kilograms, and while it’s obviously not an Ultrabook, it could be an ideal machine for the student in the family, thanks to the $299 price, compact size, and lack of obvious games and other distractions that run on other platforms.
It also has a few other nifty features, such as the desktop which is truly uncluttered, a simple taskbar that features apps you can pin as well as the obvious necessary ones like Chrome and Gmail, and a very small power pack that reminds us of the original Asus Eee PC netbooks that first came out back in 2007.
There is also so much space on this laptop that you literally won’t know what to do with it.
Like what we used to see on old school netbooks (before that part of the market basically died), the Acer Chromebook features a whopping 320GB hard drive, which is a ridiculous amount of storage for a machine where most of its files are going to be stored online.
In theory, this sounds like a tremendously awesome idea, until you find out that Google’s Chrome OS doesn’t really have the goods to let you explore the file system easily, not like with Microsoft’s Windows Explorer and Apple’s Finder.
Google has a “files” app, but it only lets you browse your downloads and what’s on your Google Drive on the cloud (online), and doesn’t seem to let you make folders outside of these on your hard drive.
As a result, there isn’t any easy way to move files – such as movies and music – to your hard drive, and so you’re not really sure why you have so much storage, outside of making so much content on the computer that you won’t know what to do with, or downloading some large pieces of data.
And possibly a problem that stems from the cheaper build on offer in this laptop, we didn’t find the keyboard on the C7 Chromebook to be all that amazing.
What we’re feeling is just too soft, with buttons that feel too close together, and even require a slightly heavier touch. You can press lightly if you choose, but some characters may end up going missing in the process.
If you had no problems with the smaller netbook keyboards previously offered, chances are you’ll be fine here.
Slow downs in the typing are reasonably common here, whether connected or disconnected, and we found the Intel Celeron inside just couldn’t always catch up with fast typing, showing noticeable lagging as the machine gradually threw typed letters on the screen.
Battery life could also be a little better. While the Acer Chromebook has been cast from the same mould as Acer’s previous netbooks, we’d have hoped the life to have improved.
As such, you’ll manage only roughly three to four hours here, which is acceptable for a $299 laptop, though not amazing, especially since netbooks pulled in at least four and sometimes as much as six.
Acer’s $299 Chromebook is a great idea that comes in at a great price, but it’s just not as great a product as we had hoped, letting us down in the keyboard and speed area.
If you don’t mind the trade off – mediocre usability for an excellent price – it’s a decent machine to take a look at, though it probably won’t be a full-time computer for anyone yet, not until the Chrome OS improves considerably.