As early Chromebook adopters, time came for our Samsung Chromebok 2012 Model
veteran to be replaced, therefore the need for the surprisingly not pretty but plenty speedy and overall great Acer C720.
Yes, I am still using a powerful laptop attached to a docking station with 2 27" monitors for work and one of our kids spends most of his 'computer' time on a super-charged gaming PC but most casual access to media we are now doing through Chromebooks. Not to mention that our college-bound first born decided that a Chromebook was best for him after he learned that he will be able to run Microsoft Office on it, among other apps. For the record, I've used and reviewed a number of Chromebooks, including models from Samsung, HP, Toshiba and Acer. We've been happy with them all so far - that's why we keep getting more - and, as the older ones age, we are likely to purchase more. But let me start by answering the obvious question (see next section).
WHY A CHROMEBOOK?
There's so much to say here but let me make a quick summary. And never forget that we are talking about an 'under 300' device here because, yes, anything that costs 3˕ 4˕ 5 times as much should do better most of the time.
˕ If counting 'hours' and excluding 'work hours', Chromebooks are our most used computers and by 'computer' I mean PCs, laptops and tablets as I still place 'phones' into a different category and that may change someday.
˕ Malware, spyware, adware˕ free. Since nothing is manually 'installed' on the Chromebook, the odds of one being infected are close to zero. I m these days relying on a Chromebook to open suspicious emails or click on dubious URLs that I'd rather not touch from a laptop or PC or even a phone.
˕ Chrome OS happens to be one of the safest of them all. I don't know if this is common knowledge but Google is constantly challenging hackers to crack it. And, as far as I know, Chrome OS wasn't cracked yet.
˕ Easy to share among any number of users without any concerns for compromising privacy. If you have a Google account you simply sign in and you are going to be within your own, personal environment, including Chrome extensions, shortcuts and so forth. It's common in our household to grab 'a Chromebook' when one's own needs to be charged or, for whatever reason is unavailable.
˕ Constantly updated and upgraded. Google updates Chrome OS every few weeks and I found my Chromebook actually getting better all the time rather than getting slower and slower and gradually falling into obsolescence.
˕ Nearly maintenance free. Whenever I don't use a tablet or even a laptop for a while they tend to get very busy for a few minutes or longer once I turn them back on. Tablets, especially, are almost impossible to use until all those dozens of updates/upgrades download and install. Not the case with Chromebooks. Whatever upgrades may take place out in the clouds they don't hit my Chromebook. Whenever I call up an app, I get it in its latest version.
˕ The attached keyboard helps a lot. Yes, you can pair a keyboard and even a mouse to a tablet but the Chromebook's keyboard is always there, it also negates the need of a stand or even some protecting case.
˕ Chrome OS is streamlined and efficiently focused where it matters, on the everyday uses most of us need a 'computer' most of the time.
˕ While you don't get the top of the line CPU on a $200 or so Chromebook, performance is much better than that same CPU on a traditional laptop because there's no need to constantly run virus scans, there is no disk fragmentation to deal with, among other things.
˕ No need to worry about backups and losing your data. Yes, keeping important or very personal data in the cloud is not something that I do or I would advise anyone to do but 'everything else' should reside in the cloud just fine and the odds of that data ever being lost are quite small.
˕ Quite versatile. You can easily pair your Chromebook with Bluetooth (or dongled) mice, keyboards and speakers. And you can even use a remote desktop app to access a 'true' PC when you really need one. You can make phone calls and video calls and you can even play some games.
˕ Runs Ubuntu, Linux. I haven't tried it yet myself because... well... I have Ubuntu running on a PC already but if you Google Chromebook Ubuntu or Chromebook Linux you will get a few posts that explain exactly how it's done.
˕ 802.11ac is the latest and greatest in Wi-Fi and most other Chromebooks do not support it. If you have a router that supports it (we do) you are going to be very happy.
˕ Works offline too. Yes, it's not a laptop but there are apps that work well offline.
˕ Relatively low prince, 11.6" display and light weight seem to be just about right for something that typically you'd be using to browse the Web while watching TV or take to and from school.
WHY NOT A CHROMEBOOK?
Yes, Chromebooks can't do everything. Google's productivity suites and their ability to run the Web version of Office notwithstanding, they are mainly and they are best at media consumption rather than production. Nobody should buy a Chromebook and expect to be able to edit video or perform some heavy word processing or do some hardcore gaming even though you CAN do them and this specific model can do it better than its predecessors, it's just that you can do them better on a PC or laptop or tablet. My experience is that a Chromebook can't do 'everything'. Tablets are more portable, PCs and laptops are more powerful but, to me, my Chromebook is the most fun to use device and it's likely to stay this way. I am not going to call it my 'second' or 'third' or 'first' computer but, objectively, a Chromebook is I most use outside business hours if what we measure is 'hours'. Chromebooks, now that we have a few of them around are what our kids prefer for their school˕related activity and most of their entertainment, when not playing games.
The Acer C720-3404
Haven't spent a lot of time with it because one of our kids is going to be its ultimate users but, and not surprisingly so, it's all very familiar because this is a Chromebook. The c720 is not 'exactly like' HPs or Samsung's or Acer's but it's easily recognizable as a Chromebook and that's a good thing.
For a statement of bias, my 'own' Chromebook is currently a Samsung Chromebook 2 that just replaced HPs Chromebook 11. There are many common features between 11" Chromebooks but they all have features that allow us to distinguish one from another and prefer one over another: looks, CPU power, ports, display, battery life. The C720's standout feature happens to be 'speed'. But let's get into some details and start with the raw specs:
- Intel Core i3-4005U processor at 1.7GHz (by Chromebook standards, IT FLIES)
- 4GB DDR3L memory (there is a less expensive model with 2GB but the extra $30 are worth doubling the RAM)
- 32GB SSD
- 11.6" HD, 1366 x 768 display (not the brightest of them all but it comes close the HP Chromebook's brilliant, wide angle display)
- Intel HD Graphics 4400
- stereo mini speakers (good but use Bluetooth to attach something better if audio matters to you)
- Bluetooth 4.0
- HDMI, USB 3.0, card reader ports (very much all you'll ever need)
- 8.5-hour claimed battery life (Samsung's Chromebook 2 does 11 hours but 8 hours is not too bad)
- Google's 100GB cloud storage for 2 years (standard for Chromebooks)
I am not going to compare this with the Pixel or some top of the line laptop or 8-core tablet. But, while Pixel is by far the prettiest of all existing Chromebooks Acer's comes pretty close to the Pixel in performance. I noticed that many 'pro' reviewers are complaining because the 200˕300 dollar Chromebooks are not 'high end' and aren't as nice as the Pixel and such. Well... did anyone check the prices? So, yes, let me make a 'duh' statement: this Chromebook is not as good as devices that sell for 2 times or 3 times as much so anyone who doesn't mind paying more should pay more and get one of those. Even though... look at some reasons above for why one may prefer a Chromebook to a laptop or a tablet, regardless of price.
Acer's C720-3404 device is at least as good and in some ways better than the Chromebooks we've used so far. While not as pretty as some, it's the fastest so far and, depending on what you do, that can be important. If you find that paying an extra $100 for speed and some extra RAM is worth it, get this one. If you want a Chromebook mostly for casual entertainment, I'd go for something with a good display Samsung Chromebook 2 or even the older but prettier HP Chromebook 11 and save some money.
Chromebooks are not for everyone and they are not a universal computing device but, if used for what they are meant to be used they can be a better alternative to tablets or laptops.
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