Customer Review

386 of 409 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful and versatile computer for a great price, December 20, 2012
This review is from: Acer C7 C710-2847 Chromebook 11.6" Intel Dual Core B847 1.1 GHz 2GB DDR3 320GB 5400RPM HDD Wifi HDMI USB3.0 VGA Card Reader (Personal Computers)
Update, December 2013: at this point, almost all users should get the Acer C720 Chromebook instead of any of the C710 models.

Update: In my opinion the right Acer C7 to buy is the Acer C710-2834. As of late September 2013 it may not be shipping for a few weeks from Amazon, so you might want to wait for the C720 instead! If you can't wait, consider the Acer C710-2833, which is available for $199 from other Best Buy and Newegg. Either the 2833 or the 2834 has a 16GB SSD instead of this model's 320GB slow spinning hard drive; that is an important and noticeable performance upgrade, at the cost of disk space which is simply not that important on a Chromebook for most users.

Executive summary: $199 is a great price. Chrome OS is quite an interesting and enjoyable computing environment which serves a wide range of needs (close to all of my family's computer use for sure). The Acer C7's performance is noticeably better than that of the $249 Samsung ARM Chromebook for certain things, notably 720p video and Flash games. Plus, the Acer can be opened up and upgraded, unlike the Samsung. Along with "cheaper" those are basically the only areas in which the Acer beats the Samsung, but those made my decision for me. The major flaws of the Acer C7 are the tiny hard-to-use cursor keys, and the downright horrible speakers; the major flaws of Chrome OS, for me, are local network file access and limited supported media formats. Those are significant problems, but for $199 they are not showstoppers.

I'm quite fond of my Acer C7 Chromebook. The overwhelming feature is the price. $199!

Chrome OS offers a zero-maintenance solution to having a second computer around for family members who essentially only need a web browser anyway. I've come to really enjoy using it. I enjoy knowing that I will never need to provide much tech support for it.

A potential buyer of the Acer C7 might also be considering the $249 Samsung ARM Chromebook. I think the Samsung Chromebook is substantially more beautiful, has no fan or spinning hard drive, and has a much better keyboard and speaker. However, it is underpowered. At Best Buy I was able to try them side by side. The Acer was able to handle 720p video from YouTube almost (though not quite) perfectly; on the Samsung dropped frames were much more noticeable. I also tried a Flash game, Bloons Tower Defense 5, which I've noticed is surprisingly stressful for my older laptops. It runs fine on the Acer C7, but is very choppy on the Samsung. Finally, it is easy (if potentially warranty-breaking) to expand the RAM on the Acer C7 up to 16GB (!), and even to replace the silly hard drive with an SSD. The Samsung ARM Chromebook is essentially impossible to upgrade. That, for me, was the clincher.

The Acer C7, though not actually ugly, is not a particularly pretty machine. The plastic around the display has a particularly cheap look-and-feel. The hinge at least feels strong. The display itself is reasonably nice, with a decent viewing angle. It's glossy.

I do not like the keyboard. I think overall it's not a great keyboard (especially compared to the Samsung ARM Chromebook which has a lovely pleasant-to-use keyboard). The really awful thing is the cursor keys, which are startlingly small and also scrunched up with the page up and down keys. It is really, really unpleasant to use the cursor keys on this keyboard. There are other oddities, if not real problems. The Enter key is oddly shaped for no apparent reason other than gratuitous ugliness. The keyboard has a Caps Lock key (usually replaced by Search on Chrome OS keyboards), and also a Fn key, the only purpose of which is to have a Wifi-Disable keypress Fn-F11 (did anyone really need that?) and to send function keys over Chrome Remote Desktop (I suppose someone might need that---but I regret having a whole key for it in prime territory). This keyboard puts the Chrome OS Search key down with the Control and Alt keys, which is unusual in Chrome OS devices, but it does work to my benefit as it sends Command to Macs over Chrome Remote Desktop. In case it helps anyone, right-Control also sends Command.

I like the Chrome OS keys for back, forward, refresh, full screen, and next window.

The touchpad is quite a bit more resistant to clicking than I would like. I use tap-to-click instead, but there's no tap-only variant of click-and-drag. (I want the 3-finger drag from Apple.)

I often use this Chromebook attached to an external display (and keyboard and mouse... think of it as a desktop replacement!). When I first posted this review I mentioned some issues with this configuration. A Chrome OS update in mid-February 2013 fully resolved these issues for me. The OS auto-update feature is delightful, by the way, automatic and non-intrusive.

With an external Mac keyboard, Command sends Control, which is great for someone whose hands are used to Mac key shortcuts.

The absolute worst thing about the Acer C7 is the speakers. They are bad. Really, really, bad. They're quiet and tinny and I can hardly stand to listen to them. I'm no audiophile, either---I think almost anyone who uses this machine will cringe a little bit at the sound quality. Was this really necessary to hit this price point? Be prepared to use headphones or external speakers. (And not Bluetooth external speakers... I'm told they are not supported in Chrome OS at all, and this machine doesn't have Bluetooth anyway.)

The fan is audible. Not awful, but this is no silent machine. I can't really tell which sounds are the fan and which are the spinning hard drive.

This Acer C7 model comes with a 320GB hard drive. The question here is... why? As far as I can tell the only filesystem access you get is your Downloads folder. Which the OS is allowed to clear at will to free up space! Chrome OS was designed for minimal local storage, and frankly I don't see how this space will ever be that useful. I suppose there's the "load it up with movies before the car trip" argument. I'll probably even do that myself when I go to visit my family this holiday season. But I'd prefer to have a silent, fast, tiny SSD for normal use, and bring my movies on an external hard drive. Update: This is now possible with the Acer C710-2833, which I recommend instead of this model, and which is also really available for $199 on Amazon.

I wish it had USB 3.0. Oh well. (Another point in favor of the Samsung ARM Chromebook, there.)

On to software. You can use the Web. You can get a terminal with Control-Alt-T and use ssh (but no real local shell). Chrome Remote Desktop is entirely usable. Google Cloud Print seems to work fine, for those of us who have an always-on computer around anyway. Offline Gmail and Google Docs are great if you sometimes lack internet access. Flash games work fine. Google Hangouts has a dumb name but is a fantastic videoconferencing product (the camera and microphone are fine).

While I'm on Chrome Remote Desktop: You'll want to right-click the app icon to get it to "open as window", because if it opens as a tab Chrome itself will consume keypresses like control-N and control-W instead of sending them to the remote host.

One thing that is lacking is the ability is access network file storage. We have an always-on computer filled with video and audio and I'd like to be able to access those files conveniently. What I've done that's workable is started an FTP server on that machine. But it's not a great interface, and each file has to be downloaded before playing, rather than being streamed. "Sneakernet" via USB drive works fine too of course. I think there is pay software, like TVersity, that will set up a media server for you with a nice HTTP interface, but I haven't tried it. And I wish this was built in.

Media playing is a mixed bag. This is irritating... why can't every computer just come with a player as nearly universal as VLC? I haven't had trouble with audio; it seems to play my various mp3, m4a, flac, and wav files just fine. Video is trickier. It seems to play mp4 files happily. It will play some avi files, but not others. Wmv files don't work. For the somewhat technically proficient: you can convert to Chromebook-playable MP4 using various products, like Handbrake or VLC, or the command-line tool ffmpeg: "ffmpeg -i file.avi -c copy file.mp4", "ffmpeg -i file.avi -qscale 5 -strict -2 file.mp4", and "ffmpeg -i file.wmv -qscale 2 file.mp4" are three simple sets of options I've found useful. Frankly having to learn about ffmpeg is, again, irritating; this should just work.

You can enter Developer Mode using a particular keystroke during bootup. This gives you a root shell which potentially allows all kinds of fun. It also wipes all storage in your "stateful partition", so don't do this after filling up your silly 320GB hard drive with things you want. The wiping also happens on leaving Developer Mode. Developer Mode also makes Netflix stop working. After playing with this for a bit I decided I didn't really need it. I like that it's there... the principle of the device being unlocked is pleasing to me. But in the end the clean, minimal, just-works built-in Chrome OS is essentially what I want from this machine.

Conclusion: At $500+ Chrome OS is an oddball. At $200 Chrome OS is a remarkable new paradigm in computing. It's pleasant to use, and for $200, the various hardware and software flaws aren't bad enough to give me much pause. In fact, for $200, if you're at all tempted, you might as well buy it and see for yourself. A reason to pause would be to consider the $250 Samsung ARM Chromebook, which has significantly better aesthetics and might be a better choice for some people. For me, the Acer C7's better performance for 720p video and Flash gaming, plus the ability to upgrade memory and hard drive, makes it the winner.
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Comments

Tracked by 9 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 63 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 24, 2012 8:03:44 AM PST
CDaniels says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 24, 2012 9:13:06 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 8, 2013 11:15:25 AM PST
I think people may need to wait until after the Christmas shopping season settles down to get it for actually under $200. I got mine at TigerDirect for $209. I'm guessing your $225 was Google Play? Best Buy would be cheapest but it's been sold out at my local Best Buy for a while.

Now (March 2013) I think the cheapest option is probably Newegg.

Posted on Dec 27, 2012 9:13:40 AM PST
I was considering switching out the Samsung's ARM version with this Acer one due to annoyances with the touchpad but after reading your detailed comparison I think I am just going to try to live with what I have or ask Amazon for a replacement. Hopefully, the touchpad on the replacement will not get worse within a month!

Thanks to your Excellent review I now have a better perspective on where I stand :)

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 12:24:08 PM PST
Invalid_ID says:
Thanks for the excellent review. It's very helpful.

I noticed that my local Best Buy has also been sold out of these -- as well as the iPad Mini with WiFi only. I know BB complains about "show rooming" for Amazon -- but they don't have what people want in stock!!

Posted on Dec 30, 2012 6:30:03 PM PST
What about working on documents, like writing papers for school?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 30, 2012 6:42:48 PM PST
Google Docs. (It has an offline mode if you can't count on Internet access.) I have never used it to write a seriously long document, but I think it would be more than adequate. I suggest you try it out in some other machine's web browser before you buy a Chromebook.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 16, 2013 5:51:06 PM PST
J. Berrios says:
I was wondering if you knew if the bug had been fixed to allow for the display to be closed. I am looking for solely a multimedia computer that can connect to my server and stream movies, music, browse, watch TV online, etc. The fact that the screen needs to be open is almost a deal breaker for me. Any advice?

BTW, thanks for the great reviews you write. They are very helpful.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 16, 2013 6:46:39 PM PST
Not fixed yet. There is a feature request at http://crosbug.com/10459 , and when I asked about it at http://goo.gl/t3fKQ , I was given a dev mode solution: "If you're in dev mode, you can write 0 to the use_lid file (/usr/share/power_manager/use_lid) which will disable the lid suspend."

This is sub-optimal. I just live with having it open. It is likely to be fixed someday, and your Chromebook will automatically get the fix, but who knows when?

Posted on Jan 17, 2013 5:58:10 PM PST
Propstopper says:
Nice job, I feel better already about my purchase. As L am a novice tinkerer I can't wait to upgrade the ram for my wife's games.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 28, 2013 11:41:21 AM PST
This Laptop will work for that if you use google docs. You will need to go through the procedure to set your google drive account into "offline mode" in order to create new docs if you lack an internet connection.
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