Top critical review
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A decent "backup" computer. If you are low on funds, it can be your main machine in a pinch.
on December 3, 2013
First, the hardware.
I have two Macbook Pro machines (a 2009 and a 2010 model), so I have relatively high standards. This is not Apple quality, but it is superior to most cheap Windows machines and far superior to netbook machines.
The overall build is 4-star. The keyboard is decent, and short of being backlit, it is almost on-par with Apple's chicklet keyboard. Vs Apple's chicklet keyboard, it has slightly less travel and a different texture, but it is very usable.
The machine itself is solid: it doesn't flex and creak like most cheap machines. It is quite rigid and feels solid for a plastic notebook. It isn't as ugly as photos lead you to believe.
The trackpad is nice. It is not as flawless as an Apple trackpad, but is responsive and works well. It supports two-finger scrolling (windows-style or "natural"). It also supports navigating forward and back with two fingers, although this gesture is definitely less responsive than with Apple's trackpad. The whole trackpad is a button, just like a Mac. You can choose whether to tap-to-click, or not.
The big (huge) weakness is the display. Resolution isn't horrible compared to a non-retina Mac, but contrast is pretty bad. Unless you tilt the C720's screen perfectly, contrast is abysmal. I would gladly have paid more if it had a better display. It is the one thing that makes me regret this purchase, even at the low price.
Battery life is great. I used this machine earlier this week with streaming music in the background and working on documents for work. It had 20% left after 7 hours.
As is clearly stated in the description, this machine contains an OS that simply runs Google Chrome. You can get a great idea of what works and what does not by simply testing tasks in Google Chrome on a Mac, PC, or Linux box.
It is surprising what can be done with just a browser. It isn't perfect, but you can do a lot.
Below are some of my normal tasks, and how well they can be accomplished with the Chromebook C720.
Browsing: flawless. It is full-featured Google Chrome, and it is fast and responsive. It doesn't choke on any web sites or even web apps that I have found. It can handle ten tabs easily (2gb model).
Creating simple MS office documents: decent. It can create basic office documents (docs, spreadsheets, presentations) and export them for use in MS office.
Editing simple Microsoft Office files: fair. It works with simple spreadsheets and documents. It can "view" simple Powerpoint files.
It isn't great at handling complex MS office files with lots of formatting. You can probably get by in a pinch, but you will occasionally struggle and there are files you will encounter that just won't work at all.
I do not have a subscription to the new "MS Office 365" cloud apps, so I can't speak to how well it handles them. If it works as well as Apple's cloud office apps, you should have no problems with Office 365.
Edited to add: I tried Microsofts free trial of Office 365. Chrome's web office apps are just as powerful as Microsoft's web apps (though Apple iWork web apps are more powerful than both). The big difference between Microsoft web apps and Chrome web apps is the interface. The MS Office 365 interface is similar to modern MS Office with the big toolbar at the top. Google Chrome web office app interface is simpler and more like Office '97. Neither are super-powerful and I actually prefer Google Chrome's we apps to Microsoft's web apps. The Chrome apps make better use of screen real estate. Neither of them can display heavy formatting found in complex documents.
Apple iWork files (Pages, Keynote, and Numbers): great, using Apple's iWork for iCloud. iCloud will warn you that the browser is not supported, but it works great. It works just as well as it does using Chrome or Safari on a Mac. It can't import your iWork files into the offline software, so Apple iWork is a cloud-only online-only option.
Amazon Prime Video: failure. It simply does not work at this time (12/7/13)
Edited to add: now Amazon Prime Video works fine. ??? Perhaps Amazon had some issue or the machine updated itself, but it works fine now.
Netflix: works great.
Network storage using the file manager: failure. There is no way to easily connect to my home NAS server or shared folders on other machines on the network using the file manager.
NAS access using the browser interface: great. I have a Synology Diskstation NAS. I can watch movies, play music, and download files using the web-based interface just fine.
VPN access: failed (using my work VPN). It does have a VPN setup built in, but doesn't work with my company VPN. My company VPN works fine on iPhone, iPad, and almost any computer. This is a big drawback that Google needs to fix.
Printing: decent. I have an HP printer that is fully supported and it prints great (HP Officejet 7500). HP "eprint" printers have an email address and you just give the C720 this address for printer access. I have heard that it struggles with some printers, but I can't speak to it. The print command brings up a dialog to export your file/image/webpage/etc as a PDF file by default.
Photo viewing/editing: very mixed, and mostly awful when offline. One reason I wanted this device was to carry with me along with my camera to view photos on the go. It does have a full-size SD slot (though the card protrudes from the machine and can't be left in the slot for long). The built-in offline image "editor" is a joke. It can only view files fitted to the screen. It can do extremely simple tasks like cropping and brightness adjustment, and that's it. You can't even zoom in on an image to inspect it closely with the built-in photo app. With difficulty, I found an offline image editor app called "Pixir Touch Up" that does a much better job, and will allow you to zoom in on images from your SD card, but it isn't much better than the stock app. Pixir does offer a very full-featured online photo editor that is on-par with Gimp and others. Remember, the display isn't great and isn't ideal for inspecting photos. An iPad and an EyeFi card (or iPad camera connection kit) are a much better choice for toting along on a photography adventure. Even though the display is poor, it's too bad that Google did such a lousy job with the photo app.
Google Chromecast: great! It works well with my Chromecast. It works just as well as when using Chrome on my Mac.
Ease of use: decent. If you already have Chrome on a Mac/Linux/PC, you know how to use it. All of you settings, bookmarks, and everything else in Chrome on a Mac just downloads right into the Chromebook.
Google Drive storage: fantastic! This machine includes 100GB of Google Drive storage. Google charges $5/month for this great service and Dropbox charges twoce as much for similar service. I am Going to cancel my 100GB Dropbox and save $10/month for two years, which essentially makes this machine free. If you don't know about syncing files between your computers using Google Drive, you need to check it out. It is a bargain at $5, and a steal when free with a usable computer.
The machine itself with the current software is a three star item, but it is a great value. It isn't as high-quality as a Macbook or a modern tablet, but it is so cheap that it should be a consideration if you simply cannot afford a high-end machine, or you need a backup machine. It is better than many Windows machines I have used that cost more than twice as much. It would be 4-star-plus with a better display, better file manager, better network support, and better photo viewer/editor. Hopefully Google keeps working on it and eventually upgrades the weaknesses in the software.