New Chrome OS review
As prices have tumbled, we've come to like Chrome OS and the laptops it runs on, and to think that it's a viable, acceptable option, not because it has particularly developed since it was introduced in 2009, but because the way we use computers has.
For many of us, Wi-Fi is as-good-as ubiquitous, and we are doing more and more through web apps without really realising it.
Don't get us wrong; if you're a video editor, illustrator, serious mathematician or even just someone who likes to take photos with a DSLR and tweak the results, you'd be anything from frustrated to outright unable to do any work if you chose a Chromebook as your primary machine.
For the rest of us, though, who spend our days in Facebook, iPlayer, Twitter, webmail, (achem) TechRadar and so on, the notion of a laptop whose sole job is to run a web browser doesn't seem ridiculous.
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The Acer C7 Chromebook is an affordable laptop that will be very usable for many of us, and boasts strong specs. Online apps cater for many of our web needs, so that even if you're using Word and Excel now, the transition to using Google's online equivalents is likely to be pretty pain-free.
Besides, the Chromebook concept is justifiably marketed as simple, comparatively secure (although it's worth remembering how much of your identity you're giving to Google as soon as you sign into a Chromebook with your Google ID), and a system that keeps itself constantly updated.
Compared with the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook, the Acer C7 Chromebook has more storage, more connectivity, a better screen, a meatier processor that's able to play HD video streams and more, build quality that feels nice and chunky and, perhaps most importantly of all, a smaller price tag - £199/US$199 (around AU$191) next to the Samsung's £229/US$249 (around AU$238).
What Acer has done here, it would seem, is take a small laptop - the Acer Aspire V5-171, by the looks of things - tweaked it a bit and shoved Chrome OS onto it. And that's fine so far as it goes, but it feels compromised.
It also falls down beside the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook, which beats the Acer C7 Chromebook's three hours plus battery life and stays cool, where the Acer has to spin up fans to cool its Intel Celeron chip. The Samsung's keyboard is also much nicer to type on, and its significantly slimmer and lighter form factor make it much more toteable.
The Acer also doesn't feel as much like a Chromebook as the Samsung does.
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Ultimately, we're left unmoved by the Acer C7 Chromebook. It's weird; compare it to the only slightly older Samsung Series 3 Chromebook and it looks on paper like it's better in almost every way.
Put them side by side, though, and we'd pick up the Samsung every time. It's not just that its battery, cooling system, keyboard and dimensions are better. It's also that it just feels more like a Chromebook, and we've come to like Chromebooks.
There are instructions online for how to easily install an Ubuntu variant on the Acer C7 Chromebook as a dual-boot option, and we can see the appeal there. Once you install a traditional operating system onto this machine, its three USB ports, 320GB hard disk and Intel chip suddenly make more sense.
As it is, it just makes you question the whole point of Chrome OS.
And that's something you might still be doing anyway, especially when tablets are so cheap. Why buy a Chromebook when an iPad mini or Samsung Galaxy Tab cost just a bit more, or a Google Nexus or Amazon Kindle Fire costs even less?
Well, you might just prefer having a familiar laptop experience, complete with keyboard and trackpad, and if you're already living the Google life with Docs, Calendar, Gmail, Hangouts, Google+ and more, you'll immediately feel at home as soon as you sign into a Chromebook. And that's fine. If that's you, we think you should consider one.
Basically, then, we like the idea of a Chromebook; we just don't particularly like this Chromebook. At least, we don't particularly like the Acer C7 Chromebook as a Chromebook.
As a cheap, capable little Ubuntu machine, on the other hand, it has some appeal.