The Acer C7 Chromebook is just about the cheapest laptop you'll find -- but thanks to a recent update, it is also one of the best Chromebooks you can buy. If you're in the market for one of these cheap, web-based laptops, the latest Acer C7 Chromebook is "the one to beat," PCMag.com says. Just make sure that it's not too-little computer for your needs.
Faster than other Chromebooks. The top-of-the-line $280 Acer C7 is "faster, better, and lasts longer than other Chromebooks on the market," says PCMag.com, where it's the Editors' Choice among Chromebooks. That's because it boasts more RAM (4 GB instead of 2 GB) and a bigger, swappable battery. This Acer Chromebook gets a 320 GB hard drive -- unusual for cloud-based Chromebooks. And the entry-level $200 Acer C7 is no slouch either, users say. It feels zippy even with 2 GB of RAM, thanks to a new 16 GB solid-state drive (speedier than the last generation's spinning hard drive). Expect only four hours of battery life, though, with the cheapest C7.
Decent little machine. The Acer Chromebook has an improved trackpad, but the keyboard still doesn't feel quite as nice as the rival Samsung Chromebook's (Est. $250) , Laptop Magazine says. The Acer C7's keyboard isn't quite as weird as other Chromebooks', though. It's still Chrome-centric -- you get a Google Search key and Chrome-specific function keys -- but it keeps some familiar faces (like Home, End, Insert and Delete) that other Chromebooks, such as the Samsung Chromebook, are missing. In addition, the Acer's ports are arranged on the side, so they're easier to access than the Samsung Chromebook's rear ports. The Acer C7 has a couple of ports you won't find on the Samsung -- VGA and Ethernet -- but no USB 3.0, just slower USB 2.0.
Looks as cheap as it is. Don't expect style at this price. "The Acer C7 looks more like last year's budget netbooks than this year's slick ultrabooks," PCMag.com says. It's all-plastic, with an old-fashioned wedge shape (thanks to the bulging battery) and overall chunky look. The 11.6-inch, 1,366-by-768-pixel screen is sharp enough, but glossy (not matte like the Samsung Chromebook's). Testers get some glare. Several critics wish for a brighter screen and louder speakers.
Conks out quickly for a few owners. Acer backs its Chromebook with a one-year warranty. But one BestBuy.com customer says when the Acer's LCD screen cracked while in a safe carrying case, Acer offered only one option: a $200 extended warranty (exactly the same price as a new Chromebook). About one in five users at Amazon.com downgrade the Acer C7 Chromebook to just 1 or 2 stars -- sometimes because it quickly quit working. Acer's tech support has improved vastly over the past year, Laptop Magazine testers find. When they anonymously ask some common questions via Facebook and Twitter, help is quick and accurate. But web chat, email and phone technicians give incorrect advice.
Best cheap Chromebook for light-duty tasks. If you want the cheapest possible laptop for light, online tasks, the Acer C7 Chromebook is your best choice. Like all Chromebooks, the Acer C7 runs on Google's Chrome OS. That means no Windows, so no running traditional software. But anything you can do online or through Google apps is fair game, and that's all some users need. All Chromebooks come with 100 GB of Google Drive space, free for two years.
But remember: Lose your Internet connection, and a Chromebook can't do much. The Acer C7 is Wi-Fi only. There's no 3G version, like Samsung offers. For a traditional laptop that can run Windows, expect to spend more. Try the big-screen Dell Inspiron 17 laptop (Est. $450 and up) or the sleek Toshiba Satellite U845T-S4168 Ultrabook (Est. $800) .
Brian Westover tests the $280 Acer C7 Chromebook (not the cheaper $200 version). Thanks to extra RAM and a bigger battery, this Chromebook is "faster, better, and lasts longer than other Chromebooks." It's PCMag.com's Editors' Choice for Chromebooks.
Review: Acer C7 Chromebook (C710-2055), Brian Westover, May 29, 2013
2. Laptop Magazine
Daniel Berg tests the same Acer C7 Chromebook as PCMag.com (above). He likes it equally well as the Samsung Chromebook. The Acer is speedier, but the Samsung is slimmer and lighter, with a better keyboard and longer battery life. Both Chromebooks earn the same rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Review: Acer C710-2055 Chromebook Review, Daniel Berg, April 22 , 2013
3. Laptop Magazine
Acer earns a B-minus overall for tech support in this test. Staffers call, chat and otherwise ask common questions (like how to extend battery life) to judge eight laptop brands. Acer's reps were helpful, but not as knowledgeable as those from the best brands'.
Review: Tech Support Showdown 2012, Editors of Laptop Magazine, Sept. 17, 2012
With about two dozen owners posting reviews on the highest configuration of the Acer C7 Chromebook, it earns 3.9 out of 5 stars. Most are very pleased with this fast-booting little laptop, but others complain that it broke quickly or is too limited in the tasks it can do.
Review: Acer C710-2055 11.6-Inch Chromebook (Iron Gray), Contributors to Amazon.com, As of July 2013
The $200 version of the Acer C7 Chromebook gets more than 60 owner reviews here, earning 4.4 out of 5 stars. Nine out of 10 would recommend it to a friend, but a few say it broke quickly or they wish it would work with common applications.
Review: Acer - 11.6" Chromebook - 2GB Memory - 16GB Solid State Drive, Contributors to BestBuy.com, As of July 2013