Chromebooks are simple, web-centric laptops that do basically everything in the "cloud," through Google's Chrome browser. Don't try it if you need Windows (it's missing) or want to run traditional software -- there are lots of user reviews from disappointed buyers who didn't understand that going in.
Instead you'll need to rely on a modest, but growing number of apps accessible via a mobile-device-like Chrome App Store. Categories like business, education, entertainment, games, productivity, social and more are well represented. What that means, experts say, is that if your computing needs are light and you use a laptop mainly for activities such as browsing the web, reading and sending email, watching movies on services like Netflix, keeping up with your friends on Facebook, some casual gaming (yes, Angry Birds is available), etc., a basic Chromebook could be all you need.
The Acer C7 Chromebook (Est. $200 and up) ekes out a win in this class -- barely. It's "faster, better, and lasts longer than other Chromebooks on the market," PCMag.com says, but it does have a few glaring flaws.
The 11.6-inch Acer C7 comes in two flavors. The $200 version used to be poky, but Acer has since gifted it with a 16 GB solid-state drive that really peps things up, users say. A step-up $280 version gets a 320 GB hard drive (a rarity on Chromebooks, which are all about the cloud), plus more RAM (4 GB instead of 2 GB) and a bigger battery.
The result? The zippiest Chromebook yet.
It "simply feels faster" than the runner-up Samsung Chromebook (Est. $250) in PCMag.com's tests. "It's more nimble when loading pages, and it doesn't bog down as quickly with numerous tabs open."
Like all Chromebooks, the Acer C7 benefits from its deep ties to Google's cloud-based ecosystem. When you sign in to the Chrome browser, you'll find all your bookmarks there if you use Chrome on other PCs. Gmail and Google Calendar sync up nicely, too. Google also offers 100 GB of free Google Drive cloud-based storage for two years to Chromebook buyers. That helps ease the pain of the base C7's scant 16 GB of flash memory.
Corner-cutting is obvious in some places, though. The Acer is chunky and cheap-looking, and its anemic speakers irk testers. Battery life has improved, but the Samsung Chromebook's battery still beats the Acer by an hour in tests, running up to 7.5 hours depending on how you're using it. The Samsung is slimmer and lighter, too, with a nicer keyboard. It is also available in a 3G version (Est. $330); the Acer is Wi-Fi only.
At Laptop Magazine, it's a toss-up. "It all comes down to what you value more: more speed [Acer] or more juice [Samsung]," tester Daniel Berg says.