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Acer AC700-1099 Chromebook Review: Cut to the Bone

Author: Matt Smith
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Acer

User Interface, Display and Audio Quality

User Interface

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Perhaps the only eye-catching feature of this laptop is the keyboard’s unusual layout. There’s a surprising amount of room available despite the small chassis thanks to a keyboard that uses almost every available millimeter of space. Unfortunately, the layout is strange. The bottom row of keys is large and fat, resulting in left CTRL and ALT keys that are comically over-sized while other keys, such as Backspace, are smaller than they need to be. 

The top row of the keyboard, which would normally host the F keys, instead is home to specialized function keys. Back, Forward and Refresh keys are placed alongside the brightness and volume controls. The power button is part of the keyboard and reacts to the length of time it is pressed. A short press will log out the currently active account, while a long press will shut down the system. 

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Below the keyboard is a large, wide touchpad which supports several multi-touch gestures including two-fingered right clicks and drag-and-drop. There are no buttons to be found - instead, a click is accomplished by depressing the lower half of the touchpad itself by default. Tap-to-click can be enabled in system settings, however. 

There’s plenty of room for your fingers to stretch out, and the touchpad surface is a pleasant, slightly rough matte texture. The multi-touch support, however, could use some work. Scrolling, the most basic of gestures, does not feel smooth. Even some Windows laptops offer smoother two-finger scrolling. I’m unsure if this is a touchpad issue, or perhaps caused by the Atom processor. Whatever the cause, this is a feature that needs improvement if any Chromebook is to feel as slick and modern as its simple OS suggests. 

Display and Audio Quality 

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Although the Acer’s display is just 11.6” it has a resolution of 1366x768, which is typical for laptops of this size and provides a great deal of usable screen real estate while maintaining a compact shape. Although other ultraportables might have larger displays, the effective usable space won’t be improved despite a less portable chassis.

Quality is average at best, but this isn’t a disappointing standard for an inexpensive laptop. In Lagom test images there was clear difficulty rendering the most extreme ends of the gradient test image, and the contrast test images also revealed that the darkest and brightest colors were bleeding together enough to prove indistinguishable. However, the black level performance was average and the rendering of the gradient test image was smooth throughout the middle. There are much better displays available, but they’re usually found on laptops costing at least several times more.

Audio quality, to my great surprise, is solid. This is a small laptop, so the speakers do have a relatively low maximum volume. Kept within their range they are neutral and even provide a hint of bass during music that demands it. More importantly, the existence of this bass does not result in distortion. This laptop would work for someone who only needs to fill a small room, such as an office or dorm, with sound.

August 16, 2011 | 01:00 AM - Posted by patfactorx

Can I just install Chrome OS (since its open source) and gain the battery life benefits on my Windows Laptop?

August 16, 2011 | 04:13 AM - Posted by Tim Verry

There would probably be some battery performance benefits as the hardware would not be getting used as much as a Windows OS used it.

August 16, 2011 | 03:11 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

I don't think there would be any battery life benefit. This laptop is equipped the same as any Windows netbook, and battery life was about the same.

August 26, 2011 | 08:45 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

In theory there would be an increase in battery life due to Chrome OS - being a lighter system - using less resources and CPU cycles than Windows. However if the open source version of Chrome OS (called Chromium OS) does not support the energy saving CPU throttling software for your specific hardware that both OEM preloaded Chromebooks and Windows do, then you may not get a power saving.

August 17, 2011 | 01:23 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Chrome OS is not open source.

August 26, 2011 | 08:46 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The open source version of Chrome OS is called Chromium OS.

August 17, 2011 | 01:49 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

A fairly balanced review here but yet again so called "expert" reviewers are being too critical of Google. I have had a Samsung Chromebook for about two weeks and consider its build quality and useability far better than a netbook. Comparing everything against a traditional Windows platform laptop is wrong both from a hardware and software o/s perspective. (Just think of what we thought of Bill Gates after he hammered us with Vista o/s? In the early days of Microsoft just think of the over-the-top charges we all had to pay. Forgotten? I haven't.

Give Google a chance in this marketplace. Cloud computing is a new concept for many computer users but we are only just scratching the surface experiencing this different computer concept.

I do believe as an early adoptee I have probably paid a premium buying a new Chomebook. However I still use a Windows based desktop and laptop, so consider my Chromebook as an experiment. But the experiment has not failed and it is far too soon for reviewers to declare that it will. For instance, if we were to compare an Apple Air book with a Chromebook (either Acer or Samsung) we'd find a vast difference in price. Though the Air book could be considered as a much better feature option, its about three times the price of a Chromebook. On the other hand cloud computing could be far more productive and work out cheaper in the long run.

I say give Google a fair crack of the whip, figuratively speaking, and don't necessarily back Microsoft all the time. Last point to all you critics out there - keep your eye on the number of Chromebooks Amazon are managing to sell at the moment (August 2011), I think you'll be surprised.

Anyway that's my two pennies worth of comment from here in the United Kingdom.

August 17, 2011 | 08:53 AM - Posted by Marko (not verified)

what do you mean by "too critical of Google"? the review is well written, factual, and objective. it's very reasonable to compare the chromium netbooks (chromebooks) to netbooks (Win7starter/home basic), while it's the same segment of consumer usage scenarios.
It's apparent, that the chromium OS platform needs few months/years to develop to usable stage.
regards
marko

August 17, 2011 | 01:33 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Disagree. Chromebook is not made for power users, in fact, look at the audience that Google is targeting in their ads on TV. Chromebook is made for "always on the go" internet junkies that like to tweet and cruise facebook. I think the issue is whether the infrastructure of the cell networks in the U.S. are ready to handle a forward thinking device (thinking that involves high-speed wireless no matter how remote you are). This is a small-end notebook that runs a web browser. OF COURSE you can't compare it to small-end notebooks that run an OS with native applications and have a file manager, etc. Maybe it will catch on when a user can write their midterm paper on the bus to the university while offline and sync back up when they hit campus.

August 18, 2011 | 05:45 AM - Posted by Marko (not verified)

I wanted to reply by Matt Smith said it all
Marko

August 18, 2011 | 05:48 AM - Posted by Marko (not verified)

sorry for typo>
I wanted to reply BUT Matt Smith said it all
Marko

August 26, 2011 | 09:38 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

You can't compare Windows 7 netbooks with Chromebooks based on looking at the hardware specs. Chromebooks run a lot faster than netbooks running on equivalent hardware, and they have much longer battery life for the same usage.

There are two very simple reasons for this. The first is that Chromebooks have a minimal OS running only a web browser, whereas Windows 7 netbooks have to run a fat Windows OS, and applications locally. Chromebooks on the other hand only run a minimal OS and a browser, and the applications run on a server in the cloud. That takes up much less memory and CPU time, and requires much less swapping from memory to disk than a Windows netbook. Less CPU time also means less power consumption and longer battery life out of the same hardware.

The second reason is that Chromebooks use a 16GB SSD hard drive which is super fast but super expensive if you want a large drive. Windows needs a large drive because it stores data and apps locally. Chromebooks don't because all it stores locally is the OS which includes the browser - everything else - your data and applications are in the cloud.

The main reason why you can't compare Chromebooks and Windows 7 netbooks is that they are completely different concepts doing completely different things. Despite similar appearance and similar hardware, Chromebooks are more different to Windows 7 than Android is to Windows 7 because of the way they are tied to the cloud. Not only is what you can do with it, and how it operates very different, but the user groups that would be interested in it are very different.

Chromebooks biggest advantage over Windows is that they require zero maintenance. With Windows the user is required to do OS configuration, maintenance and upgrades, driver installation and troubleshooting, app installation and upgrades, anti-virus installation and upgrades, defragging of the disk, reinstallation of the OS and apps from time to time when they become corrupted or unstable, and to learn how to do all this. Chromebooks just work - they do all this automatically without the user doing anything - and this is possible only with an integrated small footprint OS which come from one source and which doesn't permit user modification or user installation of drivers or applications.

Chromebooks zero maintenance is a big deal for non-techie home users who just want to use a computer for Internet access and not much more, and for businesses that have a server based IT infrastructure. As any IT manager managing Windows desktops will know, Windows desktops have a very high maintenance overhead, and while hardware costs are relatively cheap, labour costs required for maintaining Windows are not.

Windows netbooks are fine for cash strapped computer hobbyists who can't cough up the $150 in cash for a better laptop and who don't mind spending time maintaining Windows for free - indeed most computer hobbyists will see this as a labour of love. However if you run a business, you actually have to pay somebody to provision, update, secure and maintain the desktops, and that is not cheap. This works out to be several times the hardware and software cost of the desktops in most businesses. Businesses can save a lot of money on desktop maintenance by replacing Windows desktops/laptops with Chromebooks for those who do not need high end graphical desktops or who do not work out of the office most of the time, and use virtual Windows desktops running on servers accessed through their Chromebooks for those people who need Windows applications. Running applications and virtual desktops on servers makes management much easier to automate and therefore a lot cheaper.

August 26, 2011 | 04:24 PM - Posted by Mindscrew

Actually, it's very reasonable to compare the two. I think what you're missing is the fact that Windows and ChromeOS offer two different SOLUTIONS. I suppose next you'll tell me that comparing OSX to Win7 is wrong because zomg they have different focuses.

Comparing two different solutions for single usage scenario is perfectly valid. Nobody's going to complain about someone comparing a sedan with a sports car when they're trying to evaluate the relative value.

August 17, 2011 | 09:21 PM - Posted by Jeremy Hellstrom

It does have to be compared to something. Even the Air, by your argument, is not a similar enough product to give Google a fair comparison.

August 18, 2011 | 03:58 AM - Posted by Matt Smith

We don't have to compare the Chromebook to the Air or anything so extravagant. Instead we can compare it to the netbook. After all, most of the hardware is the same.

Compared to a netbook, this Chromebook offers worse battery life, far less functionality, and so-so build quality. All at a price that's at best on par with a netbook.

Even this Acer, at $349.99, isn't competitive. The $429.99 Samsung Chromebook is ludicrous.

That does not mean that Chrome will go away. But if it remains, it will remain because Google is a gigantic company with billions of dollars that can be used to support it. Based on its current merits, Chrome OS and the Chromebooks are poor choices, and will need some time to mature into a compelling product.

August 26, 2011 | 09:43 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The hardware quality is a lot better, and you are getting an SSD drive, and you are getting the best battery life available on any laptop device bar none, so you can't compare it with a typical high end netbook but apart from that, yes Samsung's price has scope for downward revision. I doubt if price is the reason people would buy a Chromebook instead of a netbook though - they may look similar and may usr similar hardware, but they are just too different in every other way.

August 26, 2011 | 04:37 PM - Posted by Mindscrew

Google fanboy much?

You give Google every allowance, while dismissing Microsoft out of hand. I understand ChromeOS is new, but that doesn't meant it gets a handicap bonus. If you're going to play with the big boys, you gotta play.

If ChromeOS is truly an alternative to a traditional OS, it should provide relevant functionality at a minimum. However, it fails to do that, as detailed in the review. Lots of functions aren't there out of the box and installing them can be difficult. How does that "just work"? Also, one USB port is unforgivable. Two is absolutely mandatory -- mouse and thumbdrive or external HDD. The battery life is on par with other netbooks running a full OS.

It's an alternative, sure, but if it wants to be a successful alternative, it needs to replace the relevant functionality AND do it better.

If you need something portable, it looks like a tablet or smartphone is still a better option. Potential for ChromeOS is there, but that doesn't make it an appropriate solution right now.

September 6, 2011 | 08:05 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Agree mostly. I just ordered my ac700 . But I would appreciate if Dell can make chromebook the way we, in US, layout our keyboard. The problem of letting a Taiwanese person layout the keyboard is that they never had to write much and edit all day. I will not be surprised if the person that layout the keyboard had ever need to key in Ctrl-Shift-6. I am a CCIE, and Cisco's equipment use Ctrl-Alt-6 as escape key. That layout is not done by someone with computer science background and uses escape keys a lot. If you are an ultra geek, you need large Ctrl key, not large arrow keys. I have even seen another Taiwanese netbook that skipped the right Ctrl key.

August 18, 2011 | 04:59 AM - Posted by AlexF (not verified)

I fail to see why Google couldn't have marketed Chromebook using Ubuntu (or other Linux) that just happen to start Chrome browser instead of desktop.
For intended "basic" user, those who are only interested in access to web, the browser would have been all they used/saw. However, having access to Linux underneath would have provided flexibility and fill holes that are part-and-parcel of being reliant only on Web.

August 26, 2011 | 09:48 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

This would change the Chromebook concept completely. Linux is a fat client like Windows 7, and although more stable than Windows, is still high a high maintenance OS.

Chromebooks run Chrome OS and is conceptually a zero maintenance thin client OS.

August 20, 2011 | 03:20 PM - Posted by anon (not verified)

I would like to see a 15" ChromeBook. My netbook is a good PC but the screen just isn't big enough. I never got used to it.

There are lots of low end 15" laptops on the market so it can't be that much of risk realising one.

February 22, 2012 | 12:26 PM - Posted by Frank C (not verified)

The problem I see with cloud in some ways we give up control of our content.Not digging the idea. Kinda like outsourcing. Not for me!

February 22, 2012 | 02:01 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I kept the Acer in mind because I kept seeing, now and then, their tablet with a stylus. The screen flipped and laid down flat on the keyboard and the laptop became a sketchpad. Pity the new google Cromia doesn't allow for scribbled notes or artists.

June 13, 2013 | 01:10 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Ola galera boa tarde, gostaria de saber se e possivel instalar o windows 7 no chromebook acer ac700?
grato!

April 18, 2014 | 01:16 AM - Posted by Dr.T V.Rao MD (not verified)

I wish to know whether Chromebooks support Reticence net connect in India in Kerala state with dongle for accessing the Internet as we do not have WiFi in the place of work Dr.T.V.Rao Professor of Microbiology

October 25, 2014 | 12:00 AM - Posted by _GET["a"] Array ( [0] => (not verified)

No matter if some one searches for his essential thing, so he/she needs to be available that in detail, thus that thing is
maintained over here.

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