Written by Michael Rohde Wednesday, 07 September 2011 11:00
|Acer AC700 Chromebook Review|
My Acer AC700 Chromebook recently arrived and I started writing my initial thoughts on it right away. It’s now three days later, and so far, I’m loving it. It’s got a very cool form factor to it, it’s fast as lightning, the keyboard feels good and after I sign in, all my Google stuff is right there. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning: the unboxing.
The box the Acer AC700 came in was nice, but there’s no kind of Wow factor. The first thing you do after unpacking everything is to place the battery into the back of the Chromebook. You’ll notice the lid has a glossy black shine to it. Because it is glossy, it does show a minimal amount of fingerprints, but it never looks dirty or like it needs to be wiped. When you pick it up and turn it over, you realize how incredibly light 3.2 lbs can feel. It is about the size of a netbook, with an 11-inch screen, which is very bright and extremely sharp. It is very easy to read text on this screen, even without increasing font size. However, it is an 11-inch screen, so text and images will be a bit smaller than you’re accustomed to with a larger laptop.
After you lock in the battery, it’s time to plug it into the wall and fully charge the battery. If you lift the lid, which appears to use magnets instead of little locks, then it automatically turns on. Wait about 10 seconds and you’ll see the set-up screen, which asks you to connect to a network. After you select your WiFi connection, it will promptly begin updating the Chrome OS. At this point, you might as well go make a sandwich and come back 10 minutes later. The initial installation will take awhile. This long installation procedure is a one time thing, as all other updates occur in the background. According to Amazon, “Every time you boot your Chromebook, it does a self check called a "verified boot." If it detects that your computer or OS has been tampered with or corrupted, the operating system is typically restored automatically from a known good backup. And if a backup is unavailable on your computer, you can download one yourself from the cloud. Best of all: your Chromebook does all this on its own so you don't have to worry about it.”
After that, it’s a simple matter of logging into your Google Account. If you don’t have one, then you have the option to create a new one. Also, you can sign in as a Guest. If you log in as Guest, it’s basically the same as Privacy mode in that no cookies, passwords, browser history or anything will be saved. That way, if someone asks to use your Chromebook, you can be safe in knowing they can’t access your account, and they can feel safe that you won’t be able to access their account later. That’s a pretty nice feature.
When you are signed in, you immediately see the Chrome browser and you are welcomed by the Chrome Web Store, where you can start looking for apps and games. It’s Google’s way of saying, you might not be able to install software, but you don’t have to -- all that you need is right here. There are games in the Chrome Web Store. I admit that in the past I’ve only looked very briefly at the Chrome Web Store. However, with the purchase of a Chromebook, the Chrome Web Store suddenly took center stage. So far I’ve “installed” a weather app, Google Talk, and a game called The Secret of Grisly Manor along with a calculator. Google Talk is pretty cool in that it allows any text chats to follow you as you switch tabs in the browser. After installing Google Talk, a small icon appears in the URL bar. This provides quick access to start video chats or IM. The icon sits next to my Delicious icon, my bit.ly icon, my Gmail icon and the weather channel app. With this configuration, I’ll always know the current temp outside, if I have any emails, I can quickly send links or bookmark items and I can also quickly start an IM or video chat.
For those of you unfamiliar with Chrome, you have access to your Delicious bookmarks by typing the name of the bookmark in the URL bar. After only a couple of letters, Chrome autopredicts the bookmark for you. That can take a little getting used to if you’re comfortable with Delicious on Firefox and their Most Used and Most Recent bookmark menu bar. If you do prefer a bookmarks bar, of course you can make one appear. There’s even a couple of options for when the bookmarks appear. You can have it always on or just on a new tab screen. I have it set up to show only on a new tab screen. Currently, my new tab screen shows my installed apps, or I can flip that up and view my most visited web pages, and I can flip that up to view a list of recently closed tabs.
After browsing the Chrome Web Store, I then registered the Chromebook through Acer and then quickly bounced back to my iGoogle page. I immediately checked my Gmail, replied to an email, and then hopped over to documents to start writing my initial review. And you know what? I think I’m gonna love this little baby. And I already know what I’m going to do with it: it’s for web browsing, including Netflix and Hulu, light text editing, light work on GoozerNation, email, calendar and light work with the docs, Music (which works great, but the built-in speakers are nothing special), Google+ and Twitter and maybe an occasional visit to Facebook. You know, use it for light work and recreation. Just like any other netbook. It’s the perfect internet machine.
With a Chromebook you don’t have to worry much about viruses or HDDs crashing. And all of your content is stored in the cloud. Sure, there’s some risk in that, but you take a risk no matter what. I recently suffered a laptop crashing because the HDD went bad. With the Chromebook, that type of disaster won’t happen. Yes, I am placing my faith and confidence in Google to keep my content secure, but I can always back up my content on an external hard drive anyway. Amazon describes the safety features of the Chromebook this way, “Worried about safety and security? Fear not. The Chromebook is actually a lot safer to use than an ordinary computer. It's designed to keep your browser secure and protected against the bad things, like malware and viruses, that are out there on the web.”
As for scrolling and clicking, the Acer AC700 has a large touchpad with no buttons. Instead, you press with one finger to click a left button and press with two fingers to click as a right button. To scroll, you simply drag two fingers. It took me but only a few tries to very quickly adopt to this type of control. This simplifies scrolling in that I don’t have to search for a scroll bar with the pointer. To drag and drop, or select text to copy, you press with one finger and drag to select and then release.
The keyboard has a nice rubbery feel to it and the keys give a nice pop when they are pushed. I tend to type pretty heavily, and I’m sure I’ve annoyed more than one co-worker with my loud typing, but that’s the way I do it. With the Chromebook’s keyboard, you get that nice response with a satisfying clickety-clack as you type away. Sometimes it’s the minor things that really improve the overall user experience of a product. The keyboard is designed for the web experience and instead of function keys, it has web-oriented keys: a back button, forward button, refresh, full screen, tab to next window and a dedicated button to start a new search, which basically opens a new tab with the cursor already in the search box.
There is a power button, but you don’t have to use it to turn off the Chromebook and you don’t have to hit keyboard buttons to enter sleep mode. If you close the cover while logged in, the Acer AC700 will go into sleep mode. When you open the cover, you are right where you left off. If you simply log off and close the cover, the Acer Chromebook powers down. Open the cover, and 10 seconds later it’s back on. The only time you might want to use the power button is to switch users or as a means to avoid clicking onscreen buttons to log off from the menu. To switch users, you simply log out of your Google account. Then, someone else can log in. Or, you can hold the power button down until the screen collapses inward. It will then prompt you to log out. You can then turn off the Chromebook with the onscreen button or by using the power button.
The battery life has been amazing so far. I charged it once on Friday and it’s now Monday afternoon and I still have 10% power remaining. Granted, I only used it for an hour or so on Sunday. But on Saturday I used it for about 90 minutes in one sitting and used up less than 20% of the battery. My two-year old Toshiba Satellite would have to be plugged in at that point. For the Chromebook, it’s just getting started. And I put it through it’s paces by installing apps, listening to music, watching videos and using Docs to continue typing this review. I’ve also had to walk away from it a few times to make breakfast and so forth. After closing the lid, with Hulu open, and then reopening the lid, Hulu popped right back up. So far, this little dynamo is behaving admirably.
Speaking of Hulu... it worked very well on my initial test. I watched Jon Stewart’s opening monologue for The Daily Show. The audio came through with no lag and the video had the slightest lag during the first minute and then it caught up and it played perfectly. I then connected an HDMI cable from the Chromebook to my TV. Web pages looked very clear and sharp. I then loaded up Netflix and started a cartoon for the kids. On the first try, Netflix could not load due to a bad internet connection, but on the second try it loaded up just fine and started playing flawlessly. I then went back to Hulu to try that service through the HDMI cable. Again, there was a tiny lag with the video, which was not HD quality, but the lag quickly disappeared and I was able to watch just fine. If there is ever any video that I want to watch on my TV through the web, this will be the way to do it. This will be especially nice for web-only content from Hulu that I can’t watch through GoogleTV. It will also be nice during football season, especially if NBC.com shows their night game online again this year.
Along with the HDMI port there is a microphone jack and a headset jack. There are also two USB ports and a SIM card slot. Of course, there’s a DC-in jack for a power cable and LED indicators for power, charging and WiFi/3G. There’s also a Kensington lock slot for attaching a lock to your Chromebook so it doesn’t grow legs and walk away. I don’t know if I’ll ever use it, considering I don’t own a Kensington lock, but I’m sure it’s a useful feature for schools or businesses.
The Acer AC700 Chromebook does come with a built-in web cam for use with Google video chat and Google+ Huddles. I have not tested that feature yet.
Google is slowly rolling back the ability to use certain features in an online mode. For example, this morning I was able to download my Google Calendar to my Chromebook. In offline mode, I won’t be able to add events, but I can view events. From my understanding, Chrome users will be able to do this for Docs eventually as well. Gmail will also become available offline. The Chromebook will keep the past couple of days worth of emails synched to your machine. You’ll be able to view and write emails, and then emails will be sent when you do establish an online connection.
Google does allow you to synch the work you do on one computer to the work you do on another computer. After you turn this feature on, your log ins, passwords, apps and everything else that you tell it to remember will follow you from one computer to the next. So, let’s say you entered a password for a certain site while you’re at work. Then, when you get home and visit that same site, your Chromebook will be synced up and will autofill your log in and password (provided you told Chrome to remember that info). That is a very useful and convenient feature, which is stacked up on a ton of convenient factors ranging from the 10 second boot up, to the virus checks, to the long battery life and on and on.
After working with the Chromebook for at least three different sessions, and testing all of the features that I’ll most likely use it for, I have to say I’m impressed and happy with the purchase. It’s perfect for around-the-house use. While I would not be happy working on it for eight-hour stretches as a dedicated work machine, I believe it is perfectly suitable for light work and as a web browser, which is exactly why I bought it.
It is easy to compare the Acer AC700 to a tablet instead of another netbook even though the Chromebook has a full-sized keyboard without the touchscreen. Where the iPad has a 9.7 inch screen, this Chromebook has a 11.6 HD widescreen, so you do get an extra couple inches of viewing. To further compare the Acer AC700 to an iPad 2, the Acer AC700 Chromebook sells at retail on Amazon for $349 while the iPad 2 sells for $500 and up. If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to an iPad, that uses the Chrome OS and Chrome broswer, the AC700 is the way to go as compared to the Samsung Series 5, which is sized more like a standard laptop, but ranges in price from $400 to $450. Based on price alone, again, the AC700 comes out on top, especially if you don’t mind the smaller screen. The smaller screen size does not affect the size of the keyboard, which I did not have to adjust to at all to start comfortably typing on. The iPad of course has the Apple App Store and the Chromebook has the Chrome Web Store.
GoozerNation is recommending the Acer AC700 Chromebook as a nice luxury item for convenient home web browsing, using all Google products from Docs to Music to apps and games and so on. Is it a work machine? No. But you can work on it if you need it for a conference and they have available WiFi. You could also consider it a budget alternative for an Android tablet while you wait for the Amazon Kindle Tablet to be released, which is rumored to come out in October, rumored at a $250 price range with a rumor that Amazon Prime will be included. Yes, that’s a lot of rumor and speculation for the Amazon Kindle Tablet. On the other hand, the Acer AC700 is a reality. And to show it’s productivity, this entire review was written and published on it.
- 11.6” HD Widescreen CineCrystal™ LED-backlit LCD: (1366 x 768) resolution, 16:9 aspect ratio
- Dual-core Intel® Processor
- 2GB DDR3 Memory
- Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator 3150
- 16GB Solid State Drive
- 1.3 Megapixel HD Webcam (1280 x 1024)
- High-Definition Audio Support
- Two Built-in Speakers
- 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™
- 2- USB 2.0 Ports
- 1- HDMI™ Port
- Full-sized Chrome Keyboard with dedicated keys for the web
- Oversized, Multi-touch Touchpad
- Memory card slot for storing photos, music, and video
- 6 hours of continuous use
- 3.2 lbs (system unit only)