Late last year Acer announced the C720 Chromebook. A Haswell-powered laptop that was small, thin, and light that offered impressive life was something I had to see, and after waiting a few weeks for local availability to no avail, I had one shipped from the US. After spending a bit of time with it, I’ve found it’s perhaps one of the best laptops I’ve ever used.
The first thing you have to understand about a Chromebook is that while it may look and feel like a normal laptop, it’s pretty different. The operating system it runs, Chrome OS, is basically a web browser and very little else. Because of that, the laptop is at its most useful when connected to the internet. There are a number of offline apps you can run and things you can do when it isn’t, of course, but it’s like having a car without petrol; you can still sit in it, listen to the radio, twiddle some knobs, that kind of thing, but its usefulness will be significantly diminished.
With Chromebooks, Google have latched onto this idea that everyone has an internet connection.
Chrome OS is basically just Chrome the browser, with a few add-ons. While it may not be as fully-fledged as something like Windows or OS X1, it’s still more than capable of performing basic tasks. It comes with a rudimentary file browser for looking at and transferring files from USB sticks and SD cards — something you’ll note iOS doesn’t have. It can view and playback a variety of file formats — it had no trouble with PDF files, images, or even a few video files I threw at it — and you can even sort things out into folders like you would a normal filesystem. It’s the basics, and that’s it2; it’s not spectacular, just serviceable.
And it’s this “not spectacular, just serviceable” attitude that defines the C720 Chromebook. The keyboard, while not exactly the epitome of tactile feedback, is not spectacular, just serviceable; you probably won’t enjoy typing on it for an extended period of time, but it works perfectly well for its intended use. The chiclet-style keys have even less travel than the ones on the standard Apple keyboard3, something I didn’t realise was possible until I started using the keyboard on the C720 to type out blog posts just like this one. While the keys themselves aren’t noticeably smaller than a traditional keyboard, there’s also no keyboard backlighting here either, although to be fair, expecting a keyboard backlight on a $250 laptop is probably asking for a bit much. If I had to improve one area on the C720, it would be the keyboard. It’s fine for typing the occasional web address or Google search, but doing any kind of lengthy typing on it is not spectacular, just serviceable.