Day one with the Acer C720 Chromebook

The new Chromebook is here and the first day using it was very productive.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

I recently shared my reasons for purchasing the Acer C720 Chromebook so I won't rehash that at this time. If you're interested take a few moments to visit those thoughts, we'll wait for you here. Now that you're back, some of you may be wondering how the C720 works in the real world. Based on the correspondence I've received since tweeting the Acer had arrived, it's clear there's a lot of interest in this powerful $200 Chromebook.

Acer C720 Chromebook
Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

Specs of the Acer C720 Chromebook as purchased:

  • CPU: Intel® Celeron® Processor 2955U, (1.4GHz, 2MB L3 Cache)
  • OS: Chrome OS
  • Memory: 2GB
  • Storage: 16GB
  • Display: 11.6-inch, 1366x768, anti-glare
  • Camera: front webcam (1280x720)
  • Connectivity: Wi-fi a/b/g/n
  • Ports/slots: USB 3.0, USB 2.0, HDMI, SD slot
  • Battery: 3,950 mAh, 8.5 hours
  • Thickness: 0.75in
  • Weight: 2.76lbs

The first day with the Acer has been busy, and it's handled everything I threw its way. It arrived late morning and I promptly unboxed it and set it up. That took all of five minutes from start to finish.

I logged into my Google account and the C720 created my preferred Chrome environment. This included getting all of my Chrome apps, my settings, Chrome extensions, and bringing in all of my browser bookmarks. That happened very quickly, the rest of the setup was spent with Chrome automatically updating itself to the latest version. That was followed by my optional restarting of the system to apply those updates, which took <10 seconds.

There are three versions of Chrome OS: the stable (standard) one, beta channel, and the developer version. I like to run the beta channel as it gives me an early look at new features in Chrome OS and my experience shows it to be stable. A quick visit to the settings screen let me download the beta version and apply it. A second restart activated the new version.

All of this took about five minutes. That's what is great about Chrome, as aptly described by my colleague David Gewirtz. It is the easiest platform to adopt for this reason.

I immediately started working with the C720 and quickly picked up where I left off weeks ago when I gave away my last Chromebook. Chrome OS is basically the Chrome browser so there is very little learning curve for those who use the browser on other platforms. It looks the same and works the same.

I worked with my normal setup of multiple tabs and everything functioned as expected. I experimented with touch gestures on the trackpad since the Acer's is quite good. I wish the trackpad was bigger but then I've been spoiled by the huge touchpads on the MacBooks.

I don't know if these gestures are a function of Chrome OS or the Chrome browser, but I'm finding them to be very useful. The first gesture is the 3-finger swipe from left to right in the browser to spin through the open tabs. You have to swipe slowly to move with precision or you can do so quickly to jump down the line of tabs.

Chrome task manager (Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

Another useful gesture is the 3-finger swipe up to invoke the graphical task manager. This shows all open apps in addition to the active tab in the browser. You can down swipe with three fingers to get back to the last active windows or tap a thumbnail to activate that app. This is useful if you run apps in a window as opposed to running in a browser tab. I run them in windows so the task manager is fully useful.

The last gesture I use a lot is the 2-finger swipe left/right to move through the previous/next web pages in the active browser tab. It cycles through visited pages just like hitting the prev/next arrow keys in the top row of the keyboard. I like the trackpad gesture as it's easy to do and operates fluidly.

The work day with the Acer went swimmingly. The C720 is fast with the Haswell Celeron and the keyboard is very nice. The latter is important to me as a writer, and I have no complaints with the Acer keyboard.

A bit of photo editing was handled with Pixlr Editor; it's evolved nicely since I last used it. The interface is well implemented and it was simple to do light photo editing using Pixlr.

I edited a Word document and an Excel spreadsheet using Google Drive. Both had basic formatting so I had no issues with the way Google Docs handled them.

I can see using the Acer C720 Chromebook heavily for my work going forward. The laptop is very portable and the 11.6-inch display is the perfect compromise of portability and usability. The screen isn't high-res but it's quite suitable for my work.

The quality of the C720 hardware is impressive given its low price. It's quite a value to find a laptop of this caliber for only $199.

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