I have to admit that I didn't expect much from a $300 touch-screen Chromebook, but from the second I pulled the Acer C720P out of the box I was comfortable with it.
I've tried a number of Chromebooks, from the $249 Samsung to the $1,500 Pixel. I also tried the HP Chromebook 11 and came away less than impressed. The Pixel was fantastic, but really, who's going to spend $1,500 for a Chromebook, no matter how nice it was -- and it seemed to be an experiment on Google's part to show what was possible with one of these machines more than a commitment to the high end. You certainly aren't hearing very much about them now.
The beauty of the Chromebook approach is you can buy a machine for $300 or less and have access to all your cloud services. It's not for everyone because you lack that comfort of having local programs, but if you are looking for a Chromebook, this is the one I would recommend, hands down.
C'mon and touch me, baby
This Acer combines good looks, decent enough hardware, and price to give you a great choice in the Chromebook market at just $300 -- just $50 more than the Samsung I reviewed and just $20 more than the vastly inferior HP Chromebook 11. And this one comes with a touch screen.
Now, I have to admit I find it awkward using a touch screen on my lap, even a smallish 11.6 inch one like this one, and ChromeOS isn't really tuned right now as a touch device. But it's there if you want it and at just $300, it's a nice perk -- and as I've used the machine over the last several weeks, I've found I use the touch ability more and more, especially for scrolling because it's easier than using the mouse in some cases.
It's not so great for web browsing because items on a web page are usually too small to select with your finger at normal size, so you have to adjust them. Perhaps over time we'll start to see web pages more tuned to a touch interface, but for now, the ability is there if you want to use it.
Finally, somebody nails the Chromebook keyboard and trackpad
The thing I liked best about the Pixel was its keyboard and trackpad. The thing I liked least about the Samsung? You got it. The keyboard and trackpad.
HP did a better job with this, but the Acer by far offers the most comfortable keyboard and trackpad for the money. The keyboard is full size even though it's an 11.6 inch footprint, meaning I can lay my hands on it a natural way and they fit just fine. The keyboard has a nice feel and the best thing you can say about the trackpad is that I didn't notice it, which means I wasn't subjected to over-scrolling to make it do what I wanted, which was a real problem for me with the Samsung when I used it.
Same old Chromebook story
You probably know the Chromebook story by now, but it has its limitations. It's basically a browser with few exceptions. Any programs you can run in a browser you can run on a Chromebook. But my daughter, who has one of the low-end Samsungs, took an online course recently and found she couldn't view the course materials on the Chromebook because of a compatibility issue. You could run into limitations like this, but if you're willing to compromise a little bit in the name of price, you are getting a machine that will do most things you need it to do.
By now, many programs have offline mode, which means you can access content offline and work with it, and when you connect to the Internet, these programs will sync automatically and update your work.
When I reviewed the Samsung Chromebook at the beginning of last year, I said it was a good start, but I wished it were better. When the HP Chromebook came along, it was clear they had mastered the good looks, but the performance still wasn't there yet. This machine combines the best of these machines and has acceptable performance.
Don't get me wrong, it's not a burner by any means, but if you're looking for a Chromebook at less than $300, this one is really hard to beat.