The first-generation Chromebook was utterly useless, but Google and its partners keep plugging away and making incremental improvements. Acer recently launched a new version of the Chromebook for an astonishingly low price: $199.
I still don’t recommend buying an Acer C7 Chromebook to use as your main device, though; it’s underpowered and largely limited to what you can do using apps from the Chrome Web Store. The new Chromebook is fairly light. It has a real keyboard and is quite cheap, so some people might find it useful for email and Web browsing while travelling. The gadget reminds me of the netbook, those diminutive PCs that had a brief moment of popularity a few years back.
The most important thing to know about the Chromebook is that it runs Google’s Chrome operating system, a fast and very light-weight OS. But because the Chrome OS is entirely different than Microsoft’s Windows or Apple’s Mac operating systems, it doesn’t run any Windows or Mac apps. Unlike the first-generation Chromebook, Acer’s C7 has local storage—it comes with a 320 GB hard drive—and can, to a certain extent, be used when you’re not connected to the Internet.
Notable tech specs include an 11.6-inch screen; an Intel Celeron CPU; 2 GB of RAM; three USB 2.0 ports; HDMI, Ethernet and VGA ports; an SD card slot; and a 1.3 megapixel camera. The machine weighs 3.5 pounds, and Acer claims that it boots up in just 18 seconds. Compared to most Windows PCs, that bootup time is a veritable blink of the eye. Acer is also throwing in 100GB of Google Drive cloud storage, along with 12 free passes for GoGo in-flight Wi-Fi service.
All of that sounds good, but there are two issues that could turn off perspective buyers. Since the Chromebook is really designed to work online, it seems odd that Acer’s version does not have 3G connectivity. It does, of course, have Wi-Fi capability. Another downside is battery life. Acer says it will run 3.5 hours on a single charge. That’s not all that long to begin with, and since manufacturers almost always overstate battery life, the Chromebook may not last the duration of a long flight.
Those limitations are likely caused by Acer’s desire to keep the price as low as possible, but to me, the compromises outweigh the benefits.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.