Asus C720P - left side angle

The Chromebook fits between an iPad or Android tablet and a full-fledged laptop computer. While not quite as portable as a tablet, since it certainly can’t be used one handed, or without a table or at least a lap to rest it on, it does offer the potential for more functionality since it has a built in keyboard. One can of course argue that it’s simple enough to use a Bluetooth keyboard with a tablet, but the Chromebook still offers a larger, better screen, and better connectivity than an iPad due to built in USB ports and an SD card slot. Whether or not a Chromebook in general or the Acer C720P in particular is right for your needs will depend on careful consideration.

Context

Just to provide a little context, I used to be a laptop-only kind of girl, relying heavily on a Fujitsu Lifebook and then on a Sony Vaio Z as well as a Macbook Air. As a manager by day and a writer by night, I mainly used a laptop to crunch numbers, write proposals, and edit photos for my web site. All of that changed when the iPad came around; I use one almost exclusively for my daily computing, except for when my job demands that I use the Dell Lattitude E5530 issued by my company in order to make presentations or show DVDs to my customers.

Technical Highlights

  • Size: 11.34”  x 8.03” x 0.78”
  • Weight: 3.00 pounds
  • Display: 11.6” widescreen Touchscreen display with Intel HD graphics
  • Resolution: 1366 x  768
  • CPU: Intel Celeron 2955U at. 1.4 GHz
  • Storage: 32GB
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Ports: 1 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, 1 HDMI
  • Battery: 3950 mAh, rated for up to 7.5 hours of battery life
  • WiFi: 802.11 a/b/g/n
  • Bluetooth
  • Built-In HD webcam
  • MSRP: $299.99

External Design

The Acer C720P is quite sleek and minimal in design. The exterior is completely white, except for the Acer and Google Chrome logos on the top left corner of the open display. The finish is smooth to the touch on the top, and slightly textured on the bottom. You’ll also find four large rubberized feet on the bottom to help prevent sliding on slick surfaces, which is necessary since the device is so lightweight. There are also ample ventilation holes on the bottom that prevent the device from overheating.

The sides of the Acer 720P are straight nearer the back of the device, to accommodate all of the ports. On the left side you’ll find the AC power port, an HDMI port, a USB port, and the headphone jack. On the right side you’ll see the Kensington lock slot, another USB port, and the SD card slot. Nearer the front of the device the sides are nicely tapered and rounded, providing a comfortable grip surface when carrying the Chromebook one handed. The power button is inside, on the upper right corner of the keyboard.

Keyboard and Trackpad

The keyboard is large, with well labeled, easy to read keys, and plenty of space between each one. It is slightly different than a standard laptop keyboard though, so it may require some adjustment for new users. It took several hours of use before I could type at anywhere near my usual speed (which is considerable) and with the same degree of accuracy to which I am accustomed. My only real disappointment with the keyboard is the relatively short key travel–even with quite a bit of practice, while my speed and accuracy improved rapidly, the keyboard never really “felt” quite right.

There are no function keys on the top row, but rather a series of keys labeled with icons for things such as forward and back, reload, full screen mode, window, brightness up and down, mute, volume down and up. The power button is in the top right corner, and the power indicator status lights are on the front right edge of the device, which is a great improvement over the Samsung Chromebook 2 that has no externally visible power or charge indicator. That allows me to see with a quick glance whether the device is still charging, fully charged, hibernating, etc.

The trackpad is very large and easy to use for basic functions, but you won’t need to use it too much since the Acer C720P has a full touchscreen display. If you do prefer the trackpad, you’ll find that it functions exactly as expected, though like the Samsung Chromebook 2 I found the “click” to be rather louder than it should be.

Asus C720P - Keyboard

Display

The display on the Acer C720P is very nice indeed–sharp and clear. The horizontal viewing angle is also very good, which means that it’s easy to share video with a friend or two. The vertical viewing angle isn’t nearly so good, and I found myself angling the screen to avoid glare no matter the lighting conditions, be it my “bright as the sun” kitchen or my much darker bedroom.

There is one distinct advantage here: the display is actually a touchscreen, meaning that most simple functions can be accessed without resorting to the keyboard and trackpad. It’s an unexpected addition that makes this Chromebook more tablet-like in functionality and even more convenient to use. Instead of wrangling a sometimes uncooperative cursor, it’s much easier to use my fingertip to change browser tabs, navigate quickly, etc. One of my favorite uses is during video playback on Hulu, where a single touch anywhere on the screen pauses the video. In all respects I found the touchscreen to be extremely responsive and performed exactly as expected.

Asus C720P - display 1

Battery Life

During the rundown test, I started at 100% and took the opportunity to catch up on one of my TV series with Netflix. As you can see from the results below, I wasn’t able to get the full 7.5 hours of battery life expected from the C720P. Then again this was a torture test with the device at full brightness, which is likely not the setting you would choose if you’re trying to maximize battery life.

acer-c720p-battery-life

Performance

Of course an appealing design and a nice display don’t mean anything if the Acer C720P doesn’t perform well, but I found that it worked like a champ. No crashes, no slowdowns, it just chugged away at whatever task I threw at it, from video playback to web browsing with an excessive number of tabs open in my browser, to simpler tasks like word processing. I didn’t experience any heat or noise issues either (aside from the loud click on the touchpad)–no noisy ventilation fan.

The SunSpider Benchmark results are as follows:

============================================

RESULTS (means and 95% confidence intervals)

  • Total:                  474.6ms +/- 11.0%
  •   3d:                   116.7ms +/- 25.7%
  •   cube:                31.0ms +/- 13.6%
  •   morph:               67.8ms +/- 45.6%
  •   raytrace:            17.9ms +/- 9.3%
  •   access:                42.7ms +/- 7.2%
  •   binary-trees:         4.4ms +/- 39.2%
  •   fannkuch:            23.3ms +/- 6.0%
  •   nbody:                5.1ms +/- 20.3%
  •   nsieve:               9.9ms +/- 17.2%
  •   bitops:                26.7ms +/- 10.5%
  •   3bit-bits-in-byte:    2.3ms +/- 15.0%
  •   bits-in-byte:         7.7ms +/- 7.6%
  •   bitwise-and:          7.6ms +/- 12.7%
  •   nsieve-bits:          9.1ms +/- 31.3%
  •  controlflow:            4.0ms +/- 11.9%
  •   recursive:            4.0ms +/- 11.9%
  •   crypto:                32.1ms +/- 9.9%
  •   aes:                 13.9ms +/- 27.7%
  •   md5:                  8.6ms +/- 13.7%
  •   sha1:                 9.6ms +/- 13.2%
  •   date:                  57.6ms +/- 65.2%
  •   format-tofte:        23.1ms +/- 35.9%
  •   format-xparb:        34.5ms +/- 98.6%
  •   math:                  44.7ms +/- 4.9%
  •   cordic:               7.7ms +/- 31.6%
  •   partial-sums:        31.4ms +/- 14.3%
  •   spectral-norm:        5.6ms +/- 31.9%
  •   regexp:                15.2ms +/- 13.3%
  •   dna:                 15.2ms +/- 13.3%
  •   string:               134.9ms +/- 6.6%
  •   base64:              16.1ms +/- 13.1%
  •   fasta:               24.8ms +/- 9.5%
  •   tagcloud:            39.3ms +/- 14.1%
  •   unpack-code:         35.3ms +/- 14.0%
  •   validate-input:      19.4ms +/- 8.9%

Usability

I found the Acer C720P to be eminently usable in all respects–whether I was being productive and writing or crunching numbers, catching up with all of my friends on social media, or whether I wanted to be entertained with YouTube, Hulu, or Netflix. It was fast and responsive and was up to every task I wanted to perform. And it’s small and light enough to be taken anywhere for computing on the go–no giant laptop bag required.

The one main downside is the one that affects all Chromebooks as a whole, not just the Acer C720P–in order to take full advantage of what it can do, you need to be connected to a WiFi network. While many of the apps are indeed offline enabled–you can view your calendar, edit documents, read and respond to email, etc.–those change aren’t synced back to your documents in Google Drive cloud storage until you’re connected to the internet again. That’s not a problem if you’re constantly bathed in WiFi at home, at work, and on the go, but if you have a hard time finding free hotspots, that might be a problem.

The key is to carefully consider your computing needs–you may realize that a Chromebook is the perfect solution for your computing needs.. If you’re a grandparent, you may only be concerned about email, videoconferencing, and social media if you want to keep up with distant relatives and a bevy of grandchildren. If you’re a student, especially if you’re in the liberal arts and not in engineering, you need email, the web for research, Hangouts for collaborating with your classmates, excellent word processing and spreadsheet capabilities, social media, and maybe even a few games to keep you occupied.

Conclusion

The Acer C720P is a really nice little device–it has a small footprint and a small price tag, but performs very well and the touchscreen display is a joy to watch and to use. I appreciate the minimal design, the smooth surface without any fussy patterns or textures, the rounded corners and the light weight.

The only slight dings are battery life, which fell a little short of the promised 7.5 hours, and the keyboard, which didn’t offer quite the key travel to which I’m accustomed. While it can be argued that it’s just a matter of personal preference, the keyboard is after all the main reason that folks are likely to choose a Chromebook rather than a tablet, and I was slightly disappointed.  The harder question to answer is whether or not it will meet your mobile computing needs. Though some of the apps are offline-enabled, the vast majority of the time you’ll need to be connected to a WiFi network in order to get any real work done.

If you generally have access to WiFi, whether in a coffee shop or in your house (or perhaps you have a mobile hotspot) you’ll find that you can be very productive, very entertained (or both at different times) with a Chromebook for far less than you would spend on a traditional laptop or even on a high end tablet. It’s also a little more convenient to have everything in one package. Though I’m happy to carry an iPad and a wireless keyboard as part of my day-to-day work in order to avoid lugging around the gigantic Dell laptop my company issued, the Acer C720P is an even sleeker alternative that would really save a lot of room in my briefcase.

The Acer C720P performs very well, and would be ideally suited for students, parents, and grandparents — anyone who primarily needs to surf the web and watch videos, write reports and crunch numbers with a spreadsheet, and is generally always connected to WiFi. It is small, light, portable, and powerful enough to take on just about any general computing task you can throw at it, with a battery powerful enough to go  at least six hours (and likely more at a lower brightness setting). And at less than $300, it’s fiscally responsible too.

Filed in Computers >Reviews. Read more about Acer and chromebook.

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