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Acer C7 Chromebook

Acer C7 Chromebook: The $199 special.

(Credit: Acer)In order for Chromebooks to become the new Netbooks, they need to be priced as such. It looks like things are headed that way, as the new Acer C7 Chromebook suggests: at $199, it’s the cheapest Chromebook ever made, and matches the Nexus 7 tablet for affordability.

Samsung’s recent $249 Chromebook was a lot more affordable than the more expensive Samsung Chromebook 550 released earlier this year, and Acer’s newly announced $199 C7 takes the price down another $50. Like Samsung’s Chromebook, the Acer C7 has an 11.6-inch 1,366×768 display. At 3.05 pounds, this inch-thin mini-laptop won’t feel as light or as thin as tablet, or Samsung’s Chromebooks: it seems to match the size of many of Acer’s previous Netbooks.

(Credit: Acer)

Chromebooks, in case you haven’t been briefed, are laptop-like devices running the browser-based Chrome OS operating system, running apps from the Chrome Web Store. They’re capable of working offline, but aren’t really that versatile at it: really, the biggest benefit of a Chromebook is its strength in Web browsing, and its instant-on quick-access design. The Acer C7 looks like a little laptop from the outside, but its bootup time is more like a speedy ultrabook: according to Acer, 18 seconds, plus a very fast wake-from-sleep.

(Credit: Acer)

Under the hood of the Acer C7 is a 1.10GHz Intel Celeron 847 processor and 2GB of RAM, but storage nuts will appreciate a roomy 320GB standard hard drive, replacing the 16GB SSD storage on Samsung’s Chromebooks. Jury’s still out on whether that means some data access will end up feeling slower, but it boils down to a lot more onboard space for offline music, documents, or imported photos and movies — and there’s still an SD card slot.

Three USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, an Ethernet port and even a VGA port, plus that SD card slot, offer a good set of basic connectivity, although there doesn’t seem to be Bluetooth, and there’s no 3G wireless — just 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. There’s also a 1.3 megapixel Webcam.

The biggest downside of the C7 seems to be its battery life: according to Acer, only 3.5 hours. That’s significantly less than Samsung’s Chromebooks, and feels like a deal breaker for anyone going on long trips. Tablets and many laptops easily top that number in their sleep.

The question is, is the trade-off of using a nontraditional operating system worth the price? In this case, it’s less expensive than most laptops and even tablets, Netbooks included. As added incentive, just like the Samsung Chromebook, 100GB of Google Drive cloud storage is included for two years, along with 12 free passes for GoGo in-flight Wi-Fi service. Those two perks alone nearly subsidize the Acer C7. That could make this an extremely attractive proposition for light computing and Web use, provided you can live with foreshortened battery life. Stay tuned for a future review.

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