Acer C710 (Q1VZC) Chromebook review
A small and inexpensive laptop for the Google generation
- Good overall performance
- Vibrant screen
- Good keyboard and touchpad
- Short battery life
- Can get noticeably warm
- Sticky Backspace key
Acer's C710 is not a laptop that will suit everyone, but if you are already a heavy user of Google's array of services, and if you just want a simple device on which to use those services, you should definitely give this Chromebook a go.
Acer's C710 (Q1VZC) is one of the two Chromebooks to be recently released on the Australian market, and it's a different beast to the Samsung XE303C12 that we reviewed a few days ago. It's also an 11.6in model, but it looks more like a traditional Windows laptop rather than a laptop designed for a minimalist operating system like Chrome OS. It has a standard array of ports, a busy keyboard, and it even sounds like a Windows laptop thanks to its active CPU cooling.
What is it?
At $299, the Acer C710 (Q1VZC) is $50 less than the Samsung model, and it's the type of gadget you could pick up just out of curiosity (assuming you have the spare cash). The best part is, if you're already entrenched in the Google apps environment for your productivity and communications, then it's a laptop that has been designed specifically for you.
The Chromebook's interface looks like a standard desktop at first glance, but it's basically a system that has been devised to run Google's services within the Chrome Web browser. Even all the system settings show up in the Web browser. If you're used to this browser, you'll have no problems at all using this laptop, but you might need to get used to the concept.
Because it's designed to run Google's Drive, Docs, Gmail and other services, the Chromebook isn't all that useful when it doesn't have an Internet connection. It's of limited use when you aren't online, meaning that without an Internet connection you can only use Google Docs (Drive syncs all Docs locally and allows you to also make other file types, such as images available offline), in addition to reading and writing emails and playing with locally-stored media files.
The benefits of the Chromebook are maximised if you use it in an environment that has Wi-Fi, be it at home, in the office or on school grounds, but for other places you will need to tether it to your phone in order to get online (it has dual-band Wi-Fi). We tried using it with an Optus USB broadband dongle to get online, but it wasn't recognised by the operating system. Acer says that a new model in three to six months will have broadband built in to it.
Performance and battery life
Working on Google Docs, browsing the Web and even watching streaming video are things that Acer's Chromebook is good for and its performance during our test period was comparatively fast against Samsung's Chromebook. (See the Samsung's review for a few more details on what the Chrome OS offers, and also what you can do with it as far as playing local files).
The Acer relies on an x86-based Intel Celeron CPU for its processing power, along with 2GB of RAM; the Samsung has an ARM-based Samsung Exynos 5 Dual system on chip (SoC), and the same amount of RAM. While the Acer felt quicker than the Samsung during everyday usage, Web browser-based benchmarks also confirmed that it is indeed a faster performer. It recorded the best marks in all of the browser benchmarks that we ran on it, and you can also see in the table below how its Chrome browser performance even fares better than Chrome running on an Intel Atom-based Windows 8 tablet from Dell. This was also noticeable when we ran the NBA.TV (NBA LeaguePass) streaming video services, which did not run as smoothly on the Dell (using Chrome) as it did on the Acer.
|Benchmark||Acer C710||Samsung XE303C12||Dell Latitude 10||Samsung Galaxy Note II|
|Futuremark Peacekeeper (score)||1444||1157||721||586|
But there is one area in which the Acer Chromebook isn't as good, and that is battery life. For a small device that's designed to be mobile, its battery life isn't great (especially when video playback is involved). It has a removable, 37 Watt-hour battery that recorded only 1hr 44min in our rundown test, in which we played MP4 videos non-stop until the unit conked out, with the screen brightness at maximum and with Wi-Fi enabled. The Samsung Chromebook recorded over four hours in the same test. It's one of those things where battery life seems to have been compromised in order to supply better performance.
We're not completely mad though because the extra performance that the Acer supplies is noticeable, especially during streaming video tasks. A lot more life can be extracted from its battery if a medium screen brightness is used and if you only undertake tasks that don't need too much CPU time (that is, if you don't watch videos or play Flash-based games). We managed to get just over four hours out of it when just using it for Google Docs, reading news sites and browsing a few photos, and by keeping the screen brightness just below the halfway point.
Depending on how you use the Chromebook, it can get noticeably warm. If you're just using it to browse basic Web pages or write documents, it won't uncomfortably warm. But if the CPU has to do plenty of work, such as process Flash-based video, then the amount of heat can get annoying, especially because the heat can be felt through the palm rest. It becomes a little worse when you use it on your lap and block the vent holes. There are small vent holes on the bottom, and there is a main vent located on the left side. A fan is used to extract warm air that is generated from the internal components and it makes a low whirring sound that we didn't find to be too distracting in a quiet room.
Storage and connections
The heat that's generated in this Chromebook comes not only from the Celeron CPU, but also from the conventional hard drive — it doesn't have a solid state drive (SSD). The hard drive has a capacity of 320GB, which we think is overkill for a laptop that is designed to be primarily used for online tasks. However, the extra space is there if you want to use this laptop to store a glut of video, music and large photo files. These files can be accessed from the Files app, which gives you access to the Downloads folder for local files and Google Drive for the files you have on the Internet.
More connectivity than the Samsung Chromebook is located along the sides of the Acer, including an Ethernet port and a VGA port. Acer says it's gunning for the education sector with this product, and these are two features which might come in handy if the units are to be tethered to desks or used by teachers to connect projectors, for example. Three USB 2.0 ports are also present, as is a headphone/microphone port. HDMI is also available.
However, we encountered a problem when we used the HDMI port to connect to a TV. The audio did not come through the HDMI cable to the TV, nor did it come through the laptop's speakers. Even when we unplugged the HDMI cable, the audio never returned to the laptop's built-in speakers. It played audio through the headphone port just fine though. We tried refreshing the system using the built-in 'Powerwash' feature of the operating system, but weren't able to regain sound through the speakers. We're hoping it's just a quirk with our review model.
Keyboard, touchpad and screen
Typing on the Acer Chromebook is a nice experience. It has full-sized keys and they are spaced out nicely so that they are easy to hit. You get conventional keys such as Delete, which we missed on the Samsung, and there is a dedicated Caps Lock key in addition to new Search keys (the Samsung uses the Caps Lock key for its Search, although it can be changed back to Caps Lock via the System Settings). Acer also gives you Page Up, Page Down, Home and End keys, which we found useful, but the addition of the Page keys does make the arrow keys feel cramped. We only had one problem with the keyboard, and that was a sticky Backspace key.
The Acer Chromebook has a series of traditional F-keys along its top row, but their primary functions serve system settings and navigation. For example, you don't have to hold down the Fn key to change brightness or volume, and there are keys so that you can navigate and refresh Web pages, as well as a key to take a screenshot and a key to maximise the active window. Acer has left a key printed with a Wi-Fi icon on it, but it's not a wireless toggle. Instead, it makes a current window go into full-screen mode. We wish Acer refined the keyboard a little (especially the labels) to make it less like a Windows board and like a Chrome OS board.
The screen on the Acer is a good one. It has a native resolution of 1366x768 pixels and it looks vibrant. This is due to the glossy finish, which can cause some reflections, but we didn't have many problems with it. It's a better looking screen than the one on the Samsung, but the Samsung's has a matte finish instead.
While it does have some downsides, such as short battery life and noticeable warmth (in addition to the quirk with the audio on our test unit), the Acer C710 (Q1VZC) turned out to be quite enjoyable to use. As a basic laptop for browsing the Web at home and writing documents in the office, it was too good. We even managed to stream plenty of high-quality video on it and also do some multitasking (that is, listen to music in the background while looking at photos and browsing the Web).
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