Acer c720 Chromebook Unboxing and Review

acer c720 box

 

A guest post by Jason DeVita  on the Acer Chromebook

follow him @wx13 and http://wx13.com

The first Chromebooks were introduced a little over two years ago.  Chromebooks run Google’s ChromeOS, designed to be completely integrated with “the cloud.”  Since they first appeared, there has been a lot of discussion about the market for such a computer.  If you were to ask Google, they would probably tell you that chromebooks are revolutionary and that they will take over the computing world.  And if asked Microsoft, they would tell you that chromebooks are not “real” computers.  Obviously the truth lies somewhere in between, leading to the question: Who could benefit from buying a chromebook?

In order to understand Chromebook use-cases, it is necessary to understand a little about Chromebooks.  The idea behind ChromeOS is to create a cloud-centric operating system.  This differs from standard operating systems in that the majority of data is stored remotely and applications (which run in the browser) interact with that remote data.  This is not a new idea; the terminal/mainframe and thin-client/server model has been around for a while.  But this is the first time this has been marketed toward the general public.

acer c720 box

Before purchasing a Chromebook, I read a lot of reviews.  The general theme among bloggers and internet reviewers is that chromebooks are good for one type of user.  If you primarily surf the web, check email, use facebook, and create simple word documents, then a chromebook will suit  you well.  In other words, Chromebooks are tablets with keyboards.  Everyone else, they say, should avoid Chromebooks.  Anyone who does “real work” on their computer should use a windows or mac laptop.  Anyone who creates content (as opposed to consuming content) should use a “real” laptop.

acer c720 unboxed

The above sentiment leaves out one segment of the population: Linux geeks.  It turns out that Chromebooks do run a real operating system.  The crouton project (https://github.com/dnschneid/crouton) sets up a chroot environment in ChromeOS.  Because ChromeOS is built on top of Linux, a “real” Linux distribution can run side-by-side (no virtualization needed) with ChromeOS.  At this very moment, I am running Debian Wheezy on a Chromebook.  I can toggle between them with a keypress.

So if I am using a real Linux OS anyway, then why on a Chromebook?  To understand this, consider one of the issues we Linux geeks have running Linux on laptops: unsupported hardware. Many laptops use components (video cards, wifi chips, etc) with no Linux drivers. Sticking Linux on a random laptop and getting everything to work, including wifi, sound, hotkeys (volume, brightness, etc) is an exercise in frustration.  With a Chromebook, I get the best of both worlds.

Below I give a short review of a specific Chromebook, the Acer C720.  I will end with a riddle.  Where on earth can I get a $200, sub 3 lb, 0.75 in thick laptop, with 9 hours of battery life (and charges in a hour), and runs Linux out of the box? (Finally Linux geeks get the cool toy first.)
The Acer c720
In a nutshell, the c720 is a Chromebook with the following features:
  • 8.5 hours of battery life
  • 7 second boot
  • 2.75 lbs, 0.75 inches thick
  • 11.6″ screen

All this for $200.

The good
  • The computer really does boot up in 7 seconds (and wakes from sleep almost instantly).
  • The battery life is impressive, and so is the recharge time.  I can charge the laptop for a hour in the morning, and then work the rest of the day.
  • The setup process was super easy.
  • The laptop is very quiet (solid state drive, and the fan rarely turns on).
  • The dynamic range of screen brightness is very good (all the way from barely-visible to too-bright-for-my-eyes-to-handle)
The bad
  • The keyboard is terrible. Of course, my other laptop is a Lenovo Thinkpad, so I think all keyboards are terrible.
  • I had a little trouble getting NotScripts working (it wanted to block everything, no matter what I tell it).

acer c720 unboxed

The awesome

Crouton is quite a piece of work.  The installation process was simple (by far the simplest Linux install I have ever done). Now, with a single keypress, I can switch instantly between ChromeOS and Debian Wheezy.  This combines the no-hassles, quick boot, instant wake, everything just works ChromeOS with a full-blown, development friendly Debian Linux.  And all for $200 bucks.

5 comments

  1. briain says:

    In my opinion this represents a new benchmark in the world of personal computing; the Acer C720 is affordable, has long battery life due to Intel’s Haswell micro-architecture of the processor, and as you mention, can be augmented with the superb Debian OS (or Ubuntu- the simplified version). Just another step towards linux domination of the desktop, as it does in every other area of computing these days. Thanks for your excellent review.

    • briain says:

      In my opinion this represents a new benchmark in the world of personal computing; the Acer C720 is affordable, has long battery life due to Intel’s Haswell micro-architecture of the processor, and as you mention, can be augmented with the superb Debian OS (or Ubuntu- the simplified version). Just another step towards linux’s domination of the desktop! (as it seems to in every other area of computing nowadays) The next part of this revolution could entail a departure from the client/server model towards managing personal data with a micro-server (with the likes of http://owncloud.org/) essentiallly taking back the power to decide who and how we connect with. Thanks for your timely and thought-provoking review.

      • Jessica says:

        Brian, I’m a big fan of Owncloud too. I’ll do another post on that soon. Thanks for your comment, have a great day!

  2. brock says:

    How have you found hardware support in Debian? Sleep/Resume and the F-key bindings?

    Have you tried Arch or Ubuntu, and if so which one is more “complete” in the initial install?

    • Jessica says:

      Hi Brock, in terms of hardware support (sleep, wifi, etc) all of those are handled by ChromeOS. Because of chroot, it’s a debian file system with all the debian utilities, almost like it’s virtualized but without the virtualization. In terms of the function keys, the top row of keys like back, forward, etc. are just F1-F12 keys and ChromeOS is interpreting those keys, In debian, you just use the normal linux keymapping to decide what you want those keys to be. After many years of linux, the only distro I use is debian.

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