Back to School: The $200 Acer C7 Chromebook Is a Good Cheap Laptop

Heading back to school and looking for a cheap laptop? The $200 Acer C7 Chromebook provides a fair amount of bang for the buck.

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Acer

The Acer C7 Chromebook

You shouldn’t expect much from a $200 laptop, but for a $200 laptop, Acer’s C7 Chromebook is a pleasant surprise.

Is it the greatest laptop in the world? Nope. Is it the fastest? The most sturdy? The lightest? No. But for a basic laptop, it gets the job done and then some.

For starters, this is a Chromebook. It doesn’t run Mac or Windows; it runs Google’s web-based operating system, called Chrome OS. You’ll be dealing with Google’s Chrome web browser 99% of the time, so you’ll want to be surrounded by reliable Wi-Fi access, which shouldn’t be a problem at a college campus.

For basic tasks, the system runs smoothly in light of the meager hardware setup (Celeron processor, two gigabytes of RAM, 16 gigabytes of flash storage). You won’t be able to install traditional programs on this machine such as iTunes or Microsoft Office, so keep that in mind. What you can do is get on the internet and work in a web browser. Instead of Microsoft Office, you’ll use Google Docs.

keyboard

Doug Aamoth / TIME

The Acer C7′s keyboard and trackpad

Your files and data will auto-save, which is a plus. You won’t need to worry about viruses, and if this computer gets destroyed or stolen, you won’t lose any of your work. Simply buy another one, log in with your Google credentials, and all your stuff will be there. The machine boots up and springs in and out of sleep mode almost instantly, too.

As a student, you’ll probably be doing a lot of typing. This computer has a better-than-average island keyboard. The keys are a tad spongy, but at $200, this keyboard could be a whole lot worse. The trackpad is average as far as performance goes and it’s on the small side, measuring just 3.5 inches by two inches. There’s two-finger scrolling, and you can tap with two fingers to mimic the right-click action you’d find on a Mac or Windows computer.

adapter

Doug Aamoth / TIME

The Acer C7′s power adapter

The screen is better than I expected it to be, and there’s a VGA port and an HDMI port if you want to hook up an external monitor. Battery life is so-so (plan on about three hours), but the plug is nice and compact – it’s not a brick like the ones that come with full-size laptops. There are three USB expansion ports, plus an Ethernet port for connecting to a hard-wired network.

Basically, at $200, you’d normally expect everything to be below average. This computer performs average or above average across the board. I write online for a living and I could conceivably use this machine to do my work every day, minus the work I do editing short videos. I’ve been using it for the past month or so and I’ve been surprised at how often I’ve reached for it over a full-size laptop or tablet.

It’s easy to tote around, too, measuring about an inch thick and about three pounds heavy. It’s got an 11.6-inch screen, making it a compact machine. (Take two DVD cases and place them next to each other: That’s about how much width and depth this computer will take up in your bag, but almost twice as thick and weighing three pounds.)

size

Doug Aamoth / TIME

The Acer C7 next to a DVD case

If you need a powerful laptop that can run specialized software, this is not for you. If you want to play games, this is not for you. If you want to load up a hard drive with gigabytes and gigabytes of music, this is not for you. If you want a big screen, this is not for you. If your school absolutely recommends a Mac or a PC, this is not for you.

However, if you need a machine for surfing the internet, taking notes and writing papers, and you’re on a budget, this machine is absolutely worth a look.

You can find the $200 model at Best Buy; there’s a model for $30 more at Staples or Wal-Mart, which gets you double the RAM (four gigabytes instead of two) for zippier performance. If you can spring for the $230 version, I’d advise it: extra RAM helps keep things running smoothly, and $30 to jump from two to four gigabytes of RAM isn’t too bad.

9 comments
ToddFoster
ToddFoster

Also, I got the laptop for my wife and all she does is browse facebook and writes a little bit. Like you said in the article. If you are looking to play crazy games then you defo need to invest atleast 500 into a laptop.

ferland04
ferland04

For those who still need to occasionally use a standard windows computer (for using desktop applications like Microsoft Office), you should try hazeware cloud computing (see http://hazeware.com), you can get a windows cloud computer and access it directly from the web browser of your chromebook when you need it.

AG4EM
AG4EM

As you mentioned, Chromebooks are not meant to be for every type of user.  Chromebooks are meant for users that spend most of their time in a browser and want a device that starts up fast and is easy to use.  That's a nice sized market.

If you're considering Chromebooks but also need access to Windows applications you can look at solutions like, Ericom AccessNow an HTML5 RDP client that enables Chromebook users to securely connect to any RDP host, including Terminal Server and VDI virtual desktops, and run their applications and desktops in a browser.

AccessNow does not require any client to be installed on the Chromebook, as you only need the HTML5-compatible browser.

For an online, interactive demo, open your Chrome browser and visit:
http://www.ericom.com/demo_AccessNow.asp?URL_ID=708

Please note that I work for Ericom

jamie_love
jamie_love

I bought the $199 version, and found it was easy to upgrade the memory.  You just take out a single screw, the back comes off, and there are two empty DDR3 slots.  The motherboard will recognize up to 4 gigs per slot.   I added a 4 gb to the 2 gb that came with the computer, and it recognized 6 gbs.  

k9vinf
k9vinf

You can use Office365 online if necessary to be all Microsofty.

ZainiChia
ZainiChia

"...if you need a machine for surfing the internet, taking notes and writing papers, and you’re on a budget, this machine is absolutely worth a look." 

I absolutely agree with this sentence. However, I'd actually recommend an iPad + Keyboard instead. You can get an iPad 2 + keyboard for less than $499, and it'll be a hell of a lot more useful; for reading, taking notes, and all the light productivity stuff you mentioned. PLUS it has much better battery life (a jackpot for students) and a ton of great apps.

I do admit though that writing a paper with a keyboard, trackpad, and multiple windows would be  much more pleasant and efficient than using an iPad.

marcellorazia
marcellorazia

@ZainiChia Much better battery life? How long does the average Ipad go without a charge? One of the biggest perks I've found with the Chromebook is that I can go a few days before needing to charge it.  Just curious.