Side-by-Side: HP Chromebook 11 vs. Acer C720

Two inexpensive and lightweight laptops with some big differences.

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Jared Newman for TIME

Last week was a great week for low-cost computing, as both HP and Acer announced Chromebook laptops for under $300.

Although the browser-based Chrome OS is no replacement for a Windows PC or Mac that can run a full array of software, Chromebooks are great for light work or Internet research. And at $280 for HP’s Chromebook 11 and $250 for Acer’s C720 Chromebook, they’re practically impulse buys if you just need a secondary laptop for around the house.

How do you choose between the two? I’ve been spending some time with both laptops this week, so here are some quick impressions.

The Chromebook 11 (pictured here in white) has a more comfortable and attractive design, while the Acer C720 (pictured in black) offers better performance and battery life. I suspected this much before trying either one, but if anything, the differences are even more drastic than I thought they’d be.

chromebookstack

Jared Newman for TIME

Acer’s Chromebook is the epitome of a cheap laptop. It’s loaded with vents on the bottom and back edge, and comes with the tacky and resilient “Intel inside” sticker next to the trackpad. Although the Acer and HP Chromebooks are both clad in plastic, Acer uses different shades and textures of plastic on almost every surface, as if trying to be ugly. And Acer was crazy enough to put a blinking LED on the front edge to tell you when it’s in standby. Laptop makers: Never do this.

HP’s Chromebook 11 has the advantage of being fanless, so it doesn’t need vents, and there’s a sense of continuity between the shiny white plastic on every surface. A gentle curve at the front edge of the laptop is easier on the wrists than the Acer C720’s sharp edges. And while the HP Chromebook is only lighter by 0.46 pounds, it feels much airier. The fact that it’s about a half-inch shorter from back to front may be a factor.

The 11.6-inch, 1366-by-768 display on Acer’s Chromebook is also consistent with most low-cost laptops. Although it’s the same size and resolution as HP’s Chromebook, viewing angles are much worse, and everything has a blueish hue. The only advantage for the Acer C720 is that the matte screen is easier to read in sunlight, but unless you’re outside all the time, the HP Chromebook’s gorgeous IPS display is the clear winner.

chromebookkeys

Jared Newman for TIME

As for the keyboard and trackpad, HP’s Chromebook 11 gets the edge here as well. The keys have more travel and are less mushy, and the trackpad is larger and feels more accurate.

The speakers on the HP Chromebook 11 also deserve a mention. They’re mounted underneath the keyboard, and while they won’t give your music much bass, they handle voice crisply and are louder than Acer’s bottom-mounted speakers.

So far, things don’t sound too good for Acer, but its Chromebook has a few advantages. Battery life seems much better, as I’m seeing 50% charge remaining after about four hours of use. I haven’t done rigorous testing, but Acer’s claim of 8.5 hours on a charge seems to be holding up. With the HP Chromebook 11, I was getting a little over five hours. Being able to charge the HP Chromebook via micro-USB cable is cool in theory, but the cable itself is about four feet shorter than Acer’s, so you’ll need to be really close to an outlet to use and charge at the same time. (If you try to use a different cable, the HP Chromebook 11 warns you that you might need the official cable to charge up while the laptop is on.)

chromebookedges

Jared Newman for TIME

Acer’s C720 is also more powerful, thanks to its Intel Celeron processor and 4 GB of RAM, and doesn’t skip a beat even if you’re editing large Google Drive documents or moving between lots of tabs. Whether you’ll actually notice the difference depends on what you’re doing; I experienced some slowdown on the Chromebook 11 during my work routine, but haven’t always been able to duplicate it. The one use case where Acer’s Chromebook has a significant edge is in conjunction with Chromecast. HP’s laptop simply can’t handle beaming videos to the television, while Acer’s laptop hummed along at 480p resolution.

Finally, I should note that the Acer C720 has a full-sized SD card slot and HDMI output, neither of which are present on HP’s Chromebook 11, and Acer’s webcam is of higher quality.

Despite those advantages, and the $30 cost savings of the Acer, if I had to recommend one of these laptops, it’d still be the HP Chromebook 11. It is lighter and more comfortable to use, has a much better display and is prettier to look at. The superior performance and battery of the Acer C720 might appeal to a small number of users, but might not matter much if you’re just using the Chromebook as an around-the-house laptop, rather than an all-day work machine. Just be sure to charge the Chromebook 11 every night, because having to keep it tethered so close to an outlet could be frustrating. If HP just included a longer cable, it’d be pretty close to Chromebook perfection.

chromebooksback

Jared Newman for TIME
25 comments
johnkhunt
johnkhunt

Correction: HDMI *IS* available on the HP Chromebook 11. The micro USB that provides power also supports a SlimPort adapter -- so you can connect an external monitor by either VGA, DisplayPort or HDMI. Many SlimPort adapters support video out and power in at the same time, so docking at a desk typically requires only 1 small micro USB cable, as opposed to multiple bulky cables.

It's the same thing as the Headphone/Microphone input. They didn't remove anything, they just combined them to reduce cost and chassis bulk.

reviewer_123
reviewer_123

Beware of Acer's products.t from.I only write this review to help you make an informed decision. I've owned an Acer A100 tablet which ran on android and after charging it, it stopped booting up and would not work altogether. This happened at the 15 month after I purchased it. Many others have had the same thing happen to them with this product. Simply type into your browser 'Acer a100 problems' and see for yourself. There's got to be some inferior manufacturing flaw or product part deficiency from a certain Acer's manufacturer plant or supplier that has caused these many product from malfunctioning just after the warranty has expired, so my best advice to anybody who would purchase Acer products is to at least get extra warranty coverage for at least one more year past the manufacturer's warranty, personally I would stay away from purchasing any Acer product altogether due to the uncertainty of quality control and manufacturing deficiency. It's a shame that after spending hundred of dollars on this product it would just quit working. The SNID of the product in question is 20508373615.

PC98226
PC98226

Yes, after reviewing this article as well as a dozen or so other reviews on these two Chromebooks, I ordered the Acer C720-2800. The reviewers that trial tested them out, confirmed that the increased processor speed and double the RAM made a significant impact to the user.  The connectivity options, including Ethernet and the option to use the SD card, only added to the attractiveness of this device.  And to see the reviews of the effect of the Haswell Celeron on battery life, then this decision was that much easier.  I ordered my C720 and it will be arriving on 10/25/2013.  In my mind and in this instance, performance wins out !


anthonydavidpirtle2
anthonydavidpirtle2

It just kills me that HP and Google went with the same processor that Samsung put in their Chromebook a year ago. If they'd built a machine as elegantly designed as the HP Chromebook 11, but with  an Exynos 5420 or the new Haswell Celeron that Acer (and HP's larger Chromebook 14) is using, then it would have been a no-brainer. I'd have been willing to pay $300 for that, let alone $280.

But instead they put an older, weaker processor in this beautifully built machine. Meanwhile, the Acer C720 is cheaper and so much more powerful. I have the C710 and it is a hideous device with an uncomfortable keyboard, rather unattractive screen and bulky design. Yet it's already more powerful than the HP Chromebook 11. I just can't see downgrading purely because of design quality. 

philmcchill
philmcchill

I enjoy a shiny new toy as much as the next guy, but when it comes down to appearance vs performance, I would never decide in favor of the former. I would be using it as a laptop, after all, not decoration.

DougCheriBledsoe
DougCheriBledsoe

My Acer came with Win 7. With 3 Gigs of ram it was jerky at best. Lock ups were common. Needless to say I grew tired of  the substandard, DOS driven windows, inadequacies. 640k is still a problem. I switched to Linux/Ubuntu. This same machine is fast and has no issues. I can run 3 different browsers at the same time all showing a different video with no jitters and no problems. I fixed my problem with free Ubuntu. It will be a long time before I get a laptop with Windows.  Goodbye Microsloth.

charbax1
charbax1

ARM Chromebooks are better than Intel x86 Chromebooks, it's about ecosystem architecture. Yet it would have been nice if HP had access to the Exynos5420 Octa-core ARM Cortex-A15/A7 processor by now, as the Octa core does big.LITTLE which means battery life would have been better on the same sized battery as well as possibly packing in 2x more performance including the speedier Mali-T628 GPU. Obviously the x86 machine has a much larger/heavier/bulkier battery, thus cannot be compared. While I'm eagerly looking forward to Exynos5420 Chromebooks, Tegra4 Chromebooks, maybe even Qualcomm S800 Chromebooks, I guess I probably am going to buy an HP Chromebook 11 anyways, just for using until more powerful ARM Chromebooks become available. The good thing about Chromebooks is you can always just log-off your Google account and you can give it to anyone and they can log-in and they can experience the laptop as new. That easy. That is why I gave away my Samsung ARM Chromebook last week, in preparation for my upgrade to a new ARM Chromebook.

DougCheriBledsoe
DougCheriBledsoe

does this guy work for HP or just own stock. Acer wins. Better battery, better streaming and a little ugly for less cash.

karmamule
karmamule

Like a few other commenters I guess I'm in the "small number of users" that prefer speed, substantially more battery life, and a better selection of ports over style and better viewing angles.  If I get either of these it'll be the Acer.

cac1031
cac1031

I'm selling my Samsung ARM (basically the HP model) and getting the new Acer.  I appreciate the comparison but I have reached a different conclusion.  Although I have thoroughly enjoyed my lightweight and fanless Samsung, I want that extra performance boost and for it to work well with a Chromecast.  Battery life, long cord are advantages of the Acer while the big disadvantage is having a fan and a little extra weight.  Seems strange that for $30 more than what the Samsung cost (the same as the C720), the HP loses its hdmi port and SD card slot.

rad.dreamer3kx
rad.dreamer3kx

"The superior performance and battery of the Acer C720 might appeal to a small number of users"


Huh , thats a huge advantage, Im getting the Acer just because of this.

metu
metu

the hp/google machine has the same problem with the popular samsung series 3 - not enough ram. every review of the samsung said the same thing, the machine could get bogged down. 

we're weeks away from a plethora of new chromebooks, all coming with haswell. why google would release this is a mystery as it's the same issues as the samsung - and it can't even chromecast well. a google machine that can't chromecast. not high on my list.

much of this has to do with the chip on the hp. 2gb of ram is it's max. 

so yeah, the hp looks sleek and cool and stuff but if all you want it for is a second computer to stream things, browse, then the acer is the clear winner.

performance trumps style every time. 



jamie_love
jamie_love

The C720 seems like the better choice, mostly because the CPU in the HP is not that powerful.  The longer battery life for the C720 will also come in handy.  I have an earlier Acer Chromebook, and found myself using in more than I would have expected, given its limits.  But for what it does do, it ends up being a pretty useful device.   But the hard disk failed, and one thing I might mention is that I don't know how to find a a replacement for the inexpensive 16 gb SSD drive it came with.   

dannymcvey
dannymcvey

I don't get these side by side comparisons. The C720 may look cheaper, and it certainly costs less, but you're getting way more for your money with extra ports, a better processor for extra battery life, and twice the amount of RAM for better performance. You can pay $30 more for a year old computer (the HP 11 is practically the same as the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook) with a shiny new screen, or buy a C720 and use the extra $30 for a new case or Chromecast. It's a computer, not an accessory.

johnkhunt
johnkhunt

@philmcchill Yes, but enough performance is enough performance. It completely depends on the person of course, but this is enough for many, if not most people's needs, most of the time. Wanting theoretical performance just for it's own sake is a cancer of the mind. Especially when you're paying for it in price, efficiency, portability, simplicity, security etc.

newmanjb
newmanjb moderator

@philmcchill But it's not just appearance vs. performance. The HP has a better keyboard, better trackpad, better speakers and a much, much better screen. Perhaps I should have made this clearer, but to me "design" isn't just about appearance. It's about how it actually feels to use the device--form and function together--and the HP feels superior for the above reasons.

grigalem
grigalem

@DougCheriBledsoe 

If you cannot be civil, perhaps you should not post in public.

newmanjb
newmanjb moderator

@metu For what it's worth, this was my assumption going in as well. But while using the HP, I noticed that it doesn't seem nearly as bogged down as the Series 3 did, even though the specs are the same. The really irritating thing about the Series 3 was the way it unloaded pages from memory if you navigated away from them for a while. This doesn't seem to be an issue with the HP.

MaconDixon
MaconDixon

To me, costing less isn't a drawback, so I'd put the but before that attribute:


The C720 may look cheaper, but it certainly costs less, and you're getting way more for your money with extra ports, a better processor for extra battery life, and twice the amount of RAM for better performance.


sean.rabenaldt
sean.rabenaldt

@newmanjb @philmcchill But the HP still preforms the same as a year old samsung chromebook. I agree that the HP is a much better designed laptop, but it is inexcusable to release a laptop with last years specs and to sell it for more than a laptop with this years.

metu
metu

@newmanjb @metu interesting. i've read the ssd could be different as others have noticed a bit of performance boost over the samsung. 

still, we're faced with the whole streaming issue. do you happen to know how the samsung does with chromecast? 

the exynos chip has a max of 2gb ram. that's why this machine makes no sense to me. google and partners announced new machines with haswell and they release this. is this a direct result of the popularity of the samsung (top of amazon list, schools... )?

newmanjb
newmanjb moderator

@metu I haven't tried the Samsung with Chromecast (I returned the review unit I was given long ago.) Yeah, it's a bummer that the HP doesn't work so well with Chromecast video.

What I'd really like to see are some Bay Trail powered Chromebooks, to achieve similar fanless/lightweight designs as ARM but with more power and still up to 4 GB of RAM. No word on whether that's happening.