Acer’s New $250 Chromebook Looks Great on Paper

Low price, but surprisingly decent specs? Chromebooks are getting really interesting.

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A year ago, if you wanted a Chromebook laptop for under $300, you had to make some major compromises on performance, battery life and build quality.

But somehow, Acer’s newest C720 Chromebook appears not to demand such compromises, and it costs a mere $250. That’s the same price as Samsung‘s Series 3 Chromebook from a year ago, but with a much more powerful processor, ample memory and longer battery life, yet it’s still thinner and lighter than many laptops.

The Acer C720 uses a 1.4 GHz Celeron processor based on Intel‘s Haswell architecture. Haswell brings some major advances in battery life, and Acer says the C720 will last 8.5 hours on a charge. The laptop also has 4 GB of RAM, which in my experience is an ideal amount for keeping lots of browser tabs open at once, and has 16 GB of solid state storage. In terms of performance, this is a clear step up from the HP Chromebook 11, which Google announced earlier this week, and the advertised battery life is 2.5 hours longer.

And while Acer’s previous Chromebooks have been somewhat thick and heavy for their size, the C720 weighs just 2.76 pounds and measures 0.7 inches thick. It’s not as pretty as HP’s Chromebook 11, and it’s bulkier, but not by much. Both devices have 11-inch, 1366-by-768 resolution displays.

It all looks wonderful on paper, which of course leaves all the things you can’t figure out from a spec sheet. How good are the keyboard and trackpad? Will it run hot or noisy? How sturdy is the case? I also wonder about screen quality. The Chromebook 11 uses an IPS panel. I’m testing it now, and it looks great. Acer says it’s using an anti-glare matte display, which should be nice for outdoor use, but what are the viewing angles like? These are all things I hope to test after getting my hands on the C720 for review.

Amazon’s taking pre-orders on the Acer C720 Chromebook–and is actually charging just $240 as I write this–but there’s no set release date right now. Acer says additional configurations are also on the way.

In the meantime, the standard Chromebook disclaimer applies: These machines do not run Windows. They run an operating system from Google called Chrome OS, which is basically just a web browser. You cannot install Office, or iTunes, or Photoshop, or another browser of your choosing. You can replace some of these functions with web-based alternatives, such as Google Docs, Office Web Apps, Pixlr, Pandora and Spotify. You can’t connect DVD players or printers, but you can set up Google Cloud Print with a networked printer. It’s a leap of faith, but in return you get a cheap, lightweight laptop that boots up quickly and doesn’t get viruses.

Google and its Chromebook-making partners raised some eyebrows last year with cheap hardware, but it looks like this year will bring better design and performance for around the same prices. We’re going to see more of these machines later in the year–Asus and Toshiba are also partners, and HP has a 14-inch Chromebook for $300 in the works–so keep an eye out.