Chrome OS is a Linux based, cloud operating system (OS) designed by Google. Apart from some native installed apps most software – called web applications - and data is stored in, and served from, the cloud via a basic Chrome browser interface.
Its origins are recent – 2009 - with the first Chromebooks appearing in mid-2011 - yet it has a decidedly minimalist, retro 90’s style, Windows look – a static desktop theme, bottom toolbar – called a shelf - with Google app icons and time, battery, and network indicators at the right.
Yet there is nothing familiar about this – no Windows Start Button or Mac home key. Just press the power button and seven seconds later - after you have entered your Gmail account (you must have one) and Wi-Fi password (it will not work without that) - the desktop theme appears.
I am going to retreat to safe territory and look at hardware first.
To be clear Acer make hardware not the OS so I will separate the review accordingly.
The AU$399 Acer 720-29552G01aii appears to be a well-made, netbook style device – precisely what Chromebooks are supposed to be. I cannot say it is better or worse than any other Chromebook. All do a similar job – as a host vehicle for a cloud based OS.
It uses an Intel Celeron 2955U, 1.4GHz dual core, single thread (not hyper-thread), 15 watt, processor. It is quite an expensive processor - $132 benchmark price – and that is interesting when compared with the new, similarly specified Atom Bay Trail – $30 benchmark price - used in full Windows tablets and other hybrids. I suspect Chromebooks will go to Atom sooner rather than later.
Interestingly this Celeron is 4th generation, Haswell based, so it has better graphics, speed, and lower power consumption than previous versions. Of the two other Chromebooks - Samsung use an ARM processor and HP an older Celeron - Acer is the class leader.
It has 2GB of ram, 16GB of storage and an SD Card for memory expansion. By default, data is stored in the free - for two years - 100GB Drive cloud.
The 11.6”, 1366x768, screen, powered by the Celeron’s graphics uses shared system RAM – hence there is lag when doing screen intensive work. It is an average screen appropriate to the price of the unit. It would benefit from 4GB of ram.
It has a USB3.0 and USB 2.0 port, Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi N, full size HDMI out, webcam, microphone, speakers and weights 1.25kg. Battery life - claimed as 8.5 hours.
The keyboard lacks ‘F’ keys – instead these are used for forward and back, refresh and a few system items. Caps lock (shift only), insert, and delete (backspace only) keys are missing – this reflects the browser’s editing capabilities.
I tested USB connections and it identified a flash drive and a WD, 2TB MyPassport. Note that there are very few other native drivers – most USB devices will not work.
The publicity states ‘it has everything you need to watch videos, play games, explore the Internet, and get work done.’
That may be true if you use Google Apps exclusively, have reasonable speed broadband, and have a Google Cloud Print enabled printer.
The Acer 720 is a competent, well made, Chromebook that would benefit from more ram.
Now read on to find out about Chrome OS