Acer C7 Chromebook– An interesting option

About a year ago we ordered one of the early Chromebooks to evaluate. We rather liked the concept of having a browser-based, inexpensive laptop that worked well with Google Apps, but the model we had was flawed in that purely having a browser interface on the screen was confusing, and swapping between tabs to write a paper (such as from Google Docs to resource pages) seems like it could have been a challenge. It also wasn’t clear if off-line files would work, since it only had 16 gigs of solid state memory, etc. Finally, the pricing for the domain management suite (free for one year, massively expensive the following years) just didn’t make sense.

Over the past year, we believe a lot of these issues were addressed. I don’t have confirmation yet, but I believe the pricing structure for ongoing management from the Google Domain console has improved. Also, we ordered in an Acer C7 Chromebook for evaluation (£199):

acer-c7-chromebook

Unlike the Chromebook we tested last year, this one has a 320 GB hard drive and an overall better build and feel, despite being over £100 less expensive.  The keyboard feels fine, despite an unusual split return key, and the screen is large and bright.  Number one problem: only a four-hour battery life, which is irritating but not a deal-breaker in a £200 machine.  As a comparison, we paid close to £74 each just to have a bluetooth ZAGG keyboard and case for the iPads– maybe for keyboarding, it would be better to have 10 Chromebooks backing up 20 iPads, instead of 20 iPads with bluetooth keyboards?

Just as importantly, the Chrome OS now has a windowed environment, meaning that multiple Chrome windows can be opened, and not just tabs.  The offline files option for Google Docs now appears to work (also enabling document creation when the Chromebook is offline), and it is fairly easy to drag files from the Chromebook to a jump drive, and vice versa.  Downloading a basic image editing app, we found it could talk directly to our Picasa cloud-based galleries, edit images, and then save copies to the local hard drive.

Not all reviews of the C7 have been positive– there are other Chromebooks with better battery life, faster solid state drives, and perhaps better keyboards and less size and weight.  For the price point, however, the C7 is interesting.  Also, if we can manage the device from our Google Domain Control panel, then all the better.

In our current scope of tech integration, iPads are doing great in grade four and possibly lower, and Macbook Airs are doing great in grade seven and higher.  In grades five and six, there are great things being done with collaborative documents in Google Apps and other online services, but these objectives don’t need Macbook power or iPad touch interfaces.  Maybe in that niche, a Chromebook could be a well-fitting tool for the core work, with iPads or Macbooks as supplemental.  We’ll look into it.

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