Unless you’re a very early adopter or an avid fan of importing your kit, odds are that you haven’t had your hands on a Chromebook at all here in South Africa. But they’re finally arriving and Acer is bringing in some of the initial model. I managed to get my hands on the Acer Chromebook 11 – the C730 variant, in case you were wondering. There are other model numbers out there for the Chromebook 11 but I’m not concerned with those.
What I am concerned with is the Chromebook 11 in front of me right now. What can you do with a Chrome OS-sporting, low-spec, low-storage notebook that packs in just 16GB of storage and needs an internet connection to work really effectively? As it turns out, quite a bit.
The Chromebook 11 isn’t a whole lot to look at. There are a couple of differences from your standard notebook, most notably the Chrome logo on the lid but the lightweight chassis is also something that you’re going to notice. The keyboard is also not quite a heavy-duty addition but someone who isn’t intent on punching their fingertips through the T and D keys will find it suffices.
The display isn’t any great shakes either, an 11.6-inch, 1,366 x 768 TFT screen (non-touch). Essentially, if you’ve fiddled with an Acer screen in the past five years then you know what to expect from the screen. It’s bright enough, and Acer have thoughtfully included keyboard-based brightness controls so you can prolong the battery life (more on that later).
Acer’s Chromebook 11 is surprisingly quick off the mark for a dual-core Celeron. The 2.16GHz N2840 chip is the sort of processor that Windows 8 would eat for breakfast and still have space for an ARM CPU but on Chrome OS and with 2GB of RAM backing it, not to mention the NAND flash storage, the Chromebook 11 is quick to boot. It’s also quick to everything else, provided you’re making use of Google’s services. Chrome loads in mere moments, you’ll see YouTube or Google Docs (all of which are essential components of use) pop up like it was anticipating your button presses and Gmail and Hangouts are both more responsive than I’ve seen on many an Windows PC.
But that speed is confined to basic tasks, like word processing, checking Facebook and watching Russian dash-cam videos (What? It was a weird weekend, okay?). The Chromebook 11 isn’t really outfitted for more than that. Any gaming you’re going to be doing will be confined to what is available from the Chrome store and not just because of the Chrome OS. The Chromebook 11 is like the old-style netbook you always wanted – fast, responsive and, ultimately, useful – but it’s still technically a netbook.
But it’s a silent netbook. Even the little 10-inchers that Samsung used to come out with made at least some noise. Here there’s nary a fan or mechanical part in sight so it’s quiet enough to make you question whether it’s running or the screen has just burnt the last image in. Even without fans, Acer have arranged matters that you can use the Chromebook 11 as a true laptop. No roasted chestnuts for us this time around, no matter how many full-length Louis CK shows are watched in a row.
I’ve really covered usage, for the most part, but the Chromebook’s keyboard and trackpad are… different. There are a set of controls in place of the function keys in the top row and the chiclet keyboard is actually pretty easy to type on. The trackpad is also smooth as butter but users will find that it takes a bit of getting used to. That’s because there’s a new control method to learn, one that bears a closer resemblance to the two-fingered clicking you’ll do on a Mac. It’s a bit odd doing so on a Windows-looking machine but it ups usability considerably once you get the hang of it. Swiping to browse on Chrome is especially fun.
But how long are you going to get to use this Chromebook for at a time? Quite a long while (Told you I’d get to the battery), as it turns out. Instead of giving you an actual length of time, which can be measured in things like hours, I’d rather tell you a story. After using the Chromebook for an extended period (let’s say three hours. It was more but let’s be sparing), it was placed on charge for the evening. The next morning it worked for a further three hours, with about 4 hours on standby. About this time I noticed that the wall socket hadn’t been turned on the previous evening, so the Chromebook 11 was running off a single charge. So… yeah, expect about 8 to 10 hours of constant use.
The Chromebook 11 from Acer is the solution to a certain type of computer user’s problems. It’s got legs for days, blisters though basic tasks and browsing and is intuitively easy to use. But you’re going to feel limited by Google’s services eventually, even though they’re a breeze to use and automatically save to Google Drive. But if you’re just after a general-purpose or student machine, then the Acer Chromebook 11 is well worth a look.