Hands on: HP Chromebook 14 v Acer C720 Chromebook

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The HP Chromebook 14 v Acer's C720 Chromebook.
The HP Chromebook 14 v Acer's C720 Chromebook.

HP ChromeBook 14

When HP sent their new 14" Chromebook for me to review, I wasn't quite expecting what came out of the box, a vivid coral pink unit, that is hard to lose and is definitely eye-catching.

Interesting colour scheme aside, HP's Chromebook 14 offers incredibly good value for money. Priced at a wallet pleasing $499, it delivers some pretty serious bang for buck value. For that price you get a 14" screen, an Intel processor, and a heap of ports plus connectivity options.

Chrome OS is starting to gain some momentum and using HP's device, it isn't hard to see why. I had previously written off the whole Chromebook thing as a browser in box, but the HP Chromebook felt like a fully-fledged notebook PC in use.

Look and Feel
Did I mention that the review unit was coral pink? That mightn't be my colour of choice, but its design, look and feel makes for a pleasant move away from the faux silver or Tupperware black notebooks we've all become so used to.

The Chromebook 14's chassis is covered in a rubbery plastic finish that is both comfy and practical in use. It mightn't be a Macbook Pro or one of HP's slinky Ultrabooks, but I think that might be the whole point of this design. I liked it.

Weighing in at 1.85 kilos and 20.5mm thick, HP's Chromebook 14 isn't terribly portable, but at just shy of $500 for a 14" notebook PC, it is still pretty remarkable nonetheless.

In use it felt surprisingly sturdy and seemed to be well-made with careful attention paid to its assembly. The big take out here is that even though it sports a bargain basement sticker price, HP's Chromebook 14 doesn't feel economy class in use.

The Chromebooks I'd previously seen tended to be small and pretty bare-bones. HP have thankfully decided that the Chromebook 14 should be more PC-like and have given it plenty of connectivity options. For a start there's an SD card slot, an HDMI port, plus three USB jacks (two of which are USB 3.0). Once again considering the sticker price, this was a pleasant surprise.

In Use
About the only real negative I could find with the Chromebook 14 was its display. It might be 14", with a reasonable 1366 x 768 resolution, but in use I found it to be slightly murky and it didn't have fantastic viewing angles. With a pixel density of just 111 PPI, pixelisation was noticeable and smaller fonts were jagged and sometimes hard to read. For under $500 its not a big surprise, although it was still plenty usable.

On a more positive note, the Chromebook was a joy to use. I was particularly taken with its trackpad - a lot of other notebook PCs costing vastly more could take some learnings here. It was not only accurate but surprisingly smooth to use. I also liked its keyboard although the fact that the Caps Lock key had been replaced with a global search button took a wee bit of getting used to. The larger form factor also meant there was room for a palmrest, and the keyboard wasn't cramped either. Nice.

Under the Hood
The Chromebook 14 is powered by an Intel Celeron 2955U CPU which is uses Haswell architecture, but is intended for lower-end devices. This saw the Chromebook 14 being pretty zippy in use and the Chromebook never choked, stuttered or slowed down.

It might only have a 16GB solid-state drive, but most of what you're likely to need a Chromebook for doesn't need to be stored locally. The SSD also meant that the Chromebook 14 booted almost instantly and was virtually completely silent in use.

Another side benefit of using Haswell silicon is battery life. With typical use, its battery lasted just over 9 hours, meaning an entire work day with constant use, which isn't half bad considering it packing a large 14" screen.

Chrome OS
From a hardware perspective the HP Chromebook 14 was nothing short of brilliant.

Looking at things from a software perspective however reveals some shortcomings that are probably mostly due to Chrome OS's lack of maturity compared to Windows, OSX or Linux.

From a functionality standpoint there's really not much that you can't do with ChromeOS that you can do with other OS's. Trouble is Chrome OS is still somewhat clunky and awkward in use. Moving between open windows isn't always intuitive. I also had to muck about a fair bit before I got the hang of simple tasks, and finding/managing installed apps can be a little fun after a while.

For basic use such as social networking, surfing and email, Chrome OS is perfectly fine, but power users seeking to do more may be initially frustrated.

Verdict
ChromeOS is here with a vengeance. Cheap doesn't necessarily mean nasty either as HP's Chromebook 14 is a great mid-range device sporting a solid build, quirky style and an amazing bang per buck spec. Achieving a sub $500 price tag did see HP making sacrifices, but its screen is about the only place is were it was really noticeable. Other than that, the HP delivered solid performance, great battery life, and solid usability thanks to decent trackpad and keyboard combo.


Acer C720 Chromebook

Acer's ultra affordable Chromebook, the C720 is proof that good things do come in small packages. It mightn't be an all-conquering power rig packed with bells and whistles featuring more grunt than a Bacon factory, but it is an ultra-petite Chromebook that proved to be pretty good at basic tasks such as email, the web and Twitter with an equally compelling sticker price.

Look and Feel
Sporting a 11.6" 1,366 x 768 display, the C720 isn't a big machine, resembling a netbook size-wise. In this case small is good as the C720's size makes it an ideal travel companion. Not only does the C720 take up hardly any luggage space, but it also weighs in at a mere 1.25kg.

Looks-wise the C720 isn't hugely exciting. It's not crafted out of exotic alloys and isn't incredibly innovative to look at, being hued out of grey plastics. But it is still a revolutionary piece of gear when its zippy performance and sharp pricing is factored into the mix.

Plain Jane looks aside, the C720 also manages to cram plenty of connectivity options into its petite chassis.

For a start there's a full-sized HDMI port on its left hand side which when used with the SD card slot on its right-hand side makes it ideal for viewing holiday snaps on the hotel room telly. The C720 also sports a USB 3.0 port on its left and a USB (2.0) socket on its right hand side. Dual-band wireless and Bluetooth along with16GB of flash storage is also tucked away in the C720's innards.

In Use
As you'd expect with a chromebook, getting set up was a pretty bomb-proof undertaking. I simply entered my Gmail credentials and voila chrome extensions, themes and apps synced. Five minutes later I was good to go. Another pleasant surprise was its boot time - which was a blistering 10-15 seconds. In standby, startup was near instantaneous. When its lid was popped open it was good to go.

In use the C720's dual-core 1.4GHz Intel Celeron and 2GB of RAM combined with Chrome OS to make the C720 feel pretty zippy, no matter what I threw at it - HD video streamed no problem - even when I had a bazillion different web apps running in separate tabs.

As with HP's Chromebook 11, the C720's screen was its only real weak point. Not only did it look dim compared with other notebooks I had scattered around the house, but it also seemed washed out, lacking in contrast. Given the C720's very reasonable sticker price I wasn't too surprised, and was pleased to note that the screen appeared to be the only real compromise Acer had made to achieve such a reasonable price tag.

That minor grizzle aside, there was also a whole lot to like with the C720. While it took a small period of re-adjustment (as with any new notebook PC), its keyboard was fine - if a little bit cramped. Its touchpad was however great even if it also felt a tad small - neither of which was terribly surprising given the C720's netbook-like form factor.

One area where the C720 really shone was battery life, in which it managed to wring just shy of 6 hours out of its 3-cell battery with typical use before demanding a connection with it's AC adaptor and a wall socket.

Verdict: Solid Bang per Buck Value
The C720 offers pretty compelling value for money. Although it retails for a very reasonable $429, A quick check online also revealed it can be bought for as little as $398.98 with some shopping about, making it a highly affordable piece of gear.

Being a Chromebook there's also a growing base of apps available, and many are free. About the only notable absence on the app front was Skype, and even that wasn't a biggie thanks to Google Hangouts. If you're a Google user and are after a solid travelling companion or a second backup notebook, the C720 is a great choice, batting well above its pint-sized price tag.

Tech Specs
RRP: $429
Operating System: Chrome OS
CPU: 1.4Ghz dual core Intel Celeron
Memory: 2 GB
Storage: 16 GB
Display: 11.6" (1366 x 768) Active Matrix TFT LCD, LED Backlit
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11a/b/g/n, 2x USB
Battery: 3-cell Lithium Polymer (Li-Polymer)
Dimensions: Height: 19.1 mm x Width: 288 mm x Depth: 202 mm
Weight: 1.25 kg

- NZ Herald

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