Acer C720 Chromebook Review

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Software and User Experience

Here’s where we get down to the details of Chrome OS and how it all works. First of all, setup (“installation” would be a misnomer) could not be simpler. It goes like this: You turn on the machine. You select your language and keyboard, choose a WiFi network (and enter the password), agree to the Google Chrome OS terms, and sign in to your Google account. It's similar to an Android tablet or handset setup, actually.

As soon as you log in to your account, you’re ready to go. You can fiddle with the account settings and your picture if you like, but you don’t need to--Google just pulls in everything from your Google account. And by “everything”, we mean your Chrome tabs, Chrome Web Store apps, extensions, settings, autofill, history, themes, bookmarks, and passwords.

Then, thankfully, you can encrypt all your data with a passphrase.

We didn’t time it, but you could probably grab a new machine and be up and running within a minute or so.

When you’re all logged in and ready to go, you’ll be greeted by a mostly blank desktop, albeit one with a lovely lake-and-mountains sort of wallpaper. The lower right corner is home to the time, WiFi status, battery indicator, and a tiny thumbnail of your profile picture. When you need more in the way of settings to mess with, click anywhere on those items and you’ll see some more settings including WiFi and Bluetooth options and volume controls. From there, click Settings to see more options, including further network controls, appearance, touchpad and keyboard settings, display settings, and which search engine you want to use by default. (No, you’re actually not stuck with Google search if you don’t want).

In this area you can also manage users, privacy, accessibility, and much more. It’s worth noting that if you want to dig deeper into the system, you can enter “chrome://system/” in the browser bar to pull up hardware specifications and BIOS information.

The lower left corner is where you’ll find all your apps and Chrome OS’s version of a Start button (which simply launches the web browser). The toolbar there includes shortcuts to Gmail, Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Google Play Music, although you can pin any apps there that you want. Just to the left of that is the Apps button that pulls up all of the apps you have on the machine.

It’s here that you’ll see just how many cloud-based applications Google has to offer, in case you forgot. On the first “page”, there’s also a handy Get Started app as well as Files, a local storage manager app (which we’ll discuss in more detail later). Google-made apps spill over onto the next page as well and include Google Play Books, Movies, and Games in addition to a calculator, camera app, photos app, Chrome Remote Desktop app, and something called Google Keep, which is a lightweight note-taking app.

It’s standard for Chromebooks to offer extra goodies, and accordingly the Acer C720 comes with a 60-day free trial of Google Play All Music Access, 100GB of Google Drive storage free for two years, and twelve free GoGo in-air Internet passes.

Most people know about Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube, and so on, so we'll spare you further examination of them, but a couple of the other baked-in apps bear a closer look.

The camera app is straightforward and simple, which is good for a camera that’s just a webcam. You can snap self-portraits and apply fun filters, and you can save images that you capture to Files. Google Keep is a nifty little app that lets you jot down notes to yourself, create lists, insert images to notes, and set alarms and reminders. Other, more popular note-taking apps do all of those things and more, but it’s nice to have one on hand anyway.

You can get plenty of additional apps from the Chrome Web Store, which offers products that run the gamut from productivity to games to social apps and includes utilities, extensions, and themes, as well. The selection is merely fair at this point, but it's growing. In many cases, though, these “apps” are actually glorified bookmarks to websites, which evinces the whole concept of the Chromebook being web-based. The point is, you might not spend too much time fretting about whether or not the Chrome Web Store has an adequate population of apps; the world wide web is a Chromebook’s app store -- at least in terms of the current iteration of the OS and what Google offers.  This may or may not be a concern for you, depending on your own personal use case.

Of course, there are also some offline apps that you can snag from the Chrome Web Store, and Chromebooks do offer some functionality when disconnected from the Internet. Let's explore...

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