$249 buys more computer than you might think
The perfect Chromebook has long been a pipe dream. All Google needed to do was release a model with great battery life and speedy performance for a price that well undercuts a typical Windows laptop. But thatís apparently easier said than done. Weíve seen a variety of Chromebooks come and go over the years, but none have ever truly satisfied those three criteria. The beautiful Chromebook Pixel has a tremendous display, great build quality, and snappy performance, but its middling battery life and stratospheric price tag keep it firmly in the luxury camp. More recently, Google made a big fuss about the HP Chromebook 11, and while it has an attractive price and some novel features, its performance and battery life left quite a bit to be desired.

Enter Acerís Chromebook C720. An update to last yearís pretty terrible C7, the C720 is sleeker, lighter, and faster than before. And most importantly, it promises more than double the battery life of the previous model while still improving performance. Acer is offering all of this for a mere $249, which is $50 more than the C7 but still $30 less than the HP Chromebook 11, and well below what competing Windows 8 or 8.1 laptops sell for. Is this the Chromebook Iíve been dreaming of since Google launched the initial CR-48 prototype Chromebook in 2010? Has Acer finally hit the right combination of price, performance, and battery life to make the ideal Chromebook?

The C720 is strikingly mundane, pedestrian, and downright boring compared to the fun coloring and slick design of the HP Chromebook 11. Itís dark-gray-matte plastic everywhere, save for matte-black plastic on the bottom. It comes in gray, and only gray. The only bit of gloss is found in the bezel surrounding the 11.6-inch display, and sure enough, itís a fingerprint magnet. But the lid of the C720 doesnít show any fingerprints, which is in stark contrast to the fingerprint-magnet Chromebook 11. While the HP brings back fond memories of the plastic MacBook, the Acer pretty much looks like any other small laptop. The Chromebook 11 might be the fashionista of this yearís Chromebook lineup, but the C720 is very much the workhorse, and I prefer its utilitarianism.

Aside from being obviously plastic, the build of the C720 is surprisingly solid. Compare it to the lousy build of the C7, and itís hard to believe the same company actually made both laptops. The hinge is appropriately stiff, the chassis doesnít have any noticeable flex, and all of the seams are nice and tight. The C720 doesnít have the CR-48ís matte rubber, but it doesnít feel offensively cheap either.
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--jeremy