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Review: HP Chromebook 11 vs. Acer C720 Chromebook [Video]

When it comes to the latest Chromebooks, it’s a battle of design versus speed.

Earlier this month, HP and Acer came out with new laptops running on Chrome OS, Google’s Web-centric operating system.

The two machines are similar in size and price, but they could not be more different. While the $279 HP Chromebook 11 emphasizes aesthetics, the $249 Acer C720 Chromebook focuses on speed and efficiency.

I got to try both machines, and there’s a lot to like on each. Neither has major flaws, but neither stands out as a clear-cut favorite. Essentially, it comes down to what you’re looking for: something beautiful or something productive.

The two machines are essentially the same in size and weight. The HP Chromebook 11 is the lighter of the two at 2.3 pounds, but the Acer C720 Chromebook isn’t much heavier -- it weighs just 2.42 pounds. Both are also very thin. The Acer C720 Chromebook is 0.7 of an inch thick while the HP Chromebook 11 is just a sliver thinner at 0.69 of an inch.

The Acer C720 Chromebook is about a half-inch longer than its rival, but the HP Chromebook 11 is also a little bit wider. Ultimately, the two are very small, very portable computers.

LIVE UNBOXING: Acer C720 Chromebook [Video chat]

But after weight and size, the two become drastically different, starting with their design.

The HP Chromebook 11 uses a shiny, plastic shell with rounded edges and not a single, visible screw. The HP Chromebook 11 is beautiful to look at, and its design is reminiscent of the plastic MacBook laptops Apple sold during the 2000s.

And just like those MacBooks, the HP Chromebook 11 is available in black or white options. If you get white, you can also choose from blue, red, yellow or green for the computer’s details. Those details include a colorful border around the device’s keyboard and on the cushioned footpads located on the bottom of the computer. The HP Chromebook 11 is a very simple, very minimalist and very pretty machine that any Apple fan would admire.

The C720 Chromebook is the complete opposite.

Acer’s new laptop has a dark gray plastic shell, but unlike its rival, it has openings all over the place, for ports, vents and numerous screws. The design is also plastered with noticeable logos for Chrome, Acer and Intel. On the bottom of the laptop there are also four nubs that are used as footpads. While the HP Chromebook 11’s pads add to its pretty design, Acer’s adds only ugliness.

If you care about design, you won’t care for the C720 Chromebook.

The stark difference in how HP and Acer prioritized aesthetics carries over to the two Chromebook’s screens.

Both use 11.6-inch displays with identical 1,366-by-768 pixel resolutions, but in looks, the two screens are very different.

The Acer C720 Chromebook uses an old-fashioned matte screen that gets the job done but is nothing special. The HP Chromebook 11, meanwhile, uses a bright and glossy screen that is great to look at. You can adjust how you sit or the angle of the display without losing the image quality -- something that cannot be said for Acer’s machine. If you’re looking for a machine to watch movies and videos on, the HP Chromebook 11 is the better choice.

But once you get past the aesthetics, the Acer C720 Chromebook starts to shine. This machine wasn’t built for love at first sight. It was built to impress with its performance.

The Acer C720 Chromebook runs on an Intel Celeron 2955U processor that’s based on new Haswell micro-architecture, which in normal people speak means it’s fast and its battery is efficient. The speed is noticeable from the moment you start using the C720. During our unboxing of the device, the Acer machine powered on within a handful of seconds after I flipped it open.

And I cannot stress enough just how much faster the Acer C720 Chromebook is than the HP Chromebook 11. At one point during my testing, I tried performing a task on the HP Chromebook 11, but it was taking so much time that I decided to try the same on the C720, just to see if Acer’s machine could finish first. And sure enough, it did. That’s both a testament to the C720 Chromebook’s speed and the slowness of the HP Chromebook 11. If you care about speed, go with Acer.

LIVE UNBOXING: Google's HP Chromebook 11 laptop [Video chat]

The C720 Chromebook also has the longer-lasting battery life of the two new laptops. Acer lists the laptop as lasting 8.5 hours, while the HP Chromebook 11 only lasts six hours. For a laptop, 8.5 hours is very good, and I had no issues with the C720 Chromebook. It kept going strong for me, even while I used it to charge my iPhone.

With a speedy processor and a long lasting battery life, the Acer C720 Chromebook was clearly made for productivity, and that continues with the ports included on the machine. Acer’s new Chromebook features an HDMI port, an SD slot, a USB 2.0 port and a USB 3.0 port as well. You can hook up all sorts of things to Acer’s computer.

The HP Chromebook 11, on the other hand, is much more limited. It only comes with two USB 2.0 ports. However, one neat thing about the HP machine is that it can be charged using a micro-USB charger -- the same kind of charger that you use to charge most non-Apple smartphones and tablets. That’s handy because it lets you carry around one charger for all of your devices.

But you’ll want to make sure the charger you bring with you is the one that comes with the HP Chromebook 11. I tried charging the laptop with a charger I have for one of my Android smartphones, and the laptop quickly warned me that using that cable would require a long time to charge the computer.

Other differences worth pointing out about the machines were in the keyboards and trackpads.

I disliked the trackpad on the HP Chromebook 11. It felt like HP used cheap material, and I didn’t think it reacted to me as well as the trackpad on the C720 Chromebook.

But I did prefer the keyboard on the HP machine. It just felt easier to type on, so if you’re a writer, you might prefer the $279 laptop.

The last major difference between the two devices comes in the extra goodies that are bundled in.

The Acer C720 Chromebook comes with a free 30-day trial of Google Music All Access, while the HP Chromebook 11 comes with a 60-day trial of Google’s Spotify-like service. The HP Chromebook 11 also includes 12 sessions of free GoGo Inflight Internet. Both machines come with two years of 100 GB cloud storage through Google Drive. They also have 16 GB of internal storage.

Overall, I liked both devices, but for different reasons. If you’re going to buy one for yourself or as a gift, think about what you care about most. If you like beautiful design and a very nice screen, you’ll prefer the $279 HP Chromebook 11. If you like speed and productivity, the $249 Acer C720 Chromebook is the better choice for you. 

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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