Battle of the sub-$300 laptops: HP Chromebook 11 vs. Acer Chromebook C720

HP 11 and Acer C720

Looking to grab a new Google Chromebook without breaking the bank? Two recently released models are definite contenders for your money: The $249 Acer Chromebook C720 and the $279 HP Chromebook 11. Both are new but one actually uses a chip from last year.

HP 11 and Acer C720

If you guessed the lower-priced one, you’d be wrong though: It’s the HP model that keeps the 2012 ARM-based chip inside. That makes the less expensive Acer C720 with its next-generation Intel Celeron chip the easy choice, right? Not so fast. I’ve been using both models for the past two weeks and if I had to buy one of these two, my choice might surprise.

Specs are highly even

Here’s a quick look at the base specifications for each device. You can see that they’re pretty evenly matched on most.

HP 11 vs Acer C720

The Acer uses Intel’s latest chip built on the Haswell architecture, providing both solid performance and battery life. HP — or perhaps Google since it collaborated on the design — opted for last year’s Samsung chip typically found in smartphones and tablets. Acer gets the nod here for the better silicon inside.

HP surely wins out on the display, however: It’s far better than the Acer panel with vibrant colors, better viewing angles and, even though the resolution is the same, sharper text and images. Neither rivals the 2560 x 1700 resolution display on my Chromebook Pixel, but the HP is much closer to it than the Acer.

Acer fights back and wins in the battery life department, however. I’m generally getting 8 hours of usage on a single charge with the Acer C720. For the same type of use, I get close to the claimed 6 hours of run-time on the HP Chromebook 11; typically a bit more than 5.5 hours and once over 6 hours.

The performance difference is clear

There’s no doubt that using Intel’s newest Celeron was a smart move by Acer. In benchmark tests, the device tests at roughly twice as fast as the HP model. And real-world performance reflects those scores: Everything happens quicker on the Acer unit.

In the SunSpider 1.0.1 test for JavaScript, where a lower score is better, the Acer scores 347.6 milliseconds while the HP scores 676.8 milliseconds. Using Google’s own Octane benchmark test, where a higher score is better, the Acer earns 10,730 compared to the 5,300 mark on the HP. For reference, my Chromebook Pixel with third-generation Core i5 processor scores 256 milliseconds in SunSpider and 17,212 in Octane.

HP 11 top and C720 belowBenchmarks aside, you’ll see the performance benefit of the Acer if you were to duplicate your tasks on the HP. This shouldn’t surprise since the HP uses the same chipset in last year’s $249 Samsung Chromebook, which is a disappointment and missed opportunity.

The extra memory in the Acer will also allow for more open and active tabs than the HP. I didn’t notice any performance hit on the C720 until I had opened a good 20 tabs; not a standard practice for me but done for testing purposes. In contrast, the HP will bog down around 10 tabs as the lesser amount of memory gets gobbled up.

Ah, but what about other aspects and intangibles?

At this point, you’re likely saying, “Wow, the Acer is $30 cheaper and a better performer so it’s definitely the winner, right?” I’m not so sure due to some other aspects and the overall experience after using both devices for several days.

Although I value performance, I’d personally choose the HP Chromebook 11 for a few reasons. The build quality and design of the device is much better. As I said recently on our Chrome Show podcast, the Acer fells like a cheap notebook or a re-purposed netbook. It looks and feels very plasticky, the trackpad is very noisy when you click it and the keyboard is average at best.

Surely, personal preference comes into play here but the HP design is much nicer, looking like an older white Apple MacBook with fit and finish to match. The trackpad is much better and after days of typing, I actually like the HP keyboard better than that of the Chromebook Pixel. It’s that good.

Football on the HP screen

I’ve already mentioned the superior screen on the HP so I won’t rehash that, but when I think about devices, there are two main aspects I’d consider: Input and output. Input is the keyboard and trackpad while output is the display. Both are better on the HP and those are what you’ll be using all day to create and consume data. Yes, you’ll do so slower due to the Samsung chipset in the HP, so if performance is what you’re after, the Acer will win out.

One other interesting observation: The HP charges with any micro USB cord so you can effectively re-charge it with the same charger you have for your phone. Or you could carry the small charger HP includes with the Chromebook 11, which charges the laptop over micro USB in less than 3 hours and can recharge a phone at the same time through one of the USB ports. I mention this because it makes the HP a little easier to tote around. The Acer has a much larger proprietary charger. Heck, even the Pixel has one of those; maybe that’s why I enjoyed carrying the HP in San Francisco last week.

Ultimately, there is good and bad with both of these low-cost Chromebooks. And there are likely more new models right around the corner. If you’re in the market, I’d recommend getting some hands-on time with any and all of them because there’s something to be said for a device outside of its hardware specs on paper.


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