Hands-On With Acer's Touchscreen Chromebook

Yesterday, Acer launched the C720P Chromebook in Australia -- the first model with an inbuilt touchscreen. Like the recent spate of Windows 8 notebooks, its LED boasts 10-point touch functionality for added "fun and immersion". Is there actually any point to this feature in Google's Chrome OS? Apparently, that will largely depend on what developers choose to do with it.

The Acer C720P is an 11.6-inch Chromebook that retails for $499. It comes with an LED back-lit display with a native resolution of 1366x768 pixels, an Intel Celeron 2955U CPU, a 16GB solid state drive and 2GB of DDR3 memory. However, its main claim to fame is its touch screen functionality, which Acer is billing as a world-first for a Chromebook.

During yesterday's official launch event, we quizzed Acer's head of commercial client products Daniel Goffredo about the reasoning behind adding a touchscreen to a Chromebook. As you'd expect, the decision has more to do with future applications than current real-world use. Think of it as a 'chicken before the egg' deal.

"The main reason why we're going down the touchscreen road is to encourage developers to start making applications that are touch-sensitive," Goffredo explained to Lifehacker.

"At this stage, it's more about the browsing experience and manipulating photos; zooming in and zooming out. But we do see the market maturing as more and more [touch] Chromebooks go out."


Goffredo said that Acer wasn't just testing the waters with the C720P and will be fully committed to touch-based Chromebooks moving forward:

"We've got a detailed roadmap in place. This year we'll be releasing another touch-based product. The current plan is to release a non-touch and a touch model of each product. So its definitely a big inclusion in our roadmap moving forward."

We had a brief play with the Acer C720P's touch screen and found it to be reasonably responsive, although it's obvious that the OS wasn't designed with touch functionality in mind.

Moving applications around the screen was second-nature, but the interface struggled when it came to manipulating small icons. It took several attempts to close a browser window, for instance. If you ever attempted to use touch on a Windows 7 device, you'll have a rough idea of how it handles.

If you discount the new touchscreen, the C720P is a gentle evolution of Acer's previous C720 Chromebook -- notable improvements include a HD webcam optimised for Google Hangouts, swappable RAM and the aforementioned Intel Haswell chipset. It also comes in a dinky white finish and 100GB of free Google Drive storage for the first two years after purchase.

Otherwise, the specifications and connectivity options remain identical to the original Acer C720 Chromebook. You can still buy the C720 direct from Google for $399; which means you're paying a $100 premium for the enhancements mentioned above. This seems pretty reasonable to us -- especially if you're enamored with the idea of a touch screen.

7.9 inch tablet launched

In addition to the C720P Chromebook, Acer has launched a more conventional touch device: the 7.1-inch Iconia A1-830 tablet. This is essentially Acer's stab at an iPad Mini, although with an RRP of $249 it's significantly cheaper.

The Iconia A1-830 boasts an IPS display with a native resolution of 1024x768 pixels and is 8.15mm thick. It comes with an Intel Atom Z2560 processor clocked at 1.6GHz, 1GB of onboard LPDDR2 SDRAM and 16GB of inbuilt storage all running on Android 4.2.1.

According to Acer, the A1-830 provides up to 7.5 hours of battery life in-between charges which is roughly in line with most seven inch tablets. Other notable specifications include 178 degree viewing angles, a 1080p Full HD camera, microSD slot for expandable storage and a microUSB port.

This is all pretty standard stuff for an Android tablet, although the aesthetics are a cut above most sub-$250 models we've seen. If you're looking for a budget alternative to the iPad Mini and don't mind using Android, this unit could be worth a look.

The Acer C720P Chromebook and Iconia A1-830 are available now for $499 and $249 respectively. (New Zealanders get to pay $599 and $249.)

What's your take on touch-enabled Chromebooks and touchscreens in general? Are manufacturers trying to force-feed us an unwieldy gimmick or is this truly where the future of computing lies? Share your opinion in the comments section below.