Touch this! Acer C720P Chromebook white

Consumer Electronics Show 2014 starts next week, and that means tech companies tripping over one another to get the goods front and center early. No one really waits for Day One anymore, and Acer picks Day -4 to announce another touchscreen Chromebook -- this one in Moonstone White. Moonstone? Does it light up the Google cloud at night?

The white C720P joins the darker sibling launched in late November. Touch is the C720P's defining characteristic for the price. Google is the only other company selling a touchscreen Chromebook, and it starts much higher -- $1,299. Anyone looking for the feature on a budget laptop running Chrome OS, Acer C720P is it.

I must say that from the photos, the Moonstone White Chromebook sure is pretty. Design is a benefit, too, and with PCs being so personal it is a defining feature for many buyers. I'm surprised Acer doesn't jack up the price like Apple did (by $150) for black MacBook eight years ago.

Looking outside in, configurations are the same: 1.4GHz Intel Celeron 2955U "Haswell" processor; 11.6-inch display with 1366 by 768 resolution; 2GB memory; 32GB SSD; SD card slot; Bluetooth 4; WiFi A/N; and Chrome OS. The laptop weighs 2.8 pounds. Acer claims 7.5 hours battery life, which sounds right for the microprocessor. Price, like the original: $299.99

As someone using Chromebook for more than three years, I have strong opinions about memory and recommend against 2GB configurations for anything other than casual web browsing or writing. My experience: 4GB delivers a much smoother experience that is more satisfying for anyone moving from Linux, OS X, or Windows. Acer sells the darker model with 4GB, but strangely with half the storage space, for $329.99. There are no immediate plans to offer the configuration in white. I asked about user memory upgrades, and Acer says such tinkering can be done but voids the one-year warranty. So upgrade at your own risk.

There is much Chromebook buzz right now, particularly with Dell shipping its first model this year, and HP and Google designing one together. Like the C720P, the Dell and HP laptops, both named Chromebook 11 (How bloody confusing is that?), have 11.6-inch screens -- but no touch.

Success Story

In three years, Google has taken Chromebook from concept (December 2010) to early market success. By December 2013, every major Windows OEM had committed to the rival platform. Last week of the year, Amazon revealed that Samsung and Acer Chromebooks were the first and third top-selling holiday season laptops, respectively. Acer C720 (non-P model) and Samsung Series 3 ranked first and second in the category, respectively, at the end of 2013.

Through end of November, Chromebook accounted for 21 percent of preconfigured desktop and notebook sales through U.S. commercial channels, according to NPD. Business and education are the two segments showing most interest in Chromebook. Both are Dell mainstays, which partly explains the company's sudden willingness to go Chromebook and to provide tools designed for both markets. Dell validates the market for early supporters Acer and Samsung.

Chromebook pioneer Samsung greatly benefitted, selling to education and government, mainly during second and third quarter. "While HP and Lenovo have traditionally dominated sales in these channels, the addition of Chromebooks allowed Samsung to become the third-largest PC brand in this market during the year-to-date", Stephen Baker, NPD vice president of industry analysis, says.

But among PC manufacturers, only Acer offers touch Chromebook. Will the feature bring buyers? The first C720P launched too recently to say, but the company's commitment to a new color and offering a 4GB SKU for the original expresses much confidence.

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