High-performance hardware might be that which gets us the most excited, but sometimes it's also good to take a step back to the sensible basics. Acer has been putting some energy and thought into two new Chromebooks, the 11.6-inch C740 and the 15.6-inch C910. Both of these Chromebooks are aimed at the education market, and as such they are built to be tougher and more versatile for multiple users.
The 15.6-inch C910 comes with either an Intel Celeron 3205U processor or an Intel Core i3-5005U. This CPU is wired to 4 GB of DDR3 memory, and storage is handled by a 16 GB or 32 GB SSD. Screen options include a 1366 x 768 resolution on a TN panel or a Full HD IPS panel. It should manage about eight hours of battery life, which is enough to get through a school day. The entire unit weighs about 2.2 kg and is just shy of an inch thick (0.95").
The smaller 11.6-inch C740 comes with the same CPU options, along with a 16 GB SSD. Buyers can opt for 2 GB or 4 GB of DDR3 memory, but they're limited to a 1366 x 768 TN display panel. It weighs 1.3 kg, is 0.79" thick, and should manage about nine hours on a full charge.
Clearly, the highlight of these Chromebooks aren't their specifications, because those aren't all that impressive. Where Acer has decided to stand out with this release is the durability of the notebooks, because in schools not every young student handles the school laptops with equal care. One of the points that the company emphasized when we met with Acer representatives at CES was the work done on the hinges -- you can see that the new hinge extends much further along the side of the lid -- and the use of thicker plastic for the entire assembly, which together make the entire screen panel much tougher and more rigid than its older Chromebooks.
We were able to handle samples of both the old and new hinges, and although the new hinge isn't exactly as inflexible as steel, it's demonstrably stronger than the old one. That, combined with few other changes to the chassis, and Acer rates the laptops to be droppable onto corners from heights of up to 45 cm, and the screen covers can withstand up to 60 kg of force when closed.
Naturally, the units come with all the connectivity they need for the modern world too, including USB 3.0, 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, HDMI, and an SD card reader for transferring photographs or expanding storage.
Acer also believes that making Chromebooks stand out in the educational market will aid the adoption of Chrome OS, because students will learn to compute with it from a young age. Chrome OS is still a young operating system, and it isn't as capable as an operating system such as Windows 8, so convincing older users to use Chrome OS at all can be a bit challenging. Younger users who aren't accustomed to the Windows or OS X climate, however, may be more flexible.
The C740 will be available with a starting price of $279, and the C910 will start at $299. They should be available through retailers sometime in February.