Face-off: which laptop would you buy?

There’s a $350 laptop you can buy that was described in the following way:

Design: Cheap, net-book like design. Entire thing is made of plastic. Palm rest that flexes when you grip it. [2.8 pounds so] weighty compared to the competition. Slightly thicker too.

Display: Poor-quality display. 1,366 x 768 screen [where if you] dip the screen too far forward, everything very quickly becomes washed out.

Keyboard: Underlying panel will bend a bit if you type vigorously enough. If you hit them too gently, you’re likely to suffer some missed key presses. The keyboard probably won’t recognize every single keystroke.

Performance: The performance gains here aren’t so huge.

Battery: 7 hours and 53 minutes of continuous video playback.

Software: Cannot, in good faith, recommend [the OS] to everyone. There will be people…who need the flexibility to install whatever apps they want.

What would you rate this device? Keep that number in mind.

Now here’s another $350 laptop you can compare it to —

Design: Cheap build materials. Whole thing weighs 2.4 pounds.

Display: 1,366 x 768 IPS screen offers wide viewing angles. Wish the screen were brighter.

Keyboard: It’s reasonably easy to type on. The underlying panel feels a bit unsteady, and the keys are quite noisy.

Performance: Solid performance. Performance almost always felt smooth. Lightweight apps…ran smoothly with no hiccups.

Battery: Long battery life. 10 hours and 40 minutes of video playback.

Software: Runs traditional desktop apps. Almost no bloatware.

Now what would you rate this second device? Given that it’s lighter, features a better screen, has a better keyboard, lasts nearly 3 hours longer on battery, able to run more apps, and yet still costs the same?

And oh, I forgot to mention, the second laptop is actually a 2-in-1 hybrid. The screen is detachable so the device can be used as a tablet; a nice convenience if you don’t want to spend money on a tablet.

As you might have guessed, the first laptop described is a Chromebook-based, Acer C720 while the second is a Windows-based, ASUS Transformer Book T100.

Dana Wollman of Engadget reviewed both products, and gave both products an equal score of 81%. The above descriptions are actual quotes. I didn’t paraphrase, it’s what Dana actually wrote about each device. Don’t believe me? Read the reviews yourself:

Again, these aren’t two reviews from different people; these are from the same person.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the power of expectations.

On an absolute basis, one device is clearly better than the other; but the expectations for what a Chromebook is supposed to do is so much lower that relatively, the Acer C720 feels like a better device than it really is. The ASUS Transformer T100, on the other hand, gets compared to other Windows laptops (or the iPad Air) and doesn’t look as good in the comparison.

When you strip those pre-conceived notions away, however, pound-for-pound, the ASUS Transformer Book T100 is a better buy than the Acer C720.

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