Acer Chromebook 13 review

Acer Chromebook 13 review: Acer’s new Chromebook comes with a larger, full-HD display

As Chromebooks grow in popularity they are also growing in screen size. Acer's Chromebook 13 joins a growing market of large-screen Chromebooks that make working on Google's OS much simpler. We review the Acer Chromebook 13 laptop. Also see: Best Chromebooks 2015.

While Chromebooks continue to grow in popularity there’s also been another area of expansion worth noting: screen size. The majority of the Google-powered laptops have, until now, defaulted to the highly portable, but somewhat diddy, 11.6-inch format. This makes sense as they are generally intended to be second- or third machines that you give to the kids, or take places where a £1000 MacBook Air might be overkill or potent thief fodder.  

But as the capabilities of the machines have increased, and they become more of a serious solution for many people’s laptop needs, those screens can be somewhat restrictive. We’re glad to see then that manufacturers are now starting to offer large versions; HP has its 14-inch model (the HP Chromebook 14), Asus does too, and recently we reviewed the new Toshiba Chromebook 2, which we firmly believe is the best in class at the moment. Acer now throws its hat into the ring with a new 13.3-inch variant to accompany its very fine C720 range of smaller devices. Also see: Best budget laptops 2015 

Acer Chromebook 13 review: Construction 

The white plastic chassis of the Acer Chromebook 13 is pretty unremarkable, if truth be told. The matt finish is certainly preferable to some glossier machines we’ve encountered, but the chunky hinge area looks perfunctual and somewhat bland design-wise.  

The joins feel sturdy though, which is the most important thing, and there are several useful ports scattered around the body. The left flank offers a USB 3.0 port and an SD card reader, while the right houses the headphone port and charging socket. This might seem a little miserly, but around the back there are also an additional USB 3.0 and HDMI output, presumably arranged this way as the slim sides of the machine offer little room for ports of this size.  

We have to say, after using a similarly designed Samsung Chromebooks for years, that having USB ports at the back is not an ideal placement. Sure, it means you can taper the flanks and avoid bulky construction, but from a user point of view it’s just a bit awkward. Of course Apple do exactly the same thing on its desktops with the iMac and Mac Mini, but we think it’s stupid on them too. This frugality of design hasn’t really born fruit weight-wise either as the Acer Chromebook 13 feels a little hefty at around three and half pounds. Not excessive, but you do notice it.  

Opening up the Acer Chromebook 13 reveals a clean, spacious keyboard set in black to nicely contrast the white body. In use it’s responsive and easy to type on, although we would prefer if manufacturers stopped placing keys so close to the enter key. It’s a niggle, but one that makes little sense to us, especially on a simple machine like a Chromebook. Also see: Best laptops 2015. 

The trackpad is smooth and accurate, with all the multi-touch, navigation gestures included in ChromeOS executed with little fuss. Of course, one of the main features of the Acer Chromebook 13 is the screen, which boasts a full-HD resolution of 1920x1080 pixels. This is another relatively new thing in Chromebooks, with only the mega-expensive Chromebook Pixel and Toshiba’s Chromebook 2 being able to make such a claim.  

The difference between those devices and this, though, is that the others come with IPS panels; Acer has opted to use the more standard TN display on its machine. The difference is stark. While the rendering is sharp, colours are muted and pale, and the frosty panel just looks somewhat lacklustre when compared to the vibrant Toshiba.  

In fact, that machine is really the biggest problem for the Acer Chromebook 13. Six months ago this device would have been very impressive and, to be fair, in many ways it still is, but it’s hard to recommend when you know that for only a small amount more you can get a machine that has a far better display.  

All that being said, the Acer Chromebook 13 does have a lot going for it. The NVIDIA Tegra K1 Quad-Core CPU is fast, and was able to cope with plenty of open tabs, streaming video in the background, and barely skipped a beat as we continued browsing various websites. This is aided in no small measure by the 4GB of RAM under the hood, something we’re very glad to see as the 2GB often found in earlier Chromebooks could result in stifled performance.  

In our Sunspider benchmarks the Acer scored 660ms, which placed it at the lower end of the scale, but in everyday use we found the device quick to load up web pages and had no complaints.  

Battery life is also good, with our tests draining it dry in around nine hours and twenty minutes, making the Acer one of the longest lasting Chromebooks yet.  

Sound is also decent, with the twin underside speakers outputting respectable  levels with a good range of tones. Wi-Fi supports 802.11ac, which is good to see, and while the 32GB of included hard disk space might seem small, it’s actually generous for this class of machine and is, of course, augmented by the two years of free 100GB Google Drive space that comes with all new Chromebooks. 

Acer Chromebook 13 review: ChromeOS 

The normal caveats apply when you consider buying a Chromebook. You have to be happy to do most of your activities in the cloud, preferably using Google services. In fact, you can’t actually log into a Chromebook without a Google account.  

You also need to factor in that Chromebooks can’t run Windows software such as Photoshop and iTunes, as they just won’t work on the platform and are unlikely to appear in the future. If this isn’t an issue to you then we think you’ll find ChromeOS a surprisingly easy to use system. The online apps, plus of course normal web-based services, mean you can get an awful lot done on one of these machines, and the streamlined interface (essentially a browser) will be familiar to everyone.  

Google’s office suite (Docs, Sheets, and Slides) is a very good option for normal day to day tasks that don’t rely too much on advanced formatting, plus you can also access the online versions of Word and Excel if you want your Microsoft fix.  

The Chrome App store continues to grow, with loads of useful tools for productivity, entertainment, and content creation, most of which are free. A number of apps can also work offline too, with the Google suite being the most noteable. Just start a document locally, then when you go online Drive will automatically sync it up to the cloud without you needing to do anything at all.  

We’ve been constantly impressed by the simplicity and functionality of ChromeOS over the past few years, and it really does seem to be maturing nicely in to a genuine alternative to Windows and OSX.   

Acer Chromebook 13: Specs

  • 2.1GHz NVIDIA Tegra K1 Quad-Core CPU 4GB DDR3L RAM 32GB SSD storage 13.3” TN display, full HD resolution. 2x USB 3.0 HDMI 3.5mm Headphone socket SD card reader 802.11ac WiFi Dimensions (HxWxD) 18x327x227.5mm Weight: 1.50kg / 3.36 lbs
  • 2.1GHz NVIDIA Tegra K1 Quad-Core CPU 4GB DDR3L RAM 32GB SSD storage 13.3” TN display, full HD resolution. 2x USB 3.0 HDMI 3.5mm Headphone socket SD card reader 802.11ac WiFi Dimensions (HxWxD) 18x327x227.5mm Weight: 1.50kg / 3.36 lbs

OUR VERDICT

Acer knows how to make good, solid, reliable Chromebooks, and this model is no exception. Performance was always decent, the screen size is a welcome addition, and the long battery life makes it a great option for travelling. It’s just a shame that the display panel doesn’t quite match up to that of the Toshiba Chromebook 2, which is similarly priced but does offer a richer experience. If you can accept the screen though, the Acer Chromebook 13 is a very nice machine that will get the job done.

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