Meet Acer’s Chromebook 13

The Google Chromebook has a rather interesting history, starting as an always connected device with all your data stored in the cloud and slowly but steadily transforming into a platform that can function as a full laptop replacement. That’s not to say that everything you might want to do on a modern laptop is possible, but if it can do 95% of what most users need that could very well be enough, and there are clear benefits to Chrome OS as well.

Perhaps the strongest point in favor of Chrome OS is that it is a closed ecosystem. Unless you enable developer features, you’re effectively locked in to a collection of curated apps, all available through the Chrome Web Store. That being the case, viruses and other malware are pretty much a non-issue, at least in my experience, which removes a potentially huge support headache for users and administrators.

Along with the curated ecosystem, you also store most of your files in the cloud on Google’s various services (or in another cloud, e.g. Microsoft’s OneDrive), which means if something really goes south on a Chromebook – i.e. if the hardware malfunctions and can’t be fixed, or if your Chromebook is stolen – all you need to do is get a replacement Chromebook, log in, and outside of files you may have stored locally you can pick up right where you left off. It’s a benefit that can be extremely useful in a variety of other situations as well, like school classrooms where students don’t need a personal Chromebook, or offices where Chromebooks can be shared with no real concern for ownership.

Of course storing files in the cloud is something you can do with any laptop or other electronic device, but Chromebooks are basically purpose built for this sort of use. And there are other great benefits as well, like generally improved battery life relative to similarly equipped Windows laptops, a more responsive user interface given the limited hardware resources, and of course cost. That last point is a bit less of a clear win over Windows laptops these days, as Windows 8.1 with Bing has been able to effectively match the price point of Chromebooks.

Brett recently took a look at the HP Stream 11 for example, which costs $199 (and occasionally less); it’s definitely a $200 laptop, though, with compromises in many key areas. So let’s look at the Acer Chromebook 13 specifications, and we’re primarily going to be interested in seeing how it stacks up against other Chromebooks as well as inexpensive Windows laptops.

Acer Chromebook 13 Specifications
Processor NVIDIA Tegra K1
Quad-core Cortex A15 2.1GHz
192 CUDA core GPU)
Connectivity 1x1 dual-band 802.11ac
Bluetooth 4.0
Memory 2GB DDR3L
Storage 16GB eMMC
Battery 4-cell 15.2V 3220mAh 48Wh
I/O 2 x USB 3.0
HD webcam
headphone/mic jack
SD Card reader
Dimensions 12.9" x 9.0" x 0.71" / 328 x 229 x 18 mm
Display 13.3-inch TN 1920x1080
Weight 3.31 lbs. / 1505g
Price $300 MSRP, $250 Online

The big differentiator with Acer’s Chromebook 13 compared to other options is the use of NVIDIA’s Tegra K1 SoC. It’s a pretty potent SoC in the tablet world, with NVIDIA’s SHIELD still placing near the top of most benchmark charts. But when we switch over to the world of laptops and Chromebooks, TK1 has a very different set of competitors. Intel’s Bay Trail chips are around, sure, but along with a few ARM-based SoCs there’s also one rather interesting competitor: Intel’s Haswell-based Celeron 2955U. That’s actually the chip used in Acer’s previous Chromebook, the C720 variants, and while it’s the lowest end Haswell chip Intel makes, as we’ll see later it can still pack a punch.

So why would Acer switch from the Celeron 2955U to the TK1? Simply put, performance isn’t the only important element with a Chromebook. Battery life is certainly another factor, and while the 2955U isn’t necessarily a power hungry chip, the TK1 definitely wins out in pure power use and thermals. That means two things: better battery life, and possibly more importantly is that the Chromebook 13 is entirely fanless. Cost is likely another contributing factor, and while the C720 sold well, it has now been replaced by an updated 11.6” Chromebook with Intel’s Celeron N2830/N2840 Bay Trail SoC.

Here’s where things get a bit interesting. There are quite a few variants of the Chromebook 13. The lowest end model comes with 2GB RAM and a 1366x768 resolution LCD at $229; there’s a model with the same LCD but 4GB RAM but it’s too expensive. The option we’re reviewing costs $20 more and upgrades the display to a 1920x1080 LCD while staying with 2GB RAM, or if you want both the LCD upgrade and 4GB RAM upgrade plus 32GB of storage, the price ends up being $289 (marked down $91 from MSRP now). The version we received use to be the most sensible option, and at $249 it’s not a bad deal, but $40 to double your RAM and storage is certainly a reasonable price.

We’d also be remiss at this stage to not point out the updates that have been made to Acer’s Chromebook line in the past month. Acer has now announced the Chromebook 15 along with the C740 and C910 education models. All of those feature Intel’s new Broadwell-U processors, so they should be even faster than the C720, and the Chromebook 15 is available with a 1080p IPS display

Acer Chromebook 13: Subjective Evaluation
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  • jwcalla - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    I think I'll pull the trigger on one when a Tegra X1 version comes out. And then run Ubuntu in chroot for any extra goodies.
  • LordConrad - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    I have the Chromebook 13 (1080p, 4GB RAM, 32GB Flash) with the Tegra K1 processor and get 9-11 hours from a single charge. My only complaint with the Chromebook 13 is the screen, even the HD model comes with a TN panel. It's not a terrible screen, but it's not great either.
  • PC Perv - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    An excellent review, thank you very much. You have explained the pros and cons of the product from a user's point of view, which has become rare on this site lately.

    Thank you for skipping editorializing and pretending to be an armchair CEO. Thank you for not inserting one-liners out of the blue to compliment (or marginalize) certain corporations.
    Thank you for not including in the charts whatever Apple's product that you believe should be at the top. (iPad Air 2 is understandable)
    Thank you for explaining everything from user's perspective. I am tired of reading "In the future corporation XXX should do better to improve ...." type of editorials in a product review that I wonder worth buying.

    You helped me so much with rich information with regard to this Chromebook. I appreciate it again.
  • dragonsqrrl - Saturday, January 24, 2015 - link

    hmm, Nexus 9 results... interesting. Nexus 9 review incoming?
  • eiriklf - Saturday, January 24, 2015 - link

    To me it seems like they should have used Denver.
  • johnny_boy - Saturday, January 24, 2015 - link

    I own an Acer Aspire S3 ultrabook and screen quality is awful (blue tint, grainy) and the battery has deteriorated to under 50% of its original capacity (according to a software readout which seems correct to me) in about a year. So while battery life on this Chromebook right out of the box, I guarantee they are using a very cheap battery that will show after not much use. You really do get what you pay for here!
  • war59312 - Saturday, January 24, 2015 - link

    Typo on page 2:

    "he Acer Chromebook 13 ends up doing "

    That "he" should of course be "The".
  • happycamperjack - Sunday, January 25, 2015 - link

    It's "Shield Tablet" NOT "Shield". "Shield" is the Tegra 4 running portable gaming machine that came out in 2013.
  • Valis - Sunday, January 25, 2015 - link

    When is chromebooks with Tegra X1 coming out? Next year? ohh. ;o)
  • mikk - Sunday, January 25, 2015 - link

    No Gfx Bench?

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