Acer Chromebook 13: Subjective Evaluation

I’ve said for a while now that arguably the most important aspects of any laptop are things that are more subjective rather than objective. By that, I mean that things like the keyboard, touchpad, build quality, and screen quality often end up being more important than raw performance. Which isn’t to say that performance doesn’t matter, but you could have the fastest laptop in the world and if the keyboard, touchpad, and build quality are terrible the performance it offers may not be enough to overcome those flaws. Conversely, a laptop that looks and feels great that perhaps underperforms can often be “good enough” for a lot of users, especially if the price is right.

The Acer Chromebook 13 ends up doing exceptionally well in one area that’s near and dear to my heart: the keyboard. This is a bit ironic as Acer has had quite a few poor keyboards in previous laptops. The layout and general appearance of the Chromebook 13 keyboard isn’t all that different from the C720, but it has very different feel, decent key travel, and the keys don’t have any play (looseness), which was something I noticed with the C720. It’s not that the C720 keyboard was horrible (or exceptional), but the new Chromebook 13 has a great feeling keyboard, especially for a laptop that costs under $300.

The touchpad ends up being more of a middle of the road solution – it works okay, but here performance does become a factor, and particularly on some of the more complex websites the touchpad gestures can end up being very laggy. It’s not a bad touchpad, and really the problem seems to be the lack of processor performance, but the net result is that there are times where you feel like the touchpad isn’t doing its job properly.

The screen is another area where there are good and bad aspects. The good news is the 1080p resolution being available – surfing and doing other work on a 1366x768 display feels very limiting, and 1080p ends up being much better. The display is also anti-glare and can get reasonably bright. The problem is that the anti-glare coating is very visible, resulting in a lot of “sparkle”, and the contrast and viewing angles from this TN panel are quite bad. Those looking for a great display in a Chromebook really only have one option right now, unfortunately: the Toshiba Chromebook 2 has a 13.3” IPS panel that’s quite good. Everything else in Chromebook land suffers from the race to the bottom. (Note that Acer’s upcoming Chromebook 15 will also have a 1080p IPS option; I’ve seen it in person at CES, and I’m very much looking forward to reviewing one.)

Wrapping up with build quality, Acer’s Chromebook 13 is actually pretty nice. I personally think the use of white instead of some other color is great and I’d like to see more laptops go that route (though of course dirt and discoloration is a potential long-term problem), but it’s not just the color. Being fanless means there’s no noise, and the chassis can be made thinner and lighter without really sacrificing other elements. It’s still a plastic shell and it’s not going to rival a unibody aluminum chassis, but it doesn’t feel too chintzy either. Overall it’s a decent feeling laptop and should hold up well as long as you don’t pound on it.

You can also access the internals if you’re bored, which I did, but there’s not really anything to do inside a Chromebook like this. There are no memory slots or hard drives – mSATA or otherwise – so you basically get what you purchase and there’s nothing to upgrade. If you need more storage, you can slot in an SD card, but that’s about it. I do have to admit that the size of the battery was rather surprising when I opened the chassis – I expected something like a 30Wh battery, but Acer has a 48Wh 4-cell battery in here. That’s basically the same size as what they used in the 11.6-inch C720 (45Wh), but 48Wh to power a Tegra K1 is a big part of why Acer can claim 11 hours of battery life (or 13 hours with the 1366x768 display).

Subjectively then, there’s plenty to like with Acer’s Chromebook 13, but it’s by no means perfect. What is a bit surprising is that the base price ends up being nearly $100 more (MSRP) compared to the previous generation C720, and that’s a bit difficult for me to justify. It looks and feels nicer, but performance as we’ll see in a moment is a step backwards and the various upgrades really shouldn’t have increased the price that much. The good news is pricing has dropped substantially now, so it's only a $30-$50 difference compared to the C720, so it’s worth checking out, but even if you love the idea of a Chromebook I’m not convinced this is the best solution. Give me a better display (IPS or similar) at the same price point and I’d be sold; give me the internals of the C720 with this chassis and I’d be happier. As it stands, I have mixed feelings.

Meet Acer’s Chromebook 13 Acer Chromebook 13 Performance
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  • damianrobertjones - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    Maybe admins need to log their family in as a local account.

    Either way, in my opinion, there's only a 5% reasonable point in having a chromebook even if it can do 95% of what a WIndows machine can do (Which I do not believe).
  • HotBBQ - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    You seem to be missing the entire point of a Chromebook. They are low cost alternatives to full fledged laptops or tablets. I bought a refurb one for myself and use it all the time to watch Netflix, Hangouts, emails, remote desktop, browse the web, and other tasks. Sure, I could use a tablet or my phone for these things, but this format works much better for me. I liked it so much I bought one for my parents who would sit in a cramped room with an ancient Vista desktop to do Hangouts with our kids. They LOVE the Chromebook because it is dead simple.
  • Alexvrb - Sunday, January 25, 2015 - link

    But you can get full fledged laptops and tablets for the same price. So I think you're the one missing the point. The point is that they're good for someone to check email on and they're locked down tight so they're hard to screw up. Of course, that pretty much applies to modern Windows devices too now. The downside is that Win8 requires tweaking for more advanced users to be happy. Win10 looks to be pretty decent out of the box though. Unless you're just a diehard "I hate it just because also apps should die except on Android for some reason" kind of guy.
  • talonz - Monday, January 26, 2015 - link

    Have you used a chromebook? You can't get a full fledged laptop with the same speed, battery life, and portability for double the price of a chromebook.
  • Alexvrb - Monday, January 26, 2015 - link

    What does that have to do with cost? He said they're "low cost alternatives to full fledged laptops or tablets". He didn't say "well they have this or that feature!". But let's discuss these things anyway. Have you used a HP Stream 11? Compare that to the HP Chromebook 11. Same manufacturer, and largely similar hardware.

    Performance: Similar CPUs... but the Stream 11's N2840 has a higher turbo (200Mhz) than the N2830 in the Chromebook 11. Similar situation for graphics turbo. Both have 2GB of RAM, although Windows has excellent virtual memory support in case you really load up lots of tabs (ask the Anandtech authors, has been discussed before). ChromeOS uses less space so 16GB might not be the end of the world, but Stream has 32GB - not to mention recent Win 8.1 deployments have crunched down the footprint which means more space available on the Stream. Whoops.

    Battery life? HP rates their Stream 11 at 8 hours 15 minutes on a 37Wh battery, and rates their Chromebook 11 at 8 hours on a 36Wh battery. Portability? The Stream 11 is the same size, only a hair thinner, and a hair lighter. Display? Same display. Whoops.

    So clearly the Chromebook is cheaper? Nope. $199 for the Stream 11, $279 for the Chromebook 11. Whoops!
  • Alexey291 - Sunday, February 1, 2015 - link

    And then we face reality. Have you actually tried using that "lower footprint" win8.1 on a n2840? I have. I'd rather never do that again. Because the footprint is so low that the system just freezes for seconds at a time. Windows performance tax has only increased with the years.

    Win8.1 install takes up 25 - 27 gb of roughly 30gb (post ntfs format) space. Enjoy your 3 - 4 gb of usable space. And yeah that v-mem is going to take the remaining 2/3 of that space. gg

    Oh you will now say "get rid of the bloat". No no mate that's not how a pc for a grandmother works. You get what u paid for and you suffer with it.

    And then u still have to have an AV suite, a firewall and a malware scanner running in the background. Cos you know. Windows.
  • azazel1024 - Monday, February 2, 2015 - link

    Me thinks you are doing it wrong. That or maybe/possibly you have a large restore partition there. Including page file and hibernation file, a 32GB Windows 8.1 install, including all updates and the big update 1 (once cleaned up) should leave approximately 11GiB of free space with 32GB (~29 odd GiB) of storage. That isn't a ton of space, but should be plenty to install a fair number of windows store apps. Then load on an SD card or something for media and desktop applications.

    I'd still say the minimum for a "real" machine should be 60/64GB, if not double, but you can do it with 32GB without being a serious issues (heck, my laptop currently has a 32GB mSATA drive as its boot drive and it has 9.8GiB free with fully up-to-date Windows 8.1 on it and a few programs installed, though most stuff is on the 120GB 2.5" SSD in the drive bay).
  • stefstef - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    i agree. with the new low power, low cost Atom machines with Windows and the pricepoint at around 300 (even cheaper for tablets), the Chrome os hardly makes sense any more.
  • syxbit - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    You're still missing the point. It's not just the price. It's the simplicity. My wife used to constantly get viruses, crash things, have to do data backups etc..
    Now she has a chromebook, and it just works.
  • jabber - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    And that is what a great deal of the computing public out there want. As much as we enthusiasts love out Windows machines, most really don't care and just want to get on with their day without being stopped by Trovi/Ask Toolbars and constant updates getting in the way. Unless Microsoft really knuckle under and make Windows 10 onwards far more idiot and bullet proof they really may as well give up in the domestic/home market.

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