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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  • johnny_boy - Sunday, January 25, 2015 - link

    Sure, and they are HUGE. This chromebok is not only in an ultrabook form factor, but it is also completely silent, being fanless.
  • savagemike - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    That sounds like a good deal but a $300 i3 isn't every day pricing is it? I have a Chromebook I paid $150 for. An Acer c720 with the Haswell Celeron. It's no problem to load Linux up in a parallel boot and I can do anything I need to with it. Mostly though I have just left it as ChromeOS native and it's a great little machine to do this or that. Easy and simple to use and maintain. Battery lasts forever. Could upgrade the SSD if I wanted - it's M.2 so still a little more expensive but not a huge deal.
    A lot of use for $150.
  • kmmatney - Saturday, January 24, 2015 - link

    OK- I don't know how anyone who has been using Microsoft OSes sicne the Win 3.1 days can never have run across a virus. It's been a while for me, but I've certainly come across them now and again since I started "computing" in the DOS 5.0 days. Especially when they started spreading by USB stick with the fantastic autorun feature. I don't remember that last time I personally had one, but friends and family (and even a few work computers) do get them on occasion. Mainly it's stupid highjacking stuff.

    I agree that a $299 Core i3 15.6" laptop smokes any Chromebook, and ultimately is more useful.
  • Shadowmaster625 - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    I know this lag of which you speak. It is extremely irritating. That's why I love my 4.5 GHz G3258. It can run too many things at once, but it absolutely screams at web browsing. 100mS sunspider score. lol.
  • Daniel Egger - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    Why does it all of a sudden seem to me that an iPad 2 and a Bluetooth keyboard would be a much better choice than this?

    - Closed system to protect from malware: check

    But then the iPad takes off:

    - It's much faster
    - The store has many more titles then the Chrome store and generally a higher quality
    - You don't need to lock yourself into the Cloud if you don't want to
    - The screen is much better all around
    - It's lighter
    - There's an LTE option

    Heck, if you desperately want a closed system but still much better system all around, why not get a Surface RT?
  • Refuge - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    What is the price of the Ipad 2 + Bluetooth Keyboard? lol

    I feel like you are comparing a Tesla with a Geo Metro saying it gets better gas mileage AND is faster. While not un-true, it is also woefully misleading.
  • buevaping - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    "Window Surface 2 Rt" To close to "Windows Surface Pro 2". People thought it could do windows. Better would have been "RT Surface 2" Problem with limited apps and developers. Not even another major browser besides EI. And"EI" is no chrome killer. To Refuge that commented. There is threat of substitution with iPad. You don't have to go for latest and greatest. 1st iPad Air(still better display) with discounted keyboard case.
  • kevith - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    Everytime I have used a web service, like Google docs, Office, Dropbox, OneDrive etc., the very low speed of transferring files is killing me. I have a 60/60 Mb/s connection, that often is utilized less than 1%.

    The idea of "cloud" is somehow ok, but until the speed is raised dramatically, it´s way, way to slow for my temper.
  • teldar - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    I'd like to see it compared to the Stream 14. Any chance of that happening at some point?
  • aryonoco - Friday, January 23, 2015 - link

    Jarred, I wanted to thank you for the most honest, useful, unbiased, comprehensive and well-written Chromebook (and Chrome OS) review I've ever read.

    I am in the camp that thinks Chromebooks can do 100% of what a lot of users want to do with their laptop (especially older and non-tech savvy types) but overall, this was the best description of all the pros and cons of Chromebooks I've seen. It makes a very good case for why Chromebooks are good for some people, but also why they are probably not the right tool for others.

    Thank you for your attention to this segment. I very much look forward to your thoughts on the upcoming Rockchip and Broadwell Chromebooks (and the Toshiba Chromebook 2 1080p version if you can get your hands on one).

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