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Acer Chromebook 13 Review

With the Toshiba Chromebook 2 and the Acer C720 (i3) holding court for the past 6 months as the reigning Chromebook champ, Autumn 2014 saw Acer send a new contender into the ring with their new Acer Chromebook 13. Outclassing the C720 in all categories except processor, the new Chromebook 13 is a truly remarkable device (touting perhaps the greatest battery life of the current round of devices), but at an equally remarkable cost, there are some drawbacks that come with it.

Specs

On the surface, the Acer 13 matches many of the same features as the competing middle-weight Chromebooks, like the Toshiba Chromebook 2, the C720, and the Samsung Chromebook 2, but one quality that sets it apart is the quad-core Nvidia Tegra K1 processor.

Known primarily for their smartphone and tablet processors, Nvidia doesn’t often stray into the Chromebook world (it only otherwise appears in the HP 14), and that quality occasionally shows through on the Acer 13 (and not in a good way). By and large, the processor was able to accomplish any task thrown at it, but some sources hit significant rough patches when they left the basic stable of Google software.

My workflow was relatively unaffected though, reaching 8 tabs of streaming video before noticeable lag occured (about average for this class of Chromebook). Having said that, I was working with one of the more expensive models of this Acer (with 4gb of RAM), and can’t vouch for the cheaper 2gb Chromebook 13.

Design

Wow. This is possibly my favorite Chromebook design to date, and I’ve been using the Pixel for several months now. With a thin figure, very sleek curves (I love the inset for the keyboard), and a great matte white finish it’s clear that Acer did their homework on this one (just be careful handling it around black ink). I’d almost prefer it to the Pixel design, except for the heavy use of plastic, and lack of backlit-keyboard.

I wasn’t bothered by the port placement either, although some Newminders scoffed at the unusual rear location of the HDMI output and 2nd USB port (directly at the base of the screen)

Build Quality


One casualty of the awesome, lightweight design was the build quality—the base of the open Chromebook was sturdy when gripped from the corner, but the screen is so large and so thin that I would strongly urge against picking it up from the corners. I was hesitant to even complete the stress test because of this. Having said that, the hinge seemed stronger than other low-cost Chromebooks that I’ve tested.

In terms of the physical features, the keyboard is nothing to write home about—the same textured plastic keyboard you’ll find on the Toshiba and newer Samsung Chromebooks— but I had a great experience with the trackpad (possibly my favorite among this range of devices).

Display


I’m a little hot and cold when it comes to the Chromebook 13 display. One one hand, this device has become one of the most affordable places to find a 13.3” display for your Chromebook—with full 1080×1920 options available—but the screen leaves something to be desired when viewed alongside the Toshiba Chromebook 2 and the Pixel. Between slightly washed-out colors (although perfectly manageable) and unimpressive viewing angles, I have a hard time singing its praises—though for some users, the 13” will still be worth the low pricetag.

Battery Life

Last but certainly not least, one promise that Acer delivers on is the battery life. In their promotional material they boast an outstanding 11 hours of life of life on a single charge (13 on the 2gb model!), and this is where their energy-efficient Tegra processor pays off—for the most part.

Newmind’s battery test calls for one tab of video at 50% brightness and 50% audio, and we were able to reach about 10 hours. I believe that conservative users will easily reach the 11 hours (and likely the 13 promised of the 2gb model).

Overall

So is the Chromebook 13 Newmind’s new Chromebook champ? I don’t think so—with slightly worrisome build quality and a not-so-perfect processor, it falls short of the title. That isn’t to say it’s not a game-changer though—if Acer has proven one thing, it’s that they can deliver killer battery life, an awesome design, and a decent screen, all under $300.

If your users can be trusted with a somewhat delicate Chromebook, then you should keep the Acer Chromebook 13 near the front of your mind when you start shopping around.



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