Acer has come out swinging with the Chromebook 13, an Nvidia Tegra K1-powered beast that is easily one of the most powerful Chromebooks out there — and yet it still only costs $299.
While Chromebooks began as cheaper, underpowered laptops, they’ve begun to evolve beyond that, and the Acer Chromebook 13 is leading that evolution.
So is it the Chromebook you should choose? Read on for the full review, then scroll down to the end for your chance to win one for yourself.
- Model Number: CB5-311-T1UU
- Price: $299 from Acer, $349 from Amazon (a cheaper $259 model is also available with 2GB of RAM)
- Screen size: 1920px x 1080px, 13.3in (1080p)
- Dimensions: 12.9in x 9in x 0.7in (328cm x 229cm x 18mm)
- Weight: 3.31lbs (1.5kg)
- Processor: Quad-core 2.1GHz Nvidia Tegra K1
- RAM: 4GB
- Storage: 32GB
- Battery life: Acer-rated 11.5 hours
- Extras: 100GB of Google Drive storage for 2 years
Made entirely of white plastic, the Acer Chromebook 13 actually is quite sturdy. The feel of plastic is up to personal preference — it’s certainly no high-end metal — but it’s undoubtedly well constructed. The casing doesn’t attract fingerprints at all, but the white color seems prone to getting scuffed and dirty pretty quickly.
The edges are curved nicely in a way that makes it easy to pick up the Chromebook from any surface. Due to the thinness and curvature, the ports jut out just a bit.
You get the charging port and headphone jack on the right side, a USB 3.0 port and HDMI port on the back, and a USB 3.0 port and full-size SD card reader on the left.
The hinge is visible when the Chromebook is open or shut, and it includes two blinking indicator lights for the battery and for the Chromebook’s awake/asleep state.
Overall, the Acer Chromebook 13 feels very well built (as long as you’re alright with white plastic) and has a decent selection of ports.
There are several different models of the Acer Chromebook 13 out there with varying levels of hardware, but this model (CB5-311-T1UU) really is the cream of the crop.
You won’t have any problems performance-wise here. The Nvidia Tegra K1 processor seems to have plenty of power behind it, and you can keep copious amounts of tabs open with the 4GB of RAM. You even get a bit more wiggle room with 32GB of storage rather than the usual 16GB — though your main storage will still obviously be in the cloud.
Gaming was no problem, though certain Chrome Web Store games — like Bastion — aren’t compatible with the non-Intel chip. Regardless, most games ran just fine without a hint of lag, though hardcore gamers have never found much to their liking in the Chrome Web Store.
Playback of videos on YouTube, Netflix, and other streaming sites was flawless, even at 1080p quality. The Acer Chromebook 13 is definitely at the high-end of the Chromebook spectrum spec-wise, so it makes sense that it would handle everything I could throw at it. It helps that Chrome OS is already lighting fast — it boots up in seconds and wakes from sleep instantly.
And on top of all that, it didn’t even get hot after hours of continuous use. That Nvidia chip, even with a fanless design, runs quiet and cool.
The 1080p screen on this 13.3″ Chromebook is both bright and good at handling glare. I used it regularly while sitting outside in broad daylight without any problems. Videos played with beautiful quality, and everything looked sharp.
But due to its high resolution, everything appears much smaller than it does on comparable 720p Chromebooks. Elements of the interface like the toolbar along the bottom and the Chrome tabs along the top are tiny.
This was fine for me, but if you have any trouble seeing up close, it could really be a hindrance. It is possible to make the interface elements larger by navigating to chrome://settings/display and changing the resolution to 1536×864, but that kind of defeats the purpose of having a 1080p screen.
It would seem that Chrome OS just can’t quite handle 1080p screen scaling just yet.
Speakers and Audio
While many Chromebooks produce a rather quiet sound from a single speaker, this particular Chromebook has surprisingly loud, clear audio. The two speakers are located on the left and right sides of the bottom of the Chromebook, but they rebound nicely off hard, flat surfaces to really fill the room.
This is one area where the Acer Chromebook 13 definitely excels. It was even a smidgne louder than other Windows laptops I had lying around. The maximum volume was also comparable to the Asus Chromebook C300’s speakers, which are great, though it may have had to sacrifice a bit of quality to get to that high level. Music could sound a bit tinny, but it was worth it for that loudness.
This may be the weakest aspect of this Chromebook, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a deal-breaker.
The keys are large and spaced well, thanks to all the room they have on this 13″ machine. You get the typical Chromebook layout with the search key replacing the caps lock, and genuinely useful keys like brightness and volume replacing the function keys.
My biggest issue with it, however, is the shallowness of the keys. They don’t have a lot of travel, meaning that there isn’t a particularly “clicky” feel to them. When typing quickly, I sometimes felt like I may have missed a key because it didn’t really feel as if it had been depressed.
I’ve certainly used worse keyboards before, but this one just isn’t all that great. On the other hand, the touchpad never gave me any issues. It’s large, smooth, and makes it easy to navigate throughout Chrome OS.
Acer says you should be able to get just over 11 hours of battery life, which is quite the claim, but it turned out to be rather accurate. With heavy usage, the Chromebook 13 still got me through an entire day of browsing the Web, working in Google Docs, and watching YouTube videos.
Lighter usage, like only using it during class to take notes and at night for homework, amounted to a solid three or four days of use before it finally called it quits. Battery life certainly isn’t an issue with this device, especially if you plan on travelling with it.
Despite being around for a few years now, some questions still arise around Chromebooks. If you’re familiar with them, you can skip this section, but if not, here’s the brief rundown on what a Chromebook is.
They’re basically laptops that only run the Google Chrome Web browser. Anything you can do on Chrome on Windows or Mac, you can do on a Chromebook. They can work offline, though they typically have limited storage, and they’re generally quite secure thanks to their relative newness and cloud-based operating system. If you want, you could even install Linux on one.
On paper, the Acer Chromebook 13 has the competition beat in nearly every aspect. The Asus Chromebook C300 is probably it’s closest rival; at $238 for the 4GB RAM, 32GB storage model, it is a bit cheaper, but it also runs a weaker Intel Celeron Processor and has a lower resolution 720p screen.
The Samsung Chromebook 2 clocks in at $399, but despite the price jump, it only offers 16GB of storage and an estimated 8.5 hours of battery life. The Toshiba Chromebook 2 brings the price down to $299, but similarly only offers 16GB of storage, an estimated 9 hours of battery life, and an Intel Celeron processor.
Plus, none of those Chromebooks can match the Acer Chromebook 13’s elegant, slim design.
Should You Buy It?
The Acer Chromebook 13 manages to put some of the best specs ever seen in a Chromebook into a sleek, lightweight package, and its only true weakness is a mediocre keyboard. If you can get past that small flaw, it’s a powerful device with a great screen and loud speakers.
Buy it! At around $299, it isn’t much more expensive than competing Chromebooks, but it offers probably the best Chrome OS experience on the market right now.
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