REVIEW: ACER CHROMEBOOK 15
Glorious HD screen makes you temporarily forget you’re using a $350 Chromebook. Combine that with some great sound from the speakers and you have the best movie-watching experience the Chromebook world has to offer.
It’s big and heavy. This thing has more in common with budget laptops than most Chromebooks. The battery life could be better.
The Chromebook 15 is a monster. Acer took a pass on the “small, light and cheap” approach that’s defined this category from the start and created something that’s largely the opposite of that. This thing is big, it’s chunky, and it’s heavy. It’s not very portable. However, it’s still relatively inexpensive—it starts $250, but you oughtta get the $350 model, which comes with one of the nicest screens you’re likely to find in a Chromebook.
How positively you respond to Acer’s redefined Chromebook will depend a lot on how you feel about Chromebooks. If you see these cloud-powered machines as nothing but crippled netbooks, the well-appointed but web-only Acer 15 will further confound you. If, on the other hand, you see the Chromebook as a genuine alternative to the traditional PC laptop, this Acer deserves your attention.
There are a couple of models available. The one I tested had a 1.6GHz Intel Celeron 3205U processor, 4GB of RAM and a giant 15.6-inch screen with high-def (1,920-by-1,080 pixel) resolution. The screen isn’t just big and HD though, it’s also an IPS panel, which makes it significantly brighter and sharper than most Chromebooks I’ve tested. That said, this is not the same quality display you’ll find in high-end Mac laptops or the best Windows ultrabooks. But it is a matte display with almost no glare even in direct sunlight.
The 15.6-inch screen necessitates a large chassis, which is just over 15 inches wide, nearly 10 inches deep and almost an inch thick. That size, combined with the weight—4.85 pounds—make this the biggest, heaviest, and least-portable Chromebook on the market. The massive size gets you a couple of nice extras beyond the big screen though. Despite not being “tuned by Skullcandy” like some competitors, the Acer’s speakers offer the best sound you’ll find in a Chromebook. To my ears, they sound better than the speakers in my MacBook Pro. Even at full volume there’s almost no distortion.
The larger size also means there’s plenty of room for the keyboard, which mirrors the chiclet style common in this form factor (it is in fact identical to the Acer Chromebook 13 I reviewed last month). The large trackpad has plenty of room too, and supports Chrome gestures like two-finger scrolling and three-finger swiping.
Despite the large chassis, Acer has opted to stick with what has become the default port configuration for Chromebooks: an SD card slot, a USB 2.0 port, and a Kensington lock slot on the right; and an HDMI output, a USB 3.0 port, and a headphone-and-mic jack on the left.
The model I tested came with a 32-gig SSD, which is among the larger storage systems available in a Chromebook, even if it sounds paltry. This is, after all, a Chromebook—Google would prefer you use its cloud storage options, though you can use any cloud drive that’s accessible through the browser. Specials vary by region, but most Chromebooks come with at least 12 months of free Google Drive storage space (100 GB). That said, I cracked the case on the Acer and found a removable mSATA SSD, so if you don’t mind voiding your warranty you could upgrade the storage.
The biggest disappointment about my time with the Acer 15 was the battery life. Given how obnoxiously big and heavy it is, I had high hopes that the battery would be powerful and long-lasting. Nope. The Acer regularly hit the eight-hour mark if I kept things simple, but often fell below that when I would stress it by playing a movie or two. Acer claims nine hours for the Chromebook 15, which you can probably achieve if you make an effort to conserve energy. But even nine hours is several hours short of the best in the Chromebook world. Still, complaining about “only” eight hours of battery is a nice reminder of just how great Chromebook battery life is in general.
Performance was good enough that I never noticed any problems in my use. Even streaming music while working with a dozen other tabs open didn’t slow this thing down, a nice change from what I’ve found with many Chromebooks.
The model I tested retails for $350, a fair price for what you get given the rest of the Chromebook market. It’s worth noting though $250 will get you the same body without the HD screen. However, given that the screen is the main selling point here, it’s hard to take the cheaper model with its 1366 x 768 pixel display seriously. A screen this big should be stuffed with pixels.