Introduction and design
Say what you will about Chromebooks, but they don’t have a reputation for being particularly high-end machines. Sure, you’ll find premium Chromebooks, like Google’s Chromebook Pixel.
But, generally speaking, they’re seen as budget machines, both in price and in terms of fit-and-finish.
With the $299 (about £206, AU$401) Acer Chromebook 14, the venerable PC maker hopes to bring the polish of a high-end notebook to the entry level. And, in terms of build quality, the Chromebook 14 delivers. But in terms of performance? Things aren’t so clear.
I’m not going to lie – when I first pulled the Chromebook 14 out of its box, the first thing I thought of was the MacBook Air. Tapered design? Check. All-metal case? Check That distinct Apple-style hinge? Check.
If the HP Chromebook 14 I previously reviewed was fun and funky, the Acer Chromebook 14 is svelte and professional. And it’s solidly constructed in a way that belies its relatively low price.
In terms of construction, the Acer Chromebook 14 is as solid as they come. The all-metal enclosure is rigid, with minimal flexing and almost no creaking. The case does attract fingerprints and smudges, though the brushed metal surface on the lid picks up fewer handling marks to some degree.
At .67 inches (17 mm) thick, the Acer Chromebook 14 is reasonably slim, and about inline with other 14-inch Chromebooks out there. Its 3.42-pound (1.55 kg) weight is similar to like-sized notebooks, and it’s comfortable to pick up with one hand.
One sharp screen
Flip open the lid, and the 14-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 IPS display takes center stage. It is bright, crisp, and evenly lit – about what you expect from a notebook screen these days. Its matte finish reduces reflections, but can make the screen a little more difficult to read in sunlight.
Color and contrast are solid overall, though some colors, like shades of pink, appear slightly dulled. While the display’s high contrast can make images pop, it also means that darker areas of photos and videos get lost. And the downside to all these pixels is that text appears smaller than I’d like.
The hinge opens a full 180 degrees and allows you to adjust the screen freely and easily, but it’s a little too loose for my liking – it doesn’t take much jarring to send the screen backwards when you pick the notebook up.
A satisfying keyboard and trackpad
The Acer Chromebook 14 comes with a full-sized keyboard and a spacious touchpad. The keyboard does a decent job, but its tactile feedback is a little softer than I’d like –although keys make an affirming loud click-clack sound as you type, you don’t feel the satisfying click as you press the key.
This is definitely usable, but it isn’t my favorite keyboard. The trackpad is smooth and responsive, with good clicking action, though any sort of oil on your fingers may impair tracking.
Two stereo speakers live on the bottom of the notebook. They’re plenty loud, but these being laptop speakers, they’re tinny and merely serviceable. For anything beyond casual listening, you’ll want either headphones or external speakers.
Specifications, performance, and features
The way Chrome OS is built means that specs aren’t quite as important as they would be for an ordinary Windows PC. That said, there are a few things to be aware of with the Acer Chromebook 14.
The Acer Chromebook 14 configuration provided to TechRadar is as follows:
- CPU: 1.6 GHz Intel Celeron N3160 processor (quad-core, 2MB cache, up to 2.24GHz)
- Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 400
- RAM: 4GB LPDDR3
- Screen: 14-inch 1,920 x 1,080 display
- Storage: 32GB solid state drive
- Ports: 2 x USB 3.0, HDMI, headphone jack
- Connectivity: Intel 802.11ac, Bluetooth
- Camera: Built-in webcam
- Weight: 3.42 pounds (1696g)
- Size: 13.4 x 9.3 x 0.67 inches (340mm x 236 x 17mm) (W x D x H)
Specs-wise, the Acer Chromebook 14 is comparable to similarly-priced Chromebook models out there, like the HP Chromebook 14, right down to its Intel Celeron processor. Acer offers a Chromebook 14 model that starts at $279 (about £192 , AU$375), but a model with the faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi and more powerful quad-core Celeron processor costs only $20 (about £13 UK, AU$27) more.
Compared to Windows notebooks, the 32GB of storage is tiny, but it’s a decent amount when compared to other Chromebooks, which often come with only 16GB of storage. The lack of an SD card slot means that you can’t add more storage down the road, though.
Depending on your usage patterns, this may not be a big deal: storage space is less of an issue on web-centric Chromebooks than it is with a typical Windows PC or Mac.
In regular usage – such as streaming music, browsing the web, watching YouTube videos and writing this review, the Acer Chromebook feels plenty responsive, even though its 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3160 is hardly a powerhouse by modern PC standards.
Video playback was hit-and-miss, though: I noticed stuttering and dropped frames while watching 1080p HD video, an issue I also noted with the HP Chromebook 14.
Here’s how the Acer Chromebook 14 fared in our suite of benchmark tests:
- Mozilla Kraken 1.1: 3958ms
- Octane 2.0: 8228
- JetStream 1.1: 47.312
- TechRadar Battery Test (movie test): 9 hours, 2 minutes
These benchmark results place the Acer Chromebook 14 right there with other lower-end, Celeron-based Chromebooks. The Kraken benchmark score of 3958 milliseconds is roughly on par with that of the similarly-specced HP Chromebook 14.
It lags well behind that of the more powerful – and more expensive – Dell Chromebook 13, however, which scored 2139 milliseconds on the Kraken test (lower scores are better), and 13,795 on the Octane test (higher scores are better).
How big an issue the Acer Chromebook 14’s relatively slow performance is depends on how you use it. If all you’re doing is working in Google Docs, browsing the web and so forth, you’ll probably be just fine with this notebook.
If you’re watching a lot of HD video or performing more advanced tasks – like performing frequent image editing in a tool like Pixlr Editor – maybe you’ll want to spring for a more powerful Chromebook.
Solid battery life
And, if you’re not a super demanding user, you should be pretty happy with the Acer Chromebook 14’s battery life. In TechRadar’s Chromebook battery test – in which we play an HD video continuously until the battery calls it quits – the Acer Chromebook 14 managed a runtime of about 9 hours and 2 minutes (screen set at 50%brightness).
While that’s a few hours short of the 12 hours of run time that Acer promotes, and well behind the Dell Chromebook 13’s 14 and a half hours, it’s still longer than day’s worth of work. In my hands-on time, the battery paces for closer to 7 hours with the screen at about 65% brightness.
Put another way, this Chromebook should be able to make it through most of your workday without a charge, but you may want to pack the power adapter, just in case.
Lower end notebooks always involve tradeoffs, and the Acer Chromebook 14 is no exception.
With this Acer Chromebook 14, you’ll get one good looking machine: it’s sleek and attractive, even if its appearance is a little derivative of a certain laptop. It’s also very well constructed and feels as solid as a rock. For 300 bucks? Nice.
But, you pay the price a little in terms of performance. While I find the Acer Chromebook 14 to be fast enough most of the time, HD video playback was also choppy at times.
With its clean lines and reasonably slim profile, the Acer Chromebook 14 makes for a subdued, classy notebook. In today’s world of metallic-styled laptops, the Acer Chromebook 14 won’t really turn heads, but that isn’t a bad thing.
Although its screen isn’t the best I’ve ever seen, it’s crisp and sharp. And while not stellar, the keyboard and trackpad combination definitely gets the job done. Battery life impresses as well, even if it falls a bit short of Acer’s 12-hour claim in real-life use.
This is the second Chromebook I’ve reviewed here at TechRadar, and both exhibited issues with 1080p video playback. Depending on the sequence, videos dropped frames or appeared choppy at times.
Sure, it’s a lower-end system, but just the same, this is 2016. You should expect even 1080p video to play back smoothly. Plus, the onboard speakers are pedestrian, even by notebook standards.
The Acer Chromebook 14 could be an unequivocal winner. It has the looks. It has rock solid build quality. It has a satisfactory screen, keyboard, and touchpad.
But, intermittent video playback issues, even on the lightweight Chrome OS, holds this Chromebook back. And, that’s really too bad, because Acer was so close to downright nailing it.