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Review: Acer Chromebook 13 with Nvidia chip is a solid, full HD contender

Over the past 18 months, Acer has grown its Chromebook sales in spectacular fashion with a clever strategy, offering multiple models at various price points. Now the company has a new twist on the Chrome OS laptop: It’s the first to use Nvidia’s Tegra K1 chip to power its Chromebook 13. This too comes in various models, ranging from $279 to $379.

I’ve been using a $299 version of the [company]Acer[/company] Chromebook 13 for the past week. As with any device, there are some appealing attributes and some that leave me wanting more.

The best designed Acer Chromebook yet

I definitely prefer the overall design of this Chromebook to Acer’s prior models. Where I felt those were a bit flimsy, the Chromebook 13 feels solid. Like its predecessors, it’s made from plastic, but it doesn’t look cheap. Most textures are smooth and there’s a nice recessed area around the keyboard to help the non-backlit keys stand out a little more.

Acer Chromebook 13 front

Overall, this laptop is relatively thin, measuring 0.7 inches from top to bottom with the screen closed. It has a slightly large footprint for a device with 13.3-inch display, though: 12.9 inches wide and 9 inches deep. Although it’s a completely different device class, my 13-inch MacBook Pro is smaller in every dimension. Part of this observation comes from the display bezel: It’s at least 1.25 inches below the display and 0.75 inches around the top and sizes. It seems like wasted space that makes the Chromebook 13 larger and heavier than it needs to be at 3.31 pounds.

Of course, that means the keyboard and trackpad are generously roomy. There’s plenty of key travel and the plastic trackpad works well for navigation; it’s also a giant clickpad that supports multi-finger gestures in [company]Google[/company] Chrome OS.

About that 1080p display and Chrome OS

Input, then, is fine. So what about output? For an extra $20 over the base model, this Chromebook 13 has a 1920 x 1080 display as opposed to 1366 x 768 resolution on the $279 version. It’s not a higher-quality IPS panel but still has reasonably good viewing angles from left to right. Pull the display down toward you, though, and you’ll see a negative image of what’s on the screen. Overall, the 1080p matte display is good but not great.

Acer Chromebook 13 keyboard

One issue with 1080p on a Chromebook isn’t Acer’s fault at all. Google’s Chrome OS interface doesn’t scale. By that I mean you can zoom in and out on web pages to adjust the size with no problem, but the taskbar icons are fairly small due to the high resolution. All of my Chrome bookmarks and title bars in tabs are also small and don’t adjust with the zoom setting. It’s a minor annoyance that I hope Google addresses soon as more 1080p Chromebooks hit the market.

In terms of ports, radios and other bits, Acer’s Chromebook 13 has all the ones you’d expect: A pair of USB 3.0 (one on the side and one on the back), rear HDMI out, front webcam, SD card reader, headphones, stereo speakers underneath the chassis, Bluetooth 4.0 and fast 802.11ac Wi-Fi.

Is Nvidia’s chip up to the challenge?

That’s all fairly standard on a Chromebook. Nvidia’s Tegra K1 is not, however, and it’s nice to see a new chip option available. Up to now, only Samsung’s ARM-based processor and various Intel chips have powered most Chromebooks.

After using the Chromebook 13 extensively, I found performance to be acceptable for most tasks. Since Nvidia’s chip is relatively new, it provides a little more overall horsepower than the original [company]Samsung[/company] Chromebook and [company]HP[/company] Chromebook 11, but I still prefer the extra oomph provided by Intel-powered systems.

I often experienced a slight lag or delay, for example when switching to an input field on a web page and typing: It would take the Chromebook a second to start showing what I typed. This behavior was occasional but noticeable. When interacting with Google+, I was often a step or two head of the computer as I waited for it to catch up. I also waited for some complex or content-heavy web pages to load from time to time but this may have more to do with the 2 GB of memory in the test device. All in all, I wasn’t blown away by performance; I was left wanting more.

Acer Chromebook 13 Octane

For those interested in benchmarks as opposed to or in addition to real-world experiences, I ran both the SunSpider and Octane tests in Guest mode on the Chromebook 13; both measure JavaScript performance. In SunSpider, where a smaller number is better, the best device result after multiple runs was 628.3 milliseconds. The top Octane score turned in was 7104. These numbers, along with my experience, suggest that when it comes to performance of what most users will do on a Chromebook, the new Acer isn’t a standout; instead, it’s comparable to other devices with similar chips.

The real benefit to the [company]Nvidia[/company] Tegra K1 is the chip’s 192 graphics cores. These are great for graphic-intensive web apps that make use of WebGL, for example. The issue I see is that there aren’t yet many such apps. Instead, Chromebooks are more likely used for browsing typical web pages, checking email, watching videos and updating social networks. So in some sense, the big benefit of those graphics cores is more of a promise for future activities.

Battery life and conclusion

Regardless of that, the chip seems power-efficient. Acer claims this Full HD model can run for up to 11 hours. It’s definitely an all-day device, although in my typical usage as a full-time work device, I was seeing between 9.5 and 10 hours of run-time. While that may fall short of the claim, it’s great to work away from an outlet all day long.

Acer CB 13

Again, for $299, you can buy the model I tested, which comes with 2 GB of memory and 16 GB of internal storage. Drop down $20 and the only differences are the 1366 x 768 display plus a 13-hour battery life claim. For $379, Acer upgrades the tested model to 4 GB of memory and 32 GB of storage.

Since I like to work full-time on a Chromebook and need a little more responsiveness, the Chromebook 13 isn’t for me. I’d rather spend a similar amount of money and gain some performance, even if it means I give up a little battery life and a 1080p screen. Typical mainstream consumers looking for general web activity and all-day battery life, however, ought to be happy with the new Acer.

28 Responses to “Review: Acer Chromebook 13 with Nvidia chip is a solid, full HD contender”

  1. Chris Smith

    I find your review to be rather critical given that you paid $299. And when another reader inquired about what you think is better, you said “Chromebook Pixel”. Not a fair comparison. If you make the statement, “I’d rather spend a similar amount of money and gain some performance”, you should suggest a preferable 13.3″ chrombook that retails for $299 or less.

    • Chris, I’d say the Toshiba Chromebook 13 for $279 is a better performer. It doesn’t have a 1080p display so it’s not a direct comparison or swap. There are few 13-inch Chromebooks available.

      The company does have a new 13-inch Chromebook coming next month with 1080p display but it’s not yet available for testing so I can’t recommend it at this point.

      • How about the Asus C300? Except for the lower resolution it seems very very similar to the acer chromebook 13. Best of all it is actually out know. Do you think it is worth a buy?


        • It’s definitely a contender too and I should have mentioned it. I haven’t had a chance to test one for the performance though: Curious to see how the Bay Trail processor works as compared to the ARM chips; we already know it’s not going to provide the same level of oomph as a Haswell chip.

          • I quite like the aesthetics as well as Asus as a brand… and I really don’t know how much longer I can go without a computer. According to another review it scores a bit over 100 higher than the Acer Chromebook 13. I’m guessing that doesn’t translate iintoa huge real world benefit? On the other hand it has slightly less battery life and a lower screen resolution. Do you think the performance justifies it? And do you know if (and when) you’ll review it? Thanks for your always amazingly prompt (and helpful answers)

  2. Not sure which chromebook to get: Toshiba Chromebook 2, which is coming out in a month, HP Chromebook 14 (2) which was recently announced with Tegra K1 or this one. I really just wanted a chromebook that can handle on average 6-8 webpages without any difficulty with a decent screen. Any help Kevin?

    • Manny, if you can wait for early to mid October, it might be worth seeing how the Toshiba with its IPS display is to make the best informed decision. If you’re not going to use the Acer as a primary device, it should be fine for your needs; I’d expect the HP 14 to offer the same performance.

      • Thanks for the reply! I will wait. I was leaning towards the Toshiba due to its IPS display. But the Baytrail processor worries me. I read reviews on the Asus c300, and it like, its good. But, not as good as Haswell or i3…

  3. Hmm that’s something to consider… In weekends ill have my beefed up desktop but during the week a laptop would be my only machine. What alternatives would you recommend? And no idea on a release date then?

    Thanks a lot

  4. rcouellet

    Performance is an issue? It’s a laptop, under $300, and it runs at 1080p. If it can surf the internet and run a word processing program you’re already ahead of the curve, lol.

  5. Kevin,

    ZDNet reported that the performance was greatly improved after an unpdate from Google optimized it for the K1. Cnet likewise had only good things to say about it’s performance. Does this review reflect pre or post update performance?

    And also I’m seriously looking at buying one of these for school but I haven’t been able to find a releae date anywhere and classes have already started so I can’t wait for ever. Any idea when I will actually be able to buy one of these?

    • Liny, I worked with Acer’s PR department a few days back as I was seeing strange issues with the device. I didn’t report on them because the issues were resolved with the software updates. I then completely re-tested and benchmarked the device for this review so it reflects the latest software updates.

      Others pointed me to the ZDNet review but I don’t put much stock in it; there are no benchmarks to help distinguish basic performance and the author claimed the device runs faster than Acer’s Chromebook powered by an Intel Core i3, which is highly unlikely, if not nonsensical as ARM-architecture simply isn’t there yet.

    • Ah, almost forgot about availability: Acer hasn’t provided any release dates. It has mentioned a free two-month trial of Google Play Music that must be redeemed by Sept. 30 so I’d expect availability soon. Sorry I can’t be more specific but that’s all the information they provided me.

    • I don’t understand your point at all, Sridhar. I think I was pretty clear about the performance being mediocre. As far as the plastic, here’s a direct quote from The Verge, which generally lines up with my impression:

      “It’s still plastic in every place, but it’s not the cheap-feeling plastic that Acer uses on the C720 and other Chromebooks.”

  6. I’d be interested in knowing how well it runs Linux using crouton. I’m sorta holding out for the 64-bit Denver K1 chip. Since Denver is pin compatible with the 32-bit K1, it could be available as an option fairly soon after Denver is launched. With crouton and a Linux for Tegra system image, this could be a very inexpensive way to do GPU development on the go.

  7. Thanks for the review Kevin. I would like you to review the differences and Performances of the Samsung Chromebook 2 (13 ich) and the Acer Chromebook 13 with fullhd and 4 Gigs.
    I head the Toshiba Chromebook 2 will come with a 13 ich screen in a 12 inch case with Intel Baytrail Dualcore N2840. How about this performance compared to the ARM Tegra Cpu-wise? And wouldn’t 12 inch Chromebooks (12,5 inch by 16:9) be optimale against to small 11,6 inch and too big 13,3 inch. That would be 0,9 inch bigger than 11 inch and 0,8 inch smaller than 13 inch Models.

  8. Craig Campbell

    Great review Kevin, disappointing to hear that the performance is not quite up to snuff :-(

    I tried an HP Chromebook 11 and returned it – awesome screen and keyboard, abysmal performance. I tried an Acer c720p – great performance, awful screen and keyboard! I have an old Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook which I just got back after having loaned it to a friend for several months. Great screen and keyboard, decent performance, but…… terrible battery life!! I can’t win!

    When will we get a Chromebook which hits the sweet spot!?

    Which model is your go-to Chromebook these days?

      • Craig Campbell

        The Pixel is still an object of desire, don’t think I haven’t been tempted, but even I have to draw the line somewhere :-) As lovely as it is, I just think for that price, a Macbook Air, 13″ Retina Pro, Surface Pro 3 or any number of ultrabooks are better value for money. However, it does have the integrated LTE, which is not to be sniffed at! I wish more manufacturers would include that.

      • I looked at other sites, but by far Amazon had the best price. It arvried on time and great condition.The keypad was very easy to install and now I have my laptop back in action!

  9. Robby Payne

    Thanks for the review, Kevin. I’m awaiting mine to show up from Amazon to put it through the paces. I am waiting on the 4GB/1080p version, so I’ll be interested to see if it helps the performance any. I’m not holding my breath, though.

    • Internet access on ciusre ships, regardless of the ciusre line, is very expensive. And regardless of whether you use the ship’s internet cafe or your own laptop for wifi service the cost is the same, about $ .60 cents a minute or more for a by the minute rate. You can buy packages of minutes for a little less but the cost will still be expensive.Your best bet for good prices on internet service will be to wait for port stops and use a land based internet cafe. There you will be able to get internet service for between $ 2.00 and $ 5.00 per hour. And internet cafes are very easy to find in ports in the Caribbean. Every port we have been to has an internet cafe. Many times you can see the cafe sign from the ship. Otherwise ask the cabin steward and/or your wait staff where the internet cafe will be for the next port. They know because the crew members who have time off go ashore to the internet and phone cafes. My suggestion is to log onto your school assignment site and download or print what you need to do and complete the assignment offline. Then when you are done long on again and complete the assignment in a much shorter period of time. While most internet cafes on ship do not allow downloads on their PC’s you can do that on your own laptop. And most ship’s internet cafe’s also will print pages for you for a fee.The other option is to get from your teacher/instructor the assignments for the week for you to complete offline and submit online.