Starting Configuration Price
Low price. Long battery life. Military-grade rugged exterior. Water resistant.
Not very powerful. Weak speakers.
- Bottom Line
The Acer Chromebook 11 N7 is a great choice for students who are looking for a cheap, tough touch-screen laptop that can take a beating, but just don't expect to do more than simple tasks.
Once known as simple, inexpensive alternatives to Windows laptops, over the past few years chromebooks have added features and more powerful components that have made their prices bloat close to the $500 mark. The fully loaded Asus Chromebook Flip is a good example. The Acer Chromebook 11 N7 ($229; $279 as tested), however, is more like what we're used to seeing in a chromebook. It's a rugged, no-frills Chrome OS laptop with impressive battery life and an HD touch screen with in-plane switching (IPS) technology. It'll do for those looking for a sturdy, portable, and budget-friendly notebook for surfing the web and checking email.
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Small Yet Comfy
At 0.87 by 11.72 by 8.27 inches (HWD) and just a hair under 3 pounds, the Chromebook 11 N7's size is average compared with other chromebooks. That means that it's small and light enough for students to throw in a backpack. The Chromebook Flip is thinner and weighs just a bit more at 0.53 by 11.96 by 8.26 inches and 2.43 pounds. The cheaper Dell Inspiron 11 3000 Series (3162), a Windows-based Editors' Choice option, has a smaller footprint at 0.69 by 11.1 by 7.6 inches, but is a bit heavier at 2.46 pounds.
The screen can open up just past 180 degrees so that you can lay it flat on a table. (The Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook is the same price and can flip all the way around into tablet mode.) Open it up and you'll find a full-sized keyboard in the standard chromebook layout, which means large left Ctrl and Alt keys (since there's no Windows or Command key) and a Search key instead of Caps Lock. The top has keys offering shortcuts to back, forward, and refresh functions.
The keyboard has scissor-switch keys with 1.44 mm of travel and a matte finish that offers a decent grip for your fingers and is comfortable to type on. The buttonless touch pad offers both two-finger scrolling and three-finger navigation to easily allow you to swipe between tabs. Tapping with two fingers serves as a right click.
The 1,366-by-768 display may not be 1080p, but it's a multitouch screen using Acer's Cinecrystal technology, which features LED backlighting. On top of that, our upgraded review unit's IPS screen offers a wide viewing angle and decent picture quality, considering the resolution. (The $229 model has the same resolution but without the touch screen IPS display.) The Dell Inspiron 11 offers a 720p screen as well, minus the IPS technology. Not surprising considering its $500 price tag, the Chromebook Flip offers higher-resolution full HD. In contrast, the $199 HP Stream 11-y010nr features the same size and resolution display as the Chromebook 11, but it's not as high quality. A 720p HD webcam located above the Chromebook 11's panel offers an 88-degree viewing angle and produces a nice, clear image in Google Hangouts.
The Chromebook 11 N7's sturdy, reinforced plastic case doesn't really stand out, but it can take the rough and tumble of life in dorms and high school hallways, so it's a good pick for students. It's plain and unassuming but has a good heft to it and doesn't feel cheap. Acer designed it with a dark gray impact-resistant body that offers military-grade shock resistance, which means it should keep running even if it falls off of your desk. The 11 N7 also features Acer's unique spill-resistant keyboard. This design allows more than 11 ounces of liquid to be spilled over the keyboard, draining through two ports on the bottom of the device and away from important components. As scary as it is to dump a glass of water on your laptop, it kept working even while completely wet during our testing.
A thick rubber foot runs underneath the entire back of the laptop, giving you solid balance and grip on a desk. It also has the neat side effect of making the system easy to grab and carry around without it slipping out of your hands.
Slim Port Selection
As you'd figure from such a low-cost laptop, there's not much in the way of ports. On the left edge there's a USB 3.0 port, an HDMI port, an SDXC card slot, and a standard 3.5mm audio jack. On the right edge is another USB 3.0 port, a Kensington lock slot, and the port for the 45W power adapter. Notably missing is a USB-C port, which we've seen starting to creep onto chromebooks like the Chromebook Flip, which has two.
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The two speakers offer a surprising amount of volume, but the quality isn't impressive. They lack any real bass and make most songs sound tinny. Sound is further muffled if you use the notebook on your lap, as the speakers are located on the bottom of the body. We would recommend getting a solid pair of headphones for watching movies in bed.
Chromebooks can't run our usual Windows-based performance benchmarks. The Acer did very well on our battery rundown test, though, lasting an impressive 12 hours and 4 minutes. That places it solidly between our tests for the Asus Chromebook Flip (10:23) and the Acer Chromebook 15 (14:17). The Dell Inspiron 11, running 64-bit Windows, lasted for 10:05.
The 11 N7 features a 1.60 GHz Intel Celeron N3060 dual-core processor with integrated Intel HD Graphics 400 and 4GB of RAM, so it's got power for regular web browsing and schoolwork, but don't expect to do any heavy-lifting tasks. During our time with it, there was noticeable stuttering and slowdown when multiple tabs were open, especially while listening to music on Google Play. The Dell Inspiron 11 uses a similar processor and even less memory, so while it is cheaper, it won't be faster. The Asus Chromebook Flip, for its added price, includes a faster Intel Core m3 processor.
As with all of this year's chromebooks, the 11 N7 promises access to the more than 2 million Android apps available on the Google Play store, but that feature is currently only available on certain models, and this is not one of them. Google has promised it would be coming soon, so later this year owners can hope to get a lot more functionality out of their system. For now you'll have to make due with Chrome Web Store apps.
The 16GB of Flash storage will go fast, especially since you're down to 9GB of free space out of the box, but you also get 100GB of Google Drive storage free for two years. The Asus Chromebook Flip offers more local storage at 64GB, while the Inspiron 11 is between the two at 32GB. You can also use the SDXC card slot to expand the local storage.
A Smart Choice for Students
With a durable build, a comfy keyboard, and a battery that will last you all day, there's a lot to like about the Acer Chromebook 11 N7. More expensive chromebooks offer features like backlit keyboards, styli, and 360-degree hinges that allow you to use them in tablet mode, but if you want to spend half the money and still get a good system, the 11 N7 is a solid choice. If you can stretch your wallet, you may want to splurge on a faster laptop with a 1080p screen and tablet functionality, such as our Editor's Choice Asus Chromebook Flip. We've also recently tested a number of impressive under-$500 Windows laptops such as the Editors' Choice Lenovo Ideapad Miix 320 and the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 Series 2-in-1 (3179).
Alex Riviello has worked as an entertainment journalist for over a decade, covering the worlds of tech, film, and video games. A life-long technology nerd, he has been dabbling in programming and building his own computers ever since his dad came home with an Atari 800 and a copy of BASIC Programming. He has written for outlets as varied as Slashfilm, ZAM, Birth.Movies.Death., and Geek.com. More »
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