Colossal battery life. Snappy keyboard. Two USB-C and two USB 3.0 ports.
Big and bulky. Lackluster display. Android app support remains hit-or-miss.
- Bottom Line
Acer's aluminum-clad Chromebook 15 packs spectacular battery life along with a sprawling 15.6-inch screen, but it's not very bright.
We've gotten so used to tiny 11.6-inch and 12.5-inch chromebooks that we were momentarily startled when we took the Acer Chromebook 15 out of the box and it just kept coming: This $399.99 Acer has a 15.6-inch display, the most popular size among Windows consumer laptops, and the footprint to match. The large screen size is great for getting work done (and so is the excellent battery life), but its dull display keeps it from impressing, and from replacing the Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA as our current top consumer chromebook.
A Touch of Class
A brushed aluminum lid and shiny beveled edges give the Chromebook 15 an upscale look. Like other 15.6-inch laptops, it's a tad bulky in a crowded briefcase, but at 4 pounds it's not too much of an anvil inside one. At 0.75 by 14.9 by 10.1 inches (HWD), it's about as big as the HP Notebook 15 (ba009dx) (0.9 by 15.1 by 10 inches) and bigger than the Dell XPS 15 (0.66 by 14.1 by 9.3 inches).
The screen is not only large but sharp, with full HD (1,920-by-1,080) resolution instead of the lowest-common-denominator 1,366-by-768, and it's a touch screen that responds to taps and swipes, although the Acer is a conventional clamshell laptop and not a 2-in-1 convertible like the Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA. The screen is an in-plane switching (IPS) panel, but viewing from extreme angles is handicapped by reflections on its glossy surface (and the smudges that come from using that surface for touch operations). More disappointing is the display's lack of brightness. We found it passable only at the top couple of backlight settings, and even there, the colors looked muddy and bland instead of vivid or popping. This is a particular letdown because the screen's 1080p resolution makes details, whether the spinners on a pinball machine or the studio lights reflecting on John Oliver's glasses, wonderfully clear.
Connectivity is highlighted by four USB ports—one USB 3.0 and one USB-C apiece on the left and right edges of the system. The AC adapter plugs into one of the USB-C ports, as does an external monitor if you have a DisplayPort adapter. You'll also find a security lock slot on the left and an audio jack and the micro SD slot on the right. Bluetooth 4.2 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi handle wireless communications.
The Chromebook 15 is backed by a one-year warranty.
Smooth Typing, Decent Sound
Even bracketed by speakers, its keyboard looks lost in the expanse of its deck and palm rest, or at least lost enough that we wonder why Acer didn't, say, add Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys. The keyboard, backlit mostly around the edges of the keys instead of through the letters, follows the standard Chromebook layout, with a search/app launch instead of Caps Lock key and a top row of system and browser shortcut keys. We are happy to see the cursor arrow keys in an inverted T instead of a row.
Travel is on the shallow side but typing feel is crisp, with firm feedback; some users might find it stiff but we hit 92 words per minute in only our second try at an online typing test. The buttonless touchpad responds smoothly to one- and two-finger taps (left- and right-clicks) but feels springy when pressed to click.
Sound from the upward-facing speakers is distorted at top volume but more than loud and clear enough at three-quarters volume. Drums drowned out vocals in some of our pop and rock tracks, but most instruments were rich and realistic. The same can't be said for images from the webcam above the screen, which are generally dim and soft-focus.
Google Play Access
The Acer 15 joins other 2017 chromebooks in combining access to the mostly online apps of Chrome OS and the Chrome Web Store with limited compatibility with the millions of Android apps in the Google Play Store, many of which appear in vertical smartphone-screen windows on the laptop's display.
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The feature is still a bit beta-testy for our tastes: Microsoft Outlook worked, except for one dialog box that flashed and disappeared before we could tap it, but Word and Excel reported, "Your device isn't compatible with this version." Netflix, Photoshop Express, and games like Tetris, Pinball Deluxe Reloaded, and Bubble Witch 3 Saga (for the two levels we could stand it) worked fine. Playing MP3s sometimes worked with Google Play Music, but sometimes required Chrome Audio Player. Overall, we think Android support remains tantalizing, but the best Chromebooks can live without it (using Word and Excel, for instance, through the browser-based Office Online alternatives to Google Docs).
An Unplugged Performer
The Chromebook 15 comes packed with an Intel Pentium N4200 processor, 4GB of memory, and 32GB of flash storage—double the RAM and onboard storage of cheap minimalist chromebooks—with the 32GB bolstered by a micro SD card slot and the usual free offer of 100GB of Google Drive cloud storage for two years.
The Pentium N4200 is a 6-watt CPU with four cores, a low 1.1GHz clock speed (though it can manage a burst speed of 2.5GHz), and integrated graphics. Teamed with the 4GB of memory, it makes the Acer 15 a smooth multitasker. Chromebooks don't run our usual Windows-based performance benchmarks, but we opened a dozen Chrome tabs, including a YouTube video, as well as Outlook, Netflix, and an Android game and saw no slowdown or stutter when switching among tabs and apps.
And in the one benchmark Chromebooks share with Windows laptops, our battery rundown test, the Acer was spectacular: Playing a locally stored MP4 video of the Lord of the Rings trilogy with screen brightness at 50 percent and audio volume at 100 percent, the system lasted for 17 hours and 25 minutes, besting the Chromebook Flip by 7 hours. To be sure, the screen was so murky at that setting that we couldn't tell Frodo from Gandalf, but we estimate you should easily get through a workday with several hours to spare at sufficient brightness.
Does Size Matter?
All in all, while we applaud its battery life and keyboard, its lackluster display keeps the Acer Chromebook 15 from challenging the Asus Flip C302CA for our Editors' Choice among consumer chromebooks. The compact Asus costs $100 more, but offers not only a bright screen but convertible versatility, a perkier Core m3 CPU, twice the storage, and a warranty with accidental damage protection. Still, if you're longing for a lap-filling, big-screen Chromebook, and can tolerate the lackluster screen, give the Acer a look.
Other Acer Laptops & Notebooks
By Eric Grevstad Contributing Editor
Formerly editor-in-chief of Home Office Computing, Eric Grevstad is a contributing editor for PCMag and Computer Shopper, where he earlier served as lead laptop analyst and executive editor, respectively. A tech journalist since the TRS-80 and Apple II days, Grevstad specializes in lightweight laptops, all-in-one desktops, and productivity software, all of which he uses when commuting and telecommuting between PC Labs and a cat-filled home office in Boston. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @EricGrevstad…. More »
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