When Chromebooks first hit stores, they were designed to make excuses for their shortcomings. Chrome OS demands constant connectivity, of course, and manufacturers were timid about bundling it with a full-size system. Instead they picked what were effectively netbooks. Tiny, inexpensive, highly portable devices for people with limited computing needs.
Gradually, though, the range of devices has broadened as Chrome OS has gained confidence. First came 13-inch systems, then 14-inch, and now Acer has debuted the world’s first 15-inch Chromebook. That’s an important benchmark, because while it may seem archaic to some, it’s still the size people purchase most.
And the Acer Chromebook 15 does more than just increase display size. It also offers powerful Intel processors based off the latest architecture, up to 4GB of RAM and an optional 1080p display, all for $350 (a less impressive base model is $250). That seems like a recipe for success, but can Google’s operating system really power a full-sized notebook?
Hands on video
Acer’s new Chromebook is bright. Very bright. Its all-white plastic body is a drastic departure from the somber silvers and blacks most notebooks rely on, and while color is a bit more common in the Chromebook lineup than elsewhere, the sheer size of this notebook makes the choice of a white chassis more striking. Some in the DT office found in overwrought. Others thought it playful. No one found it attractive.
Shield your eyes! The bright, white Chromebook 15 is an eye-catcher, for better or worse.
The plastic chassis may not look luxurious, but it does seem sturdy, with minimal flex and a tight panel gaps. Opting for white also makes the system less likely to show scratches and fingerprints, though dirt may become an issue after a few years of use.
Aside from its color, and sturdy materials, there’s not a lot to remark on. Hinge design, display bezel size, thickness; it’s all what you’d expect from an inexpensive notebook. This is not a system that looks any more expensive than it is, but it gets the job done.
Mostly. Connectivity is a sore point because there are only two USB 3.0 ports, along with HDMI for video-out. An audio jack and SDcard reader round out the options. Wireless connectivity is better, as the system offers 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.
Adequate means excellent, at this price
Since it’s large, the Acer Chromebook 15 has plenty of room for a keyboard, and it surprisingly doesn’t waste any of that space on a numpad. While some users may miss it, it’s the right call, since this system is unlikely to be used for serious data entry. The result is a spacious layout. Typing is made better still by respectable key travel and a precise bottoming action. Anyone will feel instantly at home with these keys.
Aside from the function row, which offers the usual Chrome OS shortcuts, there are no extra features to remark on. Even backlighting is not available.
The touchpad, which measures about four inches wide and three inches deep, is respectable. Chrome OS has relatively simple touch input support, and when that is combined with responsive hardware, as found here, the result an intuitive experience. Acer probably could’ve made the touchpad larger, but that’s a nit-pick.
1080p at $349 is as awesome as it sounds
We didn’t have to spend much time with this system to figure out its display is its standout feature. 1080p resolution, spread across 15.6 diagonal inches, results in pixel density of about 141 per inch. That’s not going to compete with Retina, of course, but it’s high enough to craft an image that, with proper source content, looks impressively sharp.
The panel also made a good impression in contrast and color accuracy. Unfortunately we can’t test it as precisely as other notebooks because our test software does not run on Chrome OS, but subjectively the Chromebook 15’s quality is at least competitive with a typical 1080p notebook. It provides a crisp, punchy, balanced image. Contrast suffers a bit because of the system’s matte coat, but that same trait makes the system easy to use in bright rooms or even beside a sunlit window.
A pair of speakers flank the keyboard, providing strong, clear audio. Because this is a notebook, and not a boombox, audio still leaves room for improvement. Maximum volume is only mediocre and bass, though present and accounted for, sometimes causes the system to rattle unpleasantly. Still, the experience is reasonable given the Chromebook’s low price.
All the processor Chrome OS needs
The most powerful Chromebook around is Google’s own Pixel, which comes standard with a Core i5 and can be upgraded to a Core i7. Acer’s Chromebook 15, by contrast, has a Celeron 3205U dual-core clocked at 1.5GHz. It lacks Turbo Boost and Hyper-Threading, so it’s just two cores running two threads at the base clock, all the time.
Having used the system, however, we’re not sure why anyone would need more. Chrome OS can’t handle the tasks that can really put a laptop to the test, like video editing or serious photo editing, so the fact the Celeron might not be great for either is irrelevant. The processor was plenty quick for Web browsing, and it didn’t feel slower in Google Drive or PicMonkey than a typical Windows system. RAM may be partially responsible for this, too: Most Chromebooks ship with 2GB, but our review unit had four.
We also noticed the Chromebook 15, equipped with the latest version of basic Intel HD graphics, was more capable in games than its previous compatriots. The system was able to render the 3D browser game From Dust at a playable framerate, a first for a Chromebook we’ve reviewed. 2D titles like Spelunky were a cakewalk. No one will, or should, purchase this laptop for gaming purposes, but it’s workable if you need to kill a few hours with some browser-based shenanigans.
Not portable, but still long-lasting
Like most 15.6-inch systems the Chromebook 15 is not the best travel companion. It’ll work, but it won’t fit easily into cramped quarters and requires a large backpack to carry. At a tad under 5 pounds it’s not the heaviest of its kind, but it’s not the lightest, either.
The 1080p panel served up a punchy, crisp image.
It does last quite a while on a charge, however. Acer claims eight hours and in the Peacekeeper web browsing test we obtained six hours, 57 minutes. That is a long way from the best notebooks around, but given the price and size of this system, it’s respectable. It also beats both the 14-inch and 17-inch versions of Acer’s basic E-series Windows notebook, which we reviewed last year.
Intel deserves much of the credit. In our tests the notebook consumed only 9 watts at idle, with the display at maximum brightness, and 18 watts at load. The latter figure is the lowest we’ve ever recorded from a 15-inch system.
Chrome keeps calm
What happens when you put a basic, power-efficient processor in a large chassis with an active fan? Not much, and that’s good. While the fan was always noticeable in a dead-silent room, it was never louder than 35.6 decibels which is among the lowest load noise figure we’ve recorded since the Acer Aspire E5 17-inch, which placed a basic processor in an even larger system.
Heat was held in check, as well. At idle we recorded a maximum external temperature of 82.8 degrees Fahrenheit, which is quite low, and at load that number rose to only 87.7 degrees, the lowest result we’ve seen in 2015.
The Chromebook 15 comes with a typical one-year warranty that covers parts and labor. It’s nothing extravagant, but users can’t expect more given the system’s MSRP.
A note on Chrome OS
Being a Chromebook, the capabilities of this system are different from a Windows PC. This system can’t run common software and lacks the ability to interface with some peripherals. The benefits and limitations of Chrome OS are outside the scope of this review, but if you’re interested, you can read our comparison with Windows.
ConclusionAcer has a history of building excellent Chromebooks. That may be due of experience; it was, along with Samsung, one of the first two manufacturers to jump on board. And the Chromebook 15 continues the company’s record of hits.
Aside from the design, which may appear gaudy to some, there’s a lot to like and little to complain about. The display is excellent, battery life is respectable, and performance is excellent. Keyboard and touchpad quality measure up to the competition. Even the speakers are strong, for the price.
About the price. The base model, with 1,366 x 768 display, is only $250, and our upgraded review unit retails at $350. That actually doesn’t stomp on PC competitors, some of which sell for near $250 with Windows 8.1 installed, but none under $500 offer a 1080p panel. In that respect, the more expensive Chromebook 15 actually seems the better value, as it offers a unique feature not found on other inexpensive 15-inchers.
This Acer takes Chrome OS somewhere it’s never been before; mainstream computing. Whether Google will be able to compete with Windows and OS X in the coming years is an open question, but now it at least has a fighting chance.
- Sharp 1080p display
- Solid all-round performance
- Enjoyable keyboard and touchpad
- Low price
- Somewhat gaudy design
- Could use more USB ports
- Not significantly less expensive than Windows notebooks