The Acer Chromebook 15 is a follow-up to the eponymous laptop launched at CES earlier this year. Acer has dumbed down the specs on this latest model and chopped £20 off the price, but it’s not hugely different from its predecessor.
In brief, the new CB3-531 has a lower display resolution, less powerful processor, less RAM, and smaller built-in storage than the three-month-old CB5-571. It does come with a few added perks, however, including improved battery life and a very slight weight reduction.
Acer's launching this new Chromebook ahead of the back-to-school season, in hopes of wooing students looking to buy a reliable notebook that won't break the bank.
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The most stark design aspect of the new Acer Chromebook 15 is its sheer size – this thing is truly huge. Chromebooks – and laptops in general – have tended to err on the side of thinner and lighter, but not here. If the name didn’t give it away, you’re getting a 15.6-inch display. The exact dimensions of the device are 383 x 256 x 24.2mm, which means it’s bigger than the MacBook Air and the Toshiba Chromebook 2. It’s also pretty heavy, weighing a cumbersome 2kg. That’s still 0.2kg less than its heftier Chromebook 15 cousin, however.
While the bulky build of the new Chromebook 15 makes it difficult to lug about, there is an upside. You never feel short of space with this laptop. The chiclet keys on the keyboard aren’t crammed tightly together, for a start. There’s also the large touchpad, which Acer claims is the biggest on any Chromebook. I enjoyed using the touchpad, and the built-in gesture controls worked quite well.
The large 15.6-inch screen is equally impressive, although the new model doesn’t have a Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution display like its predecessor. Instead, it uses a 1366 x 768-resolution panel, which still qualifies as HD. That’s fine for a notebook, and I found the display to be sharp and vivid. Opting for the lower-resolution model also helps give battery life a boost too, but more on that later.
Acer has also opted for an anti-glare display on the Chromebook 15. That’s particularly useful on a laptop because you move them around and can’t always avoid sunlight. I tried out the Chromebook at the World Trade Center in New York with daylight streaming through the windows and had no issue seeing on-screen content, even at obtuse angles.
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Sound comes courtesy of two upward-facing dual-stereo speaker grills that sit either side of the keyboard. I tried out a few music videos on YouTube and the sound quality was fine for casual viewing and listening.
Unlike the i3/i5-toting CB5-571, the new Chromebook 15 rocks a less powerful Intel Celeron N2830 processor. That’s a notebook-specific system-on-a-chip that makes use of two processor cores. It can be clocked up to 2.4GHz, which is plenty for generic tasks. Graphics come courtesy of an integrated Intel HD GPU built onto the chip. This means you won’t want to try gaming on this device at all – Solitaire should be OK, mind.
The Chromebook 15 packs 2GB of RAM, which is down on the 4GB built into its predecessor. There’s also only one storage option – 16GB of eMMC flash storage. Chromebooks typically use flash storage because it’s very quick. It’s also expensive, which is why they don’t tend to come with high capacity. The CB5-571 model announced back at CES has a 32GB storage option, however, if you’re keen for more built-in memory. It’s also important to remember that you can always expand your storage with an external drive if the Chromebook’s base offering isn’t enough.
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If you hadn’t already guessed, the Chromebook 15 runs on Google’s Chrome OS. Although it’s not as wildly popular as Windows and Mac OS, it’s certainly a formidable operating system. It’s designed entirely around Google’s vast ecosystem, which means you’ll need a Google account to get the most out of it. There’s plenty of support for Google wares, however, including Hangouts, Drive, Gmail, etc. The fast flash storage worked really great when I tried out Chrome OS on the Chromebook 15; apps loaded quickly and animations didn’t judder.
The Chromebook 15 also comes with a HD webcam, with added support for HDR (high dynamic range) shooting. This means you can video call in outdoor environments where there might be a wide range of shadows and highlights – a dark background and a bright sky, for example – and not lose so much detail.
Perhaps one of the biggest selling points of the Chromebook 15, however, is the battery life. While I didn’t get enough hands-on time to test out the cell, Acer claims the Chromebook 15 is good for 11.5 hours of use. That’s up on the 9 hours offered by the CB5-571 version. Anything above 10 hours of usage is great for a laptop, and I would be very surprised if the Chromebook 15 couldn’t manage it. It uses an efficient 22nm low-power processor and boasts a 720p display; both of these factors help reduce power consumption.
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The Chromebook market is still in its infancy, but the ecosystem has already proved itself to offer incredible value for money – just look at the £199 Toshiba Chromebook 2 for proof of that. We’ll need to wait to get our hands on a review model before we can say whether Acer’s offering trumps the Toshiba notebook, however.
So the key take-aways are that the new Acer Chromebook 15 is big and cheap. It’s huge, and your MacBook Air-toting mates will probably have a good laugh at your expense. You won’t care, though, because you’ll have a spare £800 thanks to the Chromebook’s wallet-friendly pricing. Whether you feel paying an extra £20 for its more powerful sibling is really down to user preference, however. If you value battery life and weight, go for the new one. If you want a bit more processing heft and a sizeable Full HD display, pick up the earlier model. Stay tuned for our full review in due course.