Acer Chromebook 14 Full review
Since Google started pushing its Chromebook platform as a consumer-focused product, Acer has been there leading the charge with some of the best models. Perhaps the most popular Chromebook of all time, the C720, came from Acer, and the company commands a substantial portion of the Chrome OS market at this point.
But all of that success came on the back of low-end, affordable Chromebooks that leaned more toward the side of "cheap throw-away" than "solid laptop to be proud of using." To be fair to Acer that's where the entire Chromebook market was at — that is, until 2015 when a few different manufacturers hit the scene with new mid-range models that upped the performance and hardware quality over the bargain basement norm.
Acer's response to the likes of Dell, HP and Toshiba is this, the new Chromebook 14. Built out of aluminum and packing really solid specs even in its base model, the Chromebook 14 ticks a lot of boxes for those who want the simplicity of a Chromebook but are willing to pay just a little bit more for something that's actually enjoyable to touch and look at.
At $299, the Chromebook 14 is fitting the mold nicely — this is our full review.
About this review
I (Andrew Martonik) am writing this review after over a week using the $299 retail model of the Acer Chromebook 14, which ships with a 1920x1080 resolution display, 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. The entirety of the review was conducted on the stable channel of Chrome OS.
Acer Chromebook 14 Hardware and display
Though we've come a long way from the time when you just couldn't get a Chromebook that actually looked and felt nice, we aren't out of the woods quite yet. Your average $200-300 Chromebook today — including many from Acer — is still built quite cheaply and doesn't exhibit much in the way of inspired design, but thankfully the Chromebook 14 is not one of those laptops.
Much was made about this being an all-aluminum laptop, but the important thing here is that the Chromebook 14 is actually made well, no matter the material choices. The entire bottom of the laptop is a big slab of well-machined aluminum, as is a majority of its lid — though the outer coating is a somewhat down-market texture with a cheaper finish. All of the seams line up nicely, the edges are rounded well, and you don't feel it flexing in your hands when you pick it up. The other side of the equation here is weight: the 14-inch laptop is 3.42 pounds — not exactly light and portable. I like to draw that line closer to three pounds.
You'll find a pair of speaker grilles on the bottom of the laptop, which, due to the curve of the bottom, are slightly raised off of the surface on which you're laying the laptop. The speakers sound a bit hollow, lacking much bass output, but get pretty darn loud. They're easily good enough for any media you'll be consuming, but you'll probably look for headphones if you're watching a full-length movie. Another interesting note is that the display hinge lets the lid go all the way back to a completely flat configuration, meaning you'll never be limited in positioning it for proper viewing.
There isn't anything particularly striking about the design — that is, unless you're really fond of what a MacBook Air looks like — but that's not an issue at all for me so long as it's well-made and feels solid, which it is and does. You won't be embarrassed to open this up at a coffee shop, or leave it out on a table at home — it's a respectably handsome laptop.
The port offering on the Chromebook 14 is great in many ways, but comes up short in one. On the good side, you have two USB 3.0 ports, which is fantastic, and they both occupy the same side of the laptop, which I like. They're set right next to a full-sized HDMI port and a laptop locking slot, if you need that sort of thing. On the opposite side you get a standard headphone/microphone jack, and a ho-hum barrel-style power connector. The big missing feature here for me is an SD card slot, which I like to have for the potential of augmenting the 32GB of internal storage down the road — most other Chromebooks offer an SD card slot, and it's a bit odd to see it missing on a larger machine like this.
On the display front, Acer has loaded up a 1080p IPS LCD panel, with a semi-reflective covering that works to split the difference between visibility and image quality. Viewing angles are just about as good as you'd ever need, and because the screen isn't covered in a big sheet of glare-inducing glass you can actually use it when there's some sun coming through the window or you're outside in less-than-harsh sun.
Everything looks rather nice on the display in terms of colors and crispness of text, which you can't always say for displays on cheap Chromebooks, but the one shortcoming here is the screen's overall brightness. In the entire review period for this laptop I never found myself using it at less than 50% brightness, and was usually close to 100% to get the best viewing experience — even indoors. While I'm completely willing to take a little drop in brightness to get a panel that's much clearer and better looking than most of the competition, it's still something to keep in mind here. You aren't getting a completely bright and vibrant display like you may on a laptop that cost a couple hundred dollars more.
Acer Chromebook 14 Specs
Acer manages to check a lot of boxes in terms of specs on the Chromebook 14, and thankfully for us is also putting more weight behind the higher of the two models. The laptop is advertised primarily at $299, which is the model with a 1080p display — a lower model starts at $279 with a 720p display.
|Display||14-inch Active Matrix TFT LCD, 1920x1080 resolution|
|Processor||Intel Celeron N3160 quad-core 1.6 GHz|
Burst up to 2.24 GHz
Intel HD Graphics 400
|Ports||2x USB 3.0, HDMI (HDCP), headphone/microphone|
|Battery||3-cell Li-Po 3920 mAh|
12 hour battery life
|Charger||Barrel-style proprietary connector|
|Dimensions||13.43 x 9.31 x .67 inches|
These are all pretty standard numbers, but you do notice a few standouts: both USB ports are USB 3.0, and you get the latest wireless radios with 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2.
Acer Chromebook 14 Keyboard and trackpad
Keyboards and trackpads in particular have been cost-cutting areas for Chromebook manufacturers, and Acer walks that line between cost and quality well in all of its Chromebook models.
The Chromebook 14's keyboard is full sized with a standard Chrome OS layout, including typical shortcut keys in place of function keys, with no extra buttons from Acer. The key caps themselves are lightly textured and generally feel pretty cheap, though they don't wobble much or have excess lateral movement when you rest your fingers on them. Travel on the keys is pretty good, about on par with other thin laptops, but the switches are a tad on the mushy side and don't rebound back up to your finger quite as nicely as a higher-end machine. I had no problem writing the entirety of this 2000-plus word review on the Chromebook 14, as well as use it on a daily basis, but the keyboard does leave just a little to be desired when I compare it to a nicer laptop.
The one missing feature here isn't super high on everyone's list, but is important to note — there's no option for a backlit keyboard on the Chromebook 14. While backlit keyboards are hardly the norm for Chromebooks (they're quite a rarity, in fact), a machine such as this that looks like a high-end offering almost feels like it needs a backlit keyboard. Many people, myself included, would surely pay a premium for a higher model that included it.
The trackpad beneath the keyboard is rather large, as you'd expect for a 14-inch laptop, settling in just slightly shorter than the height of the palm rest and just a tad narrower than the space bar and "alt" key put together. Whereas the keyboard comes up just shy of matching a high-end laptop, I have to say the trackpad comes up a few steps shorter of being comparable. Though it's plenty large, supports multi-finger gestures and is fully clickable, the trackpad has a bit too much drag to it that can make finely mousing around tougher than it needs to be.
The surface of the trackpad isn't as smooth as the glass offerings from higher-end laptops out there, and doesn't come close to what the Dell Chromebook 13 offers. It's just barely smoother than the aluminum casing surrounding it, and that's not a good thing. Even though it's completely serviceable, the trackpad is one of the disappointing portions of the experience that reminds you you're using a $300 machine.
Acer Chromebook 14 Daily use and battery life
Considering that all Chromebooks are running the same operating system with little room for customization from manufacturers, you can expect a base line of functionality between models. But the internal specs vary widely between Chromebooks, leading to dramatic differences in the overall experience.
One thing that really blew me away about Dell's mid-range Chromebook 13 was just how much more powerful it was than the competition. Sure, the model I used retailed close to $500, but having an Intel Core i3 processor inside made a considerable difference in power over the last-gen Intel Celeron N-series chipsets. The Acer Chromebook 14 has the newer Celeron N3150 inside, which gets a tad closer to the experience of the Dell's Core i3 (both laptops have the same 4GB of RAM and 1080p resolution) but still comes up a touch short.
The quad-core processor in the Chromebook 14 has definitely bumped performance up into the range where from that standpoint I could recommend it to just about anyone, which is something I couldn't say about the last-gen N-series chips, such as the Celeron N28XX range. That being said, it wasn't too hard to push the Chromebook 14 to a point where I could tell it was getting overwhelmed with tasks. Having several different apps and tabs open, streaming some music, quickly cycling through apps and loading up some heavy webpages caused background processes to slow down, but, in an improvement from previous-gen chips, the foreground tasks didn't skip a beat. Part of that is due to the 4GB of RAM inside, which I always recommend, but now the processor is up to speed, too.
The Chromebook 14 never slowed down enough to actually impact scrolling speed, tab switching or keyboard/mouse input, which is of the utmost importance. Pushing the Chromebook 14 just as hard as I use my MacBook Air every day (minus the handful of apps that don't have Chrome OS equivalents), the Chromebook performed admirably — that's something I haven't said about any Chromebook other than the Dell Chromebook 13. People who want to max out their tasks and never skip a beat will still be better served by a machine that can offer a Core i3 or higher and potentially 6GB or 8GB of RAM, but for the vast majority of people this combination of a Celeron N3150 and 4GB of RAM will be plenty.
Chrome OS experience
Despite its seemingly constant updates and dramatic increase in quality over the past couple of years, Chrome OS still has a few bugbears that just haven't been resolved and pull back the curtain a little to show that it isn't fully baked right now. The biggest of them all is the amazingly poor handling of higher resolution screens, in which the operating system still fails to properly scale the interface to a proper size on pixel-dense displays.
Aside from Google's first-party Pixel devices, Chromebooks that ship with display resolutions of 1920x1080 — like this Chromebook 14 — or higher have interface elements that are ludicrously small. Google's response to this issue is to tell you to lower the resolution setting (in this case to 1536x864) in the Chromebook's settings, which indeed makes interface elements larger but also introduces blurry images and jagged lines on windows and apps. The other way to tackle this is to set your default page zoom to something like 110 or 125%, which has the opposite issue — webpages and apps are now scaled properly, but the rest of the interface is still tiny. (I ended up landing on the latter system, which has the lowest compromise.)
These sorts of issues have a huge impact on the experience of using a Chromebook, and both of the above methods for scaling the interface really are unacceptable. Any other major operating system can offer you complete and proper interface scaling, and with more and more Chromebooks pushing into this mid-range with 1080p displays, Google has to get this right.
Battery life and charging
Big laptops by design have room for large batteries, but in most cases that usually coincides with a larger display and more power to suck down that extra capacity. That isn't always true with Chromebooks, though, and Acer quotes 12 hours of usage out of the higher-end Chromebook 14 with its 1080p display (and 14 hours with a 720p display). That's a ton of battery life to claim, and essentially means you'd never have to carry the charger with you for any sort of normal day of work.
Of course typical usage of a laptop can range wildly across users — even in the case of a Chromebook — and in my time using it I wasn't pushing up to the 12 hours of usage, but didn't exactly expect to. My typical use case with any Chromebook is having upwards of 10 tabs open in the main Chrome window, as well as Hangouts, Slack and Tweetdeck windows, which of course are always active and using up more battery than your average stagnant browser tab. In this use, I'm looking at more like 10 hours of battery life out of the Chromebook 14, which is still very good but isn't quite pushing to Acer's claims.
Surely if you were taking it easier on the laptop, using fewer tabs or focusing on just a couple of tasks, and don't max out the screen brightness on a regular basis, I have no doubt you could push up toward 12 hours of battery life.
Acer Chromebook 14 Bottom line
Though Acer built its market share on the back of many affordable but solid Chromebooks, like the C720, there's no doubt that the Chromebook 14 is its best model to date overall. At $299 it comes in near the top of the current range of Chromebooks out there, and in many cases may be more than what some people want to pay, but you really get something nice for the little bit of extra money. An aluminum frame that looks and feels great, a nice 1080p display, a solid offering of ports, and solid speakers to boot.
The processor inside is a clear step up from the last generation and makes the Chromebook 14 powerful enough for most people out there, even if the most demanding users will be better off with something faster. No matter your use case you can appreciate the strong battery life as well, which can get into the double digit range with typical use or still push near a full day even when you hit it harder.
Really, the only downsides here are size and weight, where the 14-inch screen and near-3.5 pound weight can start to be too big for some who want a more portable machine. In that case, one of the smaller Chromebooks out there will fit the bill.
Should you buy it? Yes
If you're looking for a great Chromebook that isn't going to break the bank, and don't have super lofty performance needs, the Acer Chromebook 14 is likely to be at the top of your list. Its price is completely reasonable, and the complete package offers you a great experience. So long as you don't need something more portable, you must give this a look if you're in the market.
Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.
No SD card, no buy! Jk Seriously, though, for $300, Acer looks to have a winner, here. Currently, I have the Toshiba Chromebook 2 (2015), and, my biggest gripe with it is the Wi-Fi card. Everything else about the Chromebook 2 is great, except the fact that Wi-Fi drops every other minute. The last two Acer Chromebooks I had were extremely solid machines, hardware- and performance-wise. I'll definitely have to give this one a solid look. It's a bummer, that it doesn't have an SD card slot, as I do have a 128GB micro-SD card with adapter, loaded up w/ music, movies, comics/books, etc. However, an adapter (cheap, on Amazon) easily remedies that issue. It's amazing, now, for a laptop to have a 1080p screen, for $300. I honestly thought we would never get to that point, of being able to purchase a full-HD laptop for under $500. My parents are in the market for a laptop for casual web-browsing. I'll point them to this review. Thanks, AC! Posted via my Gift from God Nexus 5X/Nexus 6 with Project Fi
Question! What format do you load your movies and what app do you use to watch them?
I mainly use MP4s, and the built-in media player has been enough. I hope that answers your question! Posted via my Gift from God Nexus 5X/Nexus 6 with Project Fi
vlc crome app Posted via the Android Central App
I'm also using the Toshiba Chromebook 2 with the intel i3 processor. I have never had an issue with Wi-Fi (knock on wood), but do have the issue with my bluetooth mouse stopping for about a minute every so often.
3.5lbs too heavy to be portable? Is the author enfeebled in some way? I remember not long ago an average laptop and power supply would weigh in at well over 6lbs. Kids don't know they are born.
I not-so-fondly remember the days of 6 pound HP "laptops" too. Doesn't mean that I want to break my back carrying one around today. I don't think it's going overboard to say that the "portable" line has been drawn around 3 pounds for a laptop of this size. I have a bag on my back carrying a laptop and plenty of other things on almost a daily basis, it makes a big difference adding another half of a pound to that bag.
Yeah, I definitely do NOT miss those days. I try to keep my bag as light as possible. And, the laptop is usually one of the items that adds the most weight. If at all possible, I try to keep my laptops around 2 pounds and no heavier. Posted via my Gift from God Nexus 5X/Nexus 6 with Project Fi
Making mountains out of molehills. You should be both made to carry around a 2005 Compaq R4000 and PSU for a month, like I used to (without complaint) and then you'll find anything under 4lb a godsend. You've just been spoilt.
thats the whole point though, we have all been spoilt for choice.
My MBA weighs 2.96 pounds and i find that light enough, i have a surface 2 with a keyboad if i want to go even lighter, no one carrys around stuff from '05 anymore so why bring it up in a conversation?
Computers are now light, and id say 3lbs is a good line to be drawn for portablilty.
Also, most of the weight is battery, so.... there's a tradeoff
Nice review,still not too happy with the video review being some Facebook only garbage.I wonder what it looked like?As for no SD card slot,it should have one,but I'm going to use a sandisk low profile 128Gb flash drive in one of the two USB 3.0 ports. Posted via the Android Central App
I didn't do any sort of video review, actually. I just took the thing out of the box and showed it to people while answering questions about it. Facebook Live is a great platform to do that sort of thing. And I even embedded the video in that post when it was done, so you didn't even have to go to Facebook to watch it. http://www.androidcentral.com/were-taking-closer-look-new-acer-chromebook-14-facebook-live
Thank you. Posted via the Android Central App
Facebook sucks. MySpace and MSN messenger is where it's at
Thank you! Posted via the Android Central App
Thanks Andrew, excellent review. I need a good display for my Chromebook nowadays, and having a IPS display is critical for my needs. Glad to see it included, even it its a bit dim as you mention.
Just ordered this to replace my wife's main laptop for the house. We are pretty solid in the Google ecosystem and she didn't need more than a Chromebook, so I waited for this one to release. Definitely agree with the main points here. Value for $299 is solid. I like the build quality for a Chromebook. Battery life is great. She charged it to 100% when she got it, and then plugged it in again for the first time 3 days later. I agree with you on the interface scaling issue. The icons on the taskbar are just too small. I tried changing the resolution but it looked horrible. I guess we wait for an answer from Chrome OS. I also agree with the screen brightness. Not a dealbreaker, but when I went to use it, I kept hitting the brightness button because I assumed it was down 2 or 3 bars, but it wasn't. Overall, I'm very happy with this machine, and even more so at the $299 price point.
Getting closer to what I 'm holding out for. I agree, no backlit keyboard is a problem that I didn't recognize until my Toshiba CB didn't have one - I miss it often. And I'm really holding out for a USB-C Chromebook as my replacement to reduce the number of power bricks I use. Nice device though...
I wouldn't think USB-C for power is that far off from coming down to more Chromebooks. But right now it's just amazingly cheap for these companies to keep making their current power bricks with inexpensive barrel connectors.
Yeah, I can echo this sentiment, regarding USB-C. I'd love for my next workhorse to have it. It's definitely not a deal breaker, right now. However, in the future (01-02 years out), I absolutely will not consider any laptop (Windows/Chromebook) that uses a proprietary charging connector. Posted via my Gift from God Nexus 5X/Nexus 6 with Project Fi
Interested in knowing if the SSD is upgradable? Im thinking more CB's will be getting away from that. Not a deal breaker, just interested in the tinkering side too.
Opened it up, and it doesn't look to be upgradeable, sorry.
Thanks, thats the info I was looking for!
My wife loves her Acer Chromebook 15 and other than the 3205U (and probably the Bluetooth 4.2/802.11ac) it does not seem be much different. We got it for $250 and I imagine it will drop as this one gains circulation. I have not tried the dell chromebook with the i3 so maybe it's all relative but the Acer 15 runs like butter.
The Acer Chromebook 15 has gotten a small reputation for possibly being the best Chromebook to buy if you want to run Linux and want a desktop replacement. Occasionally, Acer will have refurbs for Core i models that are about $250, which for that power and for that screen and specs is a screaming deal. Posted via the Android Central App
I ordered one based on your earlier hands on. I am especially excited for the possibility of android apps on this in the coming months. Would be awesome if square allows all the ff games on here.
Nice , well detailed review. For me the weight and size is a bit too much for a real "on the go" machine. But for me, the deal breaker is no SD slot. I would have liked to see a flap closed, MicroSD, which would not only let me expand storage, but let me move stuff when out of internet range from other devices such as tablets or smartphones. But nice to see Chromebook is coming of age. I will keep my C720 for a while.
SD means deal-breaker? Hmm. What about a low profile USB drive? Sandisk makes some mighty little 64gb drives that are fast enough as storage. Posted via the Android Central App
ya because I have libraries of movies, music and books and other stuff on MicroSD cards that I can easily move from tablet to phone to CB. The USB drives would just be an extra step of taking stuff from the sd in the phone, etc, copying to USB then first having the dongle , even the low profile ones, sticking out of the CB. I was not happy when Galaxy phones took out the MicroSD, and I guess I was not alone, because with the G7 its back
You can get a USB drive that takes a MicroSD card. You just pop the sd card in it. They are 5-7 dollars on amazon. You still have that thing sticking out of your latptop, but no need to copy anything. I'd put a link on here but i am not sure that is ok, so if you just search on amazon, this is an example: Transcend Information USB 3.0 Card Reader (TS-RDF5W), you will see what I mean. Hope that helps!
If you want to run a Linux distro (like the excellent Gallium OS optimized for CB's), then the lack of an SD card could be a deal breaker for some. I personally use low profile USB's (since they're faster than SD's) but even those can be annoying and I can understand why this would be a big deal for other people. 32 GB though should be enough to run Android apps in the future, as it's good enough for our phones. Posted via the Android Central App
No, SD slot, dim screen and backlit keyboard is a no go for me. My Toshiba 2 2016 is better with exception of aluminum build and longer rated battery life.
I don't get the backlit keyboard thing. I have ones with and without, and I can't think of a single time I really valued having backlit keys. Maybe if you are a hunt and peck typist, perhaps. I use a Toshiba CB 2 2015 at work, and agree that would be my choice over this too for that amazing screen and wonderful performance, but boy does its battery drain fast. I get about 7 hours with the screen turned down to a pretty dim level. My Asus Flip can go almost double the time. Posted via the Android Central App
Helpful review. I really want an all-metal Chromebook in this price range, but was uncertain about the N3160's lower operating frequency and display compared my Toshiba. After reading this, the display is my only concern.
How would you compare the display to the newer Toshiba CB 2's? Posted via the Android Central App
I've never seen the Acer, but the Toshiba has one of the best screens I've seen on any laptop period. I use one at work and I have a Pixel LS at home, and the Toshiba is virtually just as sharp. The Toshiba has great performance as well, its speakers are the best I've heard on a laptop (much better than a Pixel's), and it's very light. What's the downside for all of this? Battery life is not good at all, especially for a CB. I get about 7-ish hours with my screen turned pretty dim (30-40%), and that's doing applications for work, not media. Online averages for folks seem to be 6-8 hours, so it's probaby better as a desktop replacement spending a lot of time plugged in. All the other CB's we use (my wife's HP 14, my Pixel, my family's Asus Flip) all do far better for battery life. Also, for a CB, it runs warm with a decent amount of fan action. So it's probably not the best choice for road warriors. Posted via the Android Central App
That's right! Posted via the Android Central App
I was originally pumped about this new Acer with the nice metal build, and seemingly nice screen. But, I'm thinking the older Toshiba CB is still the one to beat, at least in the under $300 range. The dimness of the Acer is not fantastic, but more importantly to me, I think the CPU is just too weak for a $300 machine. The Toshiba is much more powerful for the same price, with much higher Octane scores. This new Acer scores much much lower than my old C720, not the right direction I want to move in, while the Toshiba scores much higher. Also the Toshiba has the nice backlit keyboard if you want that for the same price. So, honestly, I think Acer made just a few to many concessions in this new model just to boast a metal build. Give it a nicer brighter screen and better CPU it deserves and then we're in business I think. Guess I'll enjoy my metal ASUS CB Flip a while longer before jumping ship again.
... I'm so disappointed :-/ I thought this was going to be my upgrade from my C720P, but there's no SD card, no USB C, and no touchscreen (with Android apps coming to chrome OS). Shoot. Posted via the Android Central App
When I got to the trackpad portion, I knew my answer was "NO." I took the Toshiba Chromebook 2 (last year's model) back because it had an awful trackpad. I don't expect the Apple Force Touch trackpad, but I expect something that doesn't completely suck.
I picked up this machine this weekend. It isn't an apple trackpad, but I do believe it doesn't completely suck. I have tried the Toshiba trackpad and this is better. If that is your only concern, I think this machine is worth a look.
No Backlit keyboard... :(. It would have made this laptop perfect. Posted via the Android Central App
I think the Acer Chromebook 14 is a winner. I have had a Macbook for 10 years that still runs like a champ, but is finally too slow to accept present operating system upgrades. I wanted to explore moving to a Chromebook but without the hefty price tag of some of the touchscreen models. I settled on the Acer and could not be happier. Battery life is phenomenal and I am adjusting to Chrome OS pretty well. The Acer is light and has everything I need as far as ports. SD slot absence is not a deal breaker in any way with USB adapters so cheap. And besides kiddies, they have this thing called cloud storage now. SD is so 5 years ago. Get over it. The only missing physical feature lacking is the back-lit keyboard which my Macbook had. Mostly I don't miss it, but occasionally I do. I never had typing training so I am an evolved hunt-and-peck typist that mostly gets it right, but leans occasionally on the back lighting to get myself re-oriented from time to time. Now if only they would pull the trigger on the stable access to the Android Play Store. Then it would be perfect for me.
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