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Acer Chromebook R13 review: The next generation of Chromebooks is here

The Acer Chromebook R13 is the latest in the new breed of Chromebooks designed with Android apps in mind.

Besides the things inside that better support Android apps (sensors and the like), the 13.3-inch screen flips a full 180-degrees for a tablet experience. Android and Google Play support is moving through the Chrome beta channel for the R13 and buyers can soon be using Android apps seamlessly alongside native Chrome apps. But plenty of other Chromebooks support, or will support, Google Play.

That means the R13 has to stand on its own merit as a product worth buying over other more inexpensive models. At $399 we're entering the same territory as Windows laptops that aren't frustrating to use. The R13 needs to be great if we're going to spend that much money. And I think it is.

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The hardware

Acer Chromebook R13

The R13 really looks like a Macbook Air. It's a good look.

It's a beautiful laptop. Solid aluminum, a full 180-degree reversible hinge on the screen that feels solid, and ample room for your wrists while using it are the first things you'll see. It very much looks like an Apple MacBook Air, which surely wasn't an accident. We think of names like Apple or Sony when it comes to the great functional design of the things we use every day because they have put in the work to create them. It makes sense to see others follow the lead.

When you go beyond how striking the R13 looks you notice other great features like a full-sized USB 3 port and a USB-C 3.1 port. A "real" USB-C 3.1 port that can be used to charge other things, acts as the charging port for the laptop itself and offers high-speed data transfer. Add in an HDMI port and SD card slot and you have everything you would want in a new laptop when it comes to connectivity. Here are the full specifications from Acer.

CategorySpec
Operating SystemChrome OS
Display13.3-inch 1920x1080
Touchscreen
ProcessorMediaTek M8173C Core Pilot quad-core
Storage16/32/64GB
ExpandablemicroSD card
RAM4GB LPDDR3
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth
USB-C 3.1, USB-A 3.0
ChargingUSB-C
BatteryUp to 12 hours usage
CameraHD FOV webcam
HDR
Dimensions326 x 228 x 15.5 mm
Weight1.49 kg / 3.28 lb

The MediaTek processor wasn't as big of an issue as I was worried it would be — see the next section for all the details — and the multiple storage options up to 64GB are something we haven't seen from many Chromebooks in the past. Even the battery life estimate isn't that far away from reality — I was able to get a full 10.5 hours before charging while using the R13 the same way I use any other computer during a workday. There is a lot here to like.

Acer Chromebook R13

There are also a couple of things I didn't like as much.

A Glossy finish on a touchscreen makes a mess of fingerprints and smears. Keep a cleaning cloth handy.

The 13.3-inch touchscreen display isn't bad. But I'd much rather be able to say it was great, and I can't. The 1080p panel is adequately bright, colors aren't too far off from my recently calibrated monitor and the viewing angles aren't terrible. At this size, I would have liked to see a higher resolution, but understand how that would impact price and performance (especially battery life) so I'm OK. it's a decent 1080p display with nothing to complain about. Except for the glossy finish.

Glossy finishes on a touchscreen never end well, and the R13 was not an exception. Fingerprints quickly turn into smears with that wonderful stardust effect as light and color try to move through whatever human-being skin oils are made of. If you buy the R13 with the expectation of mostly using it as a tablet with the keyboard folded back, this could be an issue. It was for me.

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Acer Chromebook R13

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Acer Chromebook R13

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Acer Chromebook R13

My second gripe is half entitled tech-reviewer whinging. The SD card slot is for a Micro-SD card and not a full sized card. SD cards are cheap. I have a basket full of full sized cards between 16GB and 64GB. Plenty of other people with digital cameras will, too. Not being able to use them was a let-down, but is easily fixed by a trip to Amazon. I did not take the R13 apart, so I will assume this was a result of squeezing everything into the slim body.

There is nothing really bad here. And there is a lot of things that are great.

Everything else was acceptable. The webcam is as good or better than any other laptop and the audio was what you would expect both through the onboard speakers and headphones. The keyboard/trackpad combination is good, though not quite the level we've seen from Apple's MacBook series or Google's Pixel Chromebooks. Few are.

To sum things up, you have a beautiful laptop with a strong hinge system for tablet use with a decent display. The trackpad and keyboard are acceptable — even for someone who writes for a living — but not incredible. Legacy and current USB port options are awesome and so is a full-sized HDMI port. A micro-SD card slot and glossy touch screen are not.

The experience

Acer Chromebook R13

Chrome OS is Chrome OS, regardless of what Chromebook you buy. This is great. The software and the experience are unified across the entire field and you'll have the same features regardless of which Chromebook you pick up. And once you've signed in with your Google account, it's literally the same because of the way your account data syncs.

Unlike Android, Google keeps the companies making Chromebooks on a leash.

One exception right now is support for Google Play and Android apps. Android on Chromebooks is a slow and methodical rollout. Only Chromebooks that support enough Android requirements — location, orientation sensors and other things we never think about inside a laptop — will be able to run Android. Those that will all go through a long beta process to ensure the Chrome experience isn't negatively affected. A large portion of Chromebook sales are to businesses and schools, so we understand why the original experience needs to remain unaffected.

The R13 was built with Android support in mind. All those requirements were accounted for and included. The R13 beta channel received support for Google Play in the middle of writing this review, and it really made a difference.

Acer Chromebook R13

Make no mistake — Chrome runs really well on the R13. Browsing the web is a tier-one experience until you have more than 20 or so tabs open. This was an unexpected surprise based on experience with previous ARM CPU powered Chromebooks. The stutters and lag I expected at 10 tabs are not present and it's clear that newer ARM chips are plenty more powerful than they used to be. 1080p video quality is only affected by the stream itself and not the CPU, which is nice and one of the areas where Intel Chromebooks used to outclass their ARM counterparts. ARM seems to have caught up or Chrome seems to be better able to support them. Likely, it's a bit of each.

ARM Chromebooks have come a long way. It's time to stop overlooking them.

The MediaTek CPU also means excellent battery life and great fanless performance without as much CPU throttling while under a heavy load. The benefits of an ARM CPU haven't gone away, and now that the processor architecture better handles Chrome — or Chrome better handles the processor architecture — an ARM Chromebook is no longer something to immediately be concerned about. We see a similar experience from the ASUS Chromebook Flip, and now we know that wasn't a fluke or a one-off.

Acer Chromebook R13

Using the R13 for work made me appreciate the full-sized HDMI port and USB 3.0 port. I plugged it into a 1080p monitor while at my desk — things just worked with zero configuration — and was able to use a Logitech Unifying Receiver with a wireless mouse and keyboard. I was unable to try a Bluetooth keyboard, but a Bluetooth mouse connected without issue. I didn't need to use the desktop peripherals, as the display, keyboard and trackpad were comfortable enough to use for long periods, but having the option and being able to have Netflix playing in one window while writing about Android things in another on a 27-inch monitor was quite nice.

I used the Acer R13 exclusively for a week and think I could use it every day without issue.

Another great thing about having a USB 3.0 port was being able to use an SD card adapter and not have slow file transfers while I waited for my micro SD card (and its adapter so it would fit in my camera) from Amazon.

The usual issues with Chrome OS apply. There is no Photoshop, though Polarr is a good replacement most of the time. There are no great video editing tools. I can't use my normal tools to record our weekly podcast because there is no Chrome equivalent, and I haven't had time to test and learn what's available for Chrome yet. Chrome will work well for many people and a Chromebook is a good option for them. For others, it's not there yet.

Android apps

Android apps on Chrome

Most of my time with the Acer R13 was without Android app support. Google Play isn't available to the R13 unless you use the beta channel. I'm not going to base a review of a product while running beta software so I stuck to what's consumer-ready. But for me, Android on Chrome OS makes a huge difference in usability.

Android and Google Play on a Chromebook changes the experience in a big way.

Most everything any of us need to do can be done on a Chromebook and Chrome apps. Companies like Slack and Microsoft have Chrome applications for their products, and they work. But they don't always work exceptionally well and not nearly as well as a company's Android version might.

Android apps on Chrome was Google's way to fill the app gap. Chromebooks sell very well, but companies are yet keen on supporting yet another platform. Building Chrome apps is fairly easy. Building great Chrome apps is not. Companies tend to provide the easy version and Chrome users find ways to make it work if they need to use those services.

Android and Chrome notifications

Adding Android app support changes this. Android is a major application platform and the dominant operating system from mobile devices. Everyone makes an Android app for their service and they tend to support all the features. By incorporating Android at the system level in Chrome, these apps also work on a Chromebook. And they work seamlessly.

Android support on the R13 is excellent and I expect it to move to the stable channel in short order.

Notifications from Android apps come the same way every other Chrome notification comes. Android apps use the same file system as Chrome and protected data files are secured with any sharing done the same way as it would be on an Android phone. If Android were running in a virtualized space, things wouldn't be so seamless. Android is done so well on a Chromebook that the only issue is knowing where to go first when you need an app — Google Play or the Chrome Web Store.

Final thoughts

Acer Chromebook R13

I've long wanted a true mid-range Chromebook. I'm OK with spending a little more (the R13 was $399 at the time this was written) for higher storage options and a nice durable build. Something like the R13 was exactly what I had in mind.

Acer's built a 13-inch Chromebook that has excellent Android support. There are a few Android apps that won't work on Chrome — launchers, widgets, live wallpapers and the like to name a few. The majority of what's in Google Play works well, though. So far, everything I've needed and wanted works as good on the R13 as I had hoped. The recent beta version of Chrome on the R13 seems stable and I wouldn't be surprised to see Android support move into production software with the next update.

I think the Acer Chromebook R13 is the best $399 computer you can buy.

The few negatives aren't really negative. The display could be better, but it's fine the way it is and I have no real complaints outside of the glossy surface. I'd love to have the same keyboard and trackpad experience on the R13 that the Chromebook Pixel gives me, but I wouldn't expect it at this price.

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All things considered, the R13 is one of the nicest Chromebooks available and I recommend it without hesitation.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Jerry Hildenbrand

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

52 Comments
  • I've been looking forward to this review Jerry. You may have convinced me to pick this one up for myself. Thanks! Do you think your concerns about the glossy screen and finger prints could be addressed by an anti-glare screen cover like you would get from Zagg or 3M?
  • Probably wouldn't be very touch friendly then.
  • I put an anti-glare screen protector on my Lenovo Yoga 700 and the touchscreen response was not affected at all. I would definitely give one a try. If it doesn't work, you're only out $12 or something.
  • I do remember using one on my original Moto Droid years ago. I remember it having a unique feeling it to it but I don't remember any response issues. Your comment makes me feel better about buying this model. Thanks!
  • "Unlike Android, Google keeps the companies making Chromebooks on a leash." Fortunatelly. I really can't imagine a chromebook with a kind of touchwizz build. Very well done.
    Usb-c makes ot one charger two devices, i really like this device.
  • Is it eMMC or SSD?
  • I'm not sure. Acer says it's solid-state and nothing more. I Don;t wanna try to figure out how to open it up because they need this back shortly. Acer has been pretty good about using M.2 SSD drives, but a couple recent models use eMMC. For Chrome, it's not a big deal. If you were getting this with a 64GB drive for more than Chrome, I'd wait until someone opens it up to see or installs real Linux and can use some utilities to check.
  • I think if this had a decent Intel processor, I'd get it just as a second computer.
  • I had a HP CB 14 with an ARM chip and it bogged down with tabs open - compared to the same CB with a crappy Intel chip with had no problem multi-tabs, video, whatever. But with Android apps - the move to ARM is inevitable.
  • There are quite a few Android phones with an Intel processor, and I haven't heard too many reports of certain apps not working. I'm sure the Chromebook would be the same.
  • The link to Amazon says it is out of stock. The UK Amazon site doesn't even show it.
  • So, where is this matte capacitive screen you prefer it to have? It's not much of a complaint when EVERY capacitive laptop, tablet and phone are glossy.
  • No. None I've used are like this. Consider it "extra-shiny"
  • acer 14 has a nice matte screen. But I'm leaning toward the 13 if I can get a matte screen protector.
  • Is the keyboard backlit? I really need to replace my Chromebook that I stepped on a while back but I'd like one with a backlit keyboard but there are only a couple available right now
  • This one is not. Someone on the G+ Chromebooks page said it is. Mine's either broken, or someone is really high.
  • At this price, this thing really should have a back lit keyboard. $400 is too much to pay for a Chromebook when one can spend $200 more and get a pretty decent Windows Laptop with SSD and Intel processor.
  • Keyword here is windows. That's enough in itself to run away from it. I would rather pay 1500 for a chromebook than 200 for a windows 10 device.
  • I'm fascinated by manufacturers continuing to deploy glossy screens on the majority of mobile devices. I've purchased consumer laptops with glossy screens, but they always go back to the store in favour of business models with matte screens (I love my new ThinkPad 13). I get that images look better on glossy screens, but that doesn't matter if there's too much glare. For the vast majority of users, I would think that matte screens would be much more practical. We shouldn't have to put a screen protector on just so we can read what we're typing. P.S. Great article, Jerry! I'd love to get into Chromebooks, but I use features in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint that aren't available in the Android and web versions.
  • See I've always thought the opposite, I hate matte screens. It's hard to find glossy pc monitors sometimes unfortunately. Glossy screen Laptops are pretty easy to find. Some commercial devices still use resistive touch screens, that's about the only time I see matte touch screens. Our time clock at work for example.
  • My experience with matte-finish displays is signs of wear where you tend to tap or especially slide repeatedly. A glossy screen seems to be the only way around it.
  • That would certainly explain glossy touchscreens, but gloss screens have been showing up on non-touch laptops for years. Come to think of it, that explains the XPS 13 really well, as the non-touch version is matte and the touch version is glossy. Clak, I've also found it interesting that desktop monitors tend to be matte while laptops are glossy. Perhaps because the larger panels would be even more susceptible to glare?
  • I wish it came in black.
  • Like an XI Carbon quality black, that would be really sleak
  • Thanks for the great review, Jerry. My girlfriend is getting a new Chromebook for the holidays so this review is right time. My 10" Asus Flip is a bit compact for her needs, it seems like 13" is a good sweet spot!
  • I just ordered one myself. None of the Canadian distributors have stock, but are expecting some in a couple of weeks.
  • bruh?
  • First, I liked your review. It touched on real-world factors rather than abstract benchmarks. I too am disappointed about the glossy screen. I have the Acer 15 and it's spoiling me. When I move between its matte screen and any other machine---all with glossy screens---the glare can smack me in the eyes. All things being virtually equal when I go shopping next, a matte screen could make the difference.
    Second, I notice that you call out the full 180-degree rotation capability for full-tablet mode. A 180 mode would achieve a full placemat mode. A 360 rotation would provide a tablet of course. Small thing. Everything else good.
  • Are there Crouton Linux restrictions using the ARM chip?
  • I am looking forward to upgrading when I can essentially dump my tablet and the Chromebook I already have that won't run Android for a Chromebook that will combine both. Would you say we are there now with this one?
  • Like iiari, I am interested in crouton compatibility.
  • Hey Jerry thanks for the awesome review! I've been waiting for a Chromebook that can handle all the things you put it through in this review! Touchscreen isn't a big deal for me but good battery life and performance for multitasking is a must! Can't wait to pick this one up!
  • I'm sure we can expect this to hit the UK sometime in 2018.
  • MediaTek? $400 for a browser/mobile apps on a laptop. No...
  • Looks likw this is what I've been waiting for. Thing is, 32 GB isn't going to cut it. So far BestBuy doesn't have the 64 GB ones available. This will probably replace my tablet, but that means I need to cache YouTube and Google Play Movies/TV on it. That takes space. And it won't use the SD card. It'll be a LOT more portable than my Acer R15 though...love this thing, but it's never going to get Android apps.
  • does this have back lit keyboard? thanks
  • When Android apps come to my Toshiba Chromebook 2, is it going to nerf my battery life to use them, since it wasn't engineered with that functionality in mind?
  • Meh ,I'll wait for Samsung rumored chrome book with a S pen 2k screen 2 in 1 and Google Apps ready out the box for under 500
  • I enjoy your reviews on Android Central but we always miss things: Is the keyboard backlit? Is the 1080p screen a 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio? How do Android apps run? There is of course no desktop class support for photo editing apps but how is the experience of using Photoshop express and the ANDROID version of polarr? Which anyone who takes mobile photography seriously already use and have most likely invested money into. These apps would be great with a mouse and keyboard on a bigger screen. It's all nitpicky but we would still love to know this. Can a modern Chromebook bridge the gap between the casual laptop user and someone thinking of purchasing an Android tablet?
  • Full HD 1080 = 1920x1080 = 16:9. Is there even a manufacturer our there that still makes 4:3 screens? 1080p always means 1920x1080.
  • A lot of Chromebooks can no longer run Microsoft Office for Android (maybe even all of them). Keep that in mind. Chromebooks that already have it installed are fine (but no updates to the apps), but new installs are not allowed. You can get around this by switching to Dev Mode, but that is a bit scary for most people.
  • MS apps aren't a deal breaker for me. Actually the whole idea of having a laptop that isn't powered by Microsoft software is quite appealing to me.
  • For some reason YouTube has a problem of leaving an annoying black bar at the bottom of every video on this laptop. Anyone else notice this?
  • When running YouTube in full screen, the black bar only appears momentarily to show playback controls. The video is actually compressed vertically when the playback bar is visible.
  • I am typing this comment on my newly purchased Acer Chromebook R13 (64GB) running Chrome OS 54 stable.
    It's way too early to give an overall impression, but so far I am pleased. The build quality is good considering the price point. It may not have the finish of an Apple product, but it's clearly a cut above most plastic slabs I've seen and a dare say even nicer than my Lenovo Thinkpad T440s I use at work. The display is crisp, keyboard is decent and overall a joy to use. I'm looking forward to spending many years with this device!
  • Lots of great Black Friday deals on this Chromebook if you are located in the U.S. See Costco for the 32GB version @ $349.
  • The screen glare is a non-issue for me. I generally avoid facing windows and don't use it outside. Screen brightness is more than adequate, I run mine at 50% brightness indoors... plenty good.
  • The keyboard is excellent, almost as good as my Lenovo ThinkPad T440s. FYI: If you fold the screen past 180 deg to use in tablet or tent mode, the main keyboard and track pad gets disabled you get an on screen virtual keyboard. The on screen keyboard is big, it takes the bottom 40% of the screen.
  • So PC World in the UK now has this in stock. As usual $400 = £400 in that old rip off UK way of converting currency. (Should be £320). http://www.pcworld.co.uk/gbuk/computing/laptops/laptops/acer-chromebook-...
  • Not quite. The model that PC World is selling is the 64Gb version which is $429 in the USA. That doesn't diminish your point though, it's more or less pound for dollar. That said, I bought one and it's working really well for me.
  • The Office apps thing isn't a big deal, as I use Office 365 (I like that I can get 1 TB of storage AND Office for less a year than Dropbox or Google Drive). So using the web apps is great...actually better than Google Docs IMHO. I'm looking for a Chromebook, for couch sitting while watching TV or reading something in tablet-mode while in bed. I recently got rid of my iPad Air, and this might fit the bill (and run more things on the Web that Safari wouldn't on the iPad). The only thing I would worry about is the performance and the screen colors...because in tablet mode I'd be using it up close. But right now, the only way I can surf and look at things in bed is using my Nexus 6...so I have to think it's better than that. Right now it's a toss up between the R13 and a Dell Chromebook 13....only I can't use the Dell in tablet mode. And since it came out last year, even if I buy it new, with the 5 year ChromeOS support that Google has imposed, it's already a year down in it's life (or is Google not doing that anymore?)
  • Hi Jerry, Given that you have reviewed both Chromebook Pixel and Acer's R13, which would you prefer give that both could be had for the same price now? I'm in the market for a 3rd chromebook and this time I want to "splurge" a bit as my cheapies were at $150 each and have serviced me well. I've been eyeing the Pixel's super sharp resolution and mac airbook grade trackpad for a while and now can finally afford it, but the R13 fits my requirement for a touchpad that can flip into a tablet. I understand the pros and cons for both, but wondering which would you go with that that you have tried them both. Thanks.