When it comes to Chromebooks, Acer is up there. Not only do they make some of the best value Chromebooks currently available, but their selection of Chromebooks eclipses most other manufacturers. A combination which has easily cemented Acer's position as one of the most dominant and supportive manufacturers of Chromebooks and Chrome OS in general. Throughout 2015, the company announced and brought to market a number of new and updated options including the Chromebook R 11. This is a Chromebook which comes with an MSRP of $329.99, but which can be more often than not found priced at $289.99.
In terms of the baseline specs, the Acer Chromebook R 11 (model number CB5-132T-C1LK) is a Chromebook which comes boasting an 11.6-inch touchscreen display which makes use of a 1366 x 768 resolution. Inside, the Chromebook R 11 comes equipped with 4GB RAM and is powered by an Intel Celeron (N3150) Quad-core processor clocking at 1.6 GHz. Internal storage consists of 32GB and as to be expected, there is an SD card slot for expanding the storage when needed. Additional ports on offer include two USB ports (one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0), a HDMI port and a headphone jack (3.5 mm) socket. The battery included is rated at 3,220 mAh and is one which is said to offer up to ten hours of continuous usage. Connectivity comes in the form of 802.11AC WiFi featuring MIMO Technology (Dual-Band 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) and Bluetooth 4.0. The Chromebook R 11 measures 11.57-inches in width, 8.03-inches in depth, 0.76-inches in height and weighs 2.76 lbs
Hardware & Design
Acer is a company that is quickly establishing itself as one of the go-to Chromebook manufacturers. Their selection alone means they offer a Chromebook for just about everyone. Chromebooks which quite often differ in notable ways. As a result, they are not simply replicas of the same model but instead come to market boasting unique selling points. The Chromebook R 11 is no exception with the big USP here being that this is the company's first convertible Chromebook. Convertible as the Chromebook can be adjusted in a number of ways to adopt different positions and forms, including a tablet mode. In its traditional Chromebook form, the Chromebook R 11 is rather consistent with the Acer design and look. Its form is light and the overall presentation is that this is a compact Chromebook. Looking closer though and you will instantly begin to see the additional traits and characteristics which differ the Chromebook R 11 from the rest of the Acer range of Chrome OS devices.
Starting with the outer casing and it is immediately noticeable (both in looks and feel) that this is a Chromebook which is designed to be durable. Along with the aluminum casing, the Chromebook R 11 sports a textured top and bottom. One which essentially does offer a better (and nicer feeling) grip when holding the Chromebook. In fact, the top comes with what Acer describe as "Acer nano-imprint technology", which in short means it has more of a metallic finish and feel. We have been testing the white version and it has surprisingly held up very well and seems to have remained clean throughout testing, in spite of its white coloring. An aspect which can likely be attributed to its coating.
Moving on to the main part of what makes the Chromebook R 11's design - its convertibility. The Chromebook R 11 comes with 360-degree movable hinges. Generally speaking, the hinges seem well-built and again have held up well so far during testing. Their flexibility does mean that when assuming a tablet form, the Chromebook R 11 is able to completely switch its keyboard to go flush against the back of the display. While this is a positive, it also does result in some unfortunate disadvantages.
Most notable that the flush keyboard does mean that when you are using this in tablet form, the keyboard aspects (keys, trackpad, etc) are unfortunately what you can consistently feel. This does result in a rather awkwardness when using the Chromebook R 11 as a tablet as it just feels wrong. Holding the tablet in place means that you are consistently pressing the keys on the back with your fingers. Of course, Acer has ensured that the keys are automatically deactivated when in this position, so you do not have to worry about the pressing of keys (or the trackpad) doing anything, but the feeling is still there and it is just not as comfortable to hold. The Chromebook R 11 would certainly have benefited more with a detachable keyboard.
That aside, the hinges do mean that the Chromebook R 11 is able to be used in a variety of positions. As well as the standard Chromebook position and the standard tablet position, you can effectively position the Chromebook screen at any angle you want. Which will certainly prove useful when space is an issue, like on a plane or when you do not want to hold the Chromebook while viewing content, with its "tent" positioning being a prime example.
Moving to the more general aspects and the left-hand side is where you will find the power supply socket, HDMI socket, one of the USB sockets and the SD card slot, while the right-hand side boasts the headphone socket and additional USB port.
One point worth noting is the power supply. This is a rubberized cable and the end tip (Chromebook side) is a right angled rubber jack. This is designed to be a durable cable and the coating does feel that way and so far has proved to be fine. However, its rubber nature does mean it is a little awkward to put in and especially to take out. It just requires a bit more concentration than you might expect from unplugging. Not a major criticism, but observation worth noting.
Overall, the design of the Chromebook R 11 is one which verges on premium. It is clear that Acer has looked to offer a well constructed, sleek and good looking design and overall they have achieved this. The build quality is great and it feels nice in the hand. Compared to some of the other Chromebook options (including from Acer), the Chromebook R 11 feels like a more premium device.
Software & Performance
In terms of the general software, there is very little to talk about here. After all, this is a Chromebook and comes running on Chrome OS. This is a very standardized affair and the Chromebook R 11 largely conforms to what you will expect or have encountered with Chrome OS in the past. However, this is also a device which has the capability to double as a tablet and this is where the notable elements (or downfalls, if you like) come to light. Tablets typically run on Android instead of Chrome OS and in short this is because the Android operating system is designed for tablets and much of the content, apps and so on is optimized for touchscreen displays. Chrome OS on the other hand is not and when the Chromebook R 11 is used in the tablet form, the software suddenly becomes an issue. Orientation is automatic, although at times it can be slower than you might expect and as result you do find yourself waiting a few seconds for the screen to rotate occasionally. Not to mention, during testing the stability of the orientation proved troublesome with the Chromebook R 11 often unable to maintain its portrait view when in tablet form. Any slight move could result in the tablet reverting back to landscape and often required the Chromebook to be re-positioned in landscape before it was able to revert back to portrait.
There is also the issue of its size in portrait mode. This is an 11.6-inch screen and that is big by any tablet standards. While the weight is light for a Chromebook, it is not for a tablet and with the size and weight combined, using the Chromebook R 11 as a tablet is just not the easiest of tasks. More of a concern though is the actual functionality of Chrome OS for tablets and especially in the portrait mode. Chrome OS is just not optimized enough for a tablet and this means everyday tasks are just that little bit harder than they need to be. Having to press on very small buttons, resize things and account for websites not understanding that you are effectively using a tablet. Not to mention, various sites can't adapt to the orientation, so as well having to use the desktop version of the site, more often than not the content on the screen was never suitable with portions of the content not visible without having to physically adjust the size. Then there are the issues with not having an interface that includes a back or home button and having to rely on the desktop-designed controls.
To be fair to the Chromebook R 11, this is not an issue with this Chromebook primarily and instead is more of an issue with Chrome OS in general and largely why there are next to no tablets that run on the platform. It is just not tablet-ready enough. So while the R11 does offer the feature, the unfortunate truth is that Chrome OS is not one which matches the hardware yet. In some occasions, the tablet form is great and does prove useful (flipping through a gallery of images, watching videos in landscape mode). However, during testing, it became quite routine to quickly abandon the tablet form in favor of a more traditional Chromebook one.
In terms of battery life, there is nothing major to complain about here. As a rule Chromebooks are now known for offering decent levels of battery life and the Acer Chromebook R 11 does not deviate in this respect. In terms of general usage, Acer claim that the battery is expected to offer about ten hours of usage and it is fair to say this is achievable. A more steady and consistent level of continual usage that you can guarantee - is probably around the eight-hour marker. Although, you could easily stretch that out to ten hours with less battery-demanding usage. At an extreme, when the Chromebook R 11 was used to solely playback video content (YouTube and Netflix) and at about the 80-percent brightness level, the Chromebook R 11 was able to stay powered for a few mins under the six-hour marker. So if you are watching video as the primary means of use, then you can easily expect five hours of usage and close to double that for normal daily tasks.
In terms of changing, the Chromebook R 11 comes equipped with a 3,220 mAh capacity battery and charge times were in and about what you would expect, with the Chromebook charging from empty to full in just under two hours. Which all in all falls in line with the sort of expectations that have been set by Chromebooks in general. To sum up, two hours of charge will get you close to ten hours of usage or five hours of video playback.
Overall, the Chromebook R 11 is an interesting Chromebook. Its design clearly does mean it is looking to cater to those who want a more portable and flexible device. In reality, achieving that has been missed a little here. Due to the size of the screen (and its performance), the tablet mode is not something you will find yourself using often. However, it is there and certainly is an additional feature compared to other Chromebooks. But it is just not a feature which you should be buying this Chromebook exclusively for. If we ignore the tablet mode for a minute and just focus on the general Chromebook, then this is a really nice performing Chromebook. There are no issues with its battery life, its software is as you would expect and it is portable enough to not be a burdensome device.
Should you buy the Acer Chromebook R 11?
If you are in the market for a small and powerful Chromebook, then the Chromebook R 11 does tick most of the boxes This will be ideal for those who want to take a lightweight and portable device with them or for those looking for a smaller at-home Chromebook. There are cheaper options out there which will offer you a similar level of performance and portability (including from Acer), but if you want one which is built to last and offers a more premium look, then this is a good option to go for.