The Acer Chromebook 15's large display and more premium design is a winning formula
Back in 2015, Acer launched the original Chromebook 15. This proved to be a highly popular option for Chrome OS users and in no small part due to this being a Chromebook that came with a larger-than-usual display. Offering those who are in need of a larger laptop-like experience an option running on Chrome OS. Since then, the company released an even more budget-friendly model and now Acer is back again with a revamped version of the Chromebook 15 for 2017. Along with an upgrade in specs and design, this one has also seen an upgrade in the price as the Acer Chromebook 15 is now available for purchase at $399.99.
The Acer Chromebook 15 (model number CB515-1HT-P39B) features a 15.6-inch multi-touch IPS display along with a 1920 x 1080 resolution. Inside, this Chromebook comes loaded with 4GB RAM, 32GB of eMMC flash memory, and is powered by an Intel Pentium N4200 quad-core processor along with an Intel HD 505 graphics card. In terms of connections, and in addition to being Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (4.0)-enabled, the Chromebook 15 comes equipped with two USB Type-C ports, two USB 3.0 Type-A ports (backward-compatible with USB 2.0), a microSD card slot, and a 3.5mm combined headphone/microphone port. This is a Chromebook which weighs in at 3.97 lbs and measures 0.7-inches in thickness.
In the box
There is not to much to discuss here as this is a traditional Chromebook which means that it does not come with any additional aspects in the box such as a stylus. Instead, the user can expect to find the Acer Chromebook 15 along with a power cable, the usual degree of paperwork, and not much else.
Hardware & Design
There is no escaping that this is a Chromebook 15, as the size of this Chromebook greatly eclipses the size of most others - which of course is its selling point. So for those looking for a larger Chromebook, the included 15.6-inch display is certainly going to fit the bill. Due to its size, the overall look of this new Chromebook 15 remains very similar to the previous model(s). Although that does mean they are the same as they are not. As the original model adopted an all-plastic build quality which was evident on first look, let alone first touch. The more budget-friendly version that followed in 2016 looked to improve on this by adopting more of a metal look (thanks to its inclusion of a metal brushed finish), however underneath that finish was once again more of the same plastic - which was likely one of the aspects that allowed Acer to offer the Chromebook 15 as cheap as it did. Fast forward to now though, and with an increase in price comes a massive increase in the build quality of this latest Chromebook. While the first was plastic-based, and the second looked metal-based, this one is much closer to the real thing.
The new Chromebook 15 employs the use of an aluminum top cover (and palm rest) which immediately results in a more premium look and feel from the outset. However, that is just the most obvious of the design improvements as the more closer you look at this new model, the more premium accents will start to be seen. For one thing, this Chromebook maintains the same display size but does so within a body that is not only significantly lighter, but also significantly thinner. For comparison, the original Chromebook 15 weighed in at close to 5 pounds and was 1-inch in thick. While maintaining the same size display, the body on this latest model weighs in at a more carry-friendly 3.7 pounds and sees its thickness dropped to 0.7 inches. So you are getting the best of the display here, packaged within a form factor that makes this Chromebook much easier to take with you. Continuing on this point, the rest of the nuances and accents have also been upgraded to result in an overall more premium and sleeker-looking Chromebook. Where the other models sloped and curved, this one slopes and curves even more. Other smaller aspects, while not metal, do come with a metal finish to complete the look. So while this unit is not quite as premium throughout, it is designed to offer a unified look throughout and clearly steps up its presentation game compared to the previous models. The rear of the Chromebook comes with a rubber buffer which should look to provide some protection if the Chromebook is dropped. If nothing else, however, it does provide a better grip when carrying the device.
On the left-hand side of the Chromebook, you will find one of the USB Type-A ports along with one of the new USB Type-C ports - which also doubles as the main power port as the power lead included in the box comes equipped with a USB Type-C connector.
While the right-hand side houses the second USB Type-A and USB Type-C ports, as well as the microSD card slot, and the combined headphone/microphone port.
Once the lid is popped open, the Chromebook 15 adopts an almost carbon copy presentation of the Chromebook 14. The color is the same, the keyboard is largely the same, the trackpad is largely the same, resulting in an overall presentation which is largely the same. That is, with the exception of the left and right sides. On the Chromebook 14, these are largely empty spaces, while on the Chromebook 15 this is where you will find the speakers which cover a significant portion of the empty space. Whether or not this is a good use of space remains to be seen, but with this largely identical to the Chromebook 14 base, it is better than just leaving the spaces vacant as before. This is also another aspect that has been translated over from the original Chromebook 15 models which both sported speaker grill placements in the same location.
Due to this carbon copy look, this is where a mention has to be given about the keyboard. It was noticed with the Chromebook 14 that the keyboard was a little tight and users more accustomed to larger (or more spread out) keys might find a slight adjustment period is needed to get used to the new keyboard. In spite of the Chromebook 15 being technically larger (and therefore presumably so is this base portion), this problem is still there. For the size of this Chromebook, it might have been better to see a keyboard included which makes better use of the extra space. As a result, expect another adjustment period - providing you are coming from a wider keyboard. That aside, there were no major concerns raised with the keyboard. Once you adjust to the size of it, the keys themselves do have a good depth, are responsive, 'click', and just generally perform well. There is also a faint backlight in use here, which although not impressively bright, is just about sufficient for the purpose.
The trackpad, on the other hand, is certainly not the most capable. Yes, it does do the job and will get you through, although it is questionable how durable it will remain over time. While the sensitivity is not bad, it just feels a little underwhelming and could be prone to being not as long-lasting as those offered on similar-priced Chromebooks. Just something to be aware of, or something to completely ignore if you plan on using a separate mouse with this Chromebook. In either case, this is a typical Chrome OS trackpad which does support gestures, including swipe actions, hold and pinch, etc.
Up next is the display and this is something which at the spec level remains true to the original model as the current version comes equipped with a 15.6-inch IPS display along with a 1920 x 1080 (Full HD) resolution, and a 16:9 aspect ratio. Exactly the same as the original Chromebook 15, although up from last year's model which saw a downgrade to a 1366 x 768 display. So while it may seem like a missed opportunity for Acer not to vastly improve on the original model, the display on Acer's wide-ranging suite of Chromebooks is fairly good in general and that standard is typically better than what you will find on most other Chromebooks. So this is not so much that Acer has not improved on the display, but more so the display on offer here is what you will find on the Chromebook 14, the R 13, the 11, and so on. The major difference being, of course, that this one is much larger coming in at 15.6 inches. Which does mean that there is now more of the display to appreciate and something that will be of major additional benefit to those who like to consume video content on their Chromebooks. As this really is a great device for that thanks to the display size and 1080p resolution.
The speakers, on the other hand, are not quite as good as the viewing experience. While they do perform reasonably well, they are a bit limited on volume and range - something which is heightened even more when you are streaming video content online. While this latter scenario is not solely the issue of the Chromebook (for example locally stored content plays louder), it is likely that media content commonly consumed on the Chromebook 15 will most often occur via streaming. And on that note, the volume is not quite as good or as loud as it could be - or for that matter, as good as those pretty well-defined speaker grills on the front plate would suggest.
Overall, this latest version of the Chromebook 15 does certainly boast a much-improved presentation and now fits in nicely with the rest of the Acer Chromebook lineup. While there are some aspects which users might want to take into consideration (speaker quality, trackpad durability) - these are the main criticisms of the design and are largely based on comparing what else you can currently get for the same money. Taking the Chromebook 15 at face value, this is certainly the best-looking and best-designed Chromebook 15 to have come through to date. It is capable of bending to a good degree (expect 180-degree rotation to be the maximum), does boast a very quiet (fanless) user experience, offers a display large enough for multi-tasking, and is super lightweight, considering its size.
Software & Performance
Chrome OS is Chrome OS. Which largely means that unlike Android there is not a lot to really focus on which is specific to the Acer Chromebook 15. There is not the sort of fragmentation of the OS found with mobile Android and instead, the Chrome OS experience is largely the same across the Chromebook market. Although that is starting to change a little as Chromebooks are now starting to become more tablet-like boasting accessories like a stylus and more touch-based features which does mean that some hardware and software optimizations may differ from one device to the next. Largely speaking though, that does not apply to this Chromebook. For example, this is not the sort of Chromebook that comes packing additional accessories which could complicate proceedings. Likewise, and although it does come with a touch screen, there were no major issues noted in this respect with the touch sensitivity performing very well and requiring fairly light touches to initiate commands. There was one slight issue noted with the touch screen and that was to do with scrolling, but more on this later - as it is a little complicated.
What many will likely want to know though is how is the Android apps experience. After all, this has become the buzz-phrase of Chromebooks ever since Google announced Chrome OS compatibility with the Google Play Store. To cut to the chase, the Chromebook 15 is a Chromebook which supports Android apps out of the box. So once set up, this Chromebook will be already ready for the user to start downloading and using Android apps. There is literally nothing for the new owner to do other than sign in to the Google Play Store.
As is the case with Android apps on Chrome OS in general, the experience is highly dependent on the compatibility of Android apps more than the actual Chrome OS system running those apps. As while a number of apps are now compatible with Chrome OS, some work better than others. Which is where the touch issue previously mentioned comes in. As when using certain apps (Fox NOW for example), the manual (touch screen) scrolling on the Acer Chromebook 15 felt a little stiff. This, more often than not, resulted in touch scrolling not working quite as well as it is intended, and while scrolling, the user is far more likely to accidentally click through to a movie/TV show link than continue down the page. However, this is something that is as likely to be app-related as it is Chromebook-related. As while the general scrolling in the native Chrome OS experience was also a little stiffer than expected, the effect did seem amplified (or at least more noticeable) when using Android apps. So while this is relevant and worth knowing for someone who is considering picking up a Chromebook, any issue related to the use of Android apps at the moment is likely to be one encountered on most, if not all, Chrome OS devices simply due to the still-experimental status of Android app compatibility on Chrome OS. What is more important to focus on right now, is the Chromebook 15 does support Android apps out of the box.
Battery Life & Connectivity
On the topic of battery life, this is where things start to get a little confusing and interesting. Acer states that the new Chromebook 15 offers better battery life than the previous models although the numbers on paper do not necessarily support that. For example, while the original model was said to offer up to 9 hours of battery life, the budget-friendly 2016 model touted an increase in battery usage to 12 hours (due to the inclusion of a 3,950 mAh battery). This latest model is also (by Acer’s reckoning) expected to offer up to 12 hours of usage. So on paper, this one does not necessarily offer longer levels than the 2016 (and cheaper) model did, at least according to Acer. However, what is clear is that Acer has included a smaller battery in this model as it comes loaded with a 3,220 mAh unit. Which is likely where some clarity on the spec confusion can be found. As while the battery is smaller, it is rated to offer the same duration off the charger. So it is probably best to understand this as a more optimized battery management system compared to the 2016 model and not necessarily a longer-lasting one. Which can be more evidently seen when delving further into the battery specs as the 2016 model (in spite of its higher capacity) came in the form of a 3-cell system. This newer model, on the other hand, makes use of a 4-cell Li-Ion battery. Therefore, each cell in the new model is likely to include a lesser capacity but the introduction of the additional cell will put less strain on all of the individual cells. A downside with a greater number of cells is that there is more chance of a cell not working as it should, while the upside is that if one cell stops working the system runs at a 25-percent loss compared to the 33-percent loss with a 3-cell system. Although you should take most of this as 'for informational purposes' only as the CPU will also be making a difference in regulating and managing the battery system. The spec takeaway is, however, that this latest Chromebook offers up to 12 hours of usage on paper, thanks to the inclusion of a 4-cell battery system which offers a combined mAh capacity of 3,220.
Numbers aside, when it comes to real-world usage in tests, this Chromebook does perform very well. Now, it is always likely to be the case that a quoted 12-hour number will be the ceiling one should expect. Not to mention this is going to be a highly individual affair. As different tasks consume different levels of power and finding a way to standardize that to where a conclusion of whether it reaches the 12-hour mark is more difficult than it seems. One way in which some clarity on real world usage can be given is to run video content at the Chromebook’s highest resolution, brightest setting, and loudest volume level. While this may not prove useful for those who are looking for a Chromebook for reasons other than streaming video, it does provide a comparable number to other Chromebooks we have tested and will provide some insight into usage and compared to the official suggested run time from the manufacturer. On that note, using the Chromebook 15 to stream video content (from YouTube TV, WatchESPN, Netflix), at the highest resolution possible (minimum of 720p), continuously resulted in the Chromebook 15 retaining power for about 7 hours. Keeping in mind that the purpose here was to actively drain down the battery as quickly as possible (and additional contributing factors like Wi-Fi connectivity playing a role), this should be the very absolute minimum you can expect. How much any individual user gets between that 7-hour and the suggested 12-hour figure will depend on how you use the Chromebook.
On a separate note, one of the big benefits of the Chromebook 15 is its ability to retain power when in standby mode. For example, leaving the Chromebook untouched in standby mode for two days resulted in roughly a 10-percent drop in battery levels. If directly extrapolating that result, it could be argued this Chromebook will last up to 20 days in standby mode before the battery is fully depleted. When a charge is required, however, the Chromebook 15 was typically able to fully replenish its battery in about two hours.
The original Chromebook 15 hit most of the right notes and especially when it came to the value it offered. However, in both its previous iterations it did fall short on the design front. Which ironically is one of the areas that Acer has been excelling at when it comes to its Chromebook line in general. So in many ways, the release of one of its best-selling Chromebooks in a form that is more in keeping with its Chromebook options in general has been long overdue. That said, it is here now and aimed at those consumers looking to harness a larger display along with a solid Chrome OS experience and a design to rival anything else available on the Chromebook scene beneath the $500 marker. At this price point, there is a lot of competition now and you certainly could get more value for your money. So while those looking for more feature-rich devices might be better off with the latest from Samsung or ASUS, for those who are in need of a larger display - there has only ever been one real solution - the Acer Chromebook 15.