Acer Chromebook Spin 11 Review: The Kid-Proof Chromebook

Acer has created a Chromebook that not only gets the job done but can also take some bumps and bruises. 

Acer was one of the first PC makers to really move away from only making Windows-based machines, and really embraced Chrome OS. In fact, Acer offers more Chromebook models than any other PC manufacturer right now. And there's a good reason for that. That's because they sell well, and schools are buying plenty of them for classrooms. Acer's Chromebook Spin 11 is a rugged Chromebook that will work well in the classroom, but it is also available to consumers to pick up, starting at $349. It's one of Acer's smaller Chromebooks in its lineup, and still performs rather well.

Specs

The Chromebook Spin 11 is available in three models with minor changes between the three. The model that we have here is the CP511-1HN-C7Q1. It sports an 11.6-inch 1366x768 resolution display, powered by Intel's Celeron N3350 processor, which is a dual-core chipset clocked at 1.1GHz. There is 4GB of RAM inside for multi-tasking, with 32GB of eMMC storage. It does also support WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, as well as Bluetooth 4.2 for connectivity. There are two webcams on this model, one is above the display and it's an  HD camera that can shoot in up to 720p. There is another one above the keyboard that is used in tablet mode, this is a 5-megapixel webcam and can shoot in 1080p. It also has a wider viewing angle of 88-degrees.

For durability, the Chromebook Spin 11 carries the MIL-STD-810G certification, so it can be dropped without being catastrophic, although it is still not recommended. For sensors, it has e-compass, accelerometer, and a gyroscope. There is also a 4870mAh battery inside, which Acer quotes as lasting around 10 hours on a charge. When it comes to ports, there are two USB-C ports which support USB 3.1 Gen 1 and DisplayPort. There is also two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, and a headphone/speaker jack.

Hardware

The Chromebook Spin 11 won't be mistaken for an Ultrabook. It's not thin, nor that light. It is light, but not as light as most 11-inch laptops these days. The Chromebook Spin 11 is made of plastic, and that is likely for a few reasons. One, it makes it more durable than metal. It also makes it lighter, and a bit cheaper to make. The Spin 11 definitely looks and feels like a tank, like something you could drop on the ground a few times and not worry about it getting damaged or no longer working. It won't win any awards for being the best looking Chromebook on the market, but that's also not where it is aiming. It's aiming to be rugged, and be made for kids to drop it, and spill stuff on it.

There are two colors for the Chromebook Spin 11, the other two models come in black, while this one is white with a silver trim around the keyboard. There is actually a lip around the keyboard, which again is to keep the Spin 11 as a rugged machine since you can flip the display around and use it as a tablet. The keyboard is a chiclet-style keyboard, and it's actually somewhat small. That is because there is a bit less space here for Acer to work with, compared to a 13-inch laptop, even though the bezels around the display are actually really thick - which we'll talk more about later. The keys have a decent amount of travel and works quite well. The only real issue we have is that it's a bit cramped, but after a few hours of using this Chromebook, you get used to the size of the keyboard, so that's not even that big of a deal.

This Chromebook is a bit on the heavy side, weighing in at 3.09lbs. But that is also the price you pay for having a rugged machine here. Acer has also built in a rather interesting feature. It's a drainage system, which will allow for up to 11 ounces of liquid to be spilled on the Chromebook Spin 11 and it still work. It does explain why the Chromebook Spin 11 is not flat, and also is another reason why this is meant for kids and/or students.

Display

Acer has an 11.6-inch 1366x768 touchscreen display on the Chromebook Spin 11 here, which in 2017 doesn't look that great. With a good number of other laptops - running both Windows and macOS - sporting Quad HD or 4K displays, something that is barely HD is pretty tough to use. But then again, we have to remember the main use-case here, which is in classrooms. And this screen will work perfectly fine in classrooms. Viewing angles actually work pretty well here.

This is a touchscreen, so you can fold the display back and use it in tent mode, display or as a tablet. It is a 10-point touchscreen, so you can use multiple fingers at the same time. Meaning that things like pinch to zoom works perfectly fine. In fact, the majority of the time that I was using this Chromebook, I used it as a tablet, along with the Wacom pen that was included with the Chromebook Spin 11. The display does have some massive bezels around it, and that comes back to the major theme with this Chromebook, ruggedness. With the bezels being a bit wider, it means that when the Chromebook is dropped, even in tablet mode, if the corner of the screen hits the ground, the actual display will stay intact.

Wacom Stylus Pen

Having a stylus included with the Chromebook Spin 11 is actually a really good idea. It's a fairly inexpensive accessory for Acer to include, and it really changes the experience. However, there's no dedicated place to keep the stylus on the Chromebook Spin 11. For example, with the Samsung Chromebook Pro and Plus, there is a silo that the S Pen slides into. The Microsoft Surface uses magnets to keep the Surface Pen attached to the side of the tablet. None of that is available on the Chromebook Spin 11. And to be honest, I lost the Wacom Pen quite a few times, which is not good, especially when talking about using this particular machine in classrooms.

Actually using the stylus on the Chromebook Spin 11 was a dream, however. With Android apps being a part of the experience now, being able to use this pen really changed the experience here. I used it quite a bit in tent and tablet mode, since I didn't have access to the trackpad in those modes. It was great for swiping across the virtual keyboard, also scrolling through webpages and my Twitter feed. It's also very useful in note-taking apps, as well as drawing apps. In the settings, you are able to choose which app is your default note-taking app, and using the stylus tools in the lower right-hand corner, you can start a handwritten note. However, you cannot just open a new note in say Google Keep or Evernote and start writing with the Wacom Pen, nor does it translate handwriting to actual text. So it appears that this feature is half-baked right now. Hopefully, it's something that Google can work on in the future.

Software

The Chromebook Spin 11 is running on Chrome OS, which, unlike Android, is the same on virtually every Chromebook. With the only real differences being the stylus - which in the Chromebook Spin 11's case, is the Wacom Pen - and the hardware. With better hardware, Chrome OS runs even better, as expected. The Chromebook Spin 11 does not have the fastest hardware, with an Intel Celeron N3350 clocked at 1.1GHz, but it does its job. Chrome OS works well on the Chromebook Spin 11, and those that are new to Chromebooks are going to be worried that the 32GB of internal storage isn't enough, but it is. You see, with Chrome OS, all of the data is stored in your Google Drive account (which Google gives you 15GB for free, plus 100GB for two years when you buy a new Chromebook, on top of that Google Docs do not count towards your space) so that the only things being stored on your Chromebook are offline documents and the cache to speed things up. And in that case, 32GB is more than sufficient.

Many people may wonder how Chrome OS is able to run on such slow hardware, and well that is because Chrome OS is just a web browser. That's really all this operating system is, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. For most people today, a web browser is all they use, so the rest of the operating system is basically wasted resources. This allows the Chromebook to get better battery life, to be sold cheaper, and offer up slower hardware which does allow it to be cheaper. Now, Chrome OS does have Android apps, and the Chromebook Spin 11 does support them. The Google Play Store is obviously still very much in beta, which we needed to keep that in mind during the review process, as there were quite a few force closes and such.

The way that Google has integrated Android apps onto Chrome OS makes it super easy to find apps, install them and use them. There is a shortcut to the Google Play Store in the dock at the bottom of the screen, and from there you can find and install apps like you would on an Android smartphone or tablet. Now it is a bit weird to be using an actual keyboard in the Google Play Store, but it works quite well. And don't forget that there is a touchscreen on the Chromebook Spin 11, so you can easily use games like Asphalt 8 on the Chromebook Spin 11 like it were an Android tablet. Now something that is pretty resource intensive like Asphalt 8 from Gameloft, doesn't give users the best experience on the Chromebook Spin 11, especially with that 1366x768 resolution display. But it is playable. With Android apps in general, however, there are still some kinks that need to be worked out. For instance, with the main Twitter app, we found that it sometimes wouldn't refresh (on an Android smartphone you can pull to refresh, that didn't always work here). And a few other minor things. However, the Wacom Pen worked really well with Android apps, and with more apps getting optimized for Chrome OS, it's only going to get better.

Battery Life & Performance

The Acer Chromebook Spin 11 is quoted as lasting around 10 hours on a single charge. Now, as is the case with any electronic device, that number is subjective to how you use the Chromebook Spin 11. We used it quite a bit, but in a normal day, using it to get reviews written here at Android Headlines and doing other work, we found that it did last around 10-12 hours. Of course, that's really light web browsing, so it should be able to last that long, if not longer. When it comes to doing some streaming via Netflix, YouTube, etc, those numbers go down, as expected. But the Chromebook Spin 11 was still able to last a good 7-8 hours of continuous video playback. Which is still impressive, and it still beats out virtually every Windows laptop which always underperforms what the manufacturer says it can do.

A big selling point for a Chromebook is the fact that it has good battery life, and the Acer Chromebook Spin 11 delivers there. For most people, the Chromebook Spin 11 will last them a full work day and still have a bit of juice left. But for those that are a bit heavier in their usage, there is a USB-C port on the side to charge the Chromebook Spin 11. This means you can use the same cable from your smartphone to charge your Chromebook Spin 11, however not the same charger. You'll need either the one that comes in the box, or a Power Delivery charger, which are becoming quite common these days. You can technically charge the Chromebook Spin 11 with the charger for your smartphone, but it will be much slower, and don't even think about using the Chromebook Spin 11 while it's charging with that charger.

Now performance-wise, the Chromebook Spin 11 is adequate, and that's about it. It does seem to be pretty slow, compared to other operating systems and laptops. Now a good part of this is due to the slower processor, which is clocked at 1.1GHz, but can turbo boost up to 2.4GHz. So it's not going to win any awards on speed, and it shows when using the Chromebook Spin 11. But as we have mentioned numerous times throughout this review, this Chromebook is destined for classrooms, and students aren't going to really care that it's not the fastest Chromebook on the market. But that it does what they need it to do, and it does. The 4GB of RAM may seem inadequate compared to Chrome on a Windows or Mac machine, but it actually works really well. We never ran into issues with tabs reloading because it ran out of RAM, which was good to see. Of course, more RAM is always better.

The Good

Build quality - while it feels cheap, it's actually not, it's rugged and can take a beating.

Battery Life

USB-C for power and file transfer

Micro SD Card slot is still here

3.5mm headphone jack is also still here

The Bad

Display resolution

Slowish processor

Wrap-Up

The Acer Chromebook Spin 11 is a good choice for classrooms. If you are a teacher or administrator looking to switch from Windows or macOS to a Chrome OS system, the Chromebook Spin 11 is a good choice, especially for younger kids, as it can take a beating or a spill or two. But for those that spend all day on a computer and need to be able to get things done quickly, you may want to look elsewhere. This isn't a bad Chromebook, there are just better options out there if you need or want something that's more powerful. In fact, there are better options out there from Acer themselves.

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About the Author
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Alexander Maxham

Section Editor
Alex has written for Androidheadlines since 2012 as Editor of the site and traveled the World to many of the biggest Smartphone and Technology events. Alex has a background in Technology and IT and Deep Passion for Everything Android and Google. His specialties lay in Smartphones of all budgets, Accessories, Home Automation and more. Contact him at [email protected]
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