The world’s first tablet Chromebook is a worthy addition to the education sector.
Acer recently unveiled the world’s first Chrome OS-dedicated tablet, the Chromebook Tab 10. Sold under model number D651N-K9WT for just $329.99, the Chromebook Tab 10 effectively proves that laptops and 2-in-1 convertibles are not the only directions Chrome OS devices can take. Unlike most other Chromebooks, this is one device that’s really only intended for the education market and that’s where the only sales appear to be happening for the time being. That’s something that could change over the next few months, and as the oldest and most prolific maker of Chrome OS devices, Acer will likely be releasing more Chromebook tablets in the future. For now, the Chromebook Tab 10 is an almost perfect blend of Chrome and Android tailor-made for the education sector, complete with an active stylus. Acer has gone above and beyond to create something that really performs in a package that’s durable and easy to carry.
Acer’s Chromebook Tab 10 should meet and exceed the requirements for what it was designed to do. It should, in fact, continue accomplishing that for several years to come. Beginning with the internal specs, the Chrome OS tablet is driven by an OP1-rated SoC comprised of a dual-core ARM Cortex-A72 coupled with a quad-core Cortex-A53 processor. Those are clocked at 2 GHz and 1.5 GHz, respectively. Backing that up, Acer has opted for 4GB of dual-channel RAM and 32GB of eMMC flash storage, of which just over 24GB is available with a clean OS installation. The storage space is expandable via microSD card. A two-cell 8,860 mAh capacity battery powers the package, rechargeable via USB Type-C 3.1. That’s also usable as a means to transfer data or extend the display. Connectivity is provided via 2x2 MIMO dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1. Meanwhile, audio is pumped out in high-definition and a headphone jack is included to allow for more focused study time.
All of that hardware is installed beneath a 9.7-inch TFT LCD display with multitouch support and a resolution of 2048 x 1536. A 2-megapixel camera sits just above that with a resolution of 1600 x 1200 for video recording and video chats. On the back, there’s a 5-megapixel 2560 x 1920 image sensor for recording video or taking images. Both of those save video at a resolution set at 720p, though there are some differences thanks to the size of the camera hardware. At the bottom, Acer has included an EMR Wacom-made pen stylus which slots neatly into the plastic body and doesn’t require a battery to work. The plastics extend to every portion of the 238.2 mm x 172.2 mm x 9.98 mm build, except for the display. Sold in just one color configuration, Indigo Blue, the tablet tips the scales at just 550 grams.
Acer has been making PC, tablet, and Chromebook hardware for a very long time so it should come as no surprise that the build-quality here is very solid. Despite that it's comprised entirely of plastics, wrapping around a glass display, there is no creaking or groaning in the body at all, which is often seen in Android tablets using the same material. There’s also almost no gap between the display and frame and it doesn’t feel like any part of the build is going to fall apart anytime soon. Developing atop that foundation, Acer has ensured that its ports and buttons are snug and clicky. In fact, the entire package feels very durable. The cross-hatch texture utilized in the rear panel coupled with how lightweight this tablet should lessen the likelihood of. With that said, it should be noted that there doesn’t appear to be any ruggedization associated with the device. No IP rating, coupled with no specification as to what kind of glass has been used in the display, means that it may not be as durable as some might like. If the Chromebook Tab 10 does feature water and/or dust proofing, it’s not something which has been advertised by Acer.
For use cases where the possibility of damage is increased, Acer manufactures and sells a first-party folio-style protective case for its Chromebook Tab 10. The folio is a leather-style material, and it's the type which features a TPU insert to keep the tablet in place. There aren't any magnets to hold the front flap in position but the lip around the TPU should provide adequate protection for the smooth linoleum, tile, and carpeted surfaces typically found in school buildings. However, it does fold to provide an ideal - and stable - writing or drawing surface and will be sold directly from Acer for an MSRP of $39.99. Moreover, the case feels well-made and leaves all ports, plugs, and speakers completely unobstructed. Protective films will also be made available for approximately $10, and further accessories, including a keyboard, are planned to be released over the coming months.
Users have both a forward facing camera for video chatting or conferencing and another to interact with video-editing software. The second camera is a far better sensor than the one used for video chatting, matching well with budget smartphones in terms of quality. However, they also have a tendency to lose detail with big shifts in lighting and at a distance. The inner camera, unfortunately, results in a high level of graininess which isn’t often seen in many other Chromebooks or Android devices. That’s not necessarily shocking since the quality of the image is important but not vital and a lower resolution should make it easier to maintain a solid connection on a highly-congested school network. In the shortest possible terms, both cameras are well suited for the purpose they’re intended to serve, though they aren’t amazing by any stretch of the imagination.
Although Acer doesn't specify driver, size, or other aspects of the included speaker, the ones included are definitely of a higher quality than the typical speakers included in a Chromebook. That’s because there are a total of six speaker ports, each embedded with what appears to be a high-quality plastic grill. Those are placed along both the top and bottom edge - when viewed in portrait mode. In landscape mode, those fit neatly where a user’s hands aren’t situated. The sound isn’t overly loud, which is great for a school setting where multiple kids or teens might try and play video or other media simultaneously. However, the quality is unmistakable as high-definition with no real bass “thump” to speak of, but plenty of clarity and a wide frequency range.
The display is a 9.7-inch screen at a ratio of 4:3 with a resolution of 2048 x 1536. Squeezing that resolution into a standard tablet-sized display means that it’s very clear. That, in turn, allows a high level of readability in educational videos, digital textbooks, and assignments. What’s more, it’s actually very bright so needing to do schoolwork outside isn’t any more difficult than working inside. The included Wacom-built EMR stylus writes cleanly and precisely, making the Chromebook Tab 10 a perfect Chrome OS device for practicing handwriting, drawings images or charts for art and science, or writing equations. That’s not pressure-sensitive but it is very precise. As with other Chromebooks that ship with styluses, there are an array of extra functionality such as screen-capturing and note-taking built in at the software level and the display's brightness can be adjusted in the settings. In addition, a third-party adapter can be used to extend or mirror the display via the single built-in USB Type-C port, so teachers and students can easily share with the entire class.
The software included with Acer’s Chromebook Tab 10 is relatively standard for Chrome OS, and is, of course, up-to-date with the latest version of the OS. As with all Chromebooks, that’s not likely to change over the course of the next five years since that’s Google’s obligatory support period for a given device. That means high-security compared to other tablet or computer solutions and regular updates to that security. Android apps for Chrome OS are part of the package as well via the included Google Play Store and web apps can be installed via the Chrome Web Store. This is an education tablet, so there are a few differences in pre-installed apps and software. Google Classroom is part of the package, to begin with. However, the entire experience is going to managed by Google’s education cloud platform as well. That means that restrictions on app installations and other management options will be available. Overall, the entire system feels very stable. With that said, this is the world’s first Chrome OS tablet and that also means there are a few deeper software differences.
For example, the software has to account for the lack of a keyboard and it accomplishes that via an AOSP keyboard that's very similar in functionality to Google's Gboard. However, there aren't really any quirks to be found and this will be a very similar experience to using either Android or a Chrome OS 2-in-1 laptop. The software environment and navigation will be familiar to those who have used either. It could serve as a decent entry point for the use of either of those systems. Rather than having a physical home, back, or recent apps button, those are on-screen, for starters. In place of an app drawer, there is a Chrome OS app drawer hidden behind a circle-icon at the bottom left. Settings are managed in a standard Chrome browser or Chrome OS fashion via the menu hidden behind the clock at the bottom-right, which is also where the "recent apps" switcher can be found. That near-perfect hybridization will certainly come with a learning curve for that might who swap back and forth between any of Google's operating systems frequently - due mostly to the similarities - but that's really something that's overcome fairly quickly.
Battery Life & Performance
In terms of battery life and performance, Acer has held to its traditionally high standards. We saw between seven and ten hours of battery life depending on usage, which isn’t brilliant for a Chromebook but falls well within the average for the platform. Of course, that was with a moderate amount of use and with the screen brightness, volume, and other battery-intensive settings turned up and on. A battery benchmark we ran with the CPU under near maximum load showed just over five hours of battery life. Most applications and software won't put the processor under that kind of strain. We actually set about writing out part of this review and simultaneously conducting some research with the brightness turned down a bit and various radios turned off, we didn’t notice significant battery drain. So users should be able to easily see between seven and ten hours under those conditions. While that’s not exceptional, it will be more than serviceable for the average school day and enough should be left over to allow any homework to get done.
Similarly, there weren’t any issues to note with performance. In testing, nine to ten separate tabs were opened and a few applications that Acer recommended as being fairly typical in the education market. For example, Google Classroom loaded up alongside Seesaw, which is an application for students’ individual progress tracking and digital portfolios. Also in use was a scripting calculator which utilizes handwriting and a sketchbook app but didn’t notice any degradation in handwriting recognition speeds or accuracy. The latter of those tend to be fairly resource-intensive but no annoying glitches or latency were noted. Any games or apps launched that were optimized to work with Chromebooks worked well with no noticeable lag issues either in the apps or when switching between them. However, once all of that was opened, it became apparent that the Acer Chromebook Tab 10 is not invincible and there’s at least one problem that could stem from the OS being installed with only a touchscreen.
With the above mentioned software and Chrome browser tabs already open, a graphically intensive game was opened as well, and this resulted in the screen going black. After several minutes, it became obvious that the app wasn’t responding. Bearing in mind that the scenario isn’t likely to happen in an educational environment due to the administrative tools blocking of high-intensity games and other controls, that would have been a problem in the more general consumer market. Since there’s no keyboard to switch out of the app and the app was full screen but not responding to touch, the only recourse was to hold the power button down and then either shut down or sign out. Signing out solved the problem by force-closing every application, though most launched back up right where they left off without causing any loss of work. It’s good that progress wasn’t lost, however, it would probably have been if shut down. Highlighting one of the issues that might arise due to the type of touchscreen-only Chrome OS experience on offer here.
Great battery life
Lag-free intended usage
Lightweight and portable
Wacom EMR stylus embeds cleanly into the plastic casing
Bright, high-resolution display
Chrome OS administrative tools and Android apps
Not widely available to the general public
Plastic build at its price point
No IP rating or screen hardening specified
No easy way to handle full-screen app crashes
The new Acer Chromebook Tab 10 proves yet again that Acer is the name to beat in the Chrome OS category. Not only does it innovate a completely new path for the devices to take with its tablet format and ease-of-use. It also sets the bar quite high for those types of devices in the education portion of the market. Since that’s actually Google’s biggest market for the OS and associated devices, it’s arguably one of the most important devices Acer has made. Between its inclusion of two cameras, thoughtful use of texture on the back panel, lightweight construction, active stylus, great sound, and Chrome OS itself, Acer has definitely made its efforts count. The positive points are really only offset by the fact that it doesn’t ship with a keyboard and mouse combination. Having said that, a Bluetooth keyboard could easily be used where needed and the on-screen keyboard is serviceable for everything else.
Should you buy the Acer Chromebook Tab 10 D651N-K9WT?
Whether or not to buy one, is, for the average customer a pointless question. For now, Acer’s D651N-K9WT Chromebook Tab 10 isn’t expected to be available outside of its primary market segment. For the intended users, it’s a brilliant device that easily rivals or is on par with the more traditional products in that sphere. It’s solidly built, has great performance, a long battery life, and best-in-class portability. Setting that aside, it’s all but guaranteed to be the best Chromebook available to help teach the ins and outs of writing. All told, there are almost no caveats to speak of and simply aren’t any good reasons, for now, not to at least consider the Chromebook Tab 10.