Acer Chromebook 514 Review - A High Value Sequel That's Hard To Criticize

Acer does not disappoint with its Chromebook 14 follow-up, in spite of a few minor flaws.

Acer has been manufacturing Chromebooks since very nearly the beginning of Chrome OS's history, releasing dozens of extremely popular devices on the OS as well as plenty of firsts -- such as the Chromebook Tab 10. Its latest gadget, the Acer Chromebook 514 is, for all intents and purposes, the company's long-awaited followup to its original Chromebook 14 that manages to build on its heritage where it counts.

Despite several relatively minor flaws in its construction, the new laptop goes above and beyond in the sub-$500 Chromebook category to set a high standard for value in a usable and accessible package. Refinement and optimization are, in effect, the name of the game with this Chrome OS device. That standard is spread across no fewer than five individual devices ranging from the budget-friendly at under $350 to the top-tier model Acer recently sent us to test out -- which costs closer to $500. Unsurprisingly, this gadget meets and exceeds most of the expectations we may have set for it when it was initially announced back at IFA 2019 in early September.

Designed to be lightweight and power efficient, the Acer Chromebook 514 is also a strong performer in a more traditional clamshell aluminum casing. Ports and connection options with the gadget are in ample supply too, meaning that potential buyers with requirements from just about any use case angle will find this device suits their needs.

Specs

Our test variant of this laptop sits at the top of the range at $499.99, sold under model number CB514-1HT-P2D1. The key difference here is going to be the processor, which will be a different chipset, RAM, and storage -- each set at the same clock speed and coupled with an Intel HD Graphics 500 series chip. This Acer Chromebook 514 ships with an Intel Pentium N4200 quad-core processor clocked at a 1.1GHz base frequency.

While every other variant ships with 4GB of LPDDR4 on the memory side, the CB514-1HT-P2D1 ships with 8GB of RAM. That’s also backed by 64GB of storage compared to the 32GB found in the other variants.

Choices available in other variants, in terms of the processor in place, include Intel’s quad-core Celeron N3450 or dual-core Celeron N3350.

One of those two variants carrying the latter processor also drops display resolution to 1366 x 768 but each gadget comes with a 14-inch panel set at a 16:9 ratio. Viewing angles are good to up to 170-degrees. The remaining four current units, including our test device, arrive with 10-point touch-enabled a 1920 x 1080 IPS high-brightness LED-backlit TFT LCD panel.

Just above the display, Acer includes an HD webcam at 1280 x 720 resolution on the photo side, 720p HD on the audio/video side, and super high-dynamic range capture.

The all-metal ‘Pure Silver’ frame also wraps around an Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 802.11 ac/a/b/g/n chip with 2x2 MIMO for high-intensity connections across both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Bluetooth 4.2 rounds out connection options and the whole package is powered by a 45Wh -- 3950mAh -- 3-cell battery rated at up to 12-hours of usage on a single charge.

A USB Type-C 45W Google PD AC adapter is included -- alongside the usual quick start guide, warranty, and standards paperwork.

Externally, that battery is charged via either of two USB-C 3.1 ports that also enable data transfers at up to 5Gbps and display-out capabilities. Two USB 3.0 standard ports are incorporated as well as a 3.5mm combo audio jack, and a microSD card reader. The island-style Chrome OS-ready keyboard is backlit by default and coupled with a Gorilla Glass-coated touchpad for higher durability and a more premium feel. Swipes are smoother and taps feel cleaner too.

A Kensington lock is built into one edge for added security, in addition to the hardware-side TPM solution.

Two-built in HD speakers and two mics allow for solid output and capture on the audio side.

All of that is packed into an ultraportable package weighing in at a total of just 3.09 lbs and measuring 12.72 x 9.13-inches and at just 0.67-inches thin.

Hardware

The weight of the Acer Chromebook 514 -- just over 3 lbs -- isn’t necessarily all that much lower than other Chromebooks but its size-to-weight ratio is very good. So it feels almost shockingly lightweight compared to many of its competitors.

That’s going to bolster the portability of the Chromebook substantially for those who need a 14-inch display. There are one or two drawbacks to the panel arrangement too, but we’ll cover that a bit later on.

In terms of overall aesthetic, Acer has gone with a modern-classic styling for its follow-up to the popular Acer Chromebook 14. In fact, it’s very similar to that gadget in design but it also progresses that forward. Along the bottom of the device, that means Acer has smoothed out the relatively sharp curve from the prior Chromebook for an eggshell-like swoop that’s almost imperceptible but suits the laptop well and harkens back to that other device.

The top of the keyboard, with the exception of the slightly-embedded island-style keyboard, is dead flat, as is the outer edge of the lid. Slightly rounded corners are accented by crisp sharp edges and there’s a slight inner lip on the screen surround to protect the display. The bezel around the edges is slimmed back, while a beveled lip at the top makes for easier opening.

The design is not groundbreaking but is certainly not bad by any stretch either, giving the all-metal Chromebook 514 a sleek modern appeal.

On the underside, the silver color is accented by oversized rubber feet to help prevent slips, in the same black hue as the strongly-built display hinge.

Also along the bottom, the company has embedded double grill slots on either side for bottom-firing speakers, covered by a soft metal mesh grate. The entire design has a clean-cut premium feel and appearance.

Looking past the minimalistic aesthetic appeal of Acer’s latest creation with its smooth lines, a slight lip on the lid for easy opening, and the above-mentioned features, the entire device has a clean-cut feel to it.

Looking past the aesthetics, almost the entire laptop also seems to be extremely well built. Despite its weight, there’s no flex to the lower portion of its body whatsoever. The ports are split between the left and right-hand sides with one USB-C port and one standard port on either side, keeping things organized and neat. The right-hand side has a Kensington lock slot for added security.

The microSD slot is an open design rather than being covered, which could present a problem for some users since there’s also no ruggedization to speak of either. But in any of the ports, including the audio jack, there’s no wiggle beyond what could be called ‘normal’ even after a considerable amount of use and jostling.

The island-style keyboard is a similar story, with comfortable key travel and accurate translation between a key press and a response from the machine. The backlighting adjusts to suit the users’ environment but is always on. That should represent a not-insignificant battery drain but doesn’t seem to and the light isn’t so bright as to prove bothersome under any conditions. Just like the keyboard, it’s comfortable.

Just below the keyboard, the Gorilla Glass touchpad is accurate and responsive. The glass coating adds to the high-end feel and should help prevent scratches and other damage over time.

Overall, Acer’s Chromebook 514 seems as though it will maintain its slick look for some time and stand up to a considerable amount of abuse, making it a good choice for individual or shared use at home, in an office, or at an educational institution.

Two caveats to that include the rigidity of the display itself and one issue on the audio side of things.
On the latter point, the problem may be a fluke in the test device that we received rather than in the design. Namely, while the audio input from the two embedded-mics in the webcam setup -- and the camera itself -- work exceptionally well, audio input from a connected headset is quiet. Too quiet. The webcam performs well, even in low-light conditions, up to a reasonable point.

As noted above, the audio jack was solid so it isn’t clear where the problem originates. Audio output to a connected headset or headphones -- and we tried several varieties of different brands -- was great. Trying to record audio or chat using any of those headsets’ mics, on the other hand, was terrible. There wasn’t any distortion or problems like that but even adjusting settings so that the mic was turned all the way up and moving the hardware next to one’s mouth doesn’t seem to fix things completely.

Unfortunately, although that’s the only audio drawback here -- with audio output from the stereo speakers performing at right about average for a laptop or slightly better -- it’s a pretty big one if that’s the intended use case for this Chromebook.

Display

The second caveat mentioned in the hardware section is in the quality of materials used on the display lid. Although that is definitely comprised of metal, it has a lot of flex. So much flex, in fact, that we stopped checking that well before it felt as though the flexing would stop out of fear that we’d damage the screen.

Without testing that expressly with the intent of seeing just how far it will go, there’s no way to know how big of a problem that screen flex might be or whether it even is a problem. Bearing that in mind, it is concerning once noticed and gives off the sense that in a drop or if accidentally sat on, the display could easily be compromised.

In terms of the panel itself, that’s set on a 180-degree hinge in a lay-flat clamshell orientation, making it impractical for a wide number of use cases with applications. But it is very accurate on the touchscreen side of things and does have an exceptional array of viewing angles -- 170-degrees, in fact.

The problem with the viewing angles on that display is that at just over 100-degrees from looking at the display head-on, some shadowing does begin to happen. So it isn’t going to be perfect but that’s not necessarily different from just about any display on the market.

Display quality, at 1080p, is another matter entirely and is going to be perfect for just about any use case scenario at this size. Android apps are well-suited to the format and the 16:9 display ratio as well as most web applications. Computer screens and Android screens have been utilizing the standard ratio and resolution for quite some time.

Conversely, the influx of Android apps for devices with alternate screen ratios, in addition to mobile devices and Chromebooks that have much higher resolutions could present an issue for some users. Coming from a much higher resolution device, it took time to adjust to the lower pixel count and that’s going to be the case for other potential buyers too. It isn’t a serious problem or a dealbreaker by any stretch of the imagination but could be moderately annoying for some.

Color accuracy with the display is high and there weren't any dead pixels at all, fitting in neatly with Acer's typically high standards. The refresh rate of the panel isn't listed but seemed to be at minimum on par with other devices in its price range.

Importantly, Acer is offering variations on the display as far as touch capability is concerned as well. Our test model -- CB514-1HT-P2D1 at $499.99 -- and model CB514-1HT-C07F at $429.99 each offer a touch panel. Model CB514-1H-C67U, with its 1366 x 768 display does not come with that feature at $349.99, while full HD variants CB514-1H-C47X and CB514-1H-C11Z don't either at costs of $349.99 and $379.99, respectively.

Software

The software here is going to match up well with effectively every other Chromebook on the market, from the easy access to apps and web apps or extensions, right down to security in place. Updates are, for the most part, free, automatic, and fast as well as fairly frequent.

The cloud-based nature of Chrome OS and the high-value of this Chromebook mean that, like other Chromebooks, it’s an easy device to share or quickly borrow to another user for a brief session too. Signing in via a Google account syncs data, apps, and more across accounts and automatically when signing into another Chromebook.

Aside from the quirkiness of the available still-beta Linux apps, accessed by turning the feature on in the settings menu, the software here is well optimized. We used the Acer Chromebook 514 as a daily driver for work -- meaning it was subject to both online and offline photo editing tasks, heavy research with dozens of tabs open at once and often multiple apps and tabs being used simultaneously. Often, media playback was activated at the same time, such as some music in either a dedicated app or via a YouTube playlist.

Despite the rigors that this gadget was put through, the device shined through with no lag at any step and minimal delay in more intensive tasks. Where delay in an app launch was witnessed, it was no more than would be seen on a Windows machine and most frequently far less. The gadget didn’t heat up or whine at us throughout, either.

Now, in less pricey variants with a lower RAM threshold, that may not always remain the case. For performance intensive tasks, more memory is all but a requirement with any computer. But even at the furthest end of the budget spectrum, the Acer Chromebook 514 should more than service the needs of the average user.

Battery Life and Performance

As noted above, the performance here should fall in step across the Chromebook 514 lineup with what’s required of the average user. No Chromebook that's currently available is going to play full-fledged PC games just yet but our test with the best current model showed that it was capable of going well beyond what most users need.

A far bigger pleasant surprise, interestingly enough, was its ability to do that and get through more than a full workday without needing to be recharged.

Fans of the brand are already well-aware of Acer’s dedication to optimization and ensuring a smooth experience. That’s particularly true on the Chromebook front, where some of its most promising work has been seen but this Chrome OS laptop stands well apart from the overwhelming majority of other brands and models in terms of battery life.

Not only is the charge time on this Chromebook is only around an hour and 20 minutes from approximately 15-percent. Despite our somewhat exceptional heavy usage, we saw battery life come in at somewhere between ten to twelve hours throughout our test. The differentiation seemed to depend largely on how much we were using it and while other Chromebooks may claim to have higher ratings, the rating always fluctuates depending on use. The Acer Chromebook 514 outperformed nearly every other device we’ve tested by over an hour and a half at least.

In terms of system compliance, the Chromebook 514 is also ENERGY Star and EPEAT registered. This may very well be the best Chrome OS gadget available for those who genuinely need to place battery life ahead of everything else -- and it isn’t going to disappoint in those other areas either. At the end of a workday, we found that there was still plenty of power left to listen to some music for a bit and still plenty left to get the next workday started in the morning.

The Good

Battery life beats out most comparable devices

Charging is relatively quick

Camera performs admirably

No stutter or lag noted in the top model, others should have plenty of power for the average user

Audio playback was above average for a laptop

Gorilla Glass touchpad, backlit keyboard

All-metal construction

Narrow bezels and a fairly wide viewing angle range

Responsive touchscreen -- where applicable -- and comfortable typing experience

Lightweight modern design

The Bad

Build quality suffers from an overly flexible lid

The display could stand to be a be higher-resolution

Audio jack seems to have trouble dealing with audio input

The lay-flat clamshell layout isn't well suited for easy Android app use

Some display shadowing occurs at higher viewing angles

Wrap Up

All things considered, the Acer Chromebook 514 is a brilliant Chrome OS laptop that should continue to perform its duties diligently well on into the next several iterations of the OS itself. The use of more high-performance LPDD4 RAM and a solid range of latest-generation processors equate to a lag-free experience that will be consistent nearly across the board for every variation on the design.

The design itself, meanwhile, is timeless but refined from the previous iteration toward a more flowing appearance accented with sharp edges for an unmistakably modern aesthetic. It's also unmistakably an Acer design -- despite the often-made comparisons to Apple's Macbook.

The few caveats and issues that do arise here, whether that's the somewhat diminished quality of high-angle viewing or the apparently lackluster audio input from the 3.5mm combo jack, are not going to be a problem for everybody. In fact, the vast majority of those won't ever crop up for most users. A higher resolution, for instance, may be desirable but isn't going to take away the experience for most users since better panels simply aren't in use in most devices that are this affordable.

The one caveat that may cross over to just about any user is the Acer Chromebook 514's somewhat flimsy lid but even that requires some creativity to notice. Simply shutting or opening the device gives no indication about how flexible the panel is. So it is only really noticeable when grabbed awkwardly or possibly when the gadget is dropped -- although we didn't test that theory.

Should you buy the Acer Chromebook 514?

Whether or not the Acer Chromebook 514 can be recommended readily depends on several factors. There is a high likeliness that the muted nature of the audio jack capturing we noted above was entirely a fluke. It's difficult to imagine that Acer would release a gadget where audio input was far too low to be useful. The quality of audio output on both the jack and the speakers -- as well as the input from the external webcam speakers -- also seems to suggest that's the case.

Most users won't ever even notice any problem or won't suffer any challenges in using the Chromebook 514 how they'd like to because of the remaining caveats.

Simultaneously, using the Acer Chromebook 514 for work, play, or entertainment is absolutely a good experience. It may be best for those looking for a new Chromebook for more intensive tasks to bet on the most expensive of the models. The top two models, conversely, are going to be the only two that come with touchscreens. So if that's required, those are the variants that will be needed.

Having said that, any of the models should be suitable for just about any other purposes, offering premium features like a backlit keyboard, a Gorilla Glass touchpad, all-aluminum design, solidly-built hinge, 1080p screen, both USB-C and standard USB, and decently tuned speakers for a relatively low cost. If all of that sounds like it will suit the requirements, this device is an easy one to recommend.

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About the Author
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Daniel Golightly

Senior Staff Writer
Daniel has been writing for AndroidHeadlines since 2016. As a Senior Staff Writer for the site, Daniel specializes in reviewing a diverse range of technology products and covering topics related to Chrome OS and Chromebooks. Daniel holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Software Engineering and has a background in Writing and Graphics Design that drives his passion for Android, Google products, the science behind the technology, and the direction it's heading. Contact him at [email protected]
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