Acer's Chromebook Spin 512 is not just reinforced for education customers but for every user
Prolific laptop and computer manufacturer Acer is among the most prominent companies in the computing world. As such and because of its widespread reputation for attention to detail and quality control, the company itself requires little to no introduction.
Among the most recent devices launched by the OEM, however, is its Acer Chromebook Spin 512. As its name suggests, that’s a convertible laptop in a 12-inch format that operates on Chrome OS. It's also meant primarily for use by students and teachers as well as being built on a ruggedized platform -- though it is sold both commercially and via education channels.
Ordinarily, that means this device is going to be very limited in terms of its general audience and that there are also some pretty severe limitations in terms of internal. Usually, I would expect to run into a plethora of issues, some small and others representing dealbreakers for a general audience because of those expected limitations. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that wasn't the case at all.
This gadget may actually be a viable consideration as a top contender in the Chrome OS market overall and with retail suggested cost sitting at just $499 it's an exceptional value to boot. That makes the Acer Chromebook Spin 512 more than deserving of a deeper look.
For education and business by design
The Acer Chromebook Spin 512 is a device that, both inside and out, is designed with students and teachers in mind. On the outside, that means that although there's quite a lot to love in its design, those who want an all-aluminum build or the very latest in terms of stylings and aesthetics probably aren’t going to be impressed. Whether or not that's warranted, on the inside and in terms of how the hardware performs, this Chromebook absolutely did not leave a lot to be desired.
To begin with, the 8GB of RAM LPDDR4 SDRAM in the test unit I received -- model number R851TN‐P4VW -- made work very snappy, despite only having a quad-core Intel Pentium Silver N5000 processor. Other models of the new Spin 512, also designated with model number R851TN, ship with a quad-core Intel Celeron N4100 Processor and there are 4GB RAM and 32GB storage options available.
That processor is not as impressive as the Intel “i” series processors found in some more expensive devices but thanks to its respectable 4mb cache and 1.1GHz clock frequency, boostable up to 2.7GHz. It was moderately battery friendly and plenty powerful for my uses, despite how hard that typically is on a laptop.
Writing out a review and other pieces can easily require moving around, editing, and otherwise handling several gigabytes worth of photos. That’s in addition to opening several dozen websites and web apps that enable the processing of all of that and Android apps that augment what web apps still have a hard time accomplishing.
To diversify testing, I tend to throw in the use of several more intensive Android apps and multimedia, as well as running common tools like Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, Hangouts, Calendar, and more -- alternating which apps and tools are running simultaneously.
The built-in 64GB of storage ensured that I never ran out of space during all of that. More importantly, I didn’t experience any lag whatsoever in running any of that. Apps had no issues launching up smoothly or running, despite that optimization is still not great for Android apps on Chrome OS. That includes apps that can easily bog down mid-range and some high-end Android devices due to the use of dynamic lighting and graphics-intensive processing.
Multitasking across those didn’t have any noticeable impact either.
On the hardware side of all of that work, I found the Acer FineTip keyboard to be smooth and comfortable despite being made of plastics. The keys click through with slightly more physical effort than other devices I’ve used and with what feels like slightly more key travel.
Both the plastic keyboard and multitouch touchpad are fairly standard and were easy to adjust to.
The sole caveats I ran into in terms of performance stemmed from the display and the included speakers.
The first of those is an issue that can solely be attributed to the fact that I’ve become accustomed to much higher-resolution screens. The display here is a 12-inch IPS panel with a familiar 3:2 aspect ratio that allowed for better web and web app usage since it displays more of the page at once. The ratio all but negates the space taken up by tabs and browser UI.
Resolution of the Acer CineCrystal LED‐backlit TFT LCD panel is only set at 1366 x 912 with up to 170-degrees of viewing angle. Touches on the display resulted in quick responses from the system, a testament to ongoing tablet optimizations. It was very responsive. Although my eyes eventually started to adjust, that just wasn’t as clear as I’d hoped it would be.
Now, that’s not going to impact any user who has not been using computers with high-end display panels. It’s not different than common monitors found on the majority of Chromebooks or many laptops running other operating systems but is still worth noting.
The speakers, on the other hand, could effectively be described as abysmal when used for music. There’s just not enough bass response and the fact that the audio that does shine through is crystal clear and well balanced doesn’t help matters on the music front, across any genre.
That’s not to say the speakers are bad all of the time. They work brilliantly for video conferencing and work just fine for movie watching in most cases. So they work as intended with the design’s teacher and student focus, allowing conversational collaboration that’s easy to hear. They’re reasonably loud too, even compared to those in many larger Chromebooks.
Playing over headphones or Bluetooth doesn’t suffer the same issues either, with secondary listening devices providing clear balanced audio as expected.
Made to survive
Acer’s Chromebook Spin 512 is engineered for survivability and although that means users aren’t going to find the sleek metal stylings or the slimmest design language, it’s impressive for what it is.
At just 0.77-inches thin with the lid closed and with 3.3 lbs of weight well balanced from corner to corner, it’s much more portable and feels a lot lighter than it is. While this certainly doesn’t feel like high-dollar equipment, it comes very close despite its reliance on plastics. The smooth curved of the bottom edge, rounded corners, thin rubber lining around the edges of the base, and slight flex, meanwhile, all belie the rugged nature hidden underneath. This is going to be one of the slimmest, most aesthetically-pleasing devices in its category and not by a small margin.
The gadget itself is sold in a black hue that has a minor sheen, giving it an almost blue appearance under direct sunlight. Insofar as looks are concerned, this Chrome OS gadget almost doesn’t look or feel rugged but appearances can be deceiving.
Starting with more standard build qualities that set the Acer Chromebook Spin 512 apart, each of the ports that have been included here is well-made and fits without a wiggle. There’s no wiggle in the 360-degree hinge regardless of whether it’s used in tent, tablet, laptop, or stand mode.
The display panel, made of Gorilla Glass, has just enough flex to offer some rebound for protection if it happens to be dropped. That’s not likely to happen since the entire lid is coated in a dimpled texture that both looks nice and adds a huge amount of grip, but it is good to have that in place just in case.
Accenting the ports, Acer has included a Kensington lock slot. Google’s Discrete H1 Trusted Platform Module (TPM) solution for Chromebook is incorporated internally to add to that side of the security assurance equation too.
This is a device that, even without going into the deeper ruggedization, feels secure without looking so bulky and out of place. It’s an easy device to just use with confidence without feeling awkward about being the only person at the coffee shop with a rugged laptop.
Digging deeper into the education-ready ruggedization features Acer has incorporated here, the somewhat discrete rubber lining and other factors ensure this gadget can survive a drop from up to four feet and withstand 132 lbs of downward force. It not only meets MIL‐STD 810G compliance standards. It meets ASTM F963‐16 and UL/IED 60950‐1 toy safety standards and the display is microbe-resistant on top of that.
That means that the screen resists the growth of microbial life, keeping things as sanitary as possible, while the design is also directly engineered to keep things from breaking under pressure well beyond the average user's needs. This device doesn’t just feel like it’s durable. It is durable, without all the added bulk.
Along the bottom of the keyboard, there are three slots that allow up to 11 fluid ounces of water to pass through without damaging the keyboard and the touchpad is moisture resistant too.
Setting aside the cameras and specification aspects of this Chromebook listed above, there are at least a few characteristics of this Chrome OS convertible that make it well worth a second look for those who might need hardware that's ready for creative use. That all starts with the garaged Wacom EMR stylus included in the frame of the Acer Chromebook Spin 512.
Docked on the underside of the keyboard, that’s a tool that often represents a significant extra cost or that only works adequately on other gadgets I’ve explored. For Acer’s latest education-ready Chrome Laptop, the company has built on its experience here and somehow made things work even better.
At the first contact with the touchscreen, I immediately noticed how much smoother the writing and drawing experience with this Chromebook is. The pen itself, coupled with the co-developed display used here, supports up to 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity, making the entire experience feel as natural as using an ink pen and paper -- irrespective of whether I was taking notes, drawing up a sketch or diagram, or interacting with apps.
There was no lag or latency either, with lines seeming to appear (or disappear, where mistakes were made) when and where I wanted them almost instantly.
When I was finished, the pen tucked away into its slot, slipping in snugly with a satisfactory click. There’s no jostle there so I never felt like it was going to fall out or get lost as might be the case in implementations where the stylus isn’t housed in the body of the device.
The one exception to how good this pen was to use, is just how small it is. Acer seems to have added a bit more to the width of the stylus, making it more comfortable in one sense. It still feels too short, a bit like using the type of pencil often found at a mini-golf course and perhaps only slightly longer.
That’s not a deal-breaker by any means, given how well it works and that it wasn’t uncomfortable at all to use, just awkward. But having a full pen-sized stylus would have been a near-perfect experience by comparison.
Despite weighing in at a relatively hefty 3.31 lbs, the design of this gadget -- most likely its grippy texture and the way the weight is balanced -- actually seems to help make it feel much more comfortable to hold onto when using the cameras or writing with the stylus too. There was almost no discomfort even at an hour of use. It didn’t feel awkward to hold for long periods when snapping photos, taking notes, or drawing.
The inputs on this Chromebook are widely varied since Acer choosing to include no fewer than two USB Type‐C 3.1 ports (with added DisplayPort capabilities on top of charging and data transfers), two standard USB 3.0 ports, a 3.5mm headphone/speaker jack, and a microSD card slot.
That allowed me to finally detach the USB-C adapter from my camera cable and just use the cable itself. More importantly, it means that capturing or playing back content and moving it around is as easy as it currently gets with a Chrome OS gadget. Of course, the internal specs play a vital role here as well but regardless of what creative endeavor the Acer Chromebook Spin 512 is used for, it’s going to be more accommodating than many others.
Two capable cameras
Cameras on Chromebooks have come a long way in the past couple of years and Google is hard at work to make the biggest weak point -- software -- less of an issue. That’s absolutely a good thing since this may be one of the best two-camera Chrome OS gadgets I’ve yet to lay my hands on. It’s primarily the software capabilities of Chrome OS that hold things back.
The secondary camera is placed at the top of the keyboard, allowing the Acer Chromebook Spin 512 world-facing camera to be used much like an Android tablet camera.
As that description implies, when folded into that mode, the 8-megapixel (3264 x 2448 or 720p video) lens faces outward. As described by Acer, that’s hooked up via Integrated USB 3.0 controller, enabled with autofocus, and features ARCore support.
The results of that, speak for themselves and are viewable in the sample gallery via Flickr.
Summarily, this camera performance that goes above and beyond other Chromebooks in spite of Chrome OS limitations -- even if it doesn’t quite stack up to most smartphones. Detail capture is high while the accuracy of focal points and color capture is great.
Quality of shots falls apart when there is heavy backlighting, such as in pictures where a bright sky is prominent in the background. Artifacts do begin appearing in low light indoors and indoors but the representation of shadows didn’t prove to be a problem. Pictures from the camera aren’t really vibrant. At the same time, they aren’t dull except where lighting and environmental circumstances force things in that direction.
Shutter speed is reasonable too and even in motion, the captures didn’t seem to blur out too much.
All of that means that the cameras found on Acer’s latest education-oriented Spin Chromebook are going to serve better than the overwhelming majority of other available devices. That’s setting aside the fact that most Chromebooks still don’t feature a secondary camera and that Chromebook camera software will only be improving moving forward. So shots taken with this still-new device are only going to get better over its lifecycle.
The front-facing webcam is touted as a 1280 x 720 shooter with 720p HD video, HDR capabilities, compatibility with Android Runtime for Chrome, and an 88-degree wide angle lens, is similarly exceptional.
Not only does the front camera capture more detail than is sometimes seen with other Chromebooks. Color accuracy was at least as good as the primary snapper and details only started getting lost in low-light.
The webcam is not going to be quite as good as the rear-camera due to a smaller lens and an entirely different intended purpose. Used in a video chat, the camera did a good job of tracking and keeping me in focus.
Each camera does have its own microphone and both performed well here. Audio capture was clear, with an audio range capture and background noise dampening that’s comparable to some of the very best -- and more expensive -- Chromebooks on the market.
The one test of these cameras I did not perform involved the use of web-based, Android, or Linux apps. Photos captured without those, for the time being, aren't necessarily going to be any better for now since there is still plenty of optimization work to be done on those fronts. But they will undoubtedly be useful over the coming months as more developers shift focus to Chrome OS, giving users even more options that may be better than the built-in software.
On battery life
Battery life with this device took a turn away from Acer’s usual consistency. That doesn’t mean this device doesn’t last quite a long time compared to other Chromebooks or to other laptops, in general. When I initially started up the device, after charging it to 100-percent capacity, I expected to get a full day of use from a single charge. Much to my puzzlement, at right around 26-percent and after just over 6-hours and 40 minutes, the device died.
There are a number of factors that possibly could have resulted in that happening. To begin with, Chromebooks do take a significant hit to the battery life during initial setup due to the OS downloading and syncing accounts, apps, and other data. I had also been using the laptop heavily and then stopped to watch a few YouTube videos and listen to music.
The battery drop happened after I returned to intensive activity again with photo editing, writing, and research being undertaken for a quick multitasking session. I had the screen brightness turned all the way up.
That seems to be the most plausible explanation since I noticed the drop was recurring, indicating that my activity was causing the relatively efficient 15W CPU to periodically boost itself. The drops weren’t always the same either, with some activities I could see well over an hour of use past 20-percent capacity remaining. Other times, it lasted only a few minutes.
That could be indicative of fairly standard behavior and seems to point to an underlying discrepancy in the OS rather than in the hardware. Since Chrome OS updates with some frequency, that will likely be fixed in the future if it is a software issue.
Now, it bears mentioning that any more than 6-hours of use with screen brightness maxed out is really exceptional, even if it is fairly common among more expensive Chromebooks. I never saw my usable time drop below that, either.
It’s also important to note that most users won’t be undertaking tasks that are that heavy on the CPU. I typically have well over 30 tabs open and am swapping regularly between them with enough frequency that the system is effectively constantly reloading those.
That’s without consideration for the web apps I am using in addition to that, associated with photos, involving large uploads and downloads. It doesn’t account for the multimedia and entertainment or gaming-related apps I typically have running in the background and am switching between.
Turning the screen down to a reasonable brightness -- Acer’s new Spin 512 does just fine at 40-percent to 50-percent in most circumstances -- would improve things noticeably. The company claims that up to 12-hours of use is feasible from the 45 Wh 3920 mAh 11.4 V 3‐cell Li‐ion battery pack.
Battery life may be typical to me but it isn’t going to be typical for everybody. Battery life is consistent with consistent use but the indicators built into Chrome OS certainly shouldn't be ignored with this device since it varies widely from use case to use case. For those looking at the Acer Chromebook Spin 512, this device should more than suit the needs of a student or teacher either at a school or at home for those learning or instructing digitally.
Charging time is fairly quick too. Plugged into a standard wall plug with the included adapter saw the Acer Chromebook Spin 512 filled from absolutely dead in right around 2-hours and 35 to 45-minutes.
The most impactful drawbacks with this device come down to its display resolution and speakers. With that said, the display itself is exceptionally responsive, with high-end stylus features, and a high enough resolution as to not be too disruptive. While it is only a few pixels short of a 1080p rating, it simply doesn't match up to the 2K and 4K screens available in the most premium devices, rather than not stacking up to its contemporaries.
The shortcomings of the speakers are similarly those that are present in nearly every laptop on the market. They don't have the oomph to drive bass and feel balanced toward higher tones but that only remains true with regard to the built-in speakers.
The camera and internal components, to the contrary, are spot-on and this Acer's trimmed back design language in spite of its ruggedization is almost revolutionary. This is a very comfortable device to use and offers up hours of work-ready performance and a camera that doesn't quite feel like other Chromebook cameras.
The Acer Chromebook Spin 512 is not only a great value in terms of performance, build quality, ruggedization, and price. It doesn't only tick every box as one of the most student-friendly devices either, thanks to antimicrobial, scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass, spill protection, or considerable drop resistance and downforce survival rating. With very few exceptions, this device ticks nearly every box and is going to be a great option for anybody who is a bit harder on their devices.