Acer's Chromebook 315 is a landmark gadget for the market segment. Above all else and following the trend Acer has set for itself from clamshell Chrome machines to 2-in-1 devices and Chrome OS tablets, it represents one of the first if not the first AMD-powered Chromebook to hit the market.
Priced at a manufacturer suggested retail of just $299.99, that placement and its price don't come without negative connotations. This is effectively a first-generation product and its aimed at the budget segment of the category. Whether or not that means it should be avoided, conversely, is not something that's quite as subjective as would often be the case given the circumstances.
Acer hasn't gone out of its way to push the envelope of design, build quality, or performance here. That's just not what this is. Upon closer inspection, the Chromebook 315 is an alternative to Intel-powered machines and affordable Windows laptops that brings solid quality and decidedly wallet-friendly power that lasts all day long.
That means it isn't the powerhouse many might be hoping for. That'll come later as AMD's top-tier chips are added to the repository and the boards around those filled out — undoubtedly with Acer among the companies leading the way. As a first-gen product, it is quite an achievement even if it isn't going to redefine what Chromebooks are.
The flaws to be found are relatively common across devices at its cost and there are only one or two minor caveats that seem to be associated with the newly added chips. For AMD loyalists and fans specifically, this could be the device to buy.
As an everyday computer, the Acer Chromebook 315 is worth its cost and worthy of consideration for those who are looking at the entry-level side of the Chromebook space. Or as a secondary machine that won't need to take on quite as heavy a workload as might be seen for a more expensive laptop or Chrome OS gadget.
Returning to a classic design
Acer's design decisions surrounding its Chromebook 315 are, in a word, reserved. On initial inspection, in fact, this particular Chromebook seems to harken back several years at least in everything from its slightly curved brushed aluminum lid to its only-just-barely-rounded corners and lay-flat clamshell frame.
The hinge here is attached at a set angle to the front of the device, causing the back half of the keyboard to lift more as the screen is laid back — up until it rests flat and preventing it from folding around. It's a classic design but one that does have its drawbacks such as preventing any real ergonomic "back-lift" in most positions where any typing will occur.
It also has a distinct advantage in that it feels very sturdy. All of the surfaces on this Chromebook feel very smooth to the touch, from beveled keyboard surround to the touchpad. The only sharpness to be found is in the bevels on the surrounding edge of both the keyboard and display but that's not so sharp as to prove uncomfortable.
There are actually several modern twists on the traditional design too, each adding a bit more premium feel than might otherwise be present. The most prominent of those is the swoop in the keyboard side of the equation. That starts out thicker at the back than the leading edge, curving down to the thickest point where all of the ports are, before sweeping forward in a blade-like fashion.
The design, at least to my eye, looks much more sophisticated than many other budget-friendly Chromebooks in a way that's subtle but not lacking.
Everything feels as though it's built from metals too, so it has a premium feel when in use — although these certainly aren't the most premium metals around.
In terms of ports and inclusions, Acer has opted to include two USB-C ports — one with an LED indicator for charging statuses — and two further standard USB 3.1 ports. That's in addition to the Kensington Security Slot, coupled with one port each on the right-hand side, as well as the MicroSD slot and 3.5mm audio combo jack on the left-hand side.
The ports each feel snug and offer the latest speeds, as of this writing, but the USB-C ports also support display out capabilities. So there really is quite a lot of functionality here for the cost.
On the other side of the design, the lid includes well-placed rubber feet to keep the sheen of the build looking fresh. The webcam in use here — with an 88-degree FOV and at 1280 x 720p — is larger than that I've seen on other Chromebooks too. That meant that more light was let in during recording or testing and the resulting captures looked smoother and cleaner than other 720p webcams I've tested in Chrome OS, up to a point. The photo and video capabilities of Chrome OS, which remains consistent across all devices, is not a great experience yet.
One big caveat to the design, aside from others I'll be addressing momentarily, is that this is much heavier than I've become accustomed to. That most likely comes down to the size, clamshell design, and oversized bezels, which I'll get into in the next section but the fact remains that, while still portable, this isn't a device that's meant to be held for long periods by any means.
Those speakers are the best part about the keyboard
One hardware attribute on the Acer Chromebook 315 that was obviously different from any other device as soon as I opened the box was the upward-facing speakers on the keyboard side of the apparently-all-metal clamshell design. Ordinarily, the speakers are placed alongside the display facing the user or on the underside of the pane. So, I wanted immediately to try them out to determine whether the larger size made a difference in sound quality.
The size of the speakers did ultimately make a difference but another small caveat presented itself while I was going about the business of setting the device up so that I could get to my cloud-based playlist.
The keyboard itself is not, at the surface, dramatically different from others in the world of Chrome OS. It has the same rows of keys and there isn't any backlighting to speak of — although select models of this laptop do come with LED-lit keys for use in darker environments.
Upon going to type in my username and password, however, I was immediately struck by how 'squishy' the keys felt and that's not at all a good thing. How good or bad a keyboard is, just like the quality of sound, is at least partially subjective. My issue with Acer's chosen keyboard in this device primarily comes down to the amount of resistance to press (the squishiness) and that led to what felt like a low amount of key travel.
It was, from my perspective, just uncomfortable to use and to become accustomed to, to begin with.
Since I spend most of my working time typing, it also became apparent over time that sensation wasn't going away. I did get used to it after around two hours of use but compared to other keyboards I've used, this one continued to cause considerable discomfort following long periods of use. That's not going to be the case for everybody but it was a definite caveat for me.
Moving on to the sound front, the increase in sound quality is comparable here to the increase in the same that's seen when moving from a mid-range smartphone to a flagship. That is to say, it's noticeable but not world-changing. The biggest difference these make is in terms of volume.
In music, mids definitely overrode the bass, as did the highs. Both the middle and upper registers almost completely drown out any bass, with those two ranges actually coming across as well-balanced rather than tinny or muted — as the bass did.
The speakers are geared toward use in video chatting and similar tasks and not so much toward entertainment although they do support high-definition audio. So these are better than I've usually seen with other Chromebooks but I wouldn't call them great by any means.
Audio via the headphone jack, on the other hand, was as good as any other computer or smartphone I've used so far. So there won't be any issues when it comes to listening over that jack and audio out via the display-out-capable USB-C ports should be great too.
Sound input via the built-in mics is well-above acceptable, performing without issue during video calls and recording.
An AMD twist that's ready to lay it all on the line …once it's optimized properly
The Acer Chromebook 315 actually is, among its other unique attributes, one of the first AMD-powered Chromebooks to land on the market. Specifically, the test unit in my hands for this review is the A4‐9120C APU variant, clocked at 1.6GHz with TurboCORE Technology up to 2.4GHz and backed by 4GB DDR4 RAM and 32GB storage.
For clarity, a more expensive AMD A6‐9220C APU is available as well and the configurations come with up to 8GB RAM. My test unit is model 315‐2HT‐47WG.
Unsurprisingly, as the model I have is among the cheaper variants, it is a less powerful configuration and more prone to hiccups — as I'll call to light momentarily.
Now, to begin with, I didn't note any lag during startup aside from one or two programs not booting up properly while my data was still being synced over from my Google account. That's all really normal. The touch screen, log-in, and the overwhelming majority of my activity was smooth too. But the fact of the matter is that this is a first-generation product. AMD has not been as well-optimized for Chromebooks and it shows, at least in the model I had the privilege to use.
The issues mostly arose when attempting to multi-task, which is interesting because that's an area where AMD's processors typically excel. I generally run approximately 20 – 25 tabs open all of the time and those are never really allowed to reload. That's alongside photo editing and other tasks, in addition to media playback.
When things got heavy, this Chromebook slowed down considerably compared to some others I've had the opportunity to test. Doing one or two things at the same time didn't cause issues — generally, mouse and input freeze-ups on top of latency in loading things — so the problem seems to come from that above-mentioned lack of optimization. On paper, this Chromebook isn't any weaker than some of the best-performing Chrome OS gadgets I've used, including many of those made by Acer.
In terms of Android apps, a similar story unfolded during the testing process, with high-intensity apps causing small glitches here and there while light apps or those designed to work on Chromebooks ran flawlessly.
Changes will undoubtedly be made with future updates but in its current form with the current software, the Acer Chromebook 315 is really going to be best suited to students' needs or to those of lighter internet users. It's just not going to be the device to buy for tech-savvy heavy users unless it's only going to be used for light multitasking and browsing.
The screen's good, aside from those pointless bezels
After adjusting down from a 2K display on my daily driver to the 1080p full HD 15.6‐inch IPS panel on the Acer Chromebook 315, using this Chrome OS laptop was enjoyable to use with just a few caveats. The resolution, while not brilliant, isn't below what's available on the majority of modern laptops and more than suitable for working, entertainment, or pretty much anything else.
The first of those will never even occur to most users since most are probably not going to ever pick up the device by its display panel and is really more of a hardware problem. Namely, that's that this display feels entirely too flexible in spite of the metal backing. It's flexible enough that it's patently easy to cause minor screen distortion when picking it up by the lid while moving from surface to surface.
The second issue is, similarly, a design flaw. It's also much more subjective. At 15.6-inches, the display here is already larger than most other Chromebooks, especially considering this is intended to be a portable platform. It feels more like a 17-inch laptop because of the bezels — and it basically is at 18.06-inches measured diagonally.
There also doesn't seem to be much point to those bezels since this isn't a 2-in-1 and will never be held in a tablet configuration. The sensors and mics associated with the webcam are aligned on the upper bezel so those likely aren't the reason that's so big.
Stepping past those problem areas, the display itself is bright and crisp for a 1080p screen. I had the brightness turned way up to around 70 to 75-percent throughout my test but, indoors at least, only around half was needed. It's bright enough to see outdoors too and only caused me a little difficulty under bright direct sunlight.
The only remaining problem is that colors didn't quite feel like they're as vibrant as they should be or blacks as dark as they should be on this touch panel.
Touches on the display, for the models that come with a touchscreen since there's at least one that does not for a bit less money, are responsive and smooth. With the latest software updates, touch interactions have become much more intuitive and much less cumbersome with Chrome OS as a whole. Acer's touchscreen on the Chromebook 315 seems very well made, helping to really drive that fact home.
How does the battery life stack up to expectations?
Battery life with any device typically comes down to the end-user and is highly subjective, whether that's a laptop, a smartphone, or any other electronics. No two users' habits are going to be the same and, as a result, no two users' experience with that aspect of a device is going to be the same either.
Factors that tend to kill Chromebooks include screen brightness, how CPU intensive a given task is, and other minor aspects such as volume and the state of network connectivity. As is almost always the case, the best way to determine honestly how good (or not good) the battery and efficiency of a device are is to just use it.
I'm a fairly heavy user. So a typical day of use for me involves everything from utilizing spreadsheets to track daily, weekly, and monthly expenditures and household budgeting as well as tracking my work. Writing, for obvious reasons, plays a big role in battery drain, including the music and videos I tend to watch or listen to while doing that.
That work also often involves photo editing, which utilizes relatively intensive apps built by Adobe, in addition to web apps and tools like Google's Squoosh and a watermarking tool.
So that's what my battery test consisted of for the Acer Chromebook 315, with the display brightness set at just over 75-percent and audio volumes set at around the same.
I began using this laptop with some basic note-taking and web browsing to get a feel for the above-mentioned keyboard. That included opening up the 20-24 permanent tabs I generally have running at any given time and a couple dozen more for some extensive research and other tasks for things I was working on. Of course, I spent some time downloading the apps I needed and organizing the folders and cloud services too.
Those downloads tend to eat up a lot of battery in Chrome OS but I didn't really notice a big difference in the longevity of this device over time either, even when I wasn't downloading apps. In total, setting up the Chromebook, getting some music going, and loading up my tabs took around 20-minutes and dropped the battery by 5-percent.
That was an impressive start since I would ordinarily see a drain of around 10 to 15-percent with other budget-friendly Chromebooks. The trend continued going forward too, with a total of five hours of near-constant use and screen-on time under those conditions required to drain the battery to 30-percent.
The Acer Chromebook 315 took just under seven hours, by approximately six minutes, to drain completely. Acer claims up to ten hours of use out of this Chromebook, and it definitely seems that would be possible at a more reasonable display brightness and with lighter use. Charging up, on the other hand, was right around average for what I've seen with Chromebooks, taking just under two hours to accomplish.
Overall, battery life and charging were actually worse than I'd initially hoped for from this particular device but wasn't bad at all either. This is going to be more than good enough to suit the overwhelming majority of users.
AMD loyalists, this could be the one
While the Acer Chromebook 315 is hardly a powerhouse capable of handling intensive tasks dealing with programming or high-productivity multitasking across dozens of pages and apps, it is a very capable machine. For students, web browsing, light mobile gaming, and entertainment, this Chrome OS laptop will, in fact, be more than adequate. It's certainly going to be a better experience than Windows machines in the same sub-$300 cost bracket.
For just a bit more money, the A6-variant of this device is probably going to be much more serviceable for the above-mentioned needs and things should improve across the board with further OS optimizations for the hardware platform.
Where none of that is going to matter, is for the loyal fans of AMD chips. Intel has done very well for itself with Chrome OS, moving far beyond and above the saturation enjoyed by MediaTek or Rockchip chips. Qualcomm has some hardware on the way too but AMD is likely going to be the biggest competitor for the company and that's where the Chromebook 315 really stands out.
What Acer has built here is an alternative to Intel-based Chrome laptops that won't underperform in its price range and offers a familiar, solid design with acceptable speakers. It provides a mostly smooth experience for the entry-level user or for a second device that will be used for lighter tasks. Most importantly, this isn't a perfect device at all but for what the Acer Chromebook 315 is, within reason, it is certainly worth the cost.