Acer already gave us an early look at the Chromebook Spin 311 back in June and now Android Headlines has been given a longer look for a full review.
There were, it goes without saying, some big differences between that preproduction unit and the final configuration. Not least of all, as an unfinished product, there were build quality quirks. Certain aspects felt, without a doubt, unfinished or were less comfortable than might be expected from a finished product.
Among other things, I was finally able to sit down and perform a more robust battery and performance test. Namely, using this device across more intensive tasks and really putting it to the test. But the keyboard and other aspects now finished too, this laptop feels like a completely different beast. And that's a good thing. So let's take a deeper dive.
The Acer Chromebook Spin 311 has comfort nailed down
Now, from that preview period, not a lot has changed on the hardware front. It's still a comfortable, metallic plastic construction. But there are fewer gaps in the construction too.
It feels like a solid piece of hardware in hand, with chamfered edges, a blade-like construction in the keyboard base, and secure, wiggle-free hinges for its 2-in-1 design. That's regardless of whether it's been put in a tent, stand, laptop, or clamshell configuration.
In other words, if this review proves anything, it's that Acer Chromebook Spin 311 is an exceptionally comfortable laptop. Right down to its keyboard, which is embedded to match the surface of the keyboard deck with plenty of key travel. It was easily among the most comfortable Chromebooks in its price bracket that I've ever typed on.
Like the hinges, the buttons and ports here are all snug and secure too. Each button has a satisfying click that seems to guarantee they'll last for quite a few years to come.
Around the display, Acer utilized slightly thicker than average bezels. But those make the device easy to hold in tablet mode and is Antimicrobial Corning Gorilla Glass too. Those bezels meet the edge in a beveled cut-off, so the lid is always easy to open. And, despite how thin this laptop is, there's not a lot of flex in the main body. Or any noise when the body is forced to flex what little it will.
There were no creaks or groans when the screen side is flexed either. Which is great, because that's quite a bit more flexible than I'd have liked to see. But the Gorilla Glass keeps things intact and there seems to be little chance this will break under normal use.
Put simply, this laptop is comfortable to hold in any configuration with hardware that appears more than ready to go above and beyond when it comes to surviving day-to-day use.
The display here is low-res but high-value
The display here, since the Acer Chromebook Spin 311 is a budget-minded gadget, isn't the best I've had the opportunity to review. But that's not the point of this device at all. This Chromebook is meant to be usable by the whole family and for just about any purchase. Without costing an arm and a leg.
For the price, buyers are getting an 11.6-inch HD IPS touchscreen display. And that's already a step above what most Chromebooks offer at this price, without consideration for the fact that it's a 2-in-1 laptop. When held, there is some light bleed from the edge being gripped. And only really appears under a tight grip.
That goes away the moment the hand is moved. So it shouldn't present an issue in the long term.
In terms of actual usability, the display is more than bright enough for outdoor use except under direct sunlight. As in, when the screen itself is facing the sun. And it's just clear enough for just about any use case. It's also responsive as a touch screen. More responsive, perhaps, than some Chromebooks in a higher price bracket.
As noted already, the screen on the Acer Chromebook Spin 311 isn't the best. But it comes just about as close as any device in its price range could. And it's lightweight and comfortable enough to hold to use in tablet mode for long periods too. At least compared to many other Chromebooks.
How much performance do you actually need in a Chromebook?
Chromebooks all ship with the same software and effectively have access to the same software too. And, of course, most of that software is either mobile or web-based. So, unless users want to do something intensive like video editing, photo editing, or coding, a lot of power isn't really necessary.
That doesn't mean there aren't differences between the price brackets. Even on performance. But we'll get to that momentarily. Under review, one of the biggest takeaways for Acer Chromebook Spin 311 is that an inexpensive Chromebook doesn't equate to poor performance. Or a bad experience.
In fact, although this Chromebook did take a few moments longer to boot up heavy apps and games, it ran them well once they were loaded. Similarly, photo and video edits take a bit longer to process. But they edit as would be expected from a more expensive machine all the same.
Just about the only area that anybody is going to notice big differences is in truly intensive tasks like coding. This Chromebook could be used for that in a pinch. It's going to be noticeably slower than on pricier hardware.
For just about anything else, this Chromebook stayed fast, cool, and jitter-free during my review. That's despite having the often maligned MediaTek chipset — specifically, a MediaTek MT8183C processor, backed by 4GB LPDDR4X RAM and 64GB eMMC storage.
Acer Chromebook Spin 311 audio is a big let-down, especially since just about everything else is so great
The audio experience with Acer Chromebook Spin 311 is one thing that didn't change much from preview to review. All of the audio spectrum audible to the human ear appear to be present and accounted for. But the speakers could stand to be louder. And a bit more powerful. Especially in the low end.
The sound is somewhat louder than the preview. But the audio is still almost inaudible from any distance further than a few feet. Users can link up Bluetooth 4.2 speakers or headphones — or via the 3.5mm audio jack — to rectify the issue. But this won't be the Chromebook of choice for those who need to work a lot with sound. That's even when the bottom-firing speakers are facing users head-on in stand or tent mode.
The mics, conversely, work wonderfully. That makes video calls and similar activities a great experience with this Chromebook.
Battery life dropped with more intensive use but was still great
Now that Acer sent a finalized review unit of the Acer Chromebook Spin 311, I was able to put the battery to the test more thoroughly. Previously, I had mostly conducted my test with less severe activities. And I saw a battery life at just under an hour short of the advertised 15-hours. This time around, the device lasted 7-hours and 25-minutes with the screen-on.
That's with screen brightness and volume maxed out and with the device being switched between tablet mode and laptop mode frequently. Additionally, I spent a much larger portion of my time editing photos, in video chats, responding to emails, and playing games or streaming audio and video.
And, less subjectively, charging takes just under two hours from completely drained.
Connectivity with Acer Chromebook Spin 311 is on-point
In terms of connections, Acer Chromebook Spin 311 proved a great device under review too. Not only is there a single USB-A and single USB-C port — for charging, display output, and more. A Kensington lock slot and 3.5mm audio jack are part of the build too. So users will be able to hook up just about anything they need to, to this machine.
In terms of internet and wireless connectivity, this Chromebook isn't going to offer bleeding-edge speed. Instead, it sticks to a reliable, tried-and-tested Acer InviLink Nplify 802.11a/b/g/n/ac connection. And Bluetooth 4.2 rounds out the options.
In real-world performance, those prove more than ample. The connection was strong enough to utilize video and music streaming simultaneously alongside dozens of tabs and web photo editing. It was also enough to play some games via Google Stadia at their maximum graphical settings.
Should you buy Acer Chromebook Spin 311?
At the end of the day, whether or not Acer Chromebook Spin 311 — tested as model CP311-3H-K5GD — is worth the money comes down to a couple of factors. Those are budget and use requirements.
In terms of solid design and connectivity, lag-free performance across most tasks, and long battery life, this Chromebook is a shoo-in. And it should be on the shortlist for any user who needs a real performer on a tight budget. That's whether users are looking to accomplish school, work, or play tasks. And it holds true even for more intensive tasks associated with those.
It also has a bright antimicrobial display, which should prove useful for any of those purposes. As should the ability to fold it into a stand, tent, or tablet configuration.
Where things do fall apart is primarily on audio, due mostly to low volume. Acer Chromebook Spin 311 doesn't have the highest-resolution display and isn't made of the highest-end materials. But that's easily forgiven, with consideration for its price. So there just aren't many caveats to contend with.
Acer Chromebook Spin 311 is easily one of the best budget-friendly Chrome OS laptops around.