Acer is easily the most prominent of the Chromebook makers and it recently sent its most recent budget device in the category, the Acer Chromebook 317 (CB317-1HT-P5PF), out for review. Now, this is a fresh SKU for a gadget that had already been released some time back. But this time, Acer includes a touchscreen on this budget-friendly device with a lay-flat 17.3-inch display.
And, as you might have gathered from that, this is easily the biggest Chromebook ever released in addition to the biggest touchscreen Chromebook available now. So this is effectively the biggest Chromebook from the biggest, and arguably best, Chromebook OEM. But how, exactly, does it stack up to competitors? Especially given that, as tested, it only costs $499.99 at retail. And given that it’s powered by a relatively modest quad-core Intel Pentium N6000 Silver at 1.1GHz.
Perhaps surprisingly enough, it holds up quite well. Albeit, with some of the credit going to Google for its efficiency in creating Chrome OS itself. More surprising still, the battery life holds up better than I’d have expected with such a large FullHD — 1080p — display panel.
Bearing that in mind, specs only go so far and the real test is real-world usage. So let’s dive right in and take a closer look at how this model of the Acer Chromebook 317 performed under thorough review.
Acer nailed it. The Chromebook 317 is budget hardware done right
Aesthetically speaking, the hardware of the Acer Chromebook 317 isn’t just ‘on point’. It’s fantastic for the money.
Acer started with a basic laptop design that might be familiar to anybody that’s used one in the past 10 years. Namely, a blade-like design with an ergo-lift hinge that raises the keyboard at the back just a bit when open. That’s for better comfort during typing. The lid, conversely, features slightly curved edges and corners. With a chamfered edge along the inside that’s more prominent at the leading end, matched by the same on the keyboard. The latter makes it incredibly easy to open the laptop, which is a good thing because the hinge here is snug. Holding firmly in place even with moderate jostling.
Matched with the matte-like slate gray materials and hue, the resulting aesthetic is something minimalist and a bit old-school but also sleek.
What’s more, the Acer Chromebook 317 keyboard and speakers are modern through and through. With backlighting on the surrounding edge of the keys and dual-upward facing speakers. The diamond-cut edge work on the touchpad is similarly very modern in appearance. All of which is further driven home by how thin, relatively speaking, the bezels surrounding the screen are.
Summarily, it’s a very nice-looking laptop with a build quality to match. Nothing feels loose. And Acer built the frame sturdily enough even to prevent screen distortion when the bezel is pressed or squeezed to adjust the display angle. In spite of the stiffer-than-average hinge.
One of the sole caveats I was able to find on the hardware front was, perhaps unsurprisingly, in the keyboard and touchpad. Albeit, without either caveat causing more issues than a longer-than-expected learning curve. And chiefly driven by the fact that I’m presently using one of the best Chromebooks around as a daily driver.
Bearing that in mind, I found the touchpad to be more responsive than I might have expected, given the price. But it did fail to pick up taps the first time on several occasions during my review of Acer Chromebook 317. And, on more than one occasion, it did the same for clicks. Similarly, the keyboard is much more comfortable than might be expected from a budget-minded Chromebook. But it also took some getting used to and that seems to come down mostly to travel distance and the pressure required to press the keys. On the former front, the distance feels just slightly too high — again, coming from a premium Chromebook. Conversely, the keys feel almost but not quite too difficult to push.
Stepping past that, once I acclimated to the new keyboard, it was a pleasure to use. And it is, of course, backlit, with user-adjustable brightness. That made this Chrome OS laptop much easier to use in dim or even in well-lit environments.
Summarily, none of the hardware here feels overpriced or poorly made. The frame of the Chromebook, including the lid, is firm, with almost no flex and no creaks or groans under pressure. The ports all fit their plugs snugly, without jostle. And the plastics used in the design are well-textured with a matte-like finish. So the materials, while cheaper, don’t detract from the overall aesthetic or in-hand feel. Perhaps more importantly, the materials help this Chromebook to be more portable. It feels lighter and sturdier than it might otherwise have if it had been made out of something different.
The Acer Chromebook 317 display is the one you want for big entertainment
Acer’s decision to use a massive display for the Acer Chromebook 317 was one that I kept returning to when looking at the highlights for this review. And that’s not just because it’s huge, although that did play a big part. The company did, of course, start with the largest screen ever seen on a Chromebook at 17.3-inches. But this is also a reasonably high-quality panel. Unlike many other Chromebooks in the budget-to-mid-range category, Acer Chromebook 317 uses a FullHD panel.
That’s a resolution of 1920 x 1080, which is typically seen in more expensive offerings. Additionally, it’s a touchscreen, to boot. So I was able to interact with Android apps and other Chrome OS software via taps, swipes, and gestures. With each of those, except during the heaviest multitasking — with Android games, updates, photo editing, and the browser running all at once — was as responsive as any other Chromebook I’ve used. Or any Android phone, for that matter. I didn’t experience any input lag, accidental touches, or missed taps throughout my test, in fact.
Now, it’s important to note that not every version of Acer Chromebook 317 comes with a touch panel. The non-touch variant has been around since shortly after the device was announced. This is a feature that’s unique to select units, including the Chromebook 317 (CB317-1HT-P5PF) that Acer sent out for review. But, setting that aside, the screen here is pretty great anyway.
While the panel isn’t the most color-accurate on the market, colors do stay consistent across brightness levels. And it was more than accurate enough for my purposes writing articles, playing games, and editing photos and video. On the brightness front, it’s also plenty bright enough to use outdoors without issue under direct sunlight. Moreover, it’s crisper than at least half of the Chromebooks I’ve had the pleasure to test in the $300-$700 price bracket. Thanks primarily to the screen’s anti-glare coating, at least for outdoor use. With a thin bezel to match almost any premium Chromebook.
So, aside from performing well, this display is going to be great for any number of use cases. Whether that’s watching movies, drawing up a budget or word processing, playing games, or just about any other purpose. The only hindrance I found for the touchscreen was, of course, that this is a lay-flat clamshell-style Chromebook. So I had to either reach over the keyboard or lay it flat on a surface to really use it.
Performance was better than on-page specs would suggest
Given the price of the Acer Chromebook 317 sent to me for review, there are bound to be some caveats. But, surprising though it may be for the price, none of those have much to do with performance. In fact, this Chromebook performed admirably accomplishing tasks that I typically rely on my premium Chromebook for. Albeit, not perfectly.
As discussed in the battery life segment below, I primarily tested performance using this Chromebook as a work machine. That meant multitasking between dozens of open tabs, photo and video edits, and the occasional game while I was taking a break. While the lay-flat clamshell design wasn’t great for playing mobile games, the Acer Chromebook 317 stayed on task. The primary areas where latency cropped up were relegated to multitasking during photo editing sessions. And, even then, the primary slow down was loading my photos — some over 16MB — into my photo editing tool. And, of course, it did hang a bit on the processing side once photos were finalized.
The same held true for video edits. Although some Android games also didn’t play nicely with Chrome OS itself. In those circumstances where latency occurred outside of that scenario, it happened almost exclusively with bigger files and bigger games.
None of that is unexpected. This Chromebook isn’t designed to be a powerhouse, leaning toward efficiency instead. But it absolutely was powerful enough to use for my workload. So it will almost certainly be more than capable of handling just about anything the average non-power user throws its way.
Battery life is great in the right circumstances
Now, it bears pointing out that Acer claims its Chromebook 317 will last up to 10 hours and that wasn’t the case under review. In fact, it only lasted just over six hours during my drain test. Which is just an hour more than half of the claimed battery life.
Of course, it also bears pointing out that my drain test is effectively just a heavy workday with a few extras stacked on top. And that I perform the test with Chromebooks locked in at maximum brightness, 80-percent volume, and Bluetooth connected, streaming high-fidelity music for around half of the test. In this particular case, that included a photo and video editing session for around 40-minutes — with the apps left running in the background while not in use. And it also included a full diagnostic scan using the Chrome OS Diagnostics app.
All of that is to say that this Chromebook was put to the test under relatively extreme conditions. It should hold up to lighter workloads much better. And, in fact, I saw immediate gains simply by lowering the brightness of the screen and disconnecting Bluetooth. So 10 hours or more is not just within reach, it’s within easy reach for all but the most intensive users.
On the charging front, things were much less impressive. It took this Chromebook approximately one-and-three-quarters of an hour to completely charge up once it turned off. Which feels slow in the world of increasingly quick fast-charging. Albeit, not so slow that it became a nuisance.
Audio has serious shortcomings but isn’t terrible for the money
Laptop speakers, with only a few exceptions, are effectively trash. At least that’s the case if you’re expecting audiophile audio from the small speakers that can be packed into a laptop of any size, 17-inch or otherwise. And that tends to get worse for any given device as the price goes down. So it stands to reason that my review of Acer Chromebook 317 revealed audio to be a weak point. And it absolutely is.
Of course, it also goes without saying that what I’ve said above is common sense. So nobody should go into a sub-$500 laptop purchase expecting the audio to blow them away. But the audio from these speakers wasn’t the worst I’ve heard either. In fact, there are only two real caveats to these speakers.
But first, the benefits. As has been a trend for Acer laptops in general, Chromebook 317 utilizes upward-firing stereo speakers powered by DTS. That serves to keep the audio, to whatever extent it’s possible, balanced. Bright, crisp highs and moderately powerful mids met my ears as I turned up the music in my tester playlist. Without either of those frequencies drowning one another out. They even put out a fair amount of bass and that didn’t really get “drowned out” either.
Where the speakers go wrong is certainly in the bass frequencies, however. Not least of all, they lack any real punch or power. While they’re still present, the bass tones sound higher than they really should.
On the audio front, as a result, Acer Chromebook 317 stands in parity with its counterparts. Namely, unable to offer great audio but not offering sound that’s so bad as to be unusable.
On the input side, conversely, the Chromebook 317 mic performed better than expected when it came to recording audio or going into voice or video chats. As did the quality of the built-in webcam. While still imperfect due chiefly to the price of this laptop, those components perform admirably. Making this a great Chromebook for those who need that functionality.
Connectivity is as expected from Acer Chromebook 317 and that’s a good thing
Because Acer Chromebook 317 is a Chrome OS laptop, of course, I was able to take advantage of inter-device connections for my review. Namely, via Phone Hub and Chrome OS’s connectivity options. Allowing for messages, app notifications, Wi-Fi tethering, and more, all from my computer. Without ever needing to pick up my phone. And the setup process, since I had already set this up for another Chromebook linked to my account, was automatic.
Moreover, those connections and others were as solid as I would have expected from the included Bluetooth 5.1 and Wi-Fi 6 with 2×2 MU-MIMO. As were connections to headphones, a wireless mouse I had lying around, and more. And it all worked exactly as I’d have hoped, coming from a premium gadget, just as Chrome OS gadgets each include the same software and same base features.
Is this Chromebook worth the money?
Whether or not the touch version of the Acer Chromebook 317 is going to be worth the money isn’t even really a question. Or at least that’s the case if you don’t need a top-tier gaming machine this Chromebook has more than enough power. Especially since Chrome OS itself is so lightweight. The same holds for users who don’t need a Chromebook that can run the most intensive programming- or media creation-related apps without a hiccup.
For day-to-day operations, Acer built this computer to be rock solid on the hardware front and efficient with the battery while still managing to be quite capable. And that’s what it does. With nearly 10-hours under more reasonable circumstances than my test scenario and a processor that can handle dozens of tabs plus an app or two running all at once. And, best of all, with a display that boasts a FullHD resolution at a size that’s unprecedented for its category.
For all of that, this Chrome OS laptop from Acer is worth its asking price and then some. At under $500, the Acer Chromebook 317 (CB317-1HT-P5PF) sets a high bar for any future large-size Chromebooks. It’s a bargain that shouldn’t be overlooked.