Review: Acer Chromebook 13 changing the game with the Nvidia Tegra

Review: Acer Chromebook 13 changing the game with the Nvidia Tegra

Summary: The first Chromebook with the Nvidia Tegra is going to shake things up, especially for Intel.

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TOPICS: Mobility, Google, Laptops
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  • Acer Chromebook 13 with Nvidia Tegra K1

    Most Chromebooks either have an Intel or ARM-based processor running things. The ARM-based models are from Samsung for the most part, and that means its Exynos version of the ARM chip.

    The Nvidia Tegra K1 processor pairs ARM technology with Nvidia’s graphics prowess, in a low-volt form that promises long battery life. Based on hands-on testing of the first Chromebook with the Nvidia chip, I can say that this is a new option that will shake things up.

    The Acer Chromebook 13 is a thin (0.71 inches) laptop that has a high-resolution display (1,920 x 1,080) option that is as good as anything on a Chromebook (Google's Chromebook Pixel excepted). Even with this HD display, the Nvidia Tegra K1 processor still delivers over 11 hours on a single charge of the battery.

    Display and Nvidia processor aside, the hardware is typical for the Chromebook. Note there is a standard resolution option available (1,366x768) for the Chromebook 13.

    Acer Chromebook 13 hardware specs as reviewed:

    Processor  Nvidia Tegra K1, quad-core, 2.1 GHz
    Display  13.3-inches, 1,920 x 1,080
    Memory  2 GB
    Storage  16 GB
    Communications  Wi-fi 802.11 ac, Bluetooth 4.0
    Ports  2- USB 3.0, HDMI, Audio
    Webcam  1,280 x 720
    Battery  2,220 mAh, 48 Whr, 11 hours
    Dimensions  12.87 x 8.96 x 0.71 inches; 327 x 227 x 17.95 mm
    Weight  3.31 pounds; 1.5 kg

    It's all about performance

    I have been using the Acer Chromebook 13 for a few weeks, and at first the quad-core Nvidia Tegra K1 failed to impress. Performance was so-so and the system was prone to exhibiting lags in the browser. It was enough to elicit my concerns during the testing, but that didn’t last long.

    Google pushed out an update to Chrome OS a few days after I started using the Chromebook 13, and it’s obvious it optimized the OS for the new Nvidia platform. Performance on the Acer device improved remarkably immediately after the update.

    Having used a properly performing Acer Chromebook 13 for a while, it’s clear it is faster and has smoother performance than Chromebooks with Intel processors. This includes Acer’s own 720 model with the Core i3 processor recently reviewed. The Nvidia Tegra K1 is definitely a better performer than either the Atom with Bay Trail or the Celeron with Haswell on all of the Chromebooks I have used.

    This is also true when comparing the Chromebook 13 with non-Nvidia ARM processors. There are no lags anywhere on the Nvidia-based Chromebook and everything runs as smooth as butter.

    HD Video

    Given Nvidia’s experience with graphic systems, it is no surprise to find this is an area in which the Acer Chromebook 13 excels. Playing full-screen HD video on the 1,920 x 1,080 display is as smooth as can be.

    The only issue I've had using the high-resolution screen has nothing to do with the hardware. Some Chrome OS UI elements are very small on the high-res screen. The only way to make them bigger (without going into the experimental section) is to lower the resolution of the display in the settings.

    Fortunately, in the latest version of Chrome OS, Google added an easily accessible way to do this. There's a drop-down box for changing screen resolution on the fly. The setting just lower than the native screen resolution (1,536 x 864) works well on the 13.3-inch screen. No reboot is required, so the resolution can be changed as desired. It would be great if Chrome OS would allow changing just the UI elements, leaving the screen at the proper high resolution.

    The hardware

    The Acer Chromebook 13 has a full size HDMI port for connecting to peripherals. It also has two USB 3.0 ports. Rounding out the hardware is the inclusion of 802.11 ac Wi-Fi.

    The Chromebook 13 delivers over 11 hours on a charge in the real world, which makes this device one of the longest lasting currently available. This battery life is with the full HD screen. The standard resolution model should get 13 hours on a charge, an amazing run-time.

    The new Acer Chromebook is very thin, and is constructed out of plastic. It feels durable, but is not as sturdy as it would be with a metal case. The Chromebook 13 can be carried in small bags given its 0.71 inch thickness and weight of 3.3 pounds. It can be up and running seconds after taking it out and opening the lid.

    The keyboard is quite good and supports rapid touch typing. The large trackpad may feel like plastic (it is), but it works well as Chrome OS in general handles trackpad control well.

    Pros:

    • Good performance
    • Great HD video playback
    • Stellar battery life
    • Full size HDMI port

    Cons:

    • Plastic construction
    • Chrome OS controls tiny at high resolution

    Reviewer’s rating: 9.5 out of 10

    What it means

    The Acer Chromebook 13 is available from Amazon and Best Buy. The high-resolution model as reviewed is $299.99 and the standard resolution configuration starts at $279.99.

    After using this device for a while, I am impressed with the Acer Chromebook 13. If I was buying a Chromebook today, this would be my choice without hesitation.

    The performance of the Acer Chromebook 13 is so good that it will change the laptop landscape. Having good performance with outstanding battery life makes this the Chromebook to beat at the time of this writing. Models with Intel had a lock on good performance until the Nvidia Tegra K1 arrived. Intel should be concerned about the ramifications.

    Additional Chromebook coverage: 

  • Acer Chromebook 13 side

    You can see how thin (0.71 inch) the laptop is from this side view. 

Topics: Mobility, Google, Laptops

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51 comments
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  • The Verge review reached a different conclusion

    Dan Seifert thought the performance was poor. Did he not have the OS update? http://www.theverge.com/2014/9/4/6103439/acer-chromebook-13-review
    jamie_love
    • Probably no updates applied

      The Verge review mentioning poor performance was the same as my initial experience as mentioned in my review. The Chrome OS update fixed all of that and made the device faster than most and smooth.
      JamesKendrick
      • Could you specify the Update?

        Eg OS version etc.?
        Sebastian Schwiecker
        • Chrome OS Updates

          Chrome OS 37.0.2062.119 was released on September 3.

          See: http://googlechromereleases.blogspot.com/
          S_Deemer
  • The Verge review reached a different conclusion

    Dan Seifert thought the performance was poor. Did he not have the OS update? http://www.theverge.com/2014/9/4/6103439/acer-chromebook-13-review
    jamie_love
  • Nvidia GPU Architecture

    The improvements that Nvidia have been coming out with in terms of performance and wattage post Maxwell is quite astounding across all their GPUs.
    Alan Smithie
  • I will pick up the 1080p model soon

    My acer c720 has been great at home, but its time for another one and with a better screen. With such battery life and performance this will be the refresh chromebooks need to take on the recent wave of low cost windows laptops. Since windows pro (RT appears dead) cannot run on ARM, chromebooks will still have a real advantage, for low cost, speedy, most efficient laptops.

    I no longer care if the chromebook has intel and if this works as well as you say, I'd perfer ARM. Initially I thought I might use crouton on my C720 (having x86 would ensure the most applications available), but decided to use the device as its intended to be. I don't need another ubuntu laptop.
    drwong
  • What exactly is this shaking up?

    This hardware illustrates perfectly the nonsense of Chromebooks. When they came out, the whole point of Chromebooks was that the unit was essentially a browser platform with most functionality obtained through an active web connection.

    Now we have hardware that is HD capable, and moreover capable of a lot more than a Chromebook will allow. How exactly are manufacturers supposed to market this? It's basically an over-spec'd Web browser that can stream video. Oh, and it has up to 11 hours battery life, which would be nice if you could run real Linux on it or Windows, or if it was a MacBook Air for $600-$700 (Apple, I'm sure you could do it!).

    The question becomes, it is better to get a $300 chromebook that has wasted hardware potential due to its OS paradigm, or to spend more on something else that has less restrictions?
    croberts
    • wasted hardware?

      Watching netflix/youtube in full HD is not a waste...
      Jean-Pierre-
      • Then why not

        just get a $35 Chromecast and watch Netflix on the big screen?

        I think I'm beginning to understand why people keep bumping into me all day. They have their heads in their chromebooks watching Netflix. And all this time I thought they were geniuses keeping up with the world around them. No wonder this planet is getting so dumb.
        ccs9623
      • I think people do that with tablets..

        I too still don't get the whole Chromebook thing. As I said years ago when Google started promoting them; it would have made more sense pre tablets. Because many of the features being promoted on these devices today (watching Netflix/Youtube) are things currently being done on the widely more popular tablets.
        dave95.
        • But when comparing chromebooks and tablets...

          1) chromebooks have faster browsers
          2) chromebooks have much better keyboards
          3) chromebooks have larger screens
          4) chromebooks are easier to update
          5) chromebooks are cheaper than many larger, "higher end" tablets
          6) Chrome OS performs considerably better than Android

          Those are the reasons why chromebooks make a lot of sense relative to tablets.
          CHIP72
          • I would disagree with 6 and somewhat disagree with 2

            Chrome OS is absolutely rudimentary, OS is not only to run apps, it is also to allow meaningful communication between them. Tablets normally have keyboards optimized for portability, but it is possible to buy a BT keyboard that is much better than that of a chromebook. Detachable keyboard allows for more tricks,like using it as a remote control while the tablet is playing music or running a presentation.

            Chromebook has 2 advantages. First, price - nice set of accessories to a tablet costs more than a chromebook. Second, compatibility - everything that runs on a chromebook also runs in Chrome on Mac or Windows pretending to be a native app and Google is working on tools that will make it easy to port to iOS and Android.

            I guess the plan for the Chrome OS is slow but steady growth thanks to app development on all platforms.
            gak@...
          • Comparison was fair

            As shipped, Chromebook keyboard is way ahead of a tablet. I would argue that my Chromebook keyboard is better than most of the small BT keyboards out there as well. As well, the tablet battery life drops with a BT keyboard.

            Then if you factor in the cost of this BT keyboard, the Chromebook starts to look like even better value.

            For me, the Chromebook is functionally equivalent to a tablet, except that data entry (content creation) is so much easier. I would never pick up a tablet to write a blog, but I will often pick up the Chromebook to watch Netflix.
            dimonic
          • Except for one thing

            the Apps are horrible. Unless you basically surf the net... I hate being tethered, and the office offerings are getting better, but again tethered. Thanks God MS is doing online office tools because Google's are horrible
            ScanBack
      • Like all things,

        The capabilities will expand to meet, then exceed what the hardware can deliver.
        I have been a computer user since 1982, and on the Internet since 1995. My day job is based around technology adoption for users.
        I am constantly amazed by what is being attempted and succeeding in the browser.
        Artistic and content creation tools that are very much acceptable stand-ins for the basic function of desktop applications.
        Games that would have blown people's minds a few years ago running on a full-spec gaming PC are now running IN A BROWSER.
        That's why the hardware should exceed the current reach.
        blatanville
    • @croberts You don't get it because you don't use a chromebook

      I get what full windows and/or linux are about, using them for decades. I like the chromebook restrictions as it makes for a great lightweight, no maintenence experience.

      The appeal is not so different from when the ipad came out and PC people couldn't understand why you'd want a "toy", that can't run full PC desktop applications. (the 1080p screen will make it better as a thin client)

      Note, I am talking personal use here, not trying to use it for my day job as a software developer.

      I have a macbook at home too. Guess what its used for: a $1200 device that is used for chrome, gmail, gdocs and youtube.
      drwong
      • You are right.. I don't get it

        I have an iPad mini for the exactly the things you describe: email, browsing, youtube, etc. I have a desktop PC in my home office. And then I have a 3 inch laptop.

        I don't see the point adding a chromebook when it's essentially a tablet with a keyboard. If you already own a tablet (and I would say most people do) then its market niche is pretty small.
        croberts
        • yes, a tablet or a chromebook is fine

          I actually sold my ipad mini 2 and got the acer c720. The chromebook was more appropriate for my current lifestyle at home and I understand why the ipad might be more desirable for others. No one is saying you have to use a chromebook.
          Chromebooks may in fact remain relatively "niche", but thats ok. PC sales aren't exactly on fire in general. Also the schools like them. They will also be used as thin clients more and more.

          My specific reasons for the chromebook were:
          -I have young kids and I play them them videos ripped to a flash stick, or sd card (along with youtube, netflix and disney jr). I could not do that with the ipad.

          -I felt the ipad (mini 2, $399) was a cold, slippery, expensive device just waiting to be dropped and smashed by these kids. You always had to find something to prop it up with, or keep in a stand case - ok fine. But the chromebook has its own natural "case"/stand.

          -At $179 the chromebook wouldn't be the end of the world if it does break.

          -I could be educated about the chromebook by owning one. I like to be experienced with all the current tech to some degree. They are here to stay.

          - I can get the full spacious desktop browsing experience for those occasional times the smarphone doesn't cut it. The ipad wasn't much better than a smartphone in that regard.

          - just to spite Owlnet, by purchasing his most hated peice of technology.
          drwong
        • Chromebooks as Tablet Replacement?

          Given that Chromebooks are selling well, and whereas tablet sales have flattened out a bit, perhaps users have gone to Chromebooks to replace already aging tablets. Chromebooks do many of the things tablets do, view video, play music, get information from the web, access web mail, plus they add convenience to keyboard-specific tasks, including basic office document editing. If you have children, Chromebooks offer a better feature set for education than a tablet, and many school systems have gone to them.

          Microsoft is aware of this, hence their announcement yesterday of low-end laptops with "free" Windows, in the hopes that people will still pony up for Office 365. The problem is that Linux & Google Drive are still actually free. It all comes down to whether the use case, for the average home user, really requires full-blown Office (probably not).

          I'm not a Chromebook user myself (mainly Windows 7 & Ubuntu here), but if you have a beaten up tablet, and are looking for a few extra features in your next technology purchase, a Chromebook makes some sense. Perhaps, you can add Apple disciples to Microsoft disciples on the list of people sweating the reality of a viable "thin-client".
          g1131524