Having reviewed many Chromebooks and owned several, it didn't take me long to reduce the field of candidates to two models. The new Chromebook Pixel from Google made the short list as it is the best equipped Chromebook. Second behind it was the Acer Chromebook 13, which I reviewed late last year. Even though the Acer trailed the Pixel in the performance category, I purchased it for several reasons.
Since my goal was to get a Chromebook with good performance, the Pixel was a solid candidate. The Intel Core i5 and i7 processors are the top CPUs available, and the Pixel is the only Chromebook with those options.
The Acer Chromebook 13 has the Nvidia Tegra, the only model with this chipset. The Tegra is a fast mobile processor which is coupled with Nvidia's high-performance graphics. It yields outstanding performance and does so in a very power-stingy manner.
Chrome OS is very light and runs well on lesser hardware. While faster hardware is always a good thing, on the Chromebook once you pass a certain threshold it is overkill. When performance gain is measured in milliseconds, faster processors only bump the speed so much.
The Nvidia Tegra runs Chrome OS superbly. Things happen instantly without lags of any kind. Tap something on the screen and you get an immediate reaction. It may not be as fast as the Pixel, but when performance is this good it doesn't matter.
Processor aside, the amount of system memory also plays a significant role in how well a Chromebook runs Chrome OS. Many systems I've used, including the Acer Chromebook 13 I reviewed, only have 2GB of memory. This slows down the device when too many web pages and Chrome apps are open. Chrome OS has to refresh them when you move to something else and then return.
That's why I bought the Acer configured with 4GB of memory. This is enough to keep the refreshes to a minimum, which makes performance even better. That's why the Acer is the best performing Chromebook I have used.
The Pixel is available with 8GB or 16GB of memory, an impressive capacity for a Chromebook. It's also overkill for running Chrome OS, unless you're one of those users who keeps dozens of browser tabs open. I'm not one of those so 4GB is more than enough to handle my needs.
The Pixel can be purchased with either 32GB or 64GB of local storage, an impressive amount for a Chromebook. The Acer Chromebook 13 I purchased has 32GB of storage, so it's comparable to the Pixel.
Fact is, these storage capacities are both much more than I need. I keep everything stored on my 1TB Google Drive storage, so local storage is just for offline use. Anything stored locally offline goes right up to the cloud when I'm back online.
As one who regularly works remotely with a Chromebook, battery life is second in importance only to performance. It doesn't matter how fast a laptop might be if the tank is dry and it is dead.
This is where the Acer Chromebook 13 rivals the Chromebook Pixel. With the Tegra mobile processor it lasts 11 hours on a charge. That runtime can stretch to 13 hours with attention to power management. That's a 2-day business trip when you get right down to it.
The Pixel is no slouch in this area either. Google claims it will get up to 12 hours on a charge. That's pretty good for an Intel Core processor on a system with such impressive graphics.
Next: Display, Price
Speaking of graphics, the Chromebook Pixel beats every other Chromebook hands down. The beautiful 12.85-inch touch display has a resolution of 2560 x 1700 and that's high for any laptop. The Acer falls short of that, displaying a mere 1920 x 1080 on its 13.3-inch screen.
The Acer's high resolution option is better than most other Chromebooks, however. It offers a lot of screen real estate on the laptop's display as a result.
The Chromebook 13 display is not a touch screen, so that advantage goes to the Pixel. That doesn't concern me a bit as touch operation in Chrome OS is not that good. Until major work is done in this area, touch is nice but not required on a Chromebook.
Chromebook sales have grown, no doubt due to the relatively low prices compared to many Windows laptops. That was a big draw for me when considering the Acer Chromebook 13 for purchase. I paid $299 for it, and that's with a modest price bump to upgrade to 4GB of system memory and the higher resolution screen.
The Chromebook Pixel starts at a very un-Chromebook-like price of $999. Sure it's a premium laptop with world-class hardware, but as stated you can only run Chrome OS so fast before further speed increases become incremental.
The Acer is well constructed, albeit of plastic, and is durable as a result. It's not as pretty as a Pixel, but it runs Chrome OS almost as well. That makes it hard to justify paying an extra $700 for the Pixel. While the Pixel is by far the best Chromebook currently available, the Acer Chromebook 13 is a very close second and leaves a lot of cash in the wallet.
I am very happy with my purchase of the Acer Chromebook 13. It is the best Chromebook I have used for a reasonable price. It handles all of my work needs with good performance and long battery life.
The Chromebook Pixel is the best Chromebook ever made and is as fast as can be. As it is for me, that performance is probably much more than most everyone needs, which lowers the value of the speed advantage over the Chromebook 13.
Google's latest laptop is easily the most attractive Chromebook, heck, it's one of the most gorgeous laptops of any type. I don't find it to be worth hundreds of dollars over more homely models, however.
My purchase came down to the ability to purchase what I believe to be a Chromebook that is more than 90 percent as capable as the Chromebook Pixel. The Acer Chromebook 13 delivers the close performance, and with price that is 70 percent lower.