Words On Wednesday

2016-09-28 Acer Chromebook 14

The Chromebook 14 from Acer is a premium-looking device at a budget price with a fatal flaw.

I’m a big fan of Chromebooks and Chrome OS in general, I make no secret about that. As such, I try to keep an eye on the latest Chrome OS devices that come to market. While I’m certainly not planning on buying one any time soon, I like to know what my options are at any given time, in case my Acer C720 were to bite the dust.

Of the Chromebooks released in the last few months, I am mostly interested in the new Acer Chromebook 14. It has a fully aluminum body, nice 14” display, and *decent* specs (more on that later). More importantly, it currently costs $300, or less from some sources.

Price

I have a hard time justifying $400 or more for a Chromebook. While I won’t go so far as to say that they “aren’t real laptops,” I also recognize that they can run on much less powerful hardware with such a slimmed down OS. As such, why spend a ton of money on something when a budget-friendly option can do the job just as well?

Expensive Chromebooks like the Pixel line are stellar pieces of hardware. The build quality is top notch, the internals are blisteringly fast, they’re overall fantastic laptops. However, do you really need to spend well over $1000 for a Chromebook? For me, $400 or less is the ideal price range. Any more than that, and I’m looking for a Windows-based workhorse. I’m not doing any photo or video editing, or any software development on a Chromebook. I’m browsing reddit, playing music, and writing.

The $300 price range is where I really think Chromebooks excel. At such a cheap price, they’re nearly disposable. Not that I’m going through a new Chromebook multiple times per year, but I don’t have to guard it from harm as if my life depends on it. Worst case scenario, it breaks and I have to get a new one. Since basically everything on it is cloud based, I’m losing almost no data. The fact that Acer managed to make a cheap Chromebook that doesn’t look or feel cheap is amazing.

Specs

Though I’m far from an expert on specs and hardware for any device, I find that a good metric for Chromebooks is their average Octane score. Even without firsthand experience with a device, I can get a pretty good idea of its performance by looking up some Octane tests on it. This is where I’m a little concerned with the Acer Chromebook 14.

My Acer C720, coming up on 3 years old, can easily hit an Octane score of 10,000 or better. By comparison, the Acer Chromebook 14 is reporting only about 8,000 by many sources online. Note, the 14 hasn’t been out for half a year yet, and has an Octane score less than a similarly priced Chromebook from 3 years ago. Isn’t tech supposed to advance as time goes on, not get worse?

While the spec decrease perplexes me, it isn’t something that I’m very concerned about. I never have a ton running on my C720 at any given time, and I haven’t experienced any slowdown issues. Since a Chromebook will likely never be my main work computer, I shouldn’t have much problem with performance. Even the lower Octane score isn’t a device killer for me. Strange, for sure, but not something that would wipe the Acer Chromebook 14 completely off of my radar.

Display

One gripe that I hear from any discussion on the Acer Chromebook 14 is the lack of a touchscreen. For many, that’s the fatal flaw of the laptop. For me, it’s a non-issue. Even with the upcoming Chromebook support for Android apps, I really am not interested in touch-sensitive displays. Personally, I would prefer to pay less for a non-touch laptop, than to pony up extra money for a touchscreen. If I just HAVE to use Android apps on my Chromebook, I have no problem using the touchpad and keyboard.

Everywhere I’ve seen online seems to say that the display quality on the Acer Chromebook 14 is really good, if a little less bright than other laptops. Since I mostly use my laptop indoors, I can’t imagine I would need much brightness. If you were looking for something to frequently use outdoors in sunlight, or brightly lit rooms, that might be a problem.

Ports

The Acer Chromebook 14 comes equipped with two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, an auxiliary port, and a charging port. The USB 3.0 is nice, with faster speeds than 2.0 ports and not yet fully migrating to Type-C until it becomes more prolific. HDMI is always useful in case you need more screen real estate or some sort of screen mirroring functionality. Auxiliary ports for headphones are always nice to have, though apparently Apple thinks otherwise. The charger looks like it might actually be compatible with my Acer C720 charger, which would be awesome. Otherwise, a charger is a charger is a charger. While I would prefer a USB Type-C or two in addition to the USB 3.0 ports, I can mostly live with this.

Do you know what’s glaringly missing from that list of ports? There is no SD card slot at all. No full sized SD card slot, no MicroSD slot, no form of expandable storage at all. From a local storage standpoint, this isn’t an issue for me. My Acer C720 only has 16 GB of SSD storage, and I’ve only recently come anywhere near filling that up. Nearly everything I do is on the cloud, and the few things I keep local to the laptop don’t take up much space at all.

My problem with the lack of an SD card slot is the complication of moving data around without one. While many peripherals are USB-compatible, some are not. Notably, my DSLR camera has no USB connectivity. If I want to move photos around, back them up to a computer, share them on social media, or whatever else I might choose to do, I have to remove the SD card from the camera and stick it into whatever computer I’m working from. If all I have is the Acer Chromebook 14, I’m out of luck.

Now, I realize there are SD to USB converters I could buy, but I don’t want an extra piece of equipment to tote around with me and likely misplace. And honestly, the chances of me needing access to the contents of an SD card and not being in range of my desktop or another laptop is slim. However, the possibility is there and I would hate to be put into a bind with no way to get at the data I need. That is the sort of deterrent that could prevent me from fully relying on specifically the Acer Chromebook 14.

Overall

All in all, with the price, performance, and hardware of Acer Chromebook 14, I think it would be a solid buy for the budget-conscious consumer. As I said, I’m not on the market for a new laptop at the moment, but I do like to know what my options are. If my Acer C720 does die in the coming months, the Chromebook 14 is a solid contender for its replacement.

Meta:

Words: 1225 | Characters: 6623 | Sentences: 69

Paragraphs: 21 | Reading Level: College Student

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