This is a review of the 2016 Acer Chromebook 15, for our impressions of the latest model, be sure to check out our 2017 Acer Chromebook 15 review.
Chromebooks have become completely cemented in the small notebook market. Through the last several years, manufacturers have been working on perfecting their cloud-based offerings and have released some truly mind-blowing laptops, such as the premium 11-inch Samsung Chromebook 2 and 13-inch Toshiba Chromebook 2, one of the first models with a gorgeous 1080p display.
Today, we have something fresh, yet somehow very familiar in front of us with the the world's first 15-inch Chromebook from Acer. Aptly named the Acer Chromebook 15, this machine is not only the largest Chrome OS notebook ever made, it's also the very first that's come equipped with Intel's 5th generation Celeron processors.
Despite all these changes, the Chromebook 15 still comes at a very affordable $349 ( £249, about AU$458). That’s far less than the $500 that you’d usually spend on a budget Windows laptop, and well, this Acer laptop has quite a few features that will turn your head and make you consider it above all others.
In a market that’s filled with so many 13-inch Chromebooks, the Acer Chromebook 15 looks downright gigantic. Obviously a laptop this big for this price will mean way more plastic, but Acer has really done a fantastic job at making this Chromebook feel firm and robust.
The laptop's entire plastic exterior is also enclosed in a net-like texture. The entire laptop has been given this finish including the lid, bottom and the backside of the screen hinges. So, no matter how you're carrying around the Chromebook 15, you won’t have to worry about losing your grip. This woven finish also just feels much warmer than a slab of smooth plastic.
Open up the laptop, and you'll be greeted with a massive, 15.6-inch display that somehow absorbs any light that hits it entirely and dissipates it, eliminating any reflections or glare. Acer calls this its ComfyView anti-glare display, and it's much easier on my eyes. Even with the screen turned off, it resembles something more of a dark satin sheet compared to the mirror like sheen that comes off other notebooks outfitted with with glossy panels.
Just underneath this beautiful screen, you'll find even more space for activities. The spacious keyboard deck leaves plenty of room for a full-size keyboard without any truncated tilde keys or short shift bars. I would have loved to see a number pad as well, but Acer reserved the space for two large speaker grills on each side of the keyboard.
Towards the bottom there's also a large trackpad, which – not unlike the new MacBook – will click in no matter where you press on it. You'll want to be careful about pressing in too deeply around the trackpads two bottom edges, though, as it bends a few millimeters beneath the palm rests.
The Acer Chromebook 15 is certainly a laptop that falls into the 15-inch category, weighing in at 4.85 pounds (2,199 g), while measuring 15.08 x 9.65 x 0.95 inches (383 x 245 x 24 mm). The Chrome OS machine is still lighter compared to some of Acer's other 15.6-inch Windows laptop offerings, such as the 5.5-pound (2,494 g) Acer Aspire E5, which also has a larger 15 x 10.1 x 1.2-inch (381 mm x 257 mm x 30 mm) footprint.
However, as a 15-inch notebook, it's easily bigger and heavier than any 13-inch machine we've reviewed. For instance, this Acer machine's smaller sibling, the 13-inch Chromebook 13, weighs in at 3.31 pounds (1,501 g) with dimensions measuring 12.9 x 9 x 0.71 inches (327 x 228 x 18 mm). Meanwhile, the 12.6 x 8.4 x 0.76 inch (320 x 213 x 19 mm) Toshiba Chromebook 2 tips the scales at 2.95 pounds (1,338 g).
Here is the Acer Chromebook 15 configuration given to TechRadar for review:
- CPU: 1.5GHz Intel Celeron 3205U (dual core, 2MB cache)
- Graphics: Intel HD graphics
- RAM: 4GB DDR3
- Screen: 15.6-inch Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 resolution, LED-backlit display
- Storage: 32GB SSD
- Ports: 1 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0, HDMI, SD card reader, headphone/mic jack
- Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.0
- Camera: 720p HD webcam
- Weight: 4.85 pounds
- Size: 15.08 x 9.65 x 0.95 inches (W x D x H)
Priced at $349 (about AU$458) for the configuration listed above, this 15-inch laptop definitely comes at a higher premium than we typically expect from Chromebooks. However, this high price is actually worth it when you consider the larger screen and the new 5th generation Celeron processor. (And the AC wireless will help future proof this machine for the next Wi-Fi standard.)
Consumers who want to get an extra bargain can find a lower-end version of this laptop for around $249 (about £168, AU$326) with some major compromises. The lower-end model features a measly 2GB of RAM and a lower-resolution 1,366 x 768 display. Even if it means forking over an extra hundred bucks, we would seriously recommend steering clear of these downgrades.
Fortunately, it seems that Acer is no longer shortchanging customers in the UK, and are now offering the full 4GB version (although with a 1,366 x 768 display) for £299.
Either way, new Acer Chromebook 15 owners will get a few extra perks with their machine: including 100GB of Google Drive storage for a year, a 60-day pass to Google Music All Access and 12 in-air passes for GoGo Flight available until the end of the year.
The Toshiba Chromebook 2 comes at premium of its own with a $329 (about £223, AU$431) price tag. Like the Chromebook 15, this Toshiba laptop comes sporting a 1,920 x 1,080 screen in a more compact and sleeker 13.3-inch frame. It’s also not quite as well outfitted, with an older 2.16GHz Intel Celeron processor and only 16GB of storage.
The Acer Chromebook 15’s smaller 13-inch sibling is also quite alluring, coming in at only $249 or £219 (about AU$326) with a full HD display plus a 2.1GHz Nvidia Tegra K1 twist for the CPU.
Intel’s last generation of Haswell Celeron processors were able to smoothly power Chromebooks, and you get even more milage out of the new Broadwell parts. Despite loading several tabs full of cat GIFs, the Chromebook 15 never hit a performance snag and it was a an almost perfect multitasking machine.
That is until I started running into errant computer crashes. On more than one occasion, the Acer Chromebook 15 came to a hanging stop. Worse yet, a seemingly more serious crash happened in the course of writing this review: the laptop fell into a screen-flashing and audio-looping cycle until I performed a hard reset on my machine.
The crashes were random and have yet to cause a real problem, but it was still an annoyance to have to stop for a few seconds to force restart the computer. As of late, a few of Intel’s latest processors have been buggy, including an underperforming Intel Core M chip inside Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, so Broadwell might just be going through some early teething pains.
With such a large screen, the Acer Chromebook 15 is the perfect media streaming machine to share with some couchmates. Aside from when sharing your screen, you rarely get to appreciate how useful more screen real estate is until you have it.
There’s simply more room to move around windows, view web pages and generally feel less cramped. Plus, with a 15-inch screen you can just sit back and watch Netflix rather than getting right up to your screen as you have to do with a 13-inch or 11-inch machine.
The full HD resolution also makes the viewing experience much sharper from the app icons to text on websites. The best part of the display, though, is thanks to Acer picking out a vibrant IPS panel with some of the widest viewing angles we’ve ever seen – almost stretching to the very edges of the laptop screen.
The speakers on this laptop don’t deliver the most full bodied sound, and they’re surprisingly tinny considering the size of the underlying drivers, but they’re serviceable. Unlike other laptops that have tweeters hidden under the keyboard deck, or worse pointing downward, the Acer laptop does a much better job of directing sound to your ears. Unless you have a particularly trained ear for the best sound setups, the on-board audio is more than serviceable and their positioning only adds to the laptop’s overall cinematic experience.
An all day use machine
Intel promised better battery life with its latest crop of Broadwell processors, and the Acer Chromebook is one of the first machines to fully reap its benefits. Whereas anything over 5 hours is excellent for any 15.6-inch laptop, this machine was able to run for 7 hours and 49 minutes without stopping for a quick charge (or even a nap).
During my battery test, I ran down the machine with a combination of web browsing on Chrome, reliving my favorite Metal Gear Solid 4 moments on YouTube for an hour, streaming Google Music and typing up a long word document in Google Docs. At the time, I was also using the machine at 75% brightness and playing music with the volume set to 10%. If you were to dim the laptop’s screen some more, turn off Bluetooth and run fewer tasks at once, you could likely draw out another 45 minutes to an hour of battery life.
Comparatively, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 ran for a much shorter 6 hours and 26 minutes. If you’re looking for the machine with the absolutely longest battery life, the Acer Chromebook 13 will blow your socks off with a run time of 8 hours and 56 minutes.
The Acer Chromebook 15 is a breath of fresh air in the Chromebook space. It takes this series of laptops to two new places, as the first with a 15.6-inch screen and the first packing a Broadwell processor. More importantly, this Chromebook gets so many things right out of the gate, helping me overlook the minor flaws that can be expected when breaking ground.
Acer has leveraged all it’s past experience making Chromebooks to create a solid package, one that jumps over nearly all the hurdles early Chrome OS machines struggled with. First and foremost, it neither looks nor feels the least bit “budget”.
The laptop also comes well equipped and is fully capable machine for multi-tasking. What’s more, it has a positively radiant screen that’s perfect for long Netflix binges.
Sadly, the Acer Chromebook 15 isn’t without its problems, and sudden crashes are a huge issue. In just a few days of testing, the laptop came to a screeching stop that required me to do a hard reset to bring it back. In each case, I was able to get back online in mere seconds. But imagine if your machine froze as you were working on an online Google Doc file during a long flight. You wouldn’t be able to log back on and continue working until the plane landed.
The crashes came as a real surprise, because in my years working with these Chrome OS-powered machines, this is the first time any has ever outright crashed. Hopefully this is an issue Acer can address in the future with an update or software patch. (Plus, remember that your hard-earned cash also buys a one-year limited warranty.)
The Acer Chromebook 15 is a excellent Chrome OS laptop, but it asks you whether you need a machine this big just to run a Chrome browser?
For most people, that answer would be no, but I would easily pick this machine over any budget 15.6-inch Windows laptop. It’s simply better built and comes at a better price to boot. The 15-inch display on this laptop itself would even be worth the $349 or £249 (about AU$458) price of admission.
Both the Acer Chromebook 13, and even more so, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 are excellent options in their own right. So, picking the right machine for you will come down to how much screen real estate you need. No matter what though, the Acer Chromebook 15 is on the cutting edge and first sign of where Chrome OS devices will end up this year.