Acer Chromebook R11 review
This convertible Chromebook-tablet hybrid made us flip out
Most Chromebooks tend to be quite similar, despite their aesthetic differences, with components and a design that are good enough to get the job done and little more - especially at the cheap end of the market away from Google's lovely but pricey Chromebook Pixel. Acer has taken a slightly different tack with the Chromebook R11 which has a double-jointed screen hinge so you can flip the screen back and use this Chrome OS laptop like a tablet.
Chrome OS tablet
Laptop-tablet hybrids are old-hat now for Windows computers, but they're still rare for Chromebooks. Browsing the web works reasonably well as some basic modifications have been made to Chrome OS to make it more finger-friendly. For example, there's a dedicated button in the system tray for switching between tabs and windows as well as a screen orientation lock. There's also an Android-style onscreen keyboard that supports Swype-style typing.
The build of Chrome OS pre-installed on our review unit was surprisingly buggy though. Attempting to exit full-screen mode, opening links or closing tabs using the touchscreen was occasionally impossible due to glitches in the interface and were only cleared after a full restart.
Touchscreen responsiveness was a little juddery. We suspect this problem might be due to a lag in communication between the processor and input controller, as this problem was shared with the touchpad in laptop mode. A more persistent problem is that while the Chrome browser is reasonably finger-friendly, many web apps are not - including many of Google's own such as Gmail and Docs.
The thickness and weight (1.25kg, which is hefty for a tablet) means you're unlikely to use the R11 frequently in tablet mode. The hinge does allow you to orient the screen in tent mode or with the keyboard acting as a base for the display though, both of which are useful for watching videos and flicking through presentations or images.
If you're happy to grapple with the R11's thickness and girth when using the touchscreen, then at least you won't be disappointed with the quality of the screen. The 1366x768 resolution of the 11.6in display is obviously no match for the high pixel density screens of the pricier Chromebook Pixel or Pixel C, for example, but it's reasonably bright with decent contrast. It's a tad grainy, but it's not too distracting.
At the risk of pushing a tenuous cultural reference, the R11 looks like a laptop that a Star Wars stormtrooper would use. The black and white plastic is broken up by an aluminium lid etched with an attractive cross-hatch pattern. This doesn't really add any extra rigidity as the frame and the rest of the laptop is still made from plastic, but the sheer thickness of this computer means it still feels reasonably rigid and robust.
The white plastic also picks up dirt and stains quite easily. As expected, the underside never became warm due to the energy-sipping Intel Celeron processor inside. The Atom-derived Celeron N3050 processor is paired with 2GB of memory. It has a base clock speed of 1.6GHz that can turbo boost to 2.16GHz. It's hardly the most powerful laptop processor available, but it's good enough for running Chrome OS and web apps.
Battery life is good too. Acer claims ten hours of battery life and we just exceeded that at 10 hours and 30 minutes when using lightweight web apps such as Google Docs, Gmail, Simplenote and WordPress with occasional YouTube videos and Google Play Music playlists thrown in.
Keyboard and touchpad
The R11's keyboard is similar to the one on Acer's much heavier and bigger 15in Chromebook. The keys are large with all the Chrome OS-specific shortcut keys we'd expect. Although the keys have enough travel, they feel a bit spongy and thus don't give quite as much feedback as we'd like. It's still comfortable to type on at speed with few typos, but it's clearly not the best keyboard Acer has built but rather a second-best keyboard compromised to keep costs low.
The touchpad is similarly good enough, but not exemplary. It's large, smooth and reasonably accurate, but tracking motion was a little sluggish and laboured. Since these problems are shared with the touchscreen, as stated above, we doubt they can be fixed via a simple software update. But we'd love to be proven wrong.
Despites its flaws and bugs, the Acer Chromebook R11's hybrid capabilities aren't a complete lost cause due to the usefulness of its tent and display orientations. Even so, we do wish Acer had instead concentrated on making a budget Chromebook with the best possible keyboard and display - two areas where cheap Chromebooks often fall short.
Still, its keyboard and screen are good enough. Combine that with its appealingly long battery life and the R11 is worth considering if you're already invested in Google's cloud services or plan to do so.
Cheap and cheerful cloud computing on the go, although the tablet mode and input devices on this Chromebook need work
|Processor||Dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3050|
|Graphics adaptor||Intel HD Graphics|
|Total storage||16GB eMMC|
|Operating system||Chrome OS|
|Parts and labour warranty||One year RTB|
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