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Lifewire / Jason Schneider
Excellent battery life
Big, bright screen
Limited on-board storage
Bulky size and weight
Limited customization with Chrome OS
The Acer Chromebook 15 is bigger and brighter than a lot of other similar options, but does leave a bit to be desired in the storage and build categories.
The CB3-532 Chromebook 15 from Acer is by no means a flashy laptop, but that’s likely a positive attribute if you’re in the market for a solid Chromebook. With a price that comes in well under $200, and the processor isn’t going to provide any record-breaking speeds. What you do get is a perfectly functional machine for basic productivity, full web-browsing, media consumption, and even some light gaming.
You’re also getting a massive display that actually impressed us in our tests, especially when compared to other laptops in this range. I spent a few days of regular use with this Chromebook and broke down what it does well and what corners it has to cut to meet this price point.
The first thing you’ll notice about this laptop is just how large it is. That’s mostly to be expected, because it does sport a 15.6-inch display, meaning the chassis has to be at least that big. But the large, approximately 1-inch bezels around the screen make it pretty large, even considering the expected footprint.
The color scheme feels very modern, looking very similar to Apple’s space gray. There’s a soft brushed-aluminum-style texture on the top, and a dark, roughened plastic base and inner bezels. There are also two large, round-rectangle speaker grilles flanking the speakers that give it a more assertive look than the usual, simple aesthetic used by other laptops.
The hinge is actually two small contact points that roll into the laptop chassis, which feels dated when the laptop is open but makes it look interesting when it’s closed. The whole laptop is made of plastic, and measures right around one 1-inch thick, weighing in at almost 4.5 pounds. That’s a double-edged sword because while the laptop feels really sturdy and premium despite the plastic material, it isn’t terribly portable.
One added benefit to opting for a Chromebook instead of a full PC is that the software is really light. This has implications for both productivity and performance, but it provides a big benefit for the setup process. Because the entire experience, from bootup to browsing, has been designed by Google, you can expect a very similar look and feel to what you’ve probably experienced when signing up and signing in to a Gmail or YouTube account.
The device first asks you to set your regions, then connect to a Wi-Fi network, then finally to sign into a Google account and set up permissions. From here it drops you basically immediately to the Chromebook home screen where you can either dive right in, or follow the popup tour given by Google. One thing I liked a lot about this was that Google gives you a short three-popup tour to start, then asks if you’d like to go deeper or just jump right into the machine yourself. This staged version of a device tour is a great way to let you, the user, tailor it to your preferences. This also makes it great for an older-aged tech user who might need a bit of hand-holding as they get to know their laptop.
The display on the Acer Chromebook 15 is bigger than you might expect from a laptop that runs Chrome OS, with a 15.6-inch backlit LED screen that offers a ton of room for windows and programs. The resolution measures in at 1366x768 meaning it checks all the boxes for being classified as an HD display.
What surprised me was just how good this screen looks for a budget panel. Most screens at this level will give you just enough pixels to advertise themselves as HD, but will skimp on viewing angles and color representation. But, the screen offers plenty of brightness, and if you turn the blue temperature down a bit (do this in the “night light” part of the Settings section, but turn it on all the time, not just during bedtime), the screen looks really decent.
The whole laptop is made of plastic, and measures right around 1-inch thick, weighing in at almost 4.5 pounds.
Chrome OS provides an interesting advantage in the performance category. Right out of the box, this laptop will look and feel very fast, but as soon as you try to open more than about 6 tabs on Chrome, or you fire up multiple apps and videos, it slows down exponentially. On paper, it sports a dual-core Intel Celeron N3060 processor capable for standard-run speeds of 1.6GHz.
The configuration I chose also includes 4GB of LPDDR3 RAM, and 16GB of eMMC memory. These last two points help to make up for the somewhat limited processor by giving decent short-term storage needs and a reasonably fast flash-style memory. But, because the DDR3 RAM is a bit dated and caps out at 4GB, you’ll find that it gets a little sluggish when you push it. It’s also unfortunate to see merely 16GB of storage, severely limiting the amount of movies, photos, and files you can fit on the device.
To be fair, Chromebook users likely keep more files in cloud storage drives, and Google includes 100GB of drive storage for free with the purchase for 2 years. So, you might not notice the limited capacity, but I would have preferred at least 32GB.
There’s an interesting case to be made for this Acer Chromebook in terms of productivity. Chrome OS is a very light operating system, which means that it runs quick and light, at least initially. This also means that you can load up more than a few Chrome tabs—something that hogs a lot of power use on Windows laptops. Add that in with the larger 15.6-inch display, giving you lots of room for multiple windows and apps, and this Chromebook is great for those who want to multitask. However, because it isn’t a full OS, you won’t be able to run a whole lot of programs out of the box, and you’re limited to what’s available in the Play Store.
The fit and finish of this laptop also contributes to its productivity capabilities. The full-sized keyboard is actually pretty passable, which is surprising for such a budget device. Because the chassis is thicker, Acer has been able to put in a bit more key travel than you might expect, and even though the action of the keyboard feels just a bit mushy, I found the keyboard pretty great to use.
I am a little annoyed with the “search” key that Chromebooks placed where a caps lock key should be--resulting in a lot of accidental search callups. The trackpad also leaves a bit to be desired, requiring a firm, chunky press, and doesn’t support as many gestures as Windows or OSX.
Laptops are never amazing specimen when it comes to on-board speakers, so I wasn’t expecting much out of this either. Because it’s a 15-inch machine, there’s plenty of room in the Chromebook 15 for more components, and Acer has opted to put in two giant speaker grilles along either side of the keyboard. Taking that into account, I was hoping that the speakers would be louder and fuller than a normal laptop. However, the response is very tinny and it wasn’t as loud as I was hoping. In fact, these are among the worst speakers I’ve tested on a budget laptop, leaving me to believe that the grilles are just for show.
Despite the lighter OS, the Chromebook 15 offers modern, well-equipped network features. First off, there’s an 802.11ac-capable Wi-Fi card built-in, which means you’ll get less interference than the N-protocol Wi-Fi, and you’ll have access to the 5GHz bands common in most modern routers. There’s also Bluetooth 4.2 capability which provided me with a plenty-stable connection for my Bluetooth headphones, and will work nicely if you want to connect a mouse or other peripherals.
As far as ports go, there are the requisite AC power and 3.5mm headphone input ports, plus a full HDMI output for connecting an external monitor. There are also two USB 3.0 ports—one on each side—for increased data transfer speeds. I would have liked to see at least one USB Type-C port, as the mobile industry is heading decidedly in that direction, but it isn’t the end of the world. There’s also a full-sized SD card slot to help expand the storage of the device, which is important considering how little space is available on the device itself. Overall, this thing checks most of the boxes, though with the large chassis it would have been nice to have seen just a few more I/O options.
Most laptops I’ve tested at any price point sport a borderline abysmal webcam, so my expectations are never high for low-end laptops like this one. However, even though the pictures and videos recorded are noticeable grainy, the color response was pretty good.
This is likely because Google is calling this an HDR-capable webcam, meaning the software is increasing the ISO to give you clear performance. This gives you good color response as I’ve noted, but it does also result in that graininess. This shouldn’t be a breaking point in either direction for considering a laptop like this, but if you do a lot of video calls, it’s an important thing to consider.
As a light OS, it wasn’t that surprising to see excellent battery life on the Chromebook 15, but I was pleased with just how long the battery lasted. There’s a 3,920mAh lithium-polymer battery that Acer pins at about 12 hours of use. That holds true, perhaps trending toward a little less.
That’s an impressive performance for a display this large, as there are a lot of pixels to push, but is likely a result of Chrome OS’s light running load and display brightness optimization. The battery also recharges very quickly, allowing for you to quickly add some extra juice to a dying laptop in a pinch. All in all, this is definitely a pro for this device, making it a reliable travel machine.
Chrome OS is a very light operating system, which means that it runs quick and light, at least initially.
Using Chrome OS is more reliable than you might think. You have most of the functions you’ll need from Google Docs to web browsing to file storage. However, you’ll be missing a lot of more specialized programs, like the full Adobe Creative Suite, or PC-based media programs. Due to the low-powered processor and limited shared Graphics capability, you wouldn’t be able to use this laptop for video editing anyway, even if it did run Windows. So, even though it’s limiting, it’s on purpose.
That said, the Chromebook 15 runs so well, though likely only because of the lightweight operating system and limited app capabilities. Chrome OS is kind of like just using a Chrome window with a bunch of tabs on a regular PC. For most people, the OS is more than capable of handling most of your browsing needs. This Chromebook is a great example of how far you can push Chrome OS on a budget device, with a big bright screen for watching movies, too.
The list price for this Acer Chromebook sits at just about $400 (MSRP), but most of the time you can find it on Amazon for between $150-$250. I picked up my unit for about $185, and it tends to hover just around there.
For the money, I can confidently say this laptop is worth the price, as long as you have the right applications in mind for it. If you want a cheap starter laptop, or a machine for an older family member that’s easy to use, but you don’t want to spend half a grand getting there, this is a great choice. I can’t say it’s quite as travel-friendly as some of the other budget laptops out there, due to the size and weight. But if you want an affordable machine that’s great for light productivity tasks, and is an excellent movie machine, then you should consider this.
Lenovo’s entry into the large, budget Chromebook range brings a few different features into play. The most notable difference is the build—you’ll get a thinner, sleeker laptop with the Lenovo, including a much more premium-looking and -feeling keyboard, plus 64GB of storage and a lighter weight. However, you’ll sacrifice the Intel processor (the Lenovo sports a more dated chip from MediaTek) and the battery life isn’t quite as good. That package comes in at a little higher on the price scale, too.
A solid Chromebook for productivity, but limited in portability.
This is a great Chromebook with a lot of impressive things to offer. The bright screen has plenty of room for vibrant video viewing and multiple windows of productivity. The excellent battery life means you won’t be tethered to a desk, and the light, fast Chrome OS means it will take a lot to slow the Acer Chromebook 15 down. However, the limited onboard storage, bulky size and weight, and the lack of full app choices might limit you a bit too much. At the end of the day, at this price point, it’s perfect for light, basic use.