Acer Chromebook Spin 11
Read our reviews of Lenovo ThinkPads and HP EliteBooks, and you’ll see boasts of MIL-SPEC 810G compliance—meeting military standards for resisting shock, vibration, extreme temperatures, and other portable PC perils, to reassure buyers concerned about the bumps and bruises of business travel. But forget them. Do you know who really needs MIL-SPEC 810G hardware? Little kids, who’d as soon drop a chromebook as look at one. The Acer Chromebook Spin 11 ($399.99) carries the certification into the hostile environment of the grade-school classroom. It’s a 2-in-1 convertible built to shrug off 132 pounds (a child standing on the lid) or 11 ounces (of water spilled on the keyboard) or 48 inches (falls from being knocked off a desk), and is our new Editors’ Choice for student chromebooks.
Good-Looking in a Toyish Way
The Spin 11 is made of white polycarbonate plastic with a rubberized beige bumper around its bottom half, giving it a rugged look clearly meant for kids’ clumsy hands. Black keys match the large black bezel around the glossy screen. The touch panel that covers the display is antimicrobial Corning Gorilla Glass, designed to resist not only knocks and scratches but passing germs from small fingers to classmates and teachers. At 0.82 by 11.7 by 8.1 inches, it’s the same size as the Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook and a fraction smaller than the Dell Chromebook 3189 Education 2-in-1 (0.82 by 12 by 8.2 inches), and falls between them in weight, with a couple of ounces on each side, at 3.09 pounds.
It flips and folds through the four modes familiar to users of Lenovo Yogas and workalikes like the Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA: regular Laptop mode; an easel-style Stand mode, with the keyboard face down and screen tilted back; Tent mode, with the system propped up like an A-frame for poking at touch apps; and Tablet mode, with the display and keyboard back to back.
The Acer is more expensive than the Dell Chromebook 3189 and the Lenovo Flex 11, partly due to its ruggedized construction and partly due to its coming with a Wacom stylus for scribbling or sketching on the screen in Tablet mode. The bad news is that there is no hole or niche in the chromebook for storing the stylus, so kids are guaranteed to lose it. The good news is that the batteryless pen works with good precision and palm rejection—there’s a little lag if you whip the stylus across the screen at top speed, but in normal use we found it a capable input tool for apps like Google Keep and Autodesk SketchBook, even responding with thin and thick lines to gentle and harder pressure in the latter.
Like the Dell and Lenovo chromebooks, it has an 11.6-inch IPS touch screen with 1,366-by-768 resolution (versus the Asus Flip’s 12.5-inch and 1,920-by-1,080). Like many touch screens, the panel is plagued by reflections, so the bezel and dark areas are like looking at a mirror, but the 360-degree hinges let you tilt the display back as far as it takes to minimize the effect. Otherwise, the screen is attractive, with ample brightness and vivid colors. Neither it nor any other display with this resolution offers razor-sharp details, but contrast is excellent and the screen, like the keyboard deck, is free of flimsy flex.
The 1,280-by-720-pixel webcam above the screen captures averagely sharp, not terribly bright images. A second camera centered above the keyboard takes pretty good 2,592-by-1,944-pixel snapshots in Tablet mode, using the screen as a viewfinder, though it’s awkward to hold the Spin in one hand while tapping the shutter button with the other. Bottom-mounted speakers produce decent sound—distorted if volume is cranked to the max, but rich and realistic, albeit short on booming bass, at sane volume levels.
The flush-fitting power button is on the laptop’s left side, along with a USB 3.0 port, a USB-C port, an audio jack, and a micro SD card slot. On the right side, you’ll find another USB 3.0 port, another USB-C port, a cable lock slot, and a volume rocker for use in Tablet mode. The supplied AC adapter plugs into either USB-C port. Like other chromebooks, the Acer offers 100GB of free Google Drive cloud storage for two years (it’s $1.99 per month thereafter). A one-year warranty is also included.
The full-sized, island-style keyboard has shallow travel but a firm, responsive typing feel; we were cruising at close to our maximum speed within minutes, although we can never remember the Chrome OS keystrokes for Page Up/Page Down (Alt+Up/Down) or Home/End (Ctrl+Alt+Up/Down). The keyboard is not backlit. The touchpad has a silky-smooth feel for swipes, taps, and scrolling.
It Takes a Licking
The Chromebook Spin 11 is powered by an Intel Celeron N3350, a 1.1GHz dual-core processor backed here by 4GB of memory and 32GB of eMMC flash storage. It gives the convertible good if not record-setting performance—we opened 10 browser tabs including a 720p YouTube video and three Android apps without noticeable lag.
Speaking of which, the Acer, like other current chromebooks, includes beta-test access to the Google Play Store’s legions of touch-screen-friendly Android apps (now including Microsoft Office) in addition to the Chrome Web Store’s lineup of mostly browser-based, non-touch apps. Some work flawlessly. Some that didn’t work just a couple of weeks before this writing (Google Play Music balked at our MP3s) seem cured thanks to the platform’s steady flow of upgrades. And some are still hit-or-miss (Netflix stops when asked to restart a movie), so we still rate Android support as a sometime bonus rather than a key factor when reviewing chromebooks.
A more significant bonus is the Spin 11’s battery life: While it doesn’t run our Windows-based performance benchmarks, the system lasted for 12 hours and 48 minutes in our video rundown test (playing a locally stored copy of The Lord of the Rings trilogy with screen brightness at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent). A full workday plus an evening of Android games or YouTube viewing will be no problem.
Finally, though we weigh too much to stand on it, we dropped the Acer (both open and closed) from desk height half a dozen times. It ignored the abuse and kept going, so we splashed a glass of water on the keyboard, then (except for wet fingers) continued typing this paragraph as if nothing had happened. We can quibble that kids are more likely to spill juice or soda than plain water, but we can’t deny the 2-in-1’s toughness.
A Prime Rugged Alternative
For $100 more, the Asus Flip C302CA offers a larger, full HD display and faster performance. But the Acer Spin 11 is a first-class alternative for students or anyone seeking a rugged Chrome OS convertible. And as a bonus, it comes packed with all-day battery life. It’s our new Editors’ Choice for student chromebooks.