Chromebooks have an enigmatic quality about them. The best among them, Google's own Chromebook Pixel, is an expensive, no-compromise mobile computer with added niceties like USB-C, a superb high-resolution touchscreen display, and a durable all-metal design. Acer's new Chromebook 11, on the other hand, has the most basic of spec sheets, but it still promises to be a thoroughly useful PC for the vast majority of people. That's what makes Chromebooks great: they can be machines for both princes and paupers.
What's different about Acer's latest effort at an ultra-affordable Chromebook is that it now emphasizes a feature that's typically been left for premium devices: good design. In spite of costing a mere $179, this 11.6-inch Chromebook has an aluminum alloy cover imprinted with a crosshatch pattern that makes for a nice, grippy texture. That pattern is echoed on the plastic bottom of the laptop, which feels very solidly built. The keyboard offers no cause for concern or complaint, with satisfying key travel and almost zero flex. Acer is reluctant to call this its rugged Chromebook, because the company primarily wants to sell it to undemanding consumers that just want a reasonable-looking computer, but there's definitely been extra work done here to enhance this laptop's durability.
Even cheap Chromebooks are getting the premium design treatment these days
My hands-on impressions are corroborated by Acer's marketing materials, which note that the new Chromebook 11 can withstand downward force of up to 60kg and survive corner drops from a height of 60cm, just like its range of models for educational and commercial customers. At a weight of 1.1kg (2.42lb) and a thickness of 18.6mm (0.73 inches), this Chromebook is rather substantial and it is a bit reminiscent of the excellent Chromebook Pixel. The experience of typing on both and the reliability of the design are two features that are certainly shared between the two. Heck, even the performance of Acer's Chromebook 11 isn't bad at all. It's powered by a quad-core Intel Celeron processor and just 2GB of RAM on the entry-level model, but that doesn't stop it from whizzing around websites with satisfying quickness.
Where Acer's Chromebook starts to show its price limitation is in the quality of the display. The 720p resolution simply feels inadequate these days and the pixelation of images displayed on the screen can be irritating to someone used to extra crispy high-resolution displays. Acer does one more nice thing in making this a matte display, which is indeed easily viewable outdoors, but I personally wouldn't be happy using this on a day-to-day basis. Content, perhaps, but not happy. With 16GB of storage and the basic 2GB of RAM, the Chromebook 11 will cost $179 in the US and €229 in Europe. It will be available from the end of January.