Acer Chromebook 15 review: One size doesn’t fit all (and that’s OK)

After getting a few minutes of hands on time with the Acer Chromebook 15 in January, I’ve wondered how a 15.6-inch Chromebook would fit in my day-to-day usage. I now have an answer to that question after using the large laptop for the last week: It doesn’t. At least not for me.

Since I’m on the go, I prefer a lighter, more portable Chromebook. Something that weighs less than the 4.9 pounds that Acer’s Chromebook 15 tops the scales at. The thing is, my personal preferences aren’t likely the same as many other consumers interested in a Chromebook. In fact, Acer says most laptop sales are still skewed towards larger sizes, which sounds plausible to me, since many people purchase laptops to be desktop replacements and want a larger display.

New chips and better screen equal a solid value

Regardless of my portability preference, putting the Chromebook 15 through its paces shows a very capable device that’s a good value for the $349 cost. It’s one of the first Chromebooks to use the latest Intel Broadwell processor, which doesn’t sacrifice performance over the company’s prior-generation chips, but brings the added benefit of using less power. That means, you’ll see more run-time on a single battery charge, all things being equal. Indeed, I routinely got through 8 hour days of various online activities with the Chromebook 15; impressive since there’s a large 15.6-inch display to backlight.

About that screen: It’s a 1080p resolution IPS panel that’s noticeably better than displays Acer has used in the past on smaller, older Chromebooks. It has a matte finish to reduce glare and looks bright and clear from a wide range of viewing angles. Watching 1080p video on this big screen is a treat.

Chrome OS doesn’t quite scale optimally on here — some user interface elements are smaller than I’d like — but that’s common on most Chromebooks with 1080p screens and you can adjust scaling in Chrome OS settings. Google’s Chromebook Pixel has an even higher resolution but uses pixel doubling to manage the UI and icons, so this a non-issue for that device.

On-par performance for most, but you’ve got options

Of course, the Pixel is top of the line for this category, with its super display, up to Core i7 processor and 16GB of memory; see my full Pixel review here. The Acer Chromebook 15 model I was loaned has a new Intel Celeron and 4GB of RAM, so you should expect a slower Chrome OS experience by comparison. But it’s also nearly one-third the price of the Pixel so in that regard, it certainly meets or exceeds expectations.

Chromebook Pixel dwarfed by the Acer Chromebook 15

And this week, Acer announced a commercial, Core i5 version of the Chromebook 15 that will cost $500, bringing potential performance parity with the Pixel for half the the price. The company does offer less expensive models with 2GB of memory and/or a non-IPS panel, which can save you $100 but if you’re going to look at that massive screen all day, why not make it a pleasant experience?

For most users, the Celeron and 4GB of memory inside the new Acer Chromebook is the minimum route I’d recommend. Testing the Javascript performance using Sunspider (lower numbers are better) averaged a results of 342.6 milliseconds, while Google’s Octane benchmark, where a higher score is better, yielded a result of 13,294. Putting that in perspective: The overall performance is about the same or better than most of last year’s Chromebooks, and roughly half that of the expensive Chromebook Pixel.

In day to day use, the Chromebook 15 handles a dozen active tabs with relative ease; it wasn’t until I really started pushing beyond 18 tabs before I saw any type of lag or tab refreshing, and even that was minimal. I never heard the fan run once in my testing. All in all, this model has plenty of power for most people who want a Chromebook.

Plastic and plenty of room to spare

Watching online video is a breeze on this machine as well, helped by the immersive display and large speakers to the right and left of the keyboard. With so much size afforded by the big screen, the keyboard is full-sized and is paired with a large trackpad and plenty of room to rest your wrists.

Construction is a plastic affair but the device feels pretty solid. It has two USB ports — one supporting USB 3.0 — a full-sized HDMI jack, SD card slot and proprietary power port for charging.

Going from an empty battery to full charge can be be done in a shade under two hours. I appreciated that Acer included 802.11ac Wi-Fi support so I can get full bandwidth from my home broadband router.

Who is this for?

Would I buy this Chromebook? No, because it does’t fit my needs which require something smaller and easier to tote around. But that doesn’t mean, the Chromebook 15 is a “bad” device. On the contrary, it offers a reasonably fast Chrome OS experience that’s easy on the eyes thanks to the nice display. It can get you through a full day’s work or play on a single charge. And best of all, it does all this for $350 with options to spend more or less, depending on your priorities of performance and screen.

It comes down to wanting a 15.6-inch display. If that’s your preferred screen size and Chrome OS is appealing to you, Acer has a winner on its hands because right now, it’s the only game in town. The next closest Chromebook in size is HP’s 14-inch model and after that you get into the standard 13.3- and 11.6-inch territory. Of course, Acer has Chromebooks in those sizes as well, showing why it has quickly become one of the top selling Chromebook brands in the world: It has something for everyone in the Chrome OS space.