Acer Chromebook 14 review: Cheap at twice the price
This all-metal Chromebook remains great value - and now supports Android apps
Chromebooks have had a bad rap since Google first launched its lightweight, web-based OS. While it's true that Chrome OS used to be a compromised, feature-poor experience that basically crumbled as soon as you went out of range of a Wi-Fi hotspot, the OS has now evolved to the point where we'd have no problems recommending a Chromebook for general-purpose users.
Similarly, while Chromebooks themselves were viewed as cheap, disposable plastic things fit for students and not much else, newer, flashier devices like the Google Pixelbook have proved that this doesn't necessarily need to be the case.
With that in mind, enter the Acer Chromebook 14 - a Chromebook that promises the best of all possible worlds. Its metal unibody design echoes the sleek looks of much more high-end machines, and its price-tag means that it's still an affordable option compared to a Windows machine. We've tested the entry-level version and although it's now a couple of years old, this device still has a lot to recommend it.
Acer Chromebook 14 review: Design
If you're expecting this machine to have a sub-par build quality just because it's a Chromebook, think again. In fact, the Chromebook 14 looks and feels better than some 'proper' laptops we've seen, with a sturdy and professional-looking aluminium chassis that's almost reminiscent of the MacBook Air.
While it's not exactly feather-light, at 1.7kg it's actually a lot less weighty than a lot of its rivals in this price bracket, and its thickness of just under 17mm is also pretty respectable. We had no issues with lugging it around between meetings or slipping it into a bag.
Another nice touch is that the hinge goes all the way back, rotating a little past 180 degrees. This is an oft-overlooked element of laptop design that ensures you'll have a comfortable viewing angle no matter how tall you are or at what height your work-surface is.
Acer Chromebook 14 review: Keyboard and trackpad
As you'd expect on a laptop of this price, you don't get any extra bells and whistles such as backlighting when it comes to the keyboard, and the feedback from typing has a hollow, bouncy feel to it. However, the chiclet keys are nicely-spaced and offer a reasonable (if not spectacular) travel distance.
The trackpad is similarly pedestrian but has enough space to comfortable navigate without ever feeling especially cramped. The surface is nice and smooth too, and it supports the limited number of multi-touch gestures offered by ChromeOS.
Acer Chromebook 14 review: Display
Here, we come to one of the biggest let-downs with the Chromebook 14. The display is a real disappointment and the biggest black mark against it. The 14in screen offers plenty of real-estate, but the quality of the panel itself is downright poor.
It has a sub-1080p resolution of just 1,366 x 766, which we could forgive; what's less excusable is that the maximum brightness of 213cd/m2 meant it was noticeably too dim for us to comfortably use. We frequently found ourselves peering at the screen, and hammering in vain at the brightness toggles trying to boost it a little bit more.
Colour accuracy is similarly poor, and the Chromebook 14 covers just 54% of the sRGB colour spectrum. This, together with a contrast rating of a mere 287:1, combines to make a display that looks flat, muted, washed out and lifeless. This makes even office work and general web browsing more tedious than it needs to be, so you can forget about using this machine to watch video. There's a more expensive Full HD model available, which sports an IPS panel and should (in theory) offer a better viewing experience, although we've yet to test it out.
Acer Chromebook 14 review: Specs and hardware
The internal specifications are an improvement - although don't expect this laptop to set any speed records. It's kitted out with a dual-core Intel Celeron N3060 processor combined with 2GB of RAM, which isn't a particularly beefy spec, and it shows in the performance figures.
Its Geekbench scores of 1,141 for single-core tasks and 1,062 for multi-core operations puts it below most smartphones in terms of processing horsepower, and it'll start to struggle if you give it more than a handful of Chrome tabs to deal with.
For light multitasking - a couple of open apps and five or six Chrome tabs - it should work fine, but power users beware: this is not the machine for you. As with the display, the more expensive model is slightly better-equipped, although we still wouldn't expect too much.
Another weak spot is storage. This is admittedly a problem with pretty much every Chromebook, but this model's 16GB drive is still particularly egregious - you can pick up higher-capacity USB drives for less than a tenner, after all. Invest in external storage or a high-capacity cloud storage plan.
Acer Chromebook 14 review: Battery life
The good news is that those low-powered components mean that the Acer Chromebook 14 will last a very healthy amount of time before keeling over. In our battery tests, it managed to go for 10hrs 22mins before giving up the ghost, which is more than enough to get you through a full working day - which is handy, because there's no fast-charging or USB-C charging here.
Acer Chromebook 14 review: Ports and features
If there's one area where this laptop is showing its age more than any other, it's in its selection of ports. While two USB 3.0 ports and an HDMI input may have been considered fulsome when this Chromebook launched, a more modern device would have done away with all three in favour of Thunderbolt 3 USB-C slots.
With that having been said, the Chromebook 14's port selection is well-rounded enough to cope with most use-cases, so we're unwilling to criticise it too much for its lack of USB-C.
One point that's well worth mentioning is that this laptop is one of the select number of Chromebooks that supports Android apps - so if you're concerned about its lack of ability to function effectively offline, you needn't be.
Acer Chromebook 14 review: Verdict
Ignore the nay-sayers; Chromebooks can serve a valuable purpose, and the Acer Chromebook 14 is a perfect illustration of why. It's an attractive, professional-looking device, with reasonable performance and a very capable battery life. What's more, subsequent updates to Chrome OS have vastly improved the functionality.
We have some serious issues with the screen, and it's never going to win any prizes for its speed, but we're willing to overlook these based on its exceptionally low price. For just under 200 all-in, you've got a serviceable (if not stunning) everyday machine, which makes it excellent value. If you need to refresh your laptop on a budget, you could do an awful lot worse.
Disappointing screen quality aside, the Acer Chromebook 14 is one of the best-value laptops around. For those on a minimal budget, you won’t find a more well-rounded machine.
|Processor||Dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3060|
|Graphics adaptor||Intel HD Graphics 400|
|Operating system||Chrome OS|
|Parts and labour warranty||One year RTB|