Acer Chromebook 13 (CB713) review: A great Chromebook - for a limited time
You won't have long to enjoy the Acer Chromebook 13 as the battery is dreadful
Being cheap and easy to use is what Chromebooks are all about, but that shouldn't mean it delivers less in performance, reliability or aesthetics, right? However, as we noted when taking the Acer Chromebook 13 out of the box, it's not going to win any beauty contests. It's a dull, old-fashioned looking clamshell laptop and we'd expect a little more from the manufacturer that built the gorgeous Acer Swift 7.
On the other hand, despite its beauty, the Swift 7 was not much cop on the inside and for laptops, that's really what matters. Unlike its predecessors, this Chromebook has an 8th Gen Intel Core processor, but is that enough to light up Acer's unattractive clamshell?
Acer Chromebook 13 (CB713) review: Design
It's safe to say that Acer will be counting on the Chromebook 13's performance having enough wow factor to carry it because the exterior is definitely lacking in that department with an unimaginative colour scheme. Acer says it's "stylish yet tough" but only the second part of that is true, because it's the colour of an overcast sky. Its matte aluminium body with silver and dark grey trimmings could not be any more boring. Even the Chrome logo on the lid has lost its colour. Admittedly, the keyboard is nice and neat but the trackpad is small and also depressingly grey.
It's hard to see where the 'style' part is, as Acer has managed to make a 13in laptop look bulky and cumbersome; It has an unusually square screen (which we'll cover in more detail later) with thick bezels adding to the general lack of appeal. This is the same company that seems hell-bent on producing the world's thinnest laptop - for example, the already mentioned Acer Swift 7 - but in this instance, there seems to be a deliberate push for the world's least interesting laptop. For this, we can congratulate them, as they're winning on both fronts. The kind of criticism its looks will likely receive requires a thick skin but it has no problems here because it does have a really solid metal frame. It's 1.7cm in thickness and weighs a mighty 1.4kg. So, although it's not stylish, there's no debating the toughness.
Acer Chromebook 13 (CB713) review: Display
Here is where things pick up; the colours pop out of this 13.5in QHD screen. It's almost like being Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz leaving the black and white world of Kansas. It's a lovely display, particularly with video streaming where the colours are at their most luminous. Much to our surprise, it scored 96.7% in our colour gamut test, which is very good compared to most Chromebooks and especially good compared to the disappointing displays of Acer's previous Chromebooks. Same too for the brightness, which topped out at 363cd/m2 on our tests. In real terms, the screen is visible in most conditions excluding the brightest of direct sunlight, but that sadly isn't that much of a problem in the UK.
There's more height to this screen than your standard 16:9 display, with its 3:2 ratio giving both 18% more vertical screen space and an unusually square look to the laptop's lid that reminds us of a much older breed of notebook. Indeed, there's less scrolling down because you're seeing more length in content, but it ends up being rather strange-looking and if you wanted more screen space, you'd probably just buy a bigger laptop or a tablet. Also, because the display is so good, it's slightly annoying that this has neither a touchscreen or a tablet mode - although you'd be paying a lot more for those functions.
There is also a 178-degree viewing angle, which is meant to be for sharing your content with those around you. That sounds great for collaboration, but not so much for remote working. Wide angles and large displays are the done thing with laptops, as people genuinely want smaller bezels and more screen, but it's opening up more potential for shoulder surfing.
Acer Chromebook 13 (CB713) review: Keyboard & Trackpad
We've tested a US model so there's no pound sign (hence why we've just used the word and not the symbol) but other than that slight annoyance, it's quite lovely. Beyond the dark grey colour, the chiclet keys have a nice feel to them. They have a satisfying click and are responsive too (unless the software stops - more on that later). Also, due to the clamshell design, opening the laptop tilts the keyboard upwards a little. Acer says this provides greater visibility of the keys, but most people type without looking at their keyboard, or at the very least with little glances, so we couldn't really see the benefit of that. But the company are not the first to think this way; Asus has used a similar method on the ZenBook S which has a similarly deep lid that props the top of the keyboard up.
The trackpad is quite hard work, firstly because it's small given the space around it. The size is annoying for a number of reasons, but mostly for getting your cursor around the screen - which, remember, isn't touchscreen, so you damn well need that trackpad to have more reach. Secondly, it's also got a fairly tough click action which is quite tiresome after a while - unless you want a solid finger workout.
Acer Chromebook 13 (CB713) review: Specs & Performance
The general performance of this laptop is quite good. This has a dual-core Intel Core i3-8130U 2.20GHz processor, which is unusual for a Chromebook, and that does show in its graphics and performance. In our Geekbench tests, it scored 2124 on our single-core tests and 2002 for the multi-core, both of which are very good. Compare them to Acer's Chromebook 14, which scored below most smartphones in our tests, and although the Chromebook 13 is still lagging far behind the scores of most Windows laptops, it looks to have considerably more horsepower than its predecessor.
We saw this from the moment we turn the thing on as it boots up in seconds; from pressing the power button to getting on with work, there's very little time wasted in between. Switching from app to app, opening up documents and emails, even downloading, there's a snappy feel across the board with the Chromebook 13.
While the speed of the machine is impressive, there's an occasional freeze, almost like you've caught it out with your need to do things on it. We often noticed this when typing, where the machine takes a few seconds to catch up and the cursor seemed to have the occasional spasm - on a number of occasions the cursor fidgeted so much it was near impossible to highlight text or click on tabs.
Acer Chromebook 13 (CB713) review: Battery life & features
Acer suggests the Chromebook 13 has 10 hours of battery life and we can't really blame them for suggesting it; all manufacturers say their device has "all day battery life" and their internal tests may differ from ours. Acer claims that the Chromebook 13 will use power efficiently, keeping you going without the need for a charger. But, having used it for a whole day, we found it just about made it to the end of an eight-hour shift - and this is hardly a taxing job for a laptop. Worse still, in our looped video battery test, the thing conked out after 6hrs 16mins, which is just over a quarter of a day.
Connectivity is good as there are three USB ports, two of which are Thunderbolt 3 (USB 3.1) with the other being a USB 3.0. It's always good when a device offers options for new and legacy connections, and many will be pleased to see a standard headphone jack and a good old MicroSD slot for extra storage.
Acer Chromebook 13 (CB713) review: Verdict
Despite some noticeable plus points, this Acer Chromebook 13 left us with mixed feelings. What began with a less than impressive unboxing brightened up with stunning graphics, quick processing and an innovative interface. But it's all brought back down by a terrible battery that can't complete a working day without a charger.
For its price, we really hoped for more, maybe even a touch screen, and in this regard, it's probably going to be the deal breaker. It's asking a lot to part with more than 500 for a dull-looking machine that has a screen made for streaming, but not the functionality to fully appreciate it. Anyone who ends up with Chromebook 13 will enjoy using it and its snappy processor, but just don't expect to be on it for long.
Acer's clamshell Chromebook may be dull on the outside but the luminous display is full of colour - just don't expect to work on it for very long
Intel Core i3-8130U dual-core 2.20 GHz
2,256 x 1,504
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