Acer Chromebook R11 Full review
As we head toward the future of Android apps being available on Chrome OS, the idea of a small, convertible touchscreen Chromebook makes a little more sense. Before that announcement at Google I/O 2016, a Chromebook that could fold back into a touch-only device didn't really have much appeal. Chrome apps weren't ready for touch, and the OS as a whole still preferred a mouse and keyboard.
The Acer Chromebook R11 is one of these convertible Chromebooks that launched a bit ahead of its time, being ready for the touchscreen convertible future before Android app support came to the OS. And even at this point, though we know Android apps are coming, they won't be here for everyone for several months. There's little reason to buy a Chromebook for what it could do in the future — what it can do right now is far more important.
Acer knows the Chromebook world, and has the sales numbers from the past few years to prove it. But does the Chromebook R11 continue the company's history of making great Chromebooks with this convertible-style laptop? Our full review will tell you just that.
About this review
I (Andrew Martonik) am writing this review after over a week using the Acer Chromebook R11, configured with 4GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, which was provided to Android Central for review by Acer. The entirety of the review was written with impressions of the laptop running on the stable channel of Chrome OS, except where noted.
Basic, but built well
Acer Chromebook R11 Hardware and display
The Chromebook R11, just like the non-convertible Chromebook 11 before it, builds on a standard design that Acer has been using since the original C720 Chromebook. It's a mashup of different plastics of varying thicknesses and textures, accented by an etched metal lid that brings some grip and style to what is otherwise a pretty bland laptop. However the smooth plastic on the inside clashes with the textured plastic around the screen and sides, while exposed screw holes along the bottom and there are visible seams all around that remind you of an older style of laptop. It pales in comparison to the sleek all-metal look and feel of the ASUS Chromebook Flip, its main competitor.
With all of that being said I still don't mind the look, even in the white color I have here (a black choice seems to be sporadically available) — I just wish there was a bit more of a cohesive design here that didn't look like it was put together by a committee of people who were never put in the same room.
In typical Acer fashion, the Chromebook R11 is still built to take a beating, even though the chintzy plastic doesn't immediately give you great feelings about how robust it is. The chassis doesn't unnecessarily flex in your hands, the keyboard offers good travel without bounce in the frame and the display hinge is tight. You shouldn't go throwing this around the room, but getting bumped around in your backpack or tossed on the couch isn't going to cause any issues.
And that's a good thing, because the Chromebook R11 is quite compact — and while it's not the thinnest laptop ever it weighs in at just 2.76 pounds, light enough to carry around every day without issue.
Though the resolution of the Chromebook R11's 11.6-inch display is a somewhat disappointing 1366x768, it is absolutely great in terms of clarity, brightness and colors. Aside from the 1920x1080 display on the ASUS Chromebook Flip (which is also smaller, it should be said), this is quite possibly the nicest Chromebook display I've ever seen (Pixel aside, of course). And that's really saying something considering it's notably a step down from the Dell Chromebook 13.
This is also a touchscreen, of course, which is plenty responsive and supports multi-touch manipulation. And even though there isn't much of an application for touch on Chrome OS as it stands today, the future will bring Android apps that you may be far more inclined to use directly with the touchscreen. Those who have no desire to use the touchscreen will have to either understand they're paying extra for a feature they won't use or look elsewhere. But considering the affordable price of the Chromebook R11 and the great quality of the panel itself (touch aside), you shouldn't dismiss it just because you aren't going to be tapping and swiping on it every day.
Acer Chromebook R11 Specs
You get a very standard set of internals and ports on the Acer Chromebook R11, with a mid-range fanless Celeron processor supported by 2 or 4GB of RAM, and 16 or 32GB of storage. In terms of ports, it's all standard Chromebook: a couple of USB ports, HDMI out and an SD card slot. Nothing too fancy here.
||11.6-inch 1366x768 IPS
||Intel Celeron N3150
quad-core 1.6GHz (turbo 2.08GHz)
||802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
||USB 3.0, USB 2.0, HDMI 1.4
microSD card, headphone/mic
||3-cell Lithium-ion, 3220 mAh
9.5 hours estimated battery life
||HD web cam (1280x720)
||294.6 x 203.2 x 19.2 mm
One good, one bad
Acer Chromebook R11 Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard situation on the Acer Chromebook R11 is identical to Acer's previous Chromebooks, which is to say it's quite good for the price but isn't going to blow you away. The keys themselves are cheap and have a little too much texture for my personal preference, but they have good travel, proper spring and almost no side-to-side movement. I had no issue at all typing on the Chromebook R11 for everything from quick tweets up to long emails, and including this entire review. There's no backlighting here, which shouldn't come as a surprise at this price range.
A really solid keyboard, paired with a bad trackpad.
The trackpad situation isn't quite as rosy, unfortunately. Somehow, I feel like Acer has regressed from the trackpad it offered some two years ago on the C720 Chromebook. The trackpad surface is the same glossy plastic as the rest of the inside of the laptop, which just doesn't offer me the right amount of drag — my finger sticks far too much — to be able to smoothly track around the interface and select precise elements with one finger. This makes precise actions like selecting text and clicking small interface elements quite frustrating. Large movements like getting the cursor across the screen or scrolling with two fingers are no problem at all, which shows that the issue isn't necessarily the trackpad firmware or the performance of the processor ... it really comes down to the surface of the trackpad itself.
Perhaps I'm spoiled by the glass trackpads on the likes of the Dell Chromebook 13, but even inexpensive models like the ASUS Chromebook Flip do far better than this.
Actually using it
Acer Chromebook R11 Daily use and battery life
Beyond the looks and feel, how does it actually work in day-to-day use? That's what is really important.
Fanless, lower-powered Chromebooks haven't really done much to impress me as of yet, with only the Rockchip-powered ASUS Chromebook Flip offering enough to really get me to recommend it without hesitation. The Intel Celeron N3150 in the Chromebook R11 slots its performance a step below the Chromebook Flip, for sure, but easily outperforms the last generation of fanless Celeron models running an N2850 processor.
It can handle what an average user needs to do.
So what does that mean in terms of regular use? Using a model with 4GB of RAM — which is the only configuration I'd ever recommend — the Chromebook R11 is capable for a basic set of tasks, but can bog down if you give it a bit too much to do. I regularly load up my Chromebooks with about 10 tabs in the browser and a couple more apps — often Tweetdeck and Slack, at least — and in this situation the Chromebook R11 did show signs of slowing down. It took quite a bit to get actual window switching or text input to become noticeably slow; the only place where slowdowns were really noticeable is in initial page load times, and when reloading pages in the background.
But in dealing with individual tasks, or hopping between just a handful of open tabs, the Chromebook R11 took care of what I needed it to do just fine. Importantly it also streamed video well, and could handle Google Cast display mirroring, too.
Battery life and charging
Acer quotes nine and a half hours of battery life out of the Chromebook R11, but as is often the case my heavier use drained the battery quicker than that. The 3220 mAh battery averaged out to giving me about eight hours of use, which as I note above usually involves several tabs open in the browser, plus one or two additional apps running at any given time.
I often kept the screen quite bright, at about 75% brightness — a little high perhaps, but not unreasonable. For an 11-inch Chromebook, getting around eight hours of battery life is pretty good but not stellar, and considering the performance shortcomings of using a fanless design I do expect a little more of a positive trade-off in battery life. The lighter, more powerful ASUS Chromebook Flip lasted longer for me.
You get a very standard Acer charger, color-matched white to the laptop, that's a bit more compact than what you got with Acer Chromebooks of yesteryear and is almost identical to the one that comes with the larger Acer Chromebook 14. It's ugly, and still has the standard two-cable-and-brick design (I'd prefer something more compact for a small laptop like this), but it gets the job done.
Convertible tablet use
I got a great taste for using Chrome OS in a tablet environment when I reviewed the ASUS Chromebook Flip, and my findings of using it on the Chromebook R11 are much the same — with a few changes. The Chromebook R11, just like the Flip, can fold back its screen into a few different modes, whether that's a "tent" or "display" mode for all-touch use while propped up, or folded all the way back into a tablet-like form factor (which, remember, weighs 2.76-pounds). When you enter any of these modes (automatically when the screen pivots to a certain point), Chrome OS switches into a full-screen experience with every window maximized, where you can quickly swap between them with the use of a task-switching button in the status area.
The tablet-focused interface works fine enough, and the touchscreen is very responsive, but the issue is that Chrome apps and web pages just aren't designed to be touched. When you navigate to a webpage on a Chromebook, the web page looks like it belongs on a laptop, and it expects a mouse pointer — and often a keyboard — to navigate properly. Sure you can swipe and scroll through pages, tap large interface elements and read or watch videos just fine, but as soon as you need to tap small buttons, highlight text or type, you have to flip the keyboard back around and do it the "normal" way. Having the choice is great, and I found myself using it for some casual content consumption, but for the most part I left the Chromebook R11 in its standard laptop configuration.
What it really comes down to is this: if you want a tablet, right now, you should just buy an Android tablet — yes, maybe even one that offers a keyboard accessory. Perhaps in the future we'll see new Chromebook form factors that make a bit more sense — such as those with detachable keyboards — as convertible devices, but right now using a 2.76-pound tablet is a poor experience, even if the software was perfectly made for touch.
The future: Android apps
One of the main reasons an enthusiast may be considering a Chromebook R11 is that it's one of the first Chromebooks available to be compatible with the Google Play Store and Android apps. At the time of writing that list is limited to just the ASUS Chromebook Flip, Google Chromebook Pixel (2015) and the Chromebook R11, and only in the Developer Channel, which nobody should really be using on a daily basis.
I've written specifically about the experience of using Android apps on the Chromebook R11, and the general feeling right now is that this isn't something to get too excited about yet. Being in the Dev Channel alone introduces a performance decrease and lots of instability, and issues with Android apps being either incompatible or not ready for use on a laptop are very clear. Even once Android apps arrive in the Chrome OS Stable Channel — which should happen at some point near the end of 2016 — the issues with the apps themselves will largely still remain.
There are some situations in which having Android apps on your Chromebook is useful, but it isn't a game-changing experience just yet, and for that reason there's no need to buy the Chromebook R11 specifically to run Android apps. My estimation is that by the time the compatibility and design issues with Android apps on Chrome OS are addressed, there will be far better models of Chromebooks to choose from that are also better set up to use them. The Chromebook R11 just isn't that great when being used as a pseudo-tablet, and having Android apps installed doesn't change that.
Good for the basics
Acer Chromebook R11 Bottom line
Being a convertible laptop that offers a touchscreen and the promise of Android apps in the future seems tempting. As such, expectations may be unreasonably high considering what the Chromebook R11 can actually do. It isn't going to blow you away in terms of design, the trackpad definitely isn't leading the industry, and the convertible functions are more of a novelty than a truly useful feature. Yup, this is a pretty mediocre convertible and doesn't really work any better as a "tablet" than the handful of other convertible Chromebooks out there. And even when Android apps arrive for everyone, this may not be the model to get if you want to try them out.
Keeping that all in mind, if we lower the bar back down to what we'd normally expect from a $275 Chromebook, this is actually a decent offering for the right person. The Acer Chromebook R11 is a compact laptop with a really good screen, solid build, almost full-day battery life and performance that's good enough for the average user. Sure it isn't doing anything particularly special and isn't one to clamor over, but it's a really good basic Chromebook — don't let the extra stuff get in the way of your decision, positively or negatively.
See at Amazon
Where to buy the Acer Chromebook R11
You can find the Acer Chromebook R11 at pretty much any major electronics retailer, though things narrow down a bit if you want to buy a model with 4GB of RAM (believe me, you do). Best Buy at the time of writing offers it, but as models come and go often from other retailers, be sure to shop around a bit for the best price on the model you need.