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A few premium-price chromebooks let you do serious work within Chrome OS—and make you look sharp while doing it—but most chromebooks are plain, low-cost churners for simple tasks. The new Acer Chromebook 11 ($269.99) runs with the latter chromebook crowd, given its bargain price, modest feature set, and low power ceiling. It doesn’t offer anything special, and it’s on the pokier side, but if you need to do little more than browse the web, sling words, and run some Google Play apps, it’s a safe, well-built buy. If you can spend a bit more, though, its 2-in-1 convertible stablemate, the Acer Chromebook Spin 11, is our Editors’ Choice among student chromebooks, while the Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA is our overall top chromebook pick.

Chrome, With a Splash of Color

Like many an inexpensive chromebook, the Chromebook 11 has a chassis made of thick plastic with an uninspiring feel. That’s not necessarily a knock—for a laptop to cost this little, you simply can’t expect a pricey alloy or metal. Despite the cost-conscious plastic, the laptop feels sturdy, not flimsy or prone to flex. The keyboard deck is brushed black plastic, but Acer spiced up the look with a light blue hue on the lid and bottom. Not everyone will love that shade, but it adds some style and fun to an otherwise basic box. It’s a perky step up from this model’s predecessor, last year’s sober Acer Chromebook 11 N7.

The Chromebook 11 is nice and compact, perfect for tossing in a bag and toting to class or onto a train. It measures 0.71 by 11.65 by 7.83 inches (HWD) and weighs 2.43 pounds. It won’t take up much room in a bag, or be a burden hanging off your shoulder. Acer’s Chromebook 11 Spin is slightly bigger (0.82 by 11.7 by 8.1 inches, 3.09 pounds), and the Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook and the CTL Chromebook J41 are also close in size. Dell’s Chromebook 3189 Education 2-in-1 is larger (by a small margin) at 0.8 by 12 by 8.2 inches and 3.16 pounds.

All of that is to say: In terms of size and weight, these chromebooks of the same screen-size class (11.6 inches) are a toss-up if portability matters much. In contrast, if the Acer Chromebook 11 isn’t quite trim enough for you, the Asus Chromebook Flip slims things down further, at just 0.53 inch thick. It costs extra, but the difference in thinness puts that Asus model in its own class among this lot.

The Acer Chromebook 11’s keyboard is reasonable quality and responsive to type on. I don’t have any complaints about the feel or the layout—and that’s by no means a given, at this low of a price. The touchpad, on the other hand, is not as solid. It works well enough and is generously wide, but it doesn’t feel satisfying to click, and, at times, it skips when you swipe. You need to use a firm finger.

The sound quality from the speakers is of the same flavor: serviceable, not impressive. The speakers will suffice for the occasional YouTube video short in a pinch without bumming you out, but I’d suggest keeping your favorite headphones on hand for listening to music or watching anything long-form.

The display is an 11.6-inch IPS panel, bearing a native resolution of just 1,366 by 768 pixels. With most laptops in the year 2018, you wouldn’t want to go any lower than 1080p (1,920 by 1,080 pixels) for native resolution, but we’re dealing with a very low-cost system here, and a small screen. A 720p native panel is fine for the screen size and for the price, even if it will far from stun you. The picture quality is decent, though it doesn’t get particularly bright even at the maximum brightness setting.

Also, know that while 720p is not the norm among budget laptops as a class anymore, it is still quite common among small-screen chromebooks like this one. Indeed, Acer’s own Chromebook Spin 11, as well as the Dell Chromebook 3189 Education 2-in-1, the CTL Chromebook J41 mentioned above, and the Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook all tout the same native resolution (some of them at higher prices, in fact). No touch-screen technology is available for the Acer Chromebook 11’s screen at this time, though Acer says it plans to add touch input as an option in the future.

Acer has you covered on the connectivity front as well as you can expect from an under-$300 chromebook, factoring in two USB 3.0 ports and two USB Type-C ports. The latter kind are often seen only on more expensive systems, so it’s nice to be able to connect any USB Type-C peripherals that you may own to a budget machine like this.

You also get a microSD card reader (it supports cards up to 128GB) and a headphone jack. The card slot is a must, since the system includes only 32GB of flash storage inside, typical among chromebooks. Because chromebooks rely largely on web-based apps, a heap of internal storage isn’t necessary under most circumstances, but you still may have documents and media files to transfer or store.

A 720p webcam in the upper screen bezel delivers decent quality for video calls. The Chromebook 11 also offers support for Bluetooth 4.2 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless connectivity, and the whole works is supported by a one-year Acer warranty.

Mobile Celeron, Pedestrian Speed

The Acer Chromebook 11 is built around a 1.1GHz Intel Celeron N3350 (“Apollo Lake”) processor and 4GB of memory. The CPU provides for the basic graphics acceleration, via the chip-integrated Intel HD Graphics 520. With the exception of a handful of expensive chromebooks, systems of this class are generally low-horsepower performers, but even considering that, this Celeron is on the lower end. While the CTL Chromebook J41 mentioned earlier matches these specs, just a little more money can bump you up into quad-core CPU territory.

Performance may not be very important to you in an impulse-buy laptop like this one, but take my word for it: Having a slightly hopped-up processor, versus this Celeron, does make a perceptible difference in a chromebook of this class. For starters, on the Acer Chromebook 11, the time to boot up (from pressing the power button to landing on the sign-in screen) was a sluggish 15 seconds. Some of the competition boots in half that time.

That particular measure may not make or break a chromebook for you, but it’s an indicator of overall speed. We ran a few non-Windows benchmarks—the browser-based JetStream 1.1 and WebXPRT 2015 tests, as well as the Chrome OS-specific CrXPRT suite—and the Acer Chromebook 11 turned up middling scores across the board. (The latter two tests are products of Principled Technologies.)

Acer Chromebook 11 Performance Chart

The earlier-gen Celerons in models like the education-focused Dell Chromebook 3189 2-in-1 show a decided step down in performance, but older machines based on Intel’s now-deprecated Core M chips outpace the Celeron in the Chromebook 11.

The Chromebook 11 is one of today’s cheaper chromebook options, though, so that should be kept in mind, as speed is not the primary focus in a chromebook at this price. In my anecdotal puttering with the machine, running a Google Play app or two was fine—your Netflix binging, largely dependent on your web connection, isn’t going to lag—but loading up a handful of browser tabs took its toll. If you’re trying to do many things at once (open lots of tabs, stream video, and run another app or two on the side), the Acer Chromebook 11 isn’t going to breeze through it, but it’s not going to become unusable, either.

Battery life was a sunny spot, thanks in part to the low-resolution screen and the power-sipping Celeron CPU. (A laptop’s display is the biggest power drain, and pushing relatively few pixels, like on the Acer Chromebook 11, means less energy consumption, all else being equal.) The Acer model lasted a respectable 9 hours and 13 minutes on our video-playback battery-rundown test. That’s a solid result on its own, though it’s worth noting that most of the models charted above, and some other competing models not charted here, lasted longer. Examples of the latter include the Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook (12:13), the CTL Chromebook J41 (13:05), and the Acer Chromebook Spin 11 (12:48).

It’s hard to say whether a couple of hours of battery life in either direction will make or break a given chromebook for you. But if maximizing life off the charger is essential to you, opt for one of the longer-lasting alternatives cited here.

Not a Stunner, But a Money Saver

Given its price, the Acer Chromebook 11 doesn’t have hardware muscle to wow you. Its primary strength is in offering decent value for the money.

Acer Chromebook 11 (CB311-8H-C5DV)

This budget-minded chromebook is built well enough, considering its all-plastic orientation, and it offers a reasonable feature set compared to similarly priced chromebooks. It is on the slower side, though, and you can get a snappier chromebook if you can fork over about $100 more. (If you can afford the $399 Acer Chromebook Spin 11, you’ll enjoy more functionality and performance.) If $250 to $300 is your ceiling, however, you’ll find the Acer Chromebook 11 perfectly satisfactory, able to do the simple jobs that it’s fair to throw its way.

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