Acer Chromebook R 13 Review

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The Acer Chromebook R 13 is an affordable, feature-packed, convertible laptop, that might be one of the best laptop/Chromebook values on the market right now.

The Acer Chromebook R 13 is the Chromebook many of us have been waiting for. A full-HD, convertible touchscreen, laptop-tablet hybrid, that doesn’t break the bank. Let’s have a look and see if the R 13 was worth the wait.

Acer Chromebook R 13 Specs

ComponentSpec
Operating System Chrome OS
Display13.3-inch 1920x1080 IPS Touchscreen
ProcessorMediaTek M8173C Core Pilot quad-core
Storage32/64GB with microSD card expansion
RAM4GB LPDDR3
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth
USB-C 3.1, USB-A 3.0
ChargingVia USB-C port
BatteryUp to 12 hours
CameraHD webcam
Dimensions326 x 228 x 15.5 mm
12.83 x 8.97 x 0.61 in
Weight1.49 kg / 3.28 lb
Price$399 32GB or $429 64GB.
All models feature identical specs otherwise.

Build Quality and Design

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The Acer Chromebook R 13 is damn pretty. Despite coming in at $400, it looks and feels like a premium ultrabook laptop. The R 13 sports an aluminum metal construction that completely encases the top and bottom of the Chromebook. The keyboard/touchpad deck is made out of a matching silver plastic material, so it’s not entirely metal all the way throughout, but a bit of plastic doesn’t bother me in the slightest, the plastic blends in pretty seamlessly.

I suppose it’s kinda heavy for a Chromebook, but no more so than a traditional laptop of the same size, probably less in most cases. It’s size and weight are really only noticeable when the R 13 is in tablet mode. Truth be told, the R 13, with its 13.3-inch touchscreen, is a bit impractical to use as a tablet. It’s great if it’s resting on a surface, such as a desk or your lap, but otherwise, it’s just too damn big to be used as a tablet. If you need a more portable Chromebook tablet, the Asus Chromebook Flip or Acer R 11 are both significantly smaller and are probably better suited for mobile tablet like usage. The R 13 is also quite skinny. At just over a half an inch (0.61 in/15.5 mm), it’s one of the thinnest laptops and/or Chromebooks on the market.

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As far as connectivity and expansion goes, on the left side of the device, you will find one full-size USB 3.0 port, one USB-C 3.1 port(which also doubles as a charging port), a full-size HDMI (HDCP supported) output, and a micro SD slot. On the right side, you will find dedicated power button and volume buttons, a Kensington lock,  and one 3.5mm headphone/microphone combo jack.

The USB-C port that doubles as a charging and data port. There is no other dedicated charging port. You can’t use the port to do both at the same time, but that shouldn’t be too much of a factor considering the R 13’s battery life (more on that later). I have not yet tested (and probably won’t) the device to see if it could draw a charge from a standard USB-C charger, but I think that you should probably stick with the stock charger to charge the device at its optimal rate and to avoid any issues that may occur with aftermarket chargers.

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Here is a nice to have feature, if the R 13 is powered ON (even though their product page on Amazon says it needs to be powered off), you can use the standard USB 3.0 port to charge another device, essentially turning the Chromebook into a big ass battery pack. Probably not optimal, but might be useful if you are ever in a pinch.

As I stated before, the device as a whole is well built and looks/feels fantastic. I can’t say it goes above and beyond what you image in a $400 laptop, but I can comfortably say that it at least matched my high expectations. The only aspect of the R 13’s build that gives me any cause for concern is its convertible hinge. The hinge is made of plastic and feels a bit more delicate/bendy than the rest of the Chromebook. I haven’t had an issue with it yet, but if something had to break, I could see the hinge going first. Whether or not this ever evolves into to an actual problem remains to be seen, but if you take decent care of your stuff, you’ll probably be OK.

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I really like the keyboard on the R 13. I typed a significant portion of this review on the keyboard without much of an issue. The biggest thing for most people is the keyboard layout. If this is your first Chromebook, you’ll have to get used to the Chromebook keyboard layout. It’s not a big deal, but there is a slight learning curve, mostly just figuring out what each key does. The keyboard is not backlit, which is a bummer, but it’s something that I can live without. As a whole, the keyboard is comfortable and fun to use, if you’re coming from another Chiclet-style keyboard, you’ll probably feel right at home.

The trackpad isn’t too shabby either. It is smooth and quite responsive. Two finger scrolling works like a charm. It feels slightly loose when clicking, but its nothing to get bent out of shape over. If you don’t press very firmly, you’ll probably never notice it, especially if you’re a tapper instead of a clicker.

If you’re in tablet mode, you will need to use the Google on-screen keyboard, which is very similar to what is found in Android tablets and phones. It is what it is, a pretty standard on-screen keyboard. If you’ve used a touchscreen keyboard in the past, you’re good to go.

Software and Android Apps

One of the best features of any Chrome OS device is software support. Each Chrome OS device is guaranteed at least 5 years worth of Google software updates. So there is virtually nothing to be worried about as far as software goes, your device will always be up-to-date.

Viruses and malware aren’t much of a threat to Chrome OS users, you’re not nearly as vulnerable as you would be if you were using a Windows device. Security is baked right into every Chrome OS device. You still need to be careful online, it is still your responsibility to protect your private information, but the odds of your device being affected by a virus or malware are virtually nill.

Chromebooks automatically backup (just about) everything to the cloud. This makes it incredibly easy to setup a new device, or recover from problems. It will not automatically backup your local data, but you could just store everything in Google drive if you wanted too. Almost every Chromebook comes with 100GB’s of Google Drive storage space, free for two years.

The R 13 comes in two storage capacities, 32GB ($399) and 64GB ($429). As far as I can tell, storage capacity is the only difference between the two models of the R 13. If you ever run out of storage, you can always use the integrated micro-SD slot to gain more space. I know 64GB cards work, but I would image that 128GB cards would work as well. Personally, due to the cloud nature of Chromebooks, I highly doubt I will ever exceed the 32GB local storage allotment of this particular Chromebook. Physical space is less of an issue, but you could probably burn through your space pretty quickly if you consume a bunch of offline or downloaded content. Everyone is different in that regard.

The Benefits and Limitations of Chrome OS

The evolution of Chromebooks reminds me a lot of the evolution of the Android phone. Android OS and Android devices started out rough, ugly, and slow, but as the years progressed Android as a whole has evolved into something lean and mean, equal to Apple in just about every facet. Every single generation has been better than the next, and the same goes for Chrome OS and the Chromebook, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better Windows or Mac alternative, especially if you consider the price tag of most Chromebooks.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way, here is the biggest argument against owning a Chromebook. Chromebooks (kinda) cannot run traditional Windows apps. It’s more a limitation of Chrome OS than the actual Chromebook hardware itself. If you need a laptop for work, one that can natively run programs such as the Microsoft office suite, CAD, 3D modeling software, or basically any Adobe program, you’re kinda shit outta luck. Chromebooks just cannot do it. Sure, you could use Chrome remote desktop to remotely run these programs from another computer (aintnobodygottimeforthat.gif), but if your life involves running these types of programs on a daily basis, a Windows laptop will probably better suit your needs. But, if you’re comfortable using Google docs as a Microsoft Office alternative, or you’re just looking for a second computer that can do some light productivity tasks, browse the internet, check email, and play games, then a Chromebook might be right for you.

Google Play and Android Apps

Everything stated above describes just about every Chromebook, Chromestick, and Chromebox in existence. But this new generation of Chrome OS and Chromebook hardware is about to completely flip the script. Chromebooks have a major trick up their sleeve that not even Apple can compete with. Convertible, touchscreen Chromebooks like the Acer Chromebook R 13 are going to breathe new life into what could best be described as a useful, but stagnant, operating system.

As I am sure you’ve heard by now, the entire Google Play app store is making its way over to Chrome OS. When this (officially) happens, it means you’re getting the best of both worlds, the best of Android and the best of Chrome OS, all in the same device. Essentially giving the platform a leg up on the competition. Windows has access to cross-platform apps, but the Windows store cannot match the depth of Google Play. Apple doesn’t support cross-platform apps of any kind on their Macbooks. Chromebooks, such as the Acer R 13, could easily replace an Android tablet as well as a traditional laptop.

As of this writing, the Google Play store on the R 13 is only accessible via the Chrome OS developer channel (UPDATE: The Play store is now available via the Beta channel). This channel is unstable, and not meant to be used as a daily driver. If you switch to this channel to try out the Play store, you will need to powerwash (erases all user data) your device to get back to a stable build. Now you know.

It’s unfair to be critical of an experimental build of anything, so I will just tell you about my experience. Despite the fact that I was using an unstable developer build, I was surprised by how well most Android apps ran (strictly performance speaking). Some apps didn’t work all that well, but the apps that did work, ran great. Most issues involve formatting (for large screen devices) and stability. But it is seriously buggy as hell, so it’s easy to see why the Play store isn’t quite ready for prime time, but it was cool to see what it will be like once the Google Play app store hits Chromebooks in an official build.

I only tried a few apps, just to see if they would work. Angry Birds 2 ran like a champ and is a perfect example of an Android app that can actually benefit from more screen real estate. Other apps, like Spotify, and Yahoo sports also worked well but became a bit difficult to use when in full-screen mode (not optimized). In other words, we’re off to a great start, I see tons of potential, but there is clearly some work that needs to be done.

Display and Sound

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Display

The Acer Chromebook R 13 sports a full-HD, 1920 x 1080 IPS multi-touch display. The screen can get incredibly bright, and black levels aren’t that bad either. There is a tiny bit of IPS glow and backlight bleed, but it’s really only noticeable when the screen is pitch black, it’s not much of a concern for me. The R 13 is one of the most affordable Chromebooks to feature a 1080P display with touch capabilities. The Asus Chromebook Flip (1280 x 800) and Acer R 11 (1366 x 768) both feature sub-1080P displays.

The 1080P resolution is just about perfect for a 13.3-inch display. Images, video, and text look fantastic. Text and icons tend to look a bit small when the display settings are set at 1920 x 1080, which might be a problem for those of you that are farsighted, but you can easily change this by switching to a different resolution the display settings menu.

The touch screen is very responsive. It performs very similarly to a standard Android tablet. I did experience a few times where my touches wouldn’t register, but these were mostly limited to the onscreen keyboard. For some reason, the onscreen keyboard failed to recognize my input when trying to type in a new web address. It wasn’t a constant issue, but it seems like a software problem, so hopefully it is addressed sometime in the near future.

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The R 13 is a convertible laptop, meaning it can be used in multiple configurations, four configurations to be precise. It can be used as a standard laptop. A “display”, the screen is flipped and the keyboard facing the bottom (see above photo). “Tent” mode, which is the same as “display” but propped up like a tent, essentially a standing tablet. And “Pad” mode, this is basically tablet mode, the screen is completely flat against the back of the device.

Each configuration has its purpose, but it’s mainly up to you when deciding how you want to use them. If you’re looking for a Chromebook, and really looking forward to Android apps, a convertible is really your best option. They provide the most versatility in that regard. Considering the fact that most Android apps are touch based, you’re going to want a touchscreen device of some sort.

Sound

The R 13 is actually pretty damn loud at max volume, but, it would be a stretch to say that it sounds great. The dual stereo speakers are OK, but the sound is mostly flat. You would be much better off connecting to a Bluetooth speaker if you’re looking to fill a room with sound. Luckily, you always have the option of plugging in headphones or speakers to the 3.5mm headphone/microphone combo jack. Overall, the sound quality is just kinda meh. Not good, not horrible, kinda like an afterthought. I’ll just find an alternative audio source if it ever really bothers me.

Performance & Battery Life

Battery Life

Holy shit, the R 13’s battery life is insane! Acer claims the R 13 can last up to 12 hours on a single charge. These claims are probably under ideal conditions, but I’d say their estimates are pretty spot on. I found the battery life to be pretty damn phenomenal. Chrome OS doesn’t provide very much in terms of useful battery statistics, so I’ll just put it this way, battery life is really good. If a long lasting battery is at the top of your laptop requirements, then this is the Chromebook for you.

For laptops in this class ($400 FHD convertible touchscreen) the R 13 provides unbeatable battery life. Its closest competition is the Dell Chromebook 13, which is significantly more expensive when configured with a touchscreen ($629).

Performance

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The R 13 packs a MediaTek MT8173C Core Pilot Quad-Core ARM Processor and 4GB of LPDDR3 RAM. As a whole, the R 13’s performance is quite admirable. I would put it in the more than acceptable, but not going to blow you away category. Because that is exactly what it is. It rarely feels underpowered, but can sometimes lag a bit when trying to do some seemingly ordinary things, like signing into LastPass. It might be a problem with the LastPass extension itself because it’s one of the only things that makes the R 13 pause for a second. But, in general, web pages load quickly. Scrolling and zooming are both pretty damn smooth, but it greatly depends on the complexity of the website.

I ran the R 13 through Google’s Octane benchmark and came back with a score of about 9800. It’s nowhere near some of the top-of-the-line, x86 actively cooled Intel Chromebooks out there. But, considering the fact that the R13 sports an ARM CPU, it’s not half bad. It’s probably the highest ARM (non-Intel) Chromebook Octane score to date. I would say that real world performance reflects that score.

The R 13 also excels at playing video, it can easily handle 1080P YouTube videos, it can even handle 4K YouTube streams. Not that streaming 4K will really do you any good. I couldn’t get the R 13 to output anything beyond 1920 x 1080 via HDMI. But just being capable of streaming 4K has gotta be worth something, right? Maybe you can output a higher resolution via the USB-C port, but kinda doubt it. I currently have no way of testing that theory, but I’ll post an update if I ever do.

It looks like the R 13 won’t have much of a problem running some of the more graphically demanding apps found in the Play store. Android apps such as Angry Birds 2 and Modern Combat 5 both performed very well and considering the fact that Android apps aren’t even in beta yet, I would think that these apps will perform just as good, if not better, once we have a stable build.

Heat wasn’t much of an issue either. The R 13 is passively cooled, meaning it doesn’t require any fans (active cooling) for heat dissipation. Basically, it’s cooled the same way most smartphones and tablets are cooled. So say goodbye to burning thighs, and sweating legs. I worked on the R 13 for damn near two hours straight on my lap and didn’t feel much of anything in regards to heat, I could just barely locate a “warm spot” on the bottom. Some passively cooled devices tend to have a “hot spot”, where the heat sink is located (because there is no fan to remove the heat). But the R 13 does a great job of dissipating that heat throughout the bottom of the Chromebook, virtually eliminating hot spots.

Conclusion

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I gotta say that I am pretty impressed with the Acer Chromebook R 13. It does very little wrong, and just about everything right. The R 13 strikes a near perfect balance of affordability, performance, and unique features. If you’re looking for a sub $500 FHD touchscreen Chromebook, or you’re new to Chromebooks and want the whole shebang when Android apps officially arrive, the Acer Chromebook R 13 is certainly worth your consideration.

  • Jinux

    So I cannot buy a USB -C hub to charge and also use it to connect to a USB -c monitor right?

    • ETR

      Great question, but I cannot verify yes or no. The USB C port can charge and does support display port video output (not tested yet) but I’m not sure if it could do both simultaneously. Probably depends on the hub. But I haven’t tested (or heard of anyone testing) the scenario you’re describing.