Chromebooks are all the same, but in this case that’s a good thing. The minimum hardware mandated by Google results in an affordable computer that runs a capable operating system. Since its inception six years ago, Chrome OS has been continuously updated with useful features, while in parallel, Google’s services have become immensely powerful and feature-rich for just being web apps.
While Chromebooks with touchscreens are not new, convertible Chrome OS devices are just starting to arrive. The Chromebook R11 is Acer’s first contribution to this field and I try to predominantly use it as a tablet in this review.
My daily driver, the two year old Acer C720, is still a great Chromebook. It has great performance, a solid keyboard (coming from somebody who types a lot), and a fantastic trackpad. The R11 carries over all that while vastly improving build quality. The plastic laptop cover that use to flex when being carried is now made of aluminum. While the screen is still 11.6 inches at 1366 x 768, switching to an IPS panel drastically improves viewing angles and is a good enough reason for me to consider upgrading.
Battery life is rated at 10 hours and in heavy day-to-day usage it has slightly surpassed that. Chrome OS provides excellent battery life and with a full charge in the morning I have never run out of battery before getting back to the charger. When getting a Chromebook, I heavily advise getting as much RAM as possible. It’s makes a difference in terms of the number of tabs you can have open before performance gets sluggish. It’s fortunate that most retailers are selling the R11’s 4GB model that is coupled with 32GB of storage. For expandability, the laptop has an SD card, two USB ports, HDMI, and a headphone jack.
Chrome OS is feature-rich enough that it can replace an average user’s Mac or Windows computer. I write in Google Docs and edit photos using a Photoshop-esque web app called Pixlr Editor. Spotify has a great web player and YouTube runs smoothly. A Chromebook’s most convenient feature is one that most people will rarely experience. All your preferences, bookmarks, web apps, and extensions are saved by Chrome and synced over when you log in with your Google account. Minutes after taking the R 11 out of the box I was immediately using it for work.
If you are already in the market for a Chromebook, nothing is stopping me from recommending this one. You can use the R11 as a laptop and never notice the screen can fold back 360 degrees and convert into a tablet. Actually, I was surprised how much use I got out of the hinge. Sitting on the couch with my knees up, I liked using the screen at close to a 180 degree angle.
As the touchscreen and convertible feature is a selling point of the R11, I endeavored to use it exclusively as a tablet every day after work. However, I quickly came to realize that it is far too heavy at 2.76 pounds. You cannot hold it for hours at a time like you would with any other tablet. It feels weird to accidentally press the keys and trackpad when you are just simply holding the R 11.
Portability is not on the R11’s side as a tablet, nor is Chrome OS. With few tablet optimizations, Chrome OS does not work well — yet, at least — on a tablet. The web, with its small click targets suited for a mouse pointer, is not friendly to fingers. Even when in laptop mode, I never bothered to reach out and tap the screen.
When you are in tablet mode, which is triggered by folding the R11 beyond 180 degrees, the mouse cursor disappears. Until your primary interface to the full web is a touchscreen, you don’t notice that a lot of controls are activated by hovering a mouse pointer over them. This is most notable in YouTube where the controls auto hide. The first time you tap the YouTube player it pauses even if that wasn’t your intention. The only website I came across that was touch optimized was Gmail where everything becomes more spaced apart for easier tapping.
In tablet mode, Chrome OS gets rid of windowing with everything opening full screen in hopes of simplifying the user experience. The minimize button on the top right of every window disappears. This is remarkably foolish as one of Chrome OS’s most useful features is being able to snap apps to the right or left of the screen. A tablet optimized OS that has a large screen to work with should at the very least have windowing in order to multitask.
After using this thing, I can see why Google opted out of putting Chrome OS on the Pixel C. Chrome OS is just not for tablets — yet. But here’s the thing: You don’t have to use the R11 as a tablet. In day-to-day usage as a laptop, you might not even notice it has a touchscreen. The addition of the touch screen and ots 360 degree hinge does not really contribute to the price of the device, making this disadvantage not much of a disadvantage at all.
An MSRP of $329 is in line with higher-end Chromebooks that have 4GB of RAM, and the fact that the R 11 is also a tablet convertible is nothing more than an extra you get with a very good Chromebook. The Google Store currently sells the 2GB model and Acer’s online store sells the 4GB model.