The journey to the launch of the first Chrome OS tablet has been long, emerging out the Android-powered tablet’s ashes and amidst Chrome OS becoming an ever-stronger contender to the big OS behemoths — Windows and macOS. But while it’s exciting to see Chrome OS adopt a form factor that Android struggled to gain traction on, in some ways, the platform’s first tablet still has not arrived.
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The Acer Chromebook Tab 10 was first announced back in March of this year. And even at launch, the product’s purpose was abundantly clear. It was announced one day ahead of Apple’s education-focused event, which itself was intended to show Apple’s commitment to schools despite the ongoing dominance of Chromebooks.
And that’s the biggest thing you need to know before we dive into this review. As Acer stressed to us many times, this tablet is primarily built for the education market. You won’t see it in your local Best Buy or on Amazon, and definitely not at Walmart or Target. Acer’s official outlet for selling the device is CDW, a company known for providing tech to businesses, government, and education.
That’s for good reason, I think, because while this device certainly shows a lot of potential — and might even be a great tool in schools, today — it’s still not quite ready for the mainstream.
In terms of hardware, this is a pretty much par for the course for a tablet. There is a satisfactory display on the front with sizable (but not problematic) bezels around the edges, a pair of less-than-great cameras on the front and back (which is fine for schools), and the usual internal specs that keep things running just fine — 32GB of storage and 4GB of RAM in this case.
One of many ways that the tablet is catering to the education market is its back, which I’m actually quite fond of. While the cold metal of an iPad is definitely attractive and looks great, it’s not exactly practical for school use and nearly demands a case of some kind.
The back of this tablet borrows from the rugged, grippy nature of many of the education-aimed products that precede it, and that’s good. I actually did a drop test of this thing on Alphabet Scoop, and was glad to see it pass with flying colors.
In terms of buttons and I/O, there’s a couple things to note. First, this tablet has a single USB-C port. That’s appreciated and should be standard in 2018, and honestly I think that this single port is enough in this case. It will most likely be used primarily for charging in an education setting, although the option is there to plug in a keyboard or other accessories — or just about anything, really, if you have a dongle handy. I didn’t really get a chance to test the breadth of accessories that would work.
One complaint I have with the hardware as a whole: It took a while before I was able to locate the buttons instinctively. They don’t exactly stand out — they’re barely raised above the surface of the tablet and they don’t feel much different, so it took a little training before it felt natural to reach for the lock button. I eventually realized that if I held it landscape with the Acer logo on the left side, the stylus and power/volume buttons were both conveniently located near my index fingers.
The rest of the hardware here is about what you’d expect. There are a pair of stereo speakers that I’d say are a bit better than average in terms of volume and quality, there’s a tiny microSD slot for moving around all those assignments you need to get turned in, and the aforementioned stylus is… decent.
The display is a 9.7-incher with a resolution of 2048 x 1536, and it’s everything you need. Again, from the perspective of this being a tablet built for school assignments (and not a hardcore gaming or productivity machine), it gets the job done and then some. The viewing angles are good, there’s no unusual issues of note, and it gets bright enough that a class could probably do some work outside.
One of the biggest things I noticed, as a reviewer and user of consumer tech, is that the performance of the device’s Rockchip OP1 processor isn’t exactly impressive. Sure, it handles all the basic Chrome OS tasks by themselves, but multitasking should probably be avoided here.
I tried running an Android app (Twitter), running Netflix in a Chrome tab, having another Chrome tab open with Google Docs, and the camera app open. The device couldn’t really keep up. Whether it be random frame rate drops or just sluggishness or unresponsiveness, it’s clear that this machine wasn’t built to do many things at one time. I’d stick to just one app and only a few Chrome tabs, max.
If you’re looking for a Chrome OS device that can fill the Chrome OS dock and run a handful of Android apps at once, and take on your uncontrollable number of simultaneously open Chrome tabs (I have this problem to the point of needing a Chrome extension to help me), then you should probably look elsewhere — probably to a Pixelbook or an HP Chromebook X2. The power just isn’t here.
But as mentioned, this tablet is primarily aimed at the education market — and probably the younger end, too. Running individual apps is no problem, and as long as you’re managing the number of Android apps you have running, the tablet can take on those fine as well — one or two at a time. There are still issues with Android apps on Chrome OS in general, but you can’t fault this tablet for those.
The sylus is good for doodles and taking notes, but that’s pretty much it. There’s nothing special about it, really, and it’s definitely no Pixelbook Pen. There’s no fancy Google Assistant features here, there’s no 2,000 levels of pressure sensitivity, and it’s definitely not lag-free. For school and basic use, though, it gets the job done. It’s handy for taking screenshots and notating in Google Keep.
Perhaps the most important reason for the stylus to exist is because Chrome OS still isn’t all that touch-optimized. Some of the tap targets are really small (although Google has redesigned the Chrome browser to improve that here!), and tapping around with a fat thumb can feel a little silly. Using the stylus makes navigating around the OS far more bearable — enjoyable, even.
On that note, perhaps the biggest issue with the state of the Chromebook Tab 10 today is that Chrome OS was not originally intended to be a tablet OS, so there are certain things that just don’t work right. Yes, there’s the fact that app icons and buttons and interactions can sometimes feel designed for a mouse pointer, but many of these revolve around the keyboard — or should I say, its lack thereof.
Since this tablet doesn’t have a keyboard, your only method of input is the stock Chrome OS software keyboard. It’s painfully obvious that this keyboard was originally built as a tacked-on side feature for Chromebooks with keyboards, built for the minority cases when you’re using them in tablet mode and perhaps in some cases an accessibility feature. It’s not built to be a primary input method.
Because of this, in my testing, I found a handful of cases where using this software keyboard was subpar. It’s not nearly as good as Gboard at predictive swipe-based typing (which is essential when typing on a tablet, especially with a stylus), and I noticed some issues when using Android apps as well. For instance, the keyboard would randomly capitalize some characters when typing in some Android apps, and I found it popping up in many cases where I wouldn’t want it to. I’d prefer if the keyboard never popped up unless I tapped an input field, but that’s apparently not an option.
Google announced at I/O this year that it plans to bring Gboard to Chrome OS, and that might be the day that using this tablet, for productivity and anything other than basic school tasks, might make sense. For now, using Chrome OS’ built in keyboard is a mess. And for classrooms that know right off the bat that they want a better, wired keyboard, Belkin has one available specifically for this tablet.
Of course Chrome OS does everything here that it does on every other Chrome device. Your primary avenue for connecting to the outside world is through the Chrome browser, but there’s also on-device file management apps (and a built-in microSD card reader for transporting files), as well as Android apps from the Google Play Store, which means the possibilities are pretty endless for schools.
Android apps on Chromebooks are still in their infancy, and there are still pain points. Some apps run better than others. Some have random glitches and issues that you might not have on an Android phone or tablet. Some just aren’t compatible yet.
Google is also bragging about a couple aspects of this device which, again, aren’t entirely unique. One of them is that schools will have access to Google Expeditions, which are virtual field trips for students. Acer says that AR support for these expeditions is coming soon. And the Chromebook Tab 10 also supports the Chrome Management Console, which will make IT management of these a breeze.
This is the first pure Chrome OS tablet. It’s not a convertible. It’s not a laptop with a touchscreen and a swivel hinge. It’s a tablet. That’s significant, and I think in the coming months and years we’ll see standalone Chrome OS tablets grow in popularity. While this device is a glimpse at what these devices could be (and in some cases are already materializing, in the case of the HP Chromebook X2), it’s probably not a device that you’ll want to own — it’s probably best suited for the classroom, for now.
But like I said, there was something special about using this device as someone who’s wanted to own a Chrome OS tablet since the day Google made the wrong decision for the Pixel C. Even with its downsides, it was a much better experience than using a Pixel C for most productivity use cases. Having full desktop Chrome alone makes a big difference, and controlling it all with a stylus makes these use cases — like writing or editing — feel possible at worst and practical at best.
I hope by now you’ve gotten the picture that this is essentially a good enough device that will probably be most attractive to its target market — education. For now, it’s pretty much only for that market, anyway. It runs $329, which the same price as the entry-level iPad, and that price will most certainly be even lower for school districts buying these up in bulk, which I think makes sense considering $329 does feel a bit steep for a device as basic and barebones as this.
I obviously can’t analyze each district’s specific needs, but I can at least say that this device checks all the basic competency boxes. Chrome OS has a long history of being great to manage and deploy in schools, it can handle Google Classroom just fine, working on basic projects and assignments will be a breeze for students in this very smart device-competent generation, and it’s all around solid for any classroom use case I can imagine. For that, I think the Acer Chromebook Tab 10 gets a passing grade.