Laptops that can convert from clamshell mode to tablet mode, dubbed 2-in-1s, are becoming increasingly popular, even on Google's browser-centric Chrome OS. With its 360-degree hinge and 11.6-inch touch screen, the $279 Acer Chromebook R 11 delivers a competent convertible experience, complete with a colorful display, long battery life and a comfy keyboard. However, Chrome OS isn't designed for touch, and that holds this hybrid back.
Editor's Note (1/13/2016): We've updated this review to reflect a new battery test score which is two hours longer than our original run. Accordingly, we have also increased the R11's score from 3 to 3.5 stars.
The Acer Chromebook R 11 is decked out in a clean, elegant white chassis with a diamond pattern on the top and bottom of the casing. However, the build quality could be better. Acer says the lid is made of aluminum, but it flexed when we pressed on it, pushing air out of the machine. The lid opens to reveal black island-style keys (which look great in contrast with the white chassis), the touchpad and a thick black bezel around its 11.6-inch touch screen. We do like the textured bottom of the notebook, which makes it easy to grip.
A pair of 360-degree hinges let the R 11 flip all the way around and into four different modes: laptop, display (screen facing outward), tent and tablet. Both tent mode and display mode are great for media-consumption activities like streaming Netflix or showing off PowerPoint presentations. Chrome OS switched between these modes seamlessly as I ran through the R 11's different orientations.
At 11.6 x 8.03 x 0.76 inches and 2.7 pounds, the R 11 is a small machine that will fit in your bag and go with you anywhere. Acer's hybrid is a little heavier than the Lenovo 100S Chromebook (2.5 pounds) but lighter than the Dell Chromebook 11 with Core i3 (2.8 pounds). The smaller 10-inch Asus Chromebook Flip weighs 1.96 pounds.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The well-spaced keys on the Chromebook R 11 have a generous 1.7 millimeters of key travel (we like a notebook to have at least 1.5 mm) and require a reasonable 55 grams of force to press down. I was able to type just above my average 100 words per minute using the 10fastfingers.com test on the Chromebook R 11.
The 4.1 x 2.4-inch touchpad offers plenty of room, and the scrolling is smooth and responsive. The touchpad doesn't require much force to click and, in fact, felt a little loose in our testing.
The Chromebook R 11's 1366 x 768 touch-screen display is colorful but could be a bit brighter. It has an average brightness of 224 nits, which is dimmer than all of its closest competitors. The similarly priced 13-inch Toshiba Chromebook is much brighter, at 378 nits.
When I watched the trailer for Star Trek Beyond, the red, yellow and blue Starfleet uniforms really popped on the screen during crowd scenes, though planetary landscapes could have been a little sharper.
The display covers 73.2 percent of the sRGB spectrum (100 percent is excellent) and beats the Asus Chromebook Flip, the Dell Chromebook 11 and the Lenovo 100S Chromebook. Only the Toshiba Chromebook 2 (109.8 percent) scored higher.
The R 11's Delta-E score of 0.6 (the closer to zero, the better) far outscored the 100S Chromebook (4.6 percent) and the Acer Aspire Cloudbook (3.9 percent). Viewing angles were clear until about 45 degrees, where colors started to wash out and the screen became dim.
Music playback on the Chromebook R 11 was generally good, with clear vocals, mids and highs; the bass was about average for a laptop this size. The R 11 also gets nice and loud; I took it into one of our conference rooms and blasted The Weeknd's "Can't Feel My Face," and when I emerged, the people sitting outside told me they could hear the audio faintly.
The audio becomes muffled in two situations: if it's on your lap or folded into the tablet position. This is because the speakers are placed on the bottom of the notebook and are thus covered when used in those scenarios.
After 15 minutes of streaming HD video, the R 11 was still cool to the touch. The touchpad was 79 degrees Fahrenheit, the spot between the G and H keys was 82.5 degrees and the bottom of the case was 85 degrees -- all of which are lower than our 95-degree comfort threshold. The hottest spot was actually the display itself, at 88 degrees.
Ports and Webcam
This Chromebook has the ports you need for light use and work. The left side has the DC-in jack for power, an HDMI port, a USB 3.0 port and an SD card slot. The right side is home to the headphone/mic jack, a USB 2.0 port, a lock slot and the power button.
The 720p webcam took noisy photos that lacked detail. The plaid pattern on my shirt looked muddled, and the dark orange of the wall behind me was washed out. If you're just using it for the occasional Google Hangout, though, it will suffice.
Our configuration of the Acer Chromebook R 11 features an Intel Celeron N3150 processor and 4GB of RAM. The machine switched between tasks quickly, depending on how many tabs I had open. With 11 tabs open, including some streaming video and a game of Bejeweled, I started to notice a little bit of lag.
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The WebGL Aquarium determines Web graphics performance by displaying fish in a tank and tracking frame rates. The R 11 stayed at 60 frames per second until we placed 1,000 fish in the tank, when it dropped to 50 fps. The Chromebook 11 G4 never got over 57 fps with just 50 fish, and the 100S never got above 46 at 50 fish.
Chrome OS will feel instantly accessible to anyone who uses Google's Chrome browser. The browser makes up most of the interface and will pull in all of your existing Chrome preferences when you log in with your Google account.
There is a taskbar, similar to that in Windows 10, that Google calls the "shelf." It's where you'll find pinned apps, a clock, Wi-Fi status, battery life, the profile switcher and a button to take you to the home menu.
The home menu features the search bar prominently, as well as your apps and Google Now. I was able to get sports scores, news, stock information and maps to and from work with just a swipe.
Though the Acer Chromebook R 11 has a touch screen, Chrome OS isn't really built for touch. Some games and apps work with touch. I was able to use my finger to play Cut the Rope, just as I would on a tablet or phone. When I used the browser, I was able to pinch to zoom reliably, but my attempts to use two fingers to move back a page worked only sporadically.
When you switch your Chromebook into pad, tent or display modes, a little tab icon appears in the bottom-right corner of the screen for easy tab switching. There is also an on-screen keyboard similar to those you would find in Windows, but without the handwriting recognition.
Those are the only major interface changes that help with touch. In fact, when the 2-in-1 is not in laptop mode, you lose some options, like moving your windows around the screen. The maximize button in the browser disappears, forcing you to use apps in full screen and preventing you from moving them around.
It wasn't particularly helpful to navigate around the UI using my finger. Chrome's icons don't get any larger for touch, and it was often a chore to poke at them with my average-size man hands.
Chromebooks are meant to be portable, and the Acer Chromebook R 11 will last all day. On the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which simulates Web browsing at 100 nits of brightness until the battery dies. The R 11 lasted 9 hours and 38 minutes, which is longer than the ultraportable category average of 8:20 as well as the times put up by its closest competitors.
The Dell Chromebook 11 with Core i3 ran for 10:17, and the Lenovo 100S Chromebook lasted a strong 11:19 on a single charge. The 13-inch Toshiba Chromebook 2 lasted 8:30. The Asus Chromebook Flip lasted 9:19 on the same test and also has a touch screen, but it has a smaller 10-inch display.
Software and Warranty
Because its operating system is mostly browser-based, the Chromebook R 11 comes with no bloatware at all.
Chrome OS' software is limited to extensions in the Chrome Web Store, so you won't have any specialized productivity programs or intensive games that you can find on Windows or OS X. There's plenty to get you up to speed, including Google Docs, games like Bejeweled and Cut the Rope, Spotify for music streaming and even a Web app for Dropbox.
Note that Chrome OS relies on an Internet connection for almost everything. You'll need an Internet connection to browse the Web, sync data or stream multimedia. There are games, like 2048, that don't require an Internet connection, as well as some text editors. There's even Gmail Offline, which will sync again once you're back on the grid.
The Chromebook is eligible for the Google Goodies program, which means your Google account will be eligible for 100GB of Google Drive space and 60 days of Google Play Music All Access.
Acer provides a one-year limited warranty on parts and labor. When I plugged the test unit's serial number into Acer's website, it offered a one-year extension for $29.99 and a two-year extension for $59.99. There's also an option to upgrade your warranty to three years with accidental damage protection for $89.99.
Our review configuration of the Chromebook R 11 boasted an Intel Celeron N3150 processor clocked at 1.60 GHz, a 1366 x 768 touch screen, 4GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. It costs $289.99 at Costco and $329.99 elsewhere.
A cheaper configuration priced at $279.99 has identical specs except 2GB of RAM.
The Acer Chromebook R 11 is light and offers a colorful display, a comfy keyboard, decent performance and good battery life. We do worry about the machine's build quality due to the flexing lid. Chrome OS just isn't ready for touchscreens, so we can't call the functionality a plus. If you're just looking for an affordable laptop for Web browsing and don't need touch, we recommend the 11-inch Lenovo 100S Chromebook for its low price and 11+ hours of battery life, or the 13-inch Toshiba Chromebook 2 for its sharper, full-HD display and sturdier chassis.