Acer Chromebook R 11
£229 inc VAT • acer.co.uk
Since the release of Windows 10 we’ve seen lots of laptops with touchscreens and hinges enabling them to be transformed into rather heavy, cumbersome tablets. The R 11 from Acer takes this format and brings it to a Chromebook, with varying degrees of success.
Of course this isn’t the first Chromebook with a touchscreen. Acer launched one (the C720p) in 2014 and we found it to be a fine machine, but the ability to angle the screen in a wide range of motion, from traditional laptop, around to fully flat against the back of the keyboard, makes the R 11 here an interesting proposition that could appeal to a lot of users. Asus has also recently gone down this route with its Flip C100P device (page 56), so maybe we’ll see this space heat up in the coming months.
With a list price of £229, the R 11 isn’t overly costly, but we have seen it discounted to £189 already. Of course, Chromebooks are rarely expensive, except for the wonderfully exotic 2015 Chromebook Pixel. The touchscreen does elevate it above some of its competition, and the only direct competition around at the moment is the new Asus C100P Flip, which retails for £249, features a smaller 10.1in touchscreen, but can perform the same gymnastic feats as the R 11. If you don’t want these particular features, then there are plenty of alternatives that can usually be found for a bit less. Toshiba’s Chromebook 2 (page 62) is currently one of the best around, with a more spacious 13in screen, great performance, and available on Amazon for £199.
We’ve grown accustomed to Chromebooks being lightweight, slim devices, that instantly promote mobility. It’s a little surprising then to see how relatively bulky the R 11 seems at first glance. There are no tapering lines in the chassis, such as those found on the old Samsung Chromebook or Dell Chromebook 11, instead the R 11 is blockish, with only bevelled edges in the keyboard section breaking the industrial-style design. The top section is also thicker than you might expect, but both of these factors have a sensible cause, and that is stability for the touchscreen.
The two sections are joined by thick silver hinges that give the R 11 its major selling point. These dual-torque fittings allow the screen to move through 360 degrees, while being strong enough to hold any position without toppling over. This creates new possibilities for the R 11, although how advantageous they are is open to debate.
If you want to watch media on your Chromebook, but don’t want the keyboard sticking out in front, you can position the R 11 in Display mode. This is where the screen is folded back until the keyboard is placed facing down on the table and the screen is standing up. It’s a subtle difference, but can mean that the screen is closer to you if space is limited. As you would expect, the keyboard and mousepad are turned off in this mode, but the touchscreen controls make it easy to access controls without having to flip it over.
One added advantage in this mode is that the speakers, which are on the bottom of the chassis, actually point upward, although we didn’t notice a significant increase in volume. Display mode is fine for
watching YouTube or movies, but for anything else it’s limited as the screen wobbles slightly when you tap it. This would make typing search terms, or social media comments, usable but not entirely desirable.
Move the screen back further and you reach Tent mode. This forms an inverted V shape when looking at the R 11 side-on, and adds stability to the device by standing it on the top of the screen and the bottom of the keyboard. Now when you tap the display you get a solid response, plus there’s the advantage that the footprint of the R 11 is reduced, so you could conceivably use it on an in-flight fold-down table.
The last mode is that of the Pad, or tablet, which has the screen folded completely flat against the back of the keyboard. ChromeOS makes good use of a touchscreen interface, mainly due to accessing everything through a web browser. It’s not a true tablet replacement though, as the 1.25kg weight and general bulk of the design makes anything other than brief stints of use uncomfortable, but in a pinch it could be a fun feature.
The screen itself is an 11.6in IPS display, running at a 1366x768 resolution. It’s bright, clear, and presents colours in an attractive fashion, but off-axis viewing angles quickly curtail. Ports that decorate the chassis include USB 2.0, USB 3.0, HDMI, an SD card reader, plus a standard headphone socket. While Internally Acer has opted to fit an Intel Celeron N3050 1.6GHz CPU, 2GB of RAM, and a 16GB SSD for local storage.
For all its impressive contortionist tricks, the R 11 is a let down by a couple of things. In general use it’s a nice little machine. The keyboard is good to type on, the touchscreen is responsive and accurate, but the first stumbling block is the trackpad. Again, for a lot of things it’s perfectly fine, but we did notice a tendency for it to be over-sensitive at times, with the cursor jumping across the screen rather than flowing smoothly. The pad itself is also stiff when clicking, although enabling the tap-to-click option in ChromeOS deals with that issue comfortably.
The main beef, though, is that the R 11 feels sluggish when navigating the web – the Number One job for any Chromebook. Pages can take a while to load, and if they have multiple videos loading up you can experience significant delays waiting for the screen to format properly. Several times we noticed that a video open in another tab would stall briefly while we refreshed the Gmail app or clicked on a link.
As we’ve seen on other lower-end devices recently, a 2GB RAM allocation isn’t really going to cut it on the modern web. As far as we know, and judging by the listings on Acer’s US site, there should be a 4GB version of the R 11 coming out, and we suspect that the shortcomings of this review model would be solved by the simple addition of that extra RAM. That’s not to say that this R 11 isn’t worth buying. If you tend to work on one thing at a time, or simply want to stream YouTube videos, movies, or listen to music, then this machine can do that very well.
One standout feature the R 11 can boast is its battery life. In our looped video test the device held out for a very impressive nine and a half hours, which would get you through a majority of long haul flights. It’s enough for several days of occasional use between charges.
The Acer Chromebook R 11 is a decent, if unspectacular device. Having the option to position it in a variety of modes is fun, but the sometimes sluggish performance makes it hard to recommend to anyone who wants to do more than a couple of simultaneous tasks. If your needs are light and you value the flexible hinges though, it’s a nice machine all the same, but we’d still opt to wait for the 4GB alternative.
The screen is an 11.6in IPS display, running at a 1366x768 resolution. It’s bright, clear, and presents colours in an attractive fashion