Chromebooks come in a range of sizes and configurations these days, including convertible models that double up as both laptop and tablet. However, Acer’s Chromebook 14 (CB3-431) is a straightforward device that simply aims to provide a low-cost alternative to a traditional laptop.
The challenge for any Chromebook, of course, is to keep prices low without making too many compromises. Thankfully, the Chromebook 14 achieves that aim, providing good build quality and connectivity, along with a 14-inch display, at a highly competitive price.
The design is hardly original, as the Chromebook 14 shamelessly imitates the design of Apple’s MacBook Air — right down to details such as the recessed keyboard panel and the hinge that connects the keyboard and screen panels. The 14-inch display means that its aluminium casing is 16mm wider than the 13-inch MacBook Air, but with the two laptops sitting side by side it’s only the slightly darker shade of grey chosen by Acer that really sets them apart. It’s a fair bit heavier, at 1.7kg, but you can still pick up the Chromebook 14 and carry it in one hand without too much trouble.
The fact that Acer has managed to provide such an attractive and sturdy design for so little outlay — the Chromebook 14 starts at just over £200 (inc. VAT) with 2GB RAM and 16GB of storage — is no mean feat, and certainly represents excellent value for money.
The 14-inch display is bright and clear, with 1,366-by-768 resolution (112ppi). The colours aren’t quite as crisp and vivid as we might like, suggesting that the contrast could be improved, but the display is perfectly adequate for web browsing, video streaming and simple document creation. Sound quality is good too, although not terribly loud, so a set of headphones or external speakers will probably come in handy from time to time. There’s a 3.5mm headphone socket for that, along with two USB 3.0 ports and HDMI for an external monitor.
Prices start at just £210 (inc. VAT; £175 ex. VAT, or $280 in the US) for a model with an Intel Celeron N3060 running at 1.6GHz (up to 2.48GHz in burst mode), along with a modest 2GB of RAM (4GB in the US) and 16GB flash storage (but only 9.4GB available for users).
That configuration felt perfectly responsive for some simple word processing and number crunching, but if you’re going to be doing any offline editing then it might be wise to step up to 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage for a still-competitive £250 (inc. VAT; £208.33 ex. VAT, or $300 in the US). If you need a little more power, Acer offers the Chromebook 14 For Work, which costs $600 with a Core i3 processor and a full-HD resolution (1,920×1,080) display. This model isn’t currently available in the UK, however.
Battery life is very good too, with Acer’s claim of 12 hours from the 3-cell 3,920mAh li-polymer unit not being far off the mark. We got a full 10 hours when using the Chromebook 14 to stream video from the BBC iPlayer, for example, and you could probably stretch that a bit further if you’re doing some offline work with Google Docs or Sheets.
There’s room for improvement, but the combination of solid build quality, strong battery life and a 14-inch display for document editing makes the Chromebook 14 excellent value for money.
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