Chromebooks have come a long way since the CR-48 debuted 10 years ago. You have your choice of Chrome OS hardware ranging from ultra-budget to lavishly expensive — Acer’s new Chromebook 514 lands somewhere in the middle. Paired with Intel’s 11th generation Tiger Lake CPU and ultrafast storage, the Chromebook 514 is a solid laptop for the right buyer.
The bounty of budget Chromebooks continues to grow year by year, but most of them aren’t worth your time or money. Lenovo recently launched its C340 Chromebook, which shook up the budget segment by offering great specs at a low price. Now, Acer has a similar offering, the Chromebook Spin 311 (CP311-3H-K5GD), offering decent hardware and incredible battery life for just $320. The mediocre touchpad and disappointing display keep me from whole-heartedly recommending this device for everyone, but in broad strokes, the Spin 311 is a fantastic value for students and basic personal use if you're not too picky.
For the first few years, Chromebooks were only worth buying if they were cheap as dirt. As Chrome OS has improved, so has the hardware. While Chrome OS is still more limited than Windows or macOS, there's an argument to be made for a nicer piece of hardware running Google's software. Not too nice, though. Chromebooks like the Pixelbook or Galaxy Chromebook are too expensive to be genuinely competitive. The Spin 713, on the other hand, is priced just right.
The first Chromebooks were budget laptops, which made sense for a stripped-down OS. Over time, Chrome OS has gotten (somewhat) more capable, and OEMs have paired it with premium hardware. The Pixelbooks and Galaxy Chromebooks of the world have their fans, but most Chromebooks are much more modest. However, few are as modest as Lenovo's $250 Ideapad 3 14-inch Chromebook. It sports a Celeron CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 14-inch 1366 x 768 LCD. This Chromebook gets the job done—the performance is acceptable though not impressive, and it has a passable keyboard. The fuzzy, dim screen is the biggest problem, but even that I can partially forgive at this price point.
Google introduced the idea of a premium Chromebook (and a matching premium price tag) with the original Chromebook Pixel. Other companies have followed suit with devices like the Yoga C630 from Lenovo and some HP X360. In this competitive landscape, Acer has a compelling solution of its own: the Acer Chromebook 715. Acer's new high-end Chromebook sports an all-metal construction with MIL-STD 810G compliance, optional quad-core Intel Core i5 processor with up to 16GB of RAM, a full-size keyboard with a number pad, and an optional fingerprint reader. Currently, there is no other large Chromebook on the market that has those last two features.
In 2013, Google released the Chromebook Pixel, a beautiful, weird, unabashedly high-end device meant to show other manufacturers what Chrome OS could do with more power than it needed. Google nerds were into it, but it didn't have much impact on the greater Chrome landscape. Following a 2015 hardware refresh and 2017's similarly pricey convertible Pixelbook, Google tried and failed to catch more mainstream attention with last year's Pixel Slate, an overpriced, badly-optimized two-in-one that sold so poorly the company actually gave up on making tablets. This year, Google is taking a different tack in trying to sell to normal people with the Pixelbook Go, a regular ol' Chrome OS laptop with regular ol' specs, starting at $650.
The original Chromebook 14 from Acer came out in 2016 and was a decent device for the price (around $300) — as such, it was popular with critics and consumers alike. So we were naturally excited when we heard Acer was going to bring out a successor. I first got my hands on the Chromebook 514 in Berlin at IFA in the summer of 2018, but it was rather a disappointment. The build quality of the pre-production unit Acer had on display at the show left much to be desired, leading me to an initial opinion that it was too flimsy to even command a $350 price tag.
When Google announced Chrome OS as a platform, it talked about LTE as one of the defining characteristics. At the time, Google pitched Chrome OS as always up-to-date and backed up because your laptop would have a constant connection. There have been some LTE-equipped Chromebooks but none for the past few years as manufacturers have focused more on the budget end of the market. The new Samsung Chromebook Plus V2 brings LTE back to Chrome OS, but it does so with a higher price tag.