The Acer R11 Chromebook is a product with something of an identity crisis. It doesn’t have premium build quality, like the Asus C100P Chromebook Flip. It also isn’t packing impressive performance and hardware at the expense of its build quality, like the Toshiba Chromebook 2 2015.
Made up mostly of white plastic, with a thick, flat design, and packing Intel’s new, but relatively low-end N3150 Celeron processor, the Acer R11 isn’t going to win any awards for design or performance.
I’m really selling you on this Chromebook so far, I know.
While it is true that the Acer R11 is not be the fastest or best-looking Chromebook, there’s also no other Chromebook on the market with the R11’s combination of characteristics. With its 360 degree display featuring an IPS touchscreen, 32 GB of local storage standard, and a quad-core Intel Bramwell processor, the R11 gets many things right despite a first impression that is mediocre at best.
In fact, after using it for a few weeks as my primary laptop, I think this is one of the best Chromebooks available for a wide percentage of the consumer market… or, it will be, once the price drops a bit.
First Impressions Are Important…
When it was announced, most people pegged the Acer R11 as a larger form-factor competitor for the Asus Chromebook Flip, but in actuality, outside of their use of IPS touchscreen displays and 360 degree hinges, these Chromebooks could not be more different. The Flip is a sleek, light device with a metal case, which feels just about small enough to be used as a pseudo-tablet, but just large enough to be a laptop when you need one.
The R11, on the other hand, is a full-blown 11.6″ laptop, which may not sound all that much larger than the Flip’s 10.1″, but in actuality, it is substantially larger, both in terms of overall size, and weight, with the R11 coming in at 2.8 pounds compared to 2 pounds for the Flip. Where the Flip feels slim and sleek with its modern design and metal case, the R11 is a more typical Acer plastic slab. Where the Flip punches above its cost in the looks department, the R11 looks every bit like a budget Chromebook.
The lid is a mesh aluminum weave which does help give a degree of faith that it will not stain. It isn’t so much that it is an unattractive design overall, rather it just feels familiar at this point, similar to both the Acer Chromebook 11 and 13, neither of which felt particularly fresh when they released over a year ago.
The R11’s reinforced hinges allow for full rotation of the display, granting access to a variety of modes:
As with the Flip, Chrome OS will disable the keyboard past 180 degrees and switch to an on-screen keyboard instead, and Chrome OS adds a launcher button for an on-screen keyboard while in this mode. The touchscreen is responsive for clicking as well as pinch-to-zoom, where it is enabled.
Speaking of the display, it is terrific to see an IPS display here on an Acer device, and while the resolution of 1366×768 isn’t unusual for this category, this is a quality screen with wide viewing angles and bright colors. Note that it does suffer from quite a bit of glare, which is the downside to a display like this.
…But They Aren’t Everything
Acer has had a tendency to favor function over form in some of their best Chromebooks, like the C720. That Chromebook won people over with its fantastic performance to price value ratio, and not its eye-catching design.
Fortunately, the R11 delivers in a number of critical areas with regard to specifications and performance, and in many ways replicates what the C720 achieved two years ago.
Here are the full specifications for the Acer R11 Chromebook:
- 1.6 GHz quad-core Intel N3150 “Braswell” Celeron processor with turbo boost to 2.08 GHz
- 2 GB of DDR3 RAM ($279) or 4 GB of DDR3 RAM ($329)
- 32 GB SSD for local storage (comes with 100GB Google Drive)
- 11.6″ 1366×768 IPS display with 10-point multitouch
- 2x USB ports – one 3.0 and one 2.0
- HDMI out for external display
- SD card slot – allows full insertion into the R11
- Combo headphone/microphone jack
- “HD” webcam
- 802.11ac 2×2 dual-band WiFi
- Bluetooth 4.0
The keyboard is full-size, and while it isn’t back-lit, it still is pleasing to type on. I find it to be fairly similar to the Acer Chromebook 13 keyboard. While this isn’t a best-in-class keyboard, it is significantly better to use than the smaller keyboard of the Chromebook Flip. The R11 also has surprisingly loud speakers, a rarity among Chromebooks this year, and one that I think is actually important in a device that lends itself to use as a media device.
The R11 is the first Chromebook to use Intel’s N3150 “Braswell” Celeron, a quad-core processor at 1.6 GHz. I was highly concerned about how this processor would perform, coming from quite negative experiences with the N3050 dual-core processor in the Acer Cloudbook 11 and HP Stream 11 2015. Fortunately, the quad-core version used here, likely combined with the lower demands of Chrome OS, alleviated all my concerns.
The 2 GB version of the R11 – which is what I used for the purposes of this review – has performance that is perfectly acceptable and is sufficient for how most people will use a Chromebook. As an example, this device has no problem running YouTube in one window, and then simultaneously loading complex pages like CNN.com in another window, without stuttering on the video or problems rendering the webpage.
I also found that the R11’s N3150 processor has performance that exceeds the Rockchip used in the Flip. It has similar Octane 2.0 benchmark scores, coming in around 7,500 to 8,200, but in actual use I found performance was smooth up around 6 to 8 tabs, and it felt snappy and responsive. The R11 also has reasonably good battery life of around eight hours in mixed use at 70% brightness, not quite hitting the quoted ten hours, but still around the average for Chromebooks.
While it won’t come into play much in Chrome OS, the “Braswell”-generation processor used in this Chromebook has graphics performance roughly double that of the “Bay Trail” generation it is replacing, so there are some benefits to those who will use Ubuntu on this machine via Crouton. Somewhat unusual for most Chromebooks, the R11 also defaults to 32 GB of local storage, which is greatly appreciated; this additional room makes sense on a device that is great for media consumption, including saving local music and videos, and also helps make installing Crouton more appealing.
With regard to the RAM, both a 2GB and a 4 GB version are available, though at present it can be difficult to find the 4 GB version at retail outside of CostCo and direct from the Acer store. If you’re really interested in the R11, I’d note that for a lot of consumers, the 2 GB version will be just fine; unless you’re planning to do a lot of content creation, or routinely run more than a half dozen open tabs, you may not even notice the difference between the two.
Crouton Fans, Take Note of the R11
When looking for a Chromebook with the intention of installing Crouton, three of the key characteristics are an Intel processor, expanded local storage beyond 16 GB, and 4 GB of RAM (or more). The R11, with its Intel Braswell processor and 32 GB of local storage, checks two of those boxes by default, and is available with 4 GB of RAM for an additional cost when purchased.
As such, on paper, it makes an excellent choice for Crouton installation… and in actuality, it fulfills that promise. Following my Crouton install guide, here, it was easy to get XFCE running on the R11, and performance was very good.
Installing Steam allowed me to run my usual selection of indie games, including Spelunky, Towerfall: Ascension, and Risk of Rain. I also streamed Rocket League from my gaming PC using Steam in-home streaming – see here for a guide – and that ran without any problems.
Web browsing via Firefox was smooth and responsive, and Minecraft ran at around 30 FPS on “Fast” graphics settings with 9 chunk render distance, which isn’t bad for a system with 2 GB of RAM. I suspect that the 4 GB version would perform even better.
It is impressive how much faster the R11 runs Minecraft compared to the N3050-powered Windows 10 laptops I tested earlier this year. I’m not sure whether that has to do with the N3150 being a quad-core processor, the reduced system demands of Chrome OS and Ubuntu compared to Windows 10, driver issues on the Windows machines, or some combination of those factors.
In any case, I wholeheartedly recommend the R11 for anyone looking for a Chromebook that will also function well with Crouton, especially if your preference is for an 11.6″ Chromebook rather than a 13.3″ or 15.6″.
Given my previous recommendation of the Asus C100P Flip, does anything change with the release of the Acer R11? Unlike the Flip, the R11 has a great keyboard and an Intel processor, paired with 32 GB of internal storage and nice, loud speakers. That makes it ideal for watching movies and listening to music, and storing that media on the device itself. Furthermore, it also makes it a great candidate for using Linux via Crouton.
I’m inclined to recommend the R11 more to those who primarily use their laptop as a laptop, in places and situations where it can be truly used as a laptop, whereas the Flip is more suited to road warriors, people who need to have a versatile 2-in-1 device that is adept at both tablet and laptop form factors.
The R11 isn’t a perfect device by any definition. It is much less attractive in terms of design than competitors like the Asus C100P or even the Asus C201, and at a price point approaching $300, or exceeding it at 4 GB of RAM, there are devices that offer better performance, including Acer’s own C740, as well as 13.3″ Chromebooks like the blazing fast Toshiba Chromebook 2 2015.
And yet, what Acer has produced here is a Chromebook that checks off a lot of the boxes that are important to me, and I suspect, to many other consumers as well: a full size keyboard that feels good to type on, decent speakers for watching streamed content on the reasonably good IPS display, performance that meets my expectations for a sub-$300 Chromebook, and solid 8-hour battery life.
I’ve reviewed over a dozen Chromebooks over the past 24 months, and the only one I’ve held onto since I first bought it is my original Acer C720. With the Acer R11, I feel like I’ve found an 11.6″ Chromebook that can finally replace the C720 as my go-to Chromebook.
The only real problem here is the MSRP, which at $279.99 or $329.99 feels less competitive than I’d like it to be. I personally bought my R11 on sale for $249.99 and I feel like that price is about correct; I suspect we’ll probably find this Chromebook on sale throughout 2016, as we saw the C100P Flip on sale for most of 2015 after release.
Whether the additional cost of this device compared to some of the others I’ve mentioned is worth it for you and your specific needs isn’t a question I can answer for you, but I can say that if you want a Chromebook with an Intel processor, a full-size keyboard, and an IPS touchscreen display, this is the only Chromebook below $300 that can accomplish all those things for you.
Despite a somewhat questionable first impression, I think this is a Chromebook that will grow on you, given a chance.
Buy the Acer R11 from Amazon.com:
Acer Store Page: