Top positive review
A Nice Convertible But A Heavy Tablet
Reviewed in the United States on October 27, 2016
I’ve owned or have auditioned more Chromebooks than I can actually remember (along with some high-end Ultrabooks). From the basic Samsung Series 3 to the high-end Pixel LS (my go-to machine). I was looking for a convertible with a larger screen to take the place of my Chromebook Flip, so I thought I’d give the new Acer R13 a shot. There are things that are good and not so good, and there are also a couple items that shoppers need to be aware of before purchasing this device. 4 Stars means "I like it" so I rated it 4 stars because of the way I'll primarily use it (not as a tablet). It arrived on Stable Channel Version 52 and after the update it's now on Stable Version 54. If you want to run Android apps you can switch to the Developer Channel (55 at this moment), but Developer is unstable and you may have issues. If Google follows its normal schedule we could see Android apps on Stable in 6 weeks (but don't hold your breath). If you have any specific questions after reading this review please don't hesitate to ask them in the comments section. I will be happy to answer as soon as I can.
TWO THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE YOU BUY: For a 13” convertible this computer is BIG and HEAVY. It’s practically a 14” laptop with a 13” display. I forgot to add a 13” laptop sleeve when I did my order, but I had an Amazon Basics 14” laptop sleeve sitting around from an Acer Chromebook 14 that I had auditioned a couple months back (which my folks now use). All the other 13” laptops I have owned fit quite nicely into the 13” Amazon sleeves, but those sleeves were too small for this Acer R13 (unless I really stretch the thing and risked scratching the laptop with the zipper). I understand that a convertible needs some bezel beyond the display so you can hold it as a tablet without inadvertently touching things on the screen, but not to the point that a 13” laptop is the size of a 14”. The width isn't all that bad, but the depth could stand to be about half an inch less. The R13 is also heavy. At over 3 pounds it feels unwieldy when using it as a tablet (especially portrait mode). I can manage my 10” Asus Chromebook Flip for extended sessions in tablet mode, but unless you have the R13 resting against your legs and are holding it in landscape mode it gets uncomfortable pretty quickly. If you’re looking to use this R13 primarily in laptop, tent, or stand/display modes or as a tablet in landscape mode that’s resting on something, then the size and weight shouldn’t be too much of an issue. However, if your intent is to use this mainly as a tablet you definitely need to consider the size and weight.
DISPLAY: For a budget 1920x1080 panel the brightness, sharpness, and color are very good and I had no dead pixels. The display is easy to see in a sunlit room and looks good when dimmed in a dark environment. The panel leans towards a warmer color temperature (like the Chromebook 14), which I prefer; and it looks great when streaming video. On my 13” 1080p Chromebooks I like to set the resolution to 1536x864. You lose only a little sharpness, but things are much easier to read. The easiest way to change the resolution on any Chromebook is to hold the “ctrl” and “shift” down while you tap the “+” (zooms in and lowers resolution) or “-“ (zooms out and increases resolution). The resolution will change instantly and you’ll get a notification in the lower right corner. Running in a lower resolution will have NO EFFECT on full screen playback of 1080 video. The lid which houses the display may be metal, but it’s not all that rigid. I recommend caution when opening, closing, or flipping the lid. The touchscreen works well too. Not as responsive as my Pixel, but it already seems better than the one on my Asus Flip. Tapping, scrolling, panning, swiping, and pinch-zooming all work well, but the lid bounces quite a bit when you tap the screen in laptop mode (wobbles back and forth at least 7 times).
PERFORMANCE: Don't expect the R13 to scream right off the bat. It'll be a bit shakey while it updates itself, syncs your account data, and installs your apps/extensions (especially if you already had another Chromebook). Once you do start browsing it'll also be a bit slow to load pages as you build up your cache. So far for me, the performance has been pretty good. The R13 is certainly faster than my flip, but obviously slower than my Pixel LS. It does seem to run better than the Acer Chromebook 14 I picked up for my folks, and the Octane score says it should. I streamed off of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and played some 1080p 60fps videos on YouTube; all of which worked well and played smoothly. Facebook loads quickly and scrolls pretty smoothly (not like on the little Flip). Loading pages while streaming music or video didn’t really seem to cause any issues either. I’m not a tab monster so I really didn’t push the machine in that regard, but I will do some testing and report back. My Wi-Fi connection has been solid, but I have not had a chance to run the R13 with any Bluetooth devices. UPDATE: I've have had a couple crashes (system crashed and restarted) over the past couple days, Both of which occurred during video playback on YouTube, but at this time I don't see this as a real problem. I have been an early adopter of several Chromebooks, and this behavior sometimes occurs with new models (and new to Chrome OS CPUs) and is usually resolved after a couple Chrome OS updates. I had lots of glitches with my Asus Flip when I first got it, but that machine runs great now. If this becomes a problem I'll be sure to update my review. UPDATE 2: After a third crash I did a simple "Hard Reset" to the R13. A hard reset disconnects the battery from all systems that never really shut down (like the charging system or the orientation sensor) allowing them to reset. The whole process takes about 6 seconds and no data or settings are lost. You simply hold the reload/refresh key (circular arrow on top row) and tap the power button. The machine will shut off and then restart in only a couple seconds. Since I did the hard reset I have not had any crashes, and I've been using the R13 a lot (knock on wood).
TOUCHPAD: The touchpad is pretty smooth, relatively solid, and pleasantly responsive (like most Chromebook pads). It fits well into the base, and my example is well seated against the single click button. That button is located front and center under the pad and is easy enough to click as long as you stay within the front 75% of the pad. Trying to click anywhere near the back of the pad will cause excessive flexing of the base and won’t result in an actual click. I only physically “click” the pad when it’s required. Tap-to-click is enabled by default and the pad responds well to all my 1, 2, and 3 finger inputs. The pad is approximately 4” wide by 2.5” tall. I would have preferred another half an inch in the height, but I’m not complaining.
KEYBOARD: When I first posted this review I was pretty harsh on the keyboard in this R13. Aftrer banging away on it for a few more days I have deceided to adjust this section. I’ve never been a fan of the keyboards that Acer puts in their Chromebooks, but the one in this R13 is an improvement over the ones Acer used in the past. I'll admit I’ve been spoiled by some fantastic laptop keyboards, but I would also add that the one in my little Asus Flip feels a bit better. The keyboard in the R13 is a good size for me, and I’ve used it to type this review and a bunch of other stuff. It’ll get the job done for casual to medium users, but can get fatiguing during long sessions spent typing. The pressure required is okay, but I’d still like a little crisper break at the end of the keystroke. I would also have preferred a backlit keyboard for my four hundred bucks, but It isn't essential for me as I've been using Chrome OS keyboards for so long that the layout is second nature. The R13 keyboard should not be considered a deal-breaker at all (unless you plan to pen the next great American novel with it), I just had higher hopes. UPDATE: I think part of my complaints regarding this keyboard are due to the fact that there is enough flex in the center of the laptop's body that you often feel a bit of give when a key bottoms out. If you press, even lightly, between the spacebar and the touchpad the deck will distort.
OVERALL BUILD QUALITY: The R13 is a very attractive laptop and the fit and finish on my unit is very good. I appreciate the metal construction for its aesthetics, but I expected this machine to be more solid (especially considering its weight). This machine is no more rigid (possibly less, even) than my son’s Toshiba Chromebook 2 with its plastic body. I have a couple 13” Ultrabooks that are much thinner and lighter than this R13. Yet they feel much more rigid and exhibit little to no chassis flex when held by a front corner. The R13 twists like a pretzel (okay, maybe I'm exaggeratig a little) when you hold it by the front corner and simply resting your hands on the base as you type results in some flexing. It feels very solid when it’s closed or in tablet mode, but like the keyboard, I expected more. I would also re-state that users are cautious when opening, closing, or flipping the lid as it can get pretty bendy as well (which could result in a cracked screen). UPDATE: While considering why my R13 was so "bendy" I thought about the screws that attach the bottom and deceided to check them out. The 4 screws that run along the end nearest to the hinge weren't exactly coming out, but they were loose. I pulled out a small phillips head, broke all the bottom screws loose, set the laptop lid down on a nice flat surface and then snugged up all the screws. I would say that there is now less chasis flex when I hold it by one of the front corners. This didn't change the amount of flex in the main deck, nor did I expect it to.
BATTERY AND CHARGING: The R13 uses USB Type C charging and the included power adapter comes in 2 sections and totals 12ft in length with a 1”x 1.5”x 4” brick in the middle. I will comment further on battery life at a later time and once I’ve run through a couple cycles. At the time of this writing and with the display at about 25% brightness, the battery is at 90%, and I have around 11:45 of power left (Wow!). UPDATE: I am very impressed with the battery on the R13. I basically used it for 2 evenings at home without recharging. When it was run down to 7% I shut the power off and plugged the computer in (a good technique to use if you want to "reset" the battery meter). I came back in 1-1/2 hours and it was full. I started surfing at 25% brightness with 2 tabs open in the browser and my mail open in a second window and the meter reported I had 13 hours of battery life. 25% brightness is just fine (and less straining on the eyes) in a room with the TV and a lamp on, so I'm really not making any sort of major sacrafice to save battery power. I need to pay more attention to the machine next time I recharge it. And I'd also like to do a 15 minute charge test to see how much on-time that will net me (in the Pixel you can get around 2 hours of battery in 15 minutes of charging). UPDATE: I ran the battery down to 8%, shut the machine down and plugged in the charger. The time to recharge was 1-1/2 hours. I have 2 tabs open and my Gmail in a separate window, my screen is at 25% brightness and I'm typing this update. The battery meter reports that I'm at 100% and have 11-1/2 to 12 hours of battery time available (it's jumps around a bit based on my actions). Obviously this would change were I to brighten the screen or really start surfing around, but still, the battery is impressive considering that the first laptop I ever bought ran for about 45 minutes before you had to plug it in!
MISCELANEOUS: All the ports and plugs work well, as do the side mounted power and volume buttons. The speakers sound pretty good and I like the side/bottom firing configuration. They aren't all that loud, but they do sound good. The headphone jack has plenty of power and can handle some of my hard to drive headphones. The included webcam is average at best, and I haven’t had a chance to make a video call yet. The biggest micro SD card I have is a 64GB and it worked fine. I'd imagine this could handle a 128GB card, but I don't know about a 256GB. The R13 connected right up to my cloud printer and I did a quick remote desktop session with a Win 10 PC. I plugged in my Schiit Bifrost DAC and the R13 recognized it right away. It worked with a Logitech micro-receiver mouse and also a Logitech USB webcam. You can plug in your digital camera (nothing too old) and directly upload your pictures to the machine or your cloud drive. HDMI to my TV worked good as a mirror, extended, and external display. I also tried it with an external optical drive and had no issues (reads only compatible files... no CD/DVD playback or burning).
A HANDY TIP TO SIMPLIFY LOGIN: With the update to Chrome OS Version 54 you can now use a pin to log into your Chromebook when it wakes from sleep or when you switch users. With the R13 you can easily tell if you’re in sleep mode by looking for the flashing amber light on the right side of the laptop. If you actually shut the machine down (as opposed to simply closing the lid) and restart it you will still need to log in with your Google password. This capability isn’t enabled by default, but it’s easy to set up by using the following steps. This is especially handy when logging in while not in laptop mode (meaning you're using the on-screen keyboard); especially if you have special characters in your password.
• Enable the Quick Unlock flag at chrome://flags/#quick-unlock-pin (type into browser)
• Next head into the new Material Design settings menu at chrome://md-settings/
• From here select the option to Configure Quick Unlock
• Select the Quick Unlock setting you’d like to use, configure your PIN, and reboot
CONCLUSION (For Now): I think this could have been a much better Chromebook with only a few small tweaks; mainly the size and the weight. I didn’t expect this 13” Chromebook to be the size of a 14” Chromebook. Especially considering that it is meant to be used as a tablet from time to time. I wish Acer would have done a bit more work on the keyboard or at least included a backlight. I also wish this R13 was more solid/rigidly built. There’s just a ton of flex in both the lid, the deck, and the base for a metal body. If you’re looking for an attractive convertible with adequate performance that can be used “occasionally” as a tablet the R13 should be considered. If you want a giant tablet to run Android apps (should be here by the end of the year) you really need to realize how unwieldy this thing can be when using it as a tablet. In this regard I would say that bigger isn’t always better. This will be a good fit for me because I bought it primarily for sitting up in bed and watching video. I expected just a bit more for what the R13 costs, and if you don’t need the 180 degree hinge there are much nicer machines out there for not too much more money (Dell Chromebook 13, HP Chromebook 13 for example).
REGARDING THE PHOTOS: A reader asked if I could compare the display of the R13 to the Toshiba Chromebook 2. I included my Pixel LS display as another reference. The brightness looks similar in the pictures due to my phone’s camera, but the Toshiba is definitely brighter (probably 340 nits according to Laptopmag) than the R13 and similar to the Pixel (which is also very bright). The R13 and the Toshiba are warmer where the Pixel is a bit cooler in color temperature. The R13 and Pixel have a more neutral level of color saturation while the CB2 has a much higher saturation (un-natural, but pleasing to many people). The temperature and saturation actually showed up pretty well. This does speak to my wish that Google would include some basic user adjustable color/saturation settings in Chrome OS. As I stated earlier in my review, I am happy with the color quality and brightness level of R13 even if it isn’t the brightest or most colorful display available in a Chromebook.
Picture 1: Toshiba CB 2 on left: Acer R13 on right
Picture 2: Toshiba CB 2 on left: Pixel LS on right
Picture 3: Pixel on left: Acer R13 on right