Acer Chromebook 14 for Work

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Introduction and design

The thesaurus-eschewing Chromebook 14 for Work is the latest enterprise laptop to come out of Acer. While the name isn’t winning the Taiwanese company any prizes for creativity, at least it provides pertinent facts about the device: what it is (a Chromebook), the size of its screen (14 inches) and who it’s for (people who wear collared shirts).

Don’t bother checking the Acer store for this high-end enterprise configuration – the Chromebook 14 for Work is only being sold through the company’s commercial sales channel. However, Acer is making the less-powerful Chromebook 14 (period) available for retail purchase.

In addition to its sales strategy, the 14 for Work differs from its regular Acer Chromebook brethren in looks and power. Instead of the consumer version’s aluminum alloy chasis, the 14 for Work features a customizable Corning Gorilla Glass top cover. And while retail Acer Chromebooks get a Core i3 or Celeron processor, the 14 for Work sports a 6th-gen Core i5 processor under its hood.

Thanks also to its 8GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, the 14 for Work brings enough power to go toe-to-toe with any of the Chromebook strongmen, like the Chromebook Pixel ($999, £799, about AU$1,277), the Dell Chromebook 13 ($613, about £484, AU$969) and the HP Chromebook 13 ($499, about £342, AU$655).

But all of this power comes at a price of $750 (about £571, AU$1,004) for a Chromebook? The 14 for Work’s performance justifies its cost, but many businesses may find $750 to be too much for a device that only runs Chrome OS.

Design

Simply put, the 14 for Work’s Gorilla Glass top cover is an eye-catcher. Few other laptops sport this level of sheen, scratch resistance or customizability (Acer will allow its customers to order custom images for their Chromebook top covers).

There are some downsides to Gorilla Glass though. Firstly, as every smartphone user knows, it smudges easily. (Those corporate logos printed onto the top cover will need frequent buffing.) Secondly, it’s slick. Lift the 14 for Work by its lid and it’ll slip out of your hands.

Thankfully, Acer smartly engineered its Chromebook to meet the Department of Defense Test Method Standards. Four foot drops, high and low temperatures, even sandstorms won’t put a dent in the rugged 14 for Work.

Despite this ruggedness, Acer’s enterprise Chromebook avoids the bulkiness that plagues other safety-first laptops. In fact, the 14 for Work’s weight (3.2 pounds) is nearly identical to its not-so-rugged rivals, the Dell Chromebook 13 (3.23 pounds) and the Chromebook Pixel (3.3 pounds).

Call the A/V tech

Thanks to the 14 for Work’s 1,920 x 1,080 resolution the display is sharp. The large screen also dominates, in a good way, the interior of the Chromebook with thin bezel to help accentuate its size.

But the display isn’t as easy-to-read as its size might lead you to believe. The screen always seems a shade too dark, even at max brightness. Its dimness also leads to poor viewing angles: the screen washes out even when turned only 45-degrees.

Unfortunately there’s little positive to say about the 14 for Work’s speakers. Their biggest sin is their location: they sit right under the laptop’s base, thereby muffling any sound the already tinny speakers put out.

Inputty

When engineers prioritize nice-to-haves over need-to-haves, the result is something like the 14 for Work’s keyboard.

In a nutshell, it’s easy to see but hard to use. Equipped with a backlight and large lettering on the keys, the keyboard is more than ready for overnight flights and dark commuter trains (even if the screen isn’t). Everyday use on your desk though, is more of a challenge. Key travel is short, and a key press feels more like a stab into morning oatmeal than a bounce off a coiled spring.

The keyboard is at least built to withstand spills. Tipped-over coffee (up to 11 ounces, so not a grande) drains directly out the bottom of the laptop through two holes in the base. Again, a nice-to-have, but not nearly as important as a comfortable typing experience.

The trackpad is better, but still flawed. Its size and centering is perfect for the 14 for Work’s size and multi-touch gestures are accurate and smooth. The same though can’t be said for the trackpad’s “click.”

All trackpads have variable click feedback – southern edges are usually easier to press than northern edges due to a diving board-like design – but the 14 for Work’s trackpad redefines “varied.” There’s a feedback goldilocks zone in the center of the trackpad, but elsewhere it either feels like you’re pressing a piece of granite or poking a rubber ball. Overall click consistency is lacking.

Specifications, Performance and Features

The 14 for Work may be a $750 (about £571, AU$1,004) Chromebook, but its relatively top-notch hardware provides an excellent return on investment.

The hardware specs of the rival Dell Chromebook 13 are not even close to the 14 for Work’s. Dell provides half as much RAM and storage, a smaller screen, a significantly slower Celeron processor and no USB-C port. Granted, it is $135 cheaper and Dell offers Core i5-powered models, but the value to power ratio is in the 14 for Work’s favor.

The Chromebook Pixel‘s kit, on the other hand, is very similar to that of the 14 for Work. Both have Core i5 processors (though the Pixel’s is a 5th gen Haswell chip), as well as 8GB of RAM and 32GB of storage.

The Pixel, however, has an additional USB-C port as well as an incredibly crisp 2,560 x 1,700 touchscreen display. Those extra features are the reason for its $999 price tag, which is overpriced for this class of laptop no matter the specs. In a head-to-head matchup, the Acer’s enterprise Chromebook once again comes out on top with a superior value to power ratio.

And if you’re looking for more of a bargain out of the Acer Chromebook 14, it starts at $349 (about £263, AU$458) with an Intel Celeron 3885U processor, HD (1,366 x 768) display, 4GB RAM and 16GB storage.

Spec Sheet

Here is the Acer Chromebook 14 for Work’s configuration sent to techradar for review:

  • CPU: 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6200U (dual-core, 3MB Intel Smart Cache, up to 2.8GHz with Intel Burst Technology)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 520
  • RAM: 8GB LPDDR3 SDRAM
  • Screen: 14-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 Matte Full HD Widescreen IPS LED-backlit display
  • Storage: 32GB eMMC
  • Ports: USB 3.1 Type-C, 2 x USB 3.0, HDMI with HDCP support, SD Card Reader, headphone/mic combo jack
  • Connectivity: 802.11 ac WiFi featuring 2×2 MIMO Technology (Dual-Band 2.4GHz and 5GHz), Bluetooth 4.2
  • Camera: 1,280 x 720 HD webcam with 88 degree wide angle lens supporting High Dynamic Range
  • Weight: 3.2 pounds
  • Size: 13.03 x 8.94 x 0.88 inches (W x D x H)

The Acer Chromebook 14 for Work has an excellent selection of ports: two USB 3.0’s, an HDMI port, an SD Card Reader and, of course, the USB-C. Only the Pixel and the forthcoming HP Chromebook 13 have two USB-C’s to rival the Acer’s port options.

A minor nitpick: the 14 for Work’s power cord plugs into the USB-C port. There is no separate, dedicated power jack. Want to use the USB-C port? You’ll have to unplug the laptop first.

Benchmarks

Here’s how the Acer Chromebook 14 for Work performed in our suite of Chromebook benchmark tests:

  • Octane: 28,343
  • Mozilla Kraken: 1,081.0ms
  • Battery Life (techradar movie test): 9 hours and 36 minutes

As our benchmarks show, the 14 for Work’s hardware delivers. Websites and apps load very quickly, even when multiple tabs are open and background media is playing. Frankly, Acer’s Chromebook is one of the zippiest laptops I’ve used.

The 14 for Work’s benchmark results blow away the Dell Chromebook 13. Acer’s Chromebook scores 100% better than its Dell rival on both the Octane and Kraken tests – and that alone is worth the $135 premium.

Against the Pixel, it’s no surprise the 14 for Work holds its own on our anecdotal web and app usage tests – the two have nearly identical hardware profiles. Both are brisk web surfers, and only the $1,300 “Ludicrous Speed” Pixel – which features a Core i7 processor and double the RAM – surfs faster.

But in terms of battery life, the Dell Chromebook 13 beats all comers. Its battery lasts an incredible 14 hours and 30 minutes. The 14 for Work may lag behind at 9 hours and 36 minutes of battery life, but it’s still better than the Pixel’s last place 8 hours and 22 minutes of unplugged run-time.

Verdict

The Acer Chromebook 14 for Work’s dim screen and subpar inputs are certainly not ignorable faults, but great hardware, a sleek-yet-durable design, and speedy performance ultimately make it an excellent value laptop. Unfortunately the 14 for Work’s target market, enterprise users, may not be able to see past its operating system.

We liked

You can’t overemphasize the importance of performance and the 14 for Work delivers one worthy of an Oscar. It is one quick laptop. Furthermore, it never seems to struggle, staying lag free and cool even when YouTube, Spotify and 10 open tabs are simultaneously demanding resources.

We disliked

The 14 for Work’s inputs need, well, work. Acer paid a lot of attention to external design and durability features. However, it forgot about the simple stuff like the trackpad and keyboard usability. Althiough Acer went the extra mile to make sure the keyboard was backlit, the 14 for Work’s surprisingly dim screen hinders its efficiency in low-light areas.

Final Verdict

The biggest knock against Acer’s enterprise Chromebook is the fact that it’s a Chromebook. More and more businesses are utilizing Chrome OS, but the limitations of its applications may keep the 14 for Work from ever making headway into certain verticals.

Chromebooks also have a not unearned reputation for cheapness and simplicity. This reputation works against high-performance – and high price tag – Chromebooks like the 14 for Work. Such laptops may never get to strut their stuff for IT Managers who have preconceived notions of how a Chromebook can, or should, be used.

Finally, the 14 for Work not only has to compete with other Chromebooks, but all portable enterprise devices as well– and there are plenty of equally priced Windows laptops on the market with 1,080p screens and Core i5 processors (and loads of internal storage). In this sea of already-trusted options, a newcomer like the Acer Chromebook 14 for Work may struggle to find a home.

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