If you have been using Chromebooks at all for the past few years, you have likely come across one of the excellent models from Acer. Acer was the one of the first Chromebooks to offer an Intel Chip and the C720 and it’s variant was and still is one of the best Chromebooks to date. In fact we have one and my wife is using it as her main computer for school and surfing the web. Acer has released many models with varying screen sizes, color options, and even touch screens. This review is going to focus on Chromebook 13 CB5-311.
Luckily thanks to Technology Resources Advisors, a technology hardware distributor out of Milwaukee, I was able to test the CB5 out for a few weeks. Technology Resources Advisors is a great company to work with and they have an amazing Chromebook leasing program if your district is looking to go 1:1. Be sure to check them out!
The first thing I noticed about the CB5, beyond it’s white color (It is available in black as well), was the sheer size of this Chromebook. Acer has typically keep a pretty tight design in the past on their Chromebooks, but this one is a little on the large side. It is only really large relative to things like the Chromebook Pixel or the Toshiba Chromebook 2. Overall the size shouldn’t be an issue, but it is a little bigger.
The CB5 like the Toshiba I previously reviewed has a 1080p screen which is great for typing and general web browsing. It also comes with an interesting K1 processor from Nvidia. It’s a mobile processor rather than the intel processor you would find in many other Chromebooks today. In the past, mobile processors meant poor performance in Chromebooks so you’ll have to read on to see how the K1 stacks up against the competition. One area where mobile processors often shine is battery life and this device is listed at up to 13 hours on a charge.
Beyond the processor there are variants of the CB5 with a 720p screen, and a touchscreen. It can also be purchased with 16GB or 32GB of SSD and my unit had 4GB of RAM.
Rounding out the specs are two USB 3.0 ports, and HDMI output for hooking up to an external display, a SD card slot, and headphone jack. The CB5 sports an HD webcam and built in microphones.
The Acer CB5 has a lot of good things going for it. It feels very well built and has an excellent, very quiet keyboard. The keys were in a great position for me and I was able to type very quickly overall. They also had a good feel to them. The CB5’s keys were soft and almost didn’t feel like plastic. The trackpad on this Acer was good as well. Though I did have one issues with it being a little loose when trying to tap to select things rather than click. The CB5’s trackpad is large, smooth, and just worked really well. When considering that you can get this Chromebook for less than $300, that’s pretty amazing.
The CB5 also comes with two USB 3.0 connections while many other Chromebooks only offer one. I would love to see USB 3.1 Type-C, but that will come in time.
The CB5 had me confused at times. I often wanted to not like certain things, but found that they didn’t bother me as much as they did at first. For example, the Acer’s screen is 1080p which is great. However, it has a matte finish to it and that reduces glare, but it also seems to reduce contrast. Toshiba's Chromebook 2 has a much better screen overall at the same resolution. However, when the two computers were not side by side, it didn’t bother me as much. The CB5’s screen is clear and pretty crisp. It’s great for typing or general web surfing. Where it falls short is in watching videos or working with pictures. Color and contrast on the CB5 are just not as good as on something like the Pixel or the Toshiba Chromebook 2. So the screen is good for basic web stuff, but if you are going to do video or photo work or watch movies on your computer, you might want to look at other options.
The CB5’s speakers are also average. They are certainly not bad, but they are not amazing. Vocals sounded pretty good on the CB5, but bass wasn’t great and the there was some muddiness in the mids and highs. Overall, it got very loud and was good enough for a laptop.
This brings us to the K1 processor by Nvidia. It’s a mixed bag as well. It provides outstanding battery life. I consistently got 10+ hours while use the CB5. It also seemed to run load and respond to things like my email and basic web browsing a little faster than the Toshiba Chromebook 2 at times. However, i t did struggle with video related things like WeVideo sometimes. That’s not so say it was slow or unusable. The CB5 just had hiccups every once in a while. Overall it worked pretty well and it’s right on part with most other Chromebooks.
Interestingly, there is very little bad to say about this Chromebook. However, it does have a few things to improve upon. First, if you are going to get the white model, expect to get lots of marks on the shell. They can be cleaned off, but it gets dirty quickly. This can be fixed by purchasing the black version of the CB5, and that would be my recommendation if you can find it.
The other part as mentioned in the beginning of the review is that the Acer CB5 just seems a little bit too big overall. I would like to see it be a little more streamlined. This might also be an issue for those people interested in an ultra-portable computer. However, the size is something you would get used to in no time.
Acer CB5 Scores
Buy or Don’t Buy
This is where things get to be a little difficult. When compared to the Toshiba Chromebook 2, the CB5 is more expensive. Overall, I give it a lower score than Toshiba and my scores do not reflect price. Given that the 1080p version of the CB5 is about $70 more than the Toshiba, I have to recommend the Toshiba over this computer all things being equal.
However, I have one caveat. You need to try both of these computers out. The trackpad on the Toshiba might not be for you and the build quality may feel better to you on the Acer. However, the Toshiba may win you over with it’s better screen.
All that being said, you get a great computer for $379 dollars and I still say the Acer CB5 is a buy.
For teachers the Acer CB5 is a solid pick. It’s comfortable to use, the screen is good, and it has a solid trackpad and keyboard. However, as most teachers are pretty budget conscious, you may want to look at the Toshiba as an alternative. As long as the trackpad doesn’t bother you it’s the better value.
Echoing what I said above, due to the price/performance of this Chromebook there are better options out there. If you do decide to purchase these for staff or students, the CB5 does have better build quality and may last longer in the long run than the Toshiba. It’s still a good choice, but will just cost more up front.