Acer Chromebook Spin 13 First Impressions

Posted on October 20, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Chrome OS, Chromebook, Hardware with 20 Comments

Acer has embraced the Chromebook to a degree that shames other PC makers. And it has long offered a compelling range of Chromebooks to meet virtually any need, including those of business users. So I’m quite happy to be reviewing the business-class Acer Chromebook Spin 13, which brings the manageability, security, and simplicity of Chrome OS to a class of user that is just starting to wake up to the advantages of this platform.

While the Spin 13 is absolutely a premium device, it doesn’t quite offer the truly premium look and feel of a Surface or MacBook Pro. But then it also costs less, and strikes what I feel is a great balance between quality and price.

So the Spin 13 is made of aluminum, and there are some nice design touches, like the chamfered edges around the touchpad and the keyboard. But it’s not made from a single piece of metal, and there are visible seams and screws. And unlike the Pixelbook, which offers a thin and elegant design, the Spin 13 is heavier (3.5 pounds vs. 2.4) and bulkier (.67 inches vs. .4) by comparison. I’m OK with that: I think the Pixelbook is too small, frankly.

This Chromebook is a powered by a modern quad-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5-8250U processor, and it ships with a full 8 GB of RAM, which should help a lot when running Android apps. But it’s also held back a bit by slower eMMC-based storage (64 GB in this case). By comparison, a Pixelbook offers speedy SSD storage, and even NVME capabilities in its most expensive model.

(Update: According to this Reddit thread, the Core i5 versions of Pixelbook do, in fact, use eMMC storage as well. —Paul)

The display looks great. It’s a 13.5-inch QHD+ (2256 x 1504) IPS panel with an ideal 3:2 aspect ratio. It supports both multi-touch and a Wacom EMR smartpen, and the viewing angles are excellent. It seems like the perfect size, though it’s surrounded by largish bezels on all sides and has the sort of tall lower bezel I usually associate with 16:9 displays.

As a convertible Chromebook with 360-degree hinges, the Spin 13 supports four usage modes: Laptop, tablet, presentation, and tent. It works like similar PCs, and while I don’t usually stray from laptop mode, this versatility can still be very useful. For example, when you’re stuck in a cramped airline seat and wish to watch a video.

Expansion is excellent: The Spin 13 offers 2 USB-C ports, one on each side, and either of which can be used for power, plus one full-sized USB 3.0 port, and a microSD card reader. There’s also a standard headphone jack.

The keyboard is backlit and conforms to the Chromebook standard in both layout and quality. It doesn’t seem particularly exceptional to me, but it’s not objectionable, either, as are some recent Apple keyboards.

The touchpad, by comparison, is excellent. It’s not too large, which I appreciate—I’ll never understand the modern trend of expansive touchpads—and it seems very accurate in my early use.

Acer includes a Wacom-powered Active Pen with the Spin 13. It’s a bit on the small side compared to full-sized active pens like Surface Pen. But on the plus side, it docks into a hidden garage under the front lip of the keyboard tray, so you’re unlikely to lose it. I’m not aware of what kinds of pen-enabled apps are available on Chromebook, but I’ll research this for the review.

Surface Pen (top) and Acer Active Pen (bottom)

Connectivity is about as expected, with 2×2 MIMO 802.11ac wireless capabilities and Bluetooth 4.2. But there’s no SIM slot that I’m aware of for cellular data access.

Acer says that the Spin 13 ships with two speakers, though it’s not clear where they are located, exactly, and where the sounds comes out of the device. My guess is that they’re under/behind the keyboard and that Acer is relying on the cooling vents in the back and space around the keys to emit sound. But regardless of the exact placement, you can really impact the character and quality of the sound output—which ranges from good to surprisingly excellent for a laptop—by angling the display in different ways. I will keep experimenting with this. (And I’m curious how the different usage modes impact sound output.)

According to Acer, the battery life should be in the 8-12 hour range depending on workload, with video rundown hitting at the high end of that (12:48). The overall average is 10 hours.

When configured like my review unit, the Acer Spin 13 costs $899.99. This is on the high side for a Chromebook, but it’s about $100 less than the starting price of the more elegant Google Pixelbook. But the Spin 13’s bigger display, more modern internals, and superior expansion should put it over the top for many. I certainly prefer the Acer already for these reasons. And I’m looking forward to using it more.


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