Initial Stuff Verdict
It has the performance that could make you reconsider Google for your next laptop upgrade. The Acer Chromebook Plus 514 looks very promising given the sensible price.
- Chromebook Plus hardware a welcome step up
- High resolution screen
- ChromeOS now very capable
- No backlit keyboard
- Display not especially bright
Google has long been a go-to for budget laptops, but plenty of people still think Chromebooks are more for education than getting ‘real work’ done. The firm is hoping to change that with the new Chromebook Plus initiative, which promises faster hardware and improved offline working, thanks to clever AI integration throughout ChromeOS.
Acer was the first to let us sample its Chromebook Plus entry. The Chromebook Plus 514 is a 14in ultraportable with a traditional laptop form factor, which could make it an ideal travel companion. It’ll set you back $499/£499, which actually makes it one of the pricier Chromebook Plus models, and puts it against Windows-powered budget machines including Acer’s own Aspire 3.
Have Chromebooks matured enough to make a dent outside of the classroom? Here are our early impressions.
Design & build: top traveller
While Asus and Lenovo have hedged their Chromebook Plus bets with traditional and hybrid form factors, Acer has gone all-in on a familiar laptop layout. The Chromebook Plus 514 and larger Chromebook Plus 515 can’t flip over for tent or tablet-based working, which makes sense given they both lack touchscreen support. There will be a version with touch in certain markets, which might make Android apps easier to use.
Instead Acer has concentrated on keeping the dimensions in check, meaning this machine is less than 2cm thick and tips the scales at just 1.45kg. The 14in screen has reasonably svelte bezels, too, so the overall footprint is exceptionally backpack-friendly.
Acer has used a lot of materials for the laptop’s sturdy chassis, but stopped short of using the speckled material seen on its eco-conscious Vero laptops. Subtle branding and a brushed silver finish make it look the part of a business-ready machine, rather than something you’d spot in a classroom.
The Chromebook Plus 514 has gone through a battery of MIL-STD 810H tests for humidity, extreme temperatures, drops, shocks, rain and dust, so should easily survive the rigours of daily life. Acer says the keyboard can shrug off drinks spills, too, though we weren’t given a demo.
Connectivity is reasonable for an ultraportable, let alone a Chromebook, with two USB-C ports, one USB-A, an HDMI video out and a 3.5mm headphone port.
Screen & sound: size matters
All Chromebook Plus models have a Full HD or better display, and the 514 is no different. The 14in IPS panel has a 1920×1200 resolution, stretched over a 16:10 aspect ratio that’s ideal for working on two projects side-by-side. It looked perfectly sharp at the typical laptop working distance, and colours seemed fairly vibrant. We’d want to get one in for a full review before giving any definitive verdict on image quality, though.
We did notice that the panel wasn’t especially bright. Acer claims a 250 nit peak brightness, which isn’t especially impressive; how well it’ll cope with outdoor working or being placed in direct sunlight remains to be seen. An anti-glare coating did help cut down on light reflections, though, and the 180-degree fold flat hinge means finding a workable viewing angle shouldn’t be a problem.
Acer’s loud launch venue meant we weren’t able to fully appreciate the built-in speakers, which are DTS-approved and fire upwards out of grilles that flank the keyboard tray. From what we could tell volume will be just fine for personal listening, but headphones will be a must if you want any hint of bass presence.
Keyboard & touchpad: it does everything
With sizeable speaker grilles at either edge of the laptop, the Chromebook Plus 514 has no room for a numerical keypad. But leaving it off means Acer has found space for a full-size set of QWERTY keys. Only the arrow keys and ChromeOS shortcut keys are half height. We had no trouble tapping out a few sentences at full speed.
The island-style keys were springy enough for an ultraportable machine, bouncing quickly back into place after bottoming out under a reasonable amount of pressure. There’s a fair bit of give to the keyboard tray, but that’s not too surprising given its modest price. It’s a shame Acer couldn’t find room in the budget for any kind of keyboard backlighting, though; this 14in machine otherwise feels perfectly designed for on-the-go working.
Anyone that hasn’t used a Chromebook before will need to adjust to the Everything button replacing the caps lock key, but it’ll feel like second nature to those that have.
Acer has used recycled ocean-bound plastic to create the sizeable OceanGlass touchpad, which felt brilliantly smooth and friction-free. It picked up all the ChromeOS gestures we tried, and had a satisfying physical click.
Software & performance: plus size model
The Chromebook Plus initiative is all about power. Google says each machine should be twice as fast as the average Chromebook, which is mainly because it’s mandating more potent parts. An Intel Core i3 or Ryzen 7000 series CPU, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage are the minimum spec now, meaning lower-powered Celeron chips and slow eMMC flash storage are off the table.
Acer has almost followed that guidance to the letter, with a Ryzen 7520-C processor running the show. There will be more affordable variant with less storage, but we’ve only seen the 8GB/256GB version. It was certainly powerful enough to make ChromeOS feel wonderfully speedy during our demo session, opening browser tabs quickly and cold booting in under ten seconds.
Image editing using ChromeOS’ built-in photo browser worked a charm, with Magic Eraser recognising parts of pics that could probably be stripped away, and doing so in under a second. The Material You interface felt very similar to Android 13 on a Google Pixel 7 smartphone, and the files app was a little easier to navigate thanks to a two-tone colour scheme that better separates system navigation and the folder structure.
We didn’t see the AI-assisted offline file sync in action. This is apparently smart enough to know what you’re working on right now and its associated files, syncing them ahead of time so you can continue working when away from a Wi-Fi hotspot. Nearby share and automatic access to a paired Android phone’s camera roll could also be killer features for those who regularly split their time across multiple devices.
Some of the biggest Chromebook Plus additions have yet to arrive. An AI-based writing assistant will eventually be baked into the right click menu, for quickly suggesting ways to improve your sentences in any text-based app. Generative wallpapers can also create artwork from a sentence prompt.
Acer Chromebook Plus 514 initial verdict
Even after a short stint with one variant, Google’s higher-end take on the Chromebook formula we’re familiar with looks quite promising. The Acer Chromebook Plus 514 looks the part and has hardware to make ChromeOS feel perfectly responsive for daily duties.
While you could pick up quite a few Windows-powered alternatives for similar cash – with many of which also having higher capacity SSDs – ChromeOS is more power efficient. The Chromebook Plus 514 should last longer away from the mains, and cloud syncing means local storage shouldn’t be a stumbling block either.
The big question is whether ChromeOS can now fully replace your existing machine, through its combination of browser-based software and Android apps. While older Chromebooks struggled, on account of their more limited hardware, models like the Chromebook Plus 514 should be much more up to the task.
Acer Chromebook Plus 514 technical specifications
|Screen||14in, 1920×1200 IPS LCD|
|CPU||AMD Ryzen 7520-C|
|Operating system||Google ChromeOS|
|Battery life||10 hours (claimed)|