All-metal and $US299, Acer's Chromebook 14 targets IT pros

Chromebook hardware is becoming more professional

Acer this week announced a new Chromebook that shows just how these machines keep getting better and better.

The eyebrow-raising feature of the Acer Chromebook 14 is its all-aluminium chassis - and a $US299 price.

This latest Acer system is part of an emerging trend in the Chromebook world to build systems for business users, or people who just want something that feels substantial. From the specs alone, there's a lot to like.

This Acer Chromebook includes 4GB memory; 32GB of eMMC storage, a lower cost memory typically used in tablets and smartphones; and 12 hours of battery life at full HD via the 1920 x 1080-pixel display.

This system, available for pre-order through Amazon (Amazon price), has an Intel Celeron N3060 dual-core processor running at 1.6GHz; Acer's announcement includes options for a quad-core version, as well, with other models apparently on the way.

Chromebooks were introduced in 2011 and in most cases, those earlier machines set 2GB of memory as the standard and had drives that were limited to 16GB. Nothing could be upgraded. And of course there was the plastic, plastic, plastic.

[Full disclosure: I'm a huge fan of Chromebooks, particularly for travel because of battery life, security and cost. If I lose it or break it, a replacement won't kill the budget. I use two systems (and sometimes travel with both): the Samsung Series 5 550 (Amazon price), which came with built-in Verizon 3G and cost about $US500 in 2012. My second machine, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 - the 2014 model CB35-B3340, which was $US299 when new (Amazon price). Its standout feature is a 13.3-in. IPS FHD screen that's exceptionally bright and crisp. Buyers should get the updated 2015 version, which includes a backlit keyboard, the CB35-C3300 (Amazon price).]

The Chromebook market was mostly low rent until the Chromebook Pixel was released in early 2013. Its initial cost, $1,299, seemed high to most reviewers, but it compared favorably (if not better) to the build and screen quality of Apple's high-end models. (Google subsequently produced a $999 Pixel model, which is now sold out. But the system with an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB RAM and a 64GB SSD for storage is still available at $1,299.)

The Pixel was in essence saying that the Chromebook deserved serious hardware. It's now getting that.

Dell, for instance, has built a business class Chromebook line. Its Chromebook 13 system released last year, includes models ranging in price from $379 to $899, with touch screen and Intel i5 processor. (See Computerworld blogger JR Raphael's comparison of the Dell and Toshiba Chromebooks.)

Chromebook adoption by business has been held back mainly by the limitations of running everything through the Chrome browser. But many people can work just fine in a browser-based environment.

I suspect that hardware quality -- or lack thereof -- has played a big role in stopping corporate IT shops from even testing these systems. IT managers aren't likely to issue a machine that employees are buying for their kids.

The Chromebook has done well in the education market, however. And with full HD IPS screens, carbon fiber and aluminum construction, Chromebooks are growing up for everyone else.

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