Acer Chromebook for Work 14 Review

I’ve long been fascinated by the idea of a Chromebook. As part of the PC generation, it felt wrong– I mean a machine that is basically a browser in a laptop format. And yet, there was something about the minimalism that appealed to me. I’ve occasionally looked at the Acer Chromebook for Work line and thought they looked interesting. The reviews in general were good, the build quality was high and the Chromebook had a spill-proof keyboard. The machine looked like a good advertisement for the virtues of ChromeOS, so when I saw one on sale I picked it up. I’ve been using it as my primary work laptop for a couple of weeks now. I have to say I am impressed.

The Acer Chromebook for Work 14 set me back around $300. The build quality is very high, milspec tested, in fact. The bodywork is tough plastic and shiny gorilla glass 3.  It looks pretty but it’s a finger print magnet. The screen is 14 inch with a 1366 by 768 resolution. To me, it looks pretty decent but my ageing eyes do not make me the best judge of such things. It’s impressive that there’s a 14-inch screen built into the body of a 13-inch laptop. It weighs about as much as my MacBook Air and it is just as portable.

The keyboard is excellent, good travel, nicely laid out and firm. The trackpad works better than on many Windows laptops I have owned although it does not meet the Macbook gold standard. It’s a better-built laptop than many more expensive PCs. I imagine the cost is kept down by the use of much less powerful components. A Celeron 3855U processor, 4 Gb of RAM and a 32 GB SSD are pretty much netbook specs.

It does not really matter. This a ChromeOS machine. It runs much, much faster than the Lenovo 100S I bought last year. In fact, Chrome (the browser plus extensions) runs about as fast as it does on my quad core i7 gaming machine, which is just as well because it’s all that does run. The Chromebook starts up fast and you can do a neat trick by unlocking it using the fingerprint sensor on your Android phone.

Bear in mind that I am not exactly a browser power user. I rarely have more than a dozen tabs open at any one time. Under those circumstances, I saw not the slightest hint of lag when streaming Spotify, running Kanbanflow, editing half a dozen documents and having a few browser windows open.

Battery life has been excellent. I didn’t do rundown tests. I just wandered around cafes and worked. Ten hours of battery life looks easily doable, maybe 12 at a push.

This is all very well but can you get any real work done on a Chromebook. Well, I can. Depending on your use case scenario, you probably can too. To make ChromeOS work, you really need to buy into the whole Google ecosystem. This means using Docs and Sheets for word-processing and spreadsheets. These are perfectly competent lightweight examples of what they are. If you can write in Microsoft Word you can certainly write in Docs. If you’re an Excel power user than Sheets is probably not for you. I use it for tracking my blood sugar levels, daily word counts and such and it does all this stuff just fine.

In truth, I would say that for 90 to 95 per cent of the stuff I do for work and travel a Chromebook is just fine. I vary between using Kanbanflow and Marinara for pomodoro tracking. There is a todo.txt extension for Chrome that lets me use plain text task tracking. Google Keep is particularly well integrated with Docs. I use it and Simplenote for notes. Spotify and Netflix work great. Email works just fine. I normally use a client such as Thunderbird or Postbox so doing email in the browser is a new thing for me. So far it seems to be going OK. I am writing this blog post in Docs and I’ll be posting it to WordPress using the WordPress.com for Google Docs extension. If you’re reading this, it worked.

Add-ons are a particularly interesting area for Docs. There are some excellent ones for writers. Concordance lets you build a database of characters, locations and other such stuff right inside the document itself. Those of you who read my posts on building a series wiki/bible will know how much I wrestled with this. Consistency checker allows you to check capitalisation and spelling consistency. Export as Markdown lets you email your document to yourself as a plain text file with all the right markdown codes.

I’ve written before about how I liked Docs because it let me keep my notes and outlines open in one tab and my work in progress in another and flick between them at the touch of a hotkey. This is still the case. I am also starting to appreciate some of the other virtues of Google’s office suite. I can switch seamlessly between working on a document on any of my computers and editing it on my phone. It autosaves in the cloud so backups are not a problem. Paranoid as I am, I do like to download files to my machines in various formats and Docs does that well. I’ve heard it’s not the greatest word processor for complex formatting, but, hey, I write fiction, a couple of header levels and italics are all I need.

Document outline lets me jump around inside any work I am writing. Define allows me to check the meaning of words. Pretty much all the tools I need to write a first draft are easily available. I would not want to do a complex structural edit in Docs but for anything else it’s fine.

The big bugbear about ChromeOS used to be working offline. Things have changed. I have used it extensively without an internet connection (sometimes involuntarily, see below) and never had a problem. You can work and things will sync the next time you connect to the internet. I was without my music, but I had plenty stored offline on my phone. Marinara works offline for pomodoro tracking. Kanbanflow does not.

ChromeOS is not really designed with photo editing in mind. I have not even tried, so I can’t say how well the apps available work.

Downsides? I still feel a bit weird being restricted to what runs in the browser but I can’t deny it works just fine. Internet connection was a bit hit or miss. I never had a problem on my home network but in cafes where the internet was flaky, I could not make a connection at all. To be fair to the Chromebook, these were all places where my PCs really struggled to connect and suffered from enormous lag, but it was still a bit worrisome. And that’s about it. I intend to try using Chrome as my main work tool for a month or two. I’ll most likely report back on how the experiment goes.


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Comments

  1. Thanks, Bill. We have been thinking about getting a Chromebook for Eve and this has helped make up our minds.

    • I’ve been meaning to drop you an email on this exact subject. I remembered you mentioning you were thinking about picking one up. If you don’t need games and you’re deep in Google’s ecosystem, Chromebooks are actually great. This one has the build of a business laptop at the price of a netbook.

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