With the new Chromebook 15, Acer becomes the first PC maker to try Google's Chrome OS in a midsize 15-inch laptop body.
Until now, most devices running Chrome OS have been 11-inch clamshell laptops, with a handful of 13-inch and 14-inch models. For all of these systems (save for a single Google-made device with a higher-resolution screen), the key has always been to provide basic online capabilities at a budget price, typically under $300 or £200.
Chrome OS is an operating system created by Google and built around the Chrome Web browser that many people already use on their PCs, tablets and phones. While there are a handful of onboard functions and some very basic file system features, Chromebooks are meant to be always online, accessing Web-based tools, such as Gmail, Netflix and cloud storage systems from Microsoft, Amazon, Google and others.
That idea works well enough in a small 11-inch laptop, where your expectations may be more in line with the limited power and capabilities of a Chromebook, but it's a risk for a machine with a 15-inch display, where users may expect more mainstream performance and features.
To thread the needle between small cloud-based Chromebooks and mainstream laptops, Acer is outfitting the Chromebook 15 with more powerful processors than most. Talking around a near-future announcement date set by Intel, Acer right now only says the system will "support" new versions of the Intel Core i3 from Intel's fifth-generation "Broadwell" family of processors and the latest lower-end Celeron processors.
The 15.6-inch display is available in two configurations, a standard 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution with an enhanced panel for wider viewing angles (which I assume is an IPS display), and a less-expensive 1,366x768-pixel version. All models will have 802.11ac WiFi, one USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0 port, and HDMI out.
The Acer Chromebook 15 will be available with either a 16GB or 32GB SSD, and with 2GB or 4GB of RAM. US prices start at $249, but Acer has not provided international price and availability information yet. $249 converts to around £160 or AU$310.
Additionally, the current Acer Chromebook 13, which is a unique system that uses Nvidia's Tegra K1 processor for excellent 3D performance, is adding a touchscreen version that will be available in February for $329 in the US and €329 in Europe, which converts to £255 or AU$490.
Besides its 15-inch Chomebook, Acer also says several existing Windows laptops and hybrids will also offer support for Intel's fifth-generation Core i-series processors. These will include new Broadwell-based versions of the Aspire R 13 hybrid, the very slim Aspire S7 ultrabook, and the detachable Aspire Switch 12 (the latter of which is getting the low-power Core M processor). The R 13 and S7 are targeted for January, the Switch 12 for "early 2015."