Editors' note: The 32GB SSD in the Acer Chromebook 15 was incorrectly reported as an mSATA drive. It is an M.2 SSD.
For however you might feel about Google's Chrome OS and Chromebooks, there's no denying that they are popular alternatives to Windows and Mac computers mainly because they're inexpensive, relatively secure and what can be done within the confines of its browser-based environment continues to grow.
What doesn't seem to be growing are their screen sizes, which for the most part are 13.3 inches or smaller. Acer's Chromebook 15 addresses that very issue by matching up a 15.6-inch display with the budget-friendly components we're used to seeing and selling it at a reasonable price.
As is the case with any laptop, just because this Chromebook is bigger doesn't mean it's more powerful. It does have a new fifth-generation (Broadwell) Intel Celeron processor, which does improve its performance over older Celeron-based Chromebooks we've reviewed, but for the most part it simply has a bigger screen.
The bigger panel is nice, though. Having more screen space is always handy, whether you're working in Google Docs or watching a movie on Netflix. For doing things like image editing with Web apps such as Polarr, the 15.6-inch LCD means you can view your pictures larger and still have room for the app's tool panels.
The version I reviewed, the CB5-571-C09S, had a 1,920x1,080-pixel-resolution display; configurations with a 1,366x768-pixel-resolution display are also available. Acer never explicitly calls out the full HD display as an IPS panel in the laptop's specs, but I confirmed with Acer that it is.
It certainly has the wide viewing angles you'd expect for an IPS panel and the screen doesn't invert or wash out if it is angled too high or low. It does seem to lose a bit of brightness when viewed off to the sides, but it's barely noticeable and the matte finish means you're not fighting much glare, either.
Of course, in order to have such a large display, you have to have a fairly large chassis: it measures 15.1 inches wide by 9.7 inches deep by 1 inch thick (38.4x24.6x2.5 cm). It also weighs nearly 5 pounds (2.2 kg).
There is a microweave pattern on the all-plastic casing that helps keep it from looking too generic and gives it some grip. Unfortunately, the white body picks up stray dirt easily, making it look a bit dingy after a little use. Just expect to wipe it down every so often or buy it in black.
The keyboard is oddly small given how much room Acer had to play with here. The extra space is used for the stereo speakers instead that flank the keyboard. They sound good, so if you're planning on using this Chromebook for entertainment, you're in luck. But if you were hoping for a more spacious keyboard, this one is the same size you'll find on smaller-screen Chromebooks.
The touchpad is large and responsive and showed no signs of jumpiness. It works well with Chrome's multitouch commands like two-finger swipes to the left or right for moving back and forth through Web pages or swiping three fingers up to see all of your open windows.
As far as ports and connections are concerned, the left side has a full HDMI-out, a headphone-and-mic jack, a standard USB 3.0 port and the power input. The right side has a USB 2.0 port and a full-size SD card slot supporting capacities up to 128GB. Wireless communications include dual-band 802.11AC and Bluetooth 4.0.
Rounding things out is a serviceable 720p HD Webcam and a microphone above the screen.
The Acer Chromebook 15 has a starting price of $249.99 (about £170, AU$330). The version reviewed here sells for $349.99 (about £240, AU$460) and has the 1,920x1,080 IPS display; a dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Celeron 3205U processor: 4GB of memory; and a 32GB solid-state drive (SSD). (Also, included for that price are 100GB of Google Drive storage, a dozen in-air passes for GoGo Inflight Wi-Fi and 60 days of Google Play Music.) Pricing and configuration availability varies by region.
That's the largest storage capacity Acer is offering with this model. However, it is a removable M.2 SSD, so if you are capable of removing 18 screws to get this thing open, you could potentially swap in a larger drive. The battery, too, is easily replaced for when the battery life isn't lasting as long as it once did.
How long is that? In our wireless video streaming test, the Chromebook 15 kept provided viewing pleasure for 7 hours and four minutes. With less demanding use, say straight-up word processing in Google Docs, you could probably hit much closer to the 9-hour mark Acer claims.
The Chromebook 15 and its fifth-generation Intel Celeron processor performed as expected: better than older Chromebooks running last-generation Celeron processors, but not as good as new Core i-series CPUs. What is a bit of a surprise is that it wasn't too far behind Dell's Core i3 Chromebook.
In anecdotal testing, I didn't notice any slowdowns or stuttering when running with a dozen tabs open while simultaneously streaming video and playing back a local 1080p video file in the background and editing a 15MB JPEG in Polarr. Open another dozen or more tabs and you could run into problems, but as long as you're not purposely trying to overload it, this configuration will stand up to more than casual Web browsing.
Having the Acer Chromebook 15's larger screen certainly helps when you're trying to get work done and it's nicer for kicking back to watch a movie, and it might make for a more appealing candidate for a straight Linux install, too.
Acer Chromebook 15 CB5-571-C09S
Chrome OS; 1.6GHz Intel Celeron 3205U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM ; 32GB SSD
Toshiba CB35-B3340 Chromebook 2
Chrome OS; 2.16GHz Intel Celeron N2840; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM; 16GB SSD
Google Chromebook Pixel
Chrome OS, 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-5200U; 8GB RAM, 32GB SSD
Dell Chromebook 11
Chrome OS; 1.7GHz Intel Core i3 4005U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM; 16GB SSD