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Acer Chromebook R11 review: A finger-friendly hybrid Chromebook for less

If Chrome OS has piqued your interest, the Acer Chromebook R 11's hybrid design and budget price earn it a spot on our short list.

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Nate Ralph
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Nate Ralph

Associate Editor

Associate Editor Nate Ralph is an aspiring wordsmith, covering mobile software and hardware for CNET Reviews. His hobbies include dismantling gadgets, waxing poetic about obscure ASCII games, and wandering through airports.

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A Chromebook's job is difficult. It has to be inexpensive, which inevitably means you can't expect too much. But it also needs to stand out in a market that's crowded by dirt cheap competition.

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7.4

Acer Chromebook R11

The Good

Acer's Chromebook R 11 is an inexpensive tablet-laptop hybrid, coupling the simplicity of Google's Chrome OS with a 360-degree hinge and touchscreen.

The Bad

Unfortunately, Chrome OS isn't optimized for touch, and navigating around the browser with your finger can be tricky. There aren't as many apps available for Google's Chrome OS as you'll find on Microsoft's Windows or Apple's OS X.

The Bottom Line

Acer's Chromebook R 11 has a neat hybrid design and the price is right, but simpler, non-touch devices offer better value.

The Acer Chromebook R 11 makes the most of an unexciting situation. With a base price of $279 (that's about £195 or AU$395), it's a budget-priced lightweight device with a touchscreen display and 360-degree hinge that folds all the way back to form a chunky tablet. There isn't much else in the way of pizzazz or substance here, but if you're just looking to get online, the extra flourish from the rotating display helps Acer's Chromebook stand out, and perhaps makes it more practical for sharing videos or presentations with a small group.

Take a closer look at the Acer Chromebook R 11 (pictures)

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Design and Features

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Nate Ralph/CNET

The Chromebook R 11 has an 11.6-inch display, with a lowly 1,366x768-pixel resolution. That low resolution disappoints, but it's right in line with most of the Chromebook ecosystem. It's also an IPS display, which means that colors look especially nice, and the contrast in photos and videos holds up when you tilt the screen back or forward, or sit off axis.

Reflections can be problematic, though. I spent a lot of time working outside, at the periphery of my apartment's Wi-Fi radius. Finding a spot where the sun's light wasn't an obstacle proved tougher than keeping a steady connection. The view was generally fine indoors, though, so it's not exactly a deal-breaker.

The display is also a touchscreen. That's a neat feature for a budget device, but the Chromebook R 11 runs Chrome OS, based on the Google Chrome browser, which isn't optimized for touch. Leaving the touchscreen off altogether might have saved a bit more on the price, but that would've sacrificed the 360-degree hinge -- the Chromebook R 11's major selling point.

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Nate Ralph/CNET

I'm not convinced a Chromebook needs the hinge. Which isn't to say it doesn't work: The Chromebook R 11 slides effortlessly from the standard laptop shape into an arm-friendly tablet mode, ideal for scrolling through webpages. And when switching from one mode to the next, the Chrome browser will smartly transform from the standard window to a fullscreen mode that takes up the entire display. It's a smooth transition, reminiscent of Windows 10's Continuum.

Design cues from the hybrid-laptop space are making their way to budget devices, but Chrome OS is still based on a desktop browser, and making the browser full screen doesn't make it any easier to navigate bookmarks, or scoot around websites designed to be clicked with a mouse.

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Nate Ralph/CNET

The less-than-optimized touchscreen and swivelling hinge aren't really deal-breakers, and the rest of the package is well-suited to the Chromebook R 11's primary mission of getting stuff done at a decent price. The keyboard is spacious, offering ample travel distance with every press. The trackpad feels responsive. It isn't as smooth as some at the higher end of the spectrum, but it's precise enough to get the job done. The white plastic body is a little bright, and I wish there were more color options. But the aluminum lid is a nice touch, and lends the machine a bit of style (when closed, at least).

Connections and Performance

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Nate Ralph/CNET

The Chromebook R 11 is outfitted almost identically to the Lenovo 100S Chromebook. A full-sized SD card slot sits on the left, joined by a USB 3.0 port and the HDMI output, while a USB 2.0 port sits on the right side. The Chromebook R 11 also has 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.

The entry-level $279 model has an Intel N3150 processor, 2GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage space. Bumping the price up to $329 (£230, AU$465 converted) doubles the RAM to 4GB, which is the model reviewed here. I have a habit of getting a little reckless with tabs in Google Chrome, which can cause the machines equipped with 2GB of RAM, like the Lenovo 100S Chromebook, to slow to a crawl. But navigating plenty of sites while streaming music or videos never seemed to bog the beefier Chromebook R 11 down.

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Nate Ralph/CNET

The Chromebook R 11 also chugged along for 8 hours and 11 minutes on our streaming video battery drain test. That's a pretty good showing, and squeaks past the aforementioned Lenovo 100S Chromebook, which clocked in at 7 hours, 26 minutes. My own use was largely focused on a far less demanding regimen of writing and web surfing, and the Chromebook easily made it through two workdays before I needed to track down the charger.

Conclusion

Competition from Windows 10 machines like the HP Stream 11 have left Chromebooks in an awkward place, but Acer takes the right approach. The Chromebook R 11 keeps things cheap, but introduces enough stylish embellishments to lure in folks who might want a bit more than a bottom-end PC. Asus took much the same route with the hybrid Chromebook Flip C100, but that PC's weak Rockchip CPU leaves much to be desired in the performance department.

There's a lot riding on that hinge. Were I in the market for a cheap notebook, I'd still take the Windows 10 route. Pricing between Chromebooks and cheaper Windows 10 notebooks is competitive, and Windows leaves you with the option to load up on apps you're already familiar with, instead of being tied to a browser. Performance could be problematic if you skimp on RAM, but opt for the version with 4GB of RAM, temper your expectations, and you'll be fine.

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7.4

Acer Chromebook R11

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7Battery 8