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Acer Chromebook 14 Review

It seems that these days all personal computers are laptop computers. The days of the desktop are pretty much over and laptops have become the new desktop computers. Tablet computers have their part to play in serious computing as well and there’s a lot of people out there that do a surprisingly large amount of work on their mobile phones as well.

One interesting aspect that has come from this is that people are using devices which offer less power than their desktop computers and are realising that they don’t really need power so much as responsiveness, portability and very fast access to their documents and data. Cloud storage has also created less need for large hard drives - all you now need is a wireless connection to the outside world and you’re ready to go.

With this very much in mind, Google have developed their Chromebook computer. Chromebooks are laptop computers with limited processing power, storage and software options but in turn offer excellent portability, rapid access and superb battery life. The primary problems with Chromebooks is the apparent lack of software and the fact that they really only work properly when connected to the internet. What I’ve come to realise though is that you really don’t need a lot of the features and functions that you would find on a full-blown PC. Admittedly the Chromebook would fail miserably with something like video editing or intense modern arcade games but this can be said for most laptop PC’s out there as well. Consider what serious work you do on your conventional laptop computer and then see if you can do them with a Chromebook. I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer is that you can - most of the time.

Chromebooks run the Chrome web browser. In addition to offering conventional web browsing functions, the application has developed considerably and now offers a hell of a lot of additional functionality - through the use of Chrome apps.

Whilst these Chrome based applications perhaps lack the power of Microsoft Office for example, they do still get the job done for the most part. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if most people could do more than 90% of their work using a machine like this. Tight integration with the various Google apps means that it’s extremely easy to switch between your primary computer and the Chromebook to get things done.

Hardware

The Acer Chromebook 14 has to be the best looking Chromebook out there in my opinion. At anything longer than arms length it looks like a MacBook. It is heavier than most ultrabooks though but it’s still a lightweight machine. The aluminium build lends the machine a solid feel but I suspect it’s susceptible to dents if manhandled.

For a machine which could reasonably be described as a personal digital assistant on steroids, the Acer 14 is nicely equipped with ports. Two full-sized USB 3 ports, a full sized HDMI port and a headphone/microphone socket - although it has to be pointed out that the machine does lack any kind of SD Card slots. Let’s face it, it’s easy to purchase an inexpensive card reader which can offer far more slots than what you would find on any laptop anyway. This can potentially limit the machine but it really is designed to run as lightweight as possible. It’s very simple to open the machine up and fit a larger SSD drive if you so wished.

Battery life if first rate - an easy all day usage and it charges pretty quickly too. Note that the device doesn’t use USB to charge though - like most laptop computers to have to use their own dedicated power supply. This is advantageous as it allows for much faster charging but it would have been really nice to have USB charging as an option.  

The machine runs completely silently - no fans required with this machine and the headphone socket works nicely - no distortion or excessive noise - makes an ideal machine for listening to music via Google Music whilst you’re working.

In Use

It’s fair to say that ownership of a machine like this means that you will have to be well and truly tied to the Google way of doing things but then again - why not? Google’s take on cloud computing is very effective and their working applications are more than good enough to get the job done.  The more I use this machine the more impressed I am with the complete concept. In the past I was an enthusiastic user of personal digital assistants and this is pretty much like a big version of one of them.One brilliant advantage gained in using a machine like this is that your work is automatically and virtually instantly synchronised with the cloud - allowing you to continue with your unfinished work on a desktop machine - or even your mobile phone. No need to copy onto a memory stick for transferring, it’s already happened.

The 4GB of RAM means that you can comfortably run more than one application at once without slowdown. For example I have run Google Play Music in one tab whilst editing text on another tab and copying pictures from my connected digital camera to Google Photos. No problem.

Whilst on the subject of connecting this - the full sized USB allows you to connect memory sticks, mice, external hard discs, digital cameras, mobile phones, MP3 players - pretty much anything you would connect to a laptop computer.

For those who like to experiment you can install the Developer ROM on this machine (which can also be easily reverted back to the Stable release whenever you wish) which offers the chance to try out the Google Play Store on the device and try out Android applications. Whilst this compatibility is far from complete, Google appear to be taking this seriously with regard to both the Chromebook future operating systems and the way applications for Android will hopefully be developed in the future.  All in all, it’s a great idea which will certainly enhance the usability of the laptop. Strangely enough - even though I’m an enthusiastic Android user, I haven’t bother doing this myself - mostly because I’m more than satisfied with what the Chromebook 14 has to offer out of the box.

If you’re seriously into experimenting, you can also install Linux on the machine although I believe this does involve having to open the machine up in order to set the write protect status of the device. Again, this really does enhance the value and usefulness of this brilliant machine. I believe the built-in SSD drive can also be upgraded to a larger model - this would definitely be useful if you were running Linux although perhaps not so necessary when running the stock Stable release.

So it’s fair to say that I consider the Acer Chromebook 14 to be an utterly superb machine. The only real criticisms I can level at it is the weight and the lack of an SD card slot. I’m not particularly bothered about having a backlit keyboard (I’m a touch typist) and the lack of applications is something that’s not really a problem for me either because the standard Google applications are more than good enough for my needs. No buyer’s remorse and absolutely no regrets.