Forget about slim bezels, slick styling or a super speedy CPU as often flaunted in the best laptops and best lightweight laptops. The Acer Chromebook 311 C733U has absolutely zero premium portable PC pretensions. Instead, it's all about bombproof computing at a price you can afford. Is that enough for it to be considered amongst today's best Chromebooks?
Running Google's browser-based Chrome OS rather than Windows, this laptop features a rugged design including spill-proof keyboard rubberised chassis edges. The feature set is basic, with just a couple of USB ports and a microSD reader, a compact 11.6-inch display and no touchscreen capability.
The Intel Atom-based CPU is likewise entry-level stuff, ditto the 4GB of system memory and 32GB of onboard storage. But then the remit here is reliable, everyday computing with a particular view to younger users. In other words, if you're looking for an affordable laptop that can take a beating from kids, Acer reckons it's got you covered. Question is, does it have sufficient computing power to get the basics done?
That's what this Acer Chromebook 311 review is here to discover. Is this a great cheap laptop, or would you be better opting for something else from the best laptops under £500?
Acer Chromebook 311 review: Design and build
Acer Chromebook 311 C733U: Specs
CPU: 1.1GHz Intel Celeron N4000 (quad-core, 4MB cache, up to 2.6GHz boost)
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 600
RAM: 4GB DDR4
Screen: 1.6-inch, 1,66 x 768, TN
Storage: 32GB eMMC
Ports: 1x USB C, 1x USB A
Connectivity: 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth
Camera: HD webcam
Weight: 1.25 kg
Size (WxHxD): 30.2 x 20.9 x 2.1cm
First the good news. The Acer Chromebook 311 C733U feels absolutely, positively impregnable. There's a rubberised border around the chassis designed to soak up some serious knocks. Just about everywhere this laptop is very, very solid. The keyboard bed is particularly sturdy and feels like it would survive someone jumping up and down on it.
What's more, the keyboard is also fluid resistant and features drainage holes on the bottom of the chassis to help evacuate bad spills. To be clear, this isn't a totally waterproof laptop. But it is intended to offer superior survivability in the face of the sort of daily thrills and spills that a kid's laptop will inevitably face.
Of course, at this price poin, you can't expect premium materials. Nor will you cut a contemporary thin-bezel look. The 11.6-inch screen is surrounded by very thick borders. But it's a neat design with a reasonably sized trackpad and a proper keyboard with proportions similar to most13-inch or 14-inch laptops. In other words, as a basic computing device the primary inputs will suit adults as much as children.
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Acer Chromebook 311 review: Specs and hardware
Up front and centre is the Acer Chromebook 311 C733U's 11.6-inch display. With 1,366 by 768 pixels, it's not full HD. Nor does it support touch input or offer IPS panel tech. It's an old school TN panel, which means pretty poor viewing angles and contrast. It's also not the brightest screen on Earth.
It's usable enough and the small 11.6-inch diagonal means that the pixel pitch isn't actually too bad, despite the low resolution. But adults used to larger displays will feel a little constrained, especially thanks to that limited vertical resolution that forces a fair old bit of scrolling.
Other vital stats start with an Intel Celeron N4000 CPU. It's a low-cost, low-power chip based on Intel's Atom rather than high performance Core architecture. It packs four cores but doesn't support Hyper Threading and tops out at 2.6GHz. Alongside the Celeron processor is 4GB of system memory and an eMMC SSD providing 32GB of local storage. It's all pretty low-end stuff, if predictably so given the price point.
As for connectivity, much depends on the specific version of the Acer Chromebook 311 in question. But our review unit has one USB Type-C port, one USB 3.1 Type-A port, a microSD reader and a headphone jack. And that's your lot. Speaking of sound, there are integrated stereo speakers that knock out decent volume but a thin and bass-free noise.
The USB-C port doubles as both the charging port and video-out port, the latter capacity supports full 4K displays. Rounding the main spec items is AC WiFi, an integrated HD webcam and a 3,920mAh battery claimed to be good for an impressive 12 hours.
Of course, never forget this is a ChromeOS rather than Windows laptop, with all that implies. It makes for arguably a less flexible device with a smaller software ecosystem of software and apps, plus less configurability. However, at this end of the market and on this kind of device, the light-footed ChromeOS can make Windows feel clunky, slow and overly complex.
Acer Chromebook 311 review: Performance
Acer Chromebook 311 review: Benchmarks
Jetstream 2: 52 points
Battery Life (movie playback test): 14 hours and 5 minutes
Thanks to the low-spec Intel processor, the Acer Chromebook 311 C733U comes with low expectations from a performance perspective. However, keep things within remit and it's actually a pretty impressive little portable.
Hooked up to an external 4K monitor, it's pretty remarkable to see it not only driving the screen at full resolution but rendering a high-quality 4K YouTube stream absolutely flawlessly. That's thanks to hardware video decode on the Celeron chip, rather than CPU grunt. But there's no doubting it gets the job done.It also demonstrates how video streaming on the modest 11.6-inch display is well, well within its capabilities. Less impressive, while we're talking video, is the integrated webcam. The image quality is pretty awful, the frame rate lagardly and there's quite a lot of lag. It's usable, to be sure, and at this price point something inevitably has to give. In this case, one of those things is a decent webcam, which you are conspicuously not getting.
As for broader system performance, Chrome OS feels fairly snappy and responsive, even on an external 4K display. There is simply no way that Windows would feel this responsive on the same hardware.
Of course, should you attempt to do something like encode HD video, you'll quickly bump into the Intel Celeron processor's limitation. And don't even think about doing any serious gaming. But for editing documents, watching video and browsing the web, this laptop does it all just fine.
As for battery life, in our video playback test looping a high quality 1080p movie stored locally, the Acer clocked over 14 hours. That's very impressive at this price point and means you can expect true all-day battery life.
Acer Chromebook 311 review: Verdict
Occasionally a device comes along that confounds expectations and transcends obvious limitations. The Acer Chromebook 311 C733U is one of those devices. With its fat bezels and low-quality TN screen, it makes a poor immediate impression. However, on closer inspection this is a well thought out little laptop. A lot of effort has gone into making it rugged and durable, including the rubberised chassis and splash-proof keyboard.
Meanwhile, performance is actually decent within remit thanks to the low demands of ChromeOS and good 2D video functionality. The same goes for battery life, which can genuinely be characterised as all day thanks to the low-power chip and low-demand operating system.
There are niggles, including the low quality webcam. But as a value proposition and assuming the screen doesn't put you off, this is a surprisingly effective and impressive device.