Once upon a time, gaming on a Chromebook meant running lightweight mobile games like Angry Birds that didn't demand too much in the way of system resources. If you wanted to run AAA games and get suitably high frame-rates though, you'd need a console like a PS5 or XBox Series X or a dedicated gaming PC.
Recently, though, that's all changed. Services like Nvidia's GeForce Now and Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass are moving games to the cloud, allowing you to access them on lightweight devices such as Chromebooks, tablets and smart TVs, while the platform's own servers handle the majority of the grunt work.
To take advantage of this clever tech, Acer has launched the Chromebook 516 GE (that's 'Gaming Edition'), with a suitably fast processor and large, colourful screen. And even if you're not into gaming, its superior specs (when compared with the average best Chromebook out there) means it's worth looking at for general use too.
But does the Chromebook 516 GE live up to its promise in practice? I got hold of a review model to find out...
Acer Chromebook 516 GE review: Price & availability
The Acer Chromebook 516 GE is available in Europe and the US, starting at £849/€899/$650. So it varies rather substantially depending on your location.
It's promised to arrive in the UK in the first quarter of 2023. We're not entirely sure why it's so much cheaper in America than it is elsewhere, but such is economics in today's world, eh?
Acer Chromebook 516 GE review: Design
While the 16-inch Acer Chromebook 516 GE is beautifully big, it doesn't feel at all clunky or cumbersome. Its aluminium chassis, with titanium grey finish, feels sleek and stylish yet sturdy. And while it's not the lightest laptop around at 1.7kg, it's still perfectly portable enough.
There's also a nice touch underneath, in the form of rubberised feet that run almost its entire width, which prove particularly handy when the Chromebook is sitting on your lap, providing some extra airflow.
The keyboard is well spaced and there's a lovely sponginess to the keys, which are nice and responsive. The trackpad, made of Ocean Glass, is nice and big, and the 'W', 'A', 'S' and 'D' keys are physically highlighted.
My only niggle is the backlight on the keyboard isn't that bright, so it can be difficult to see in daylight. The lack of customisable gaming keys also seems like an oversight on a dedicated gaming Chromebook.
Acer Chromebook 516 GE review: Screen and speakers
The jewel in the crown of the Acer Chromebook 516 GE is the generous 16-inch display with a 16:10 aspect ratio and a WQXGA resolution of 2560 x 1600, also known as 1440p or 2K. In my testing, it consistently provided sharp colours and good levels of brightness, plus the screen's matte finish helped keep glare to a minimum when I was outdoors. Best of all, the high refresh rate of 120Hz means smooth framerates when gaming, although it's a shame you can't turn this down when you're not playing games, to help conserve your battery.
Aside from games, such a lovely 2K screen also makes this a good purchase for anyone wanting to stream movies and TV shows in high resolution. And even if you're just using this Chromebook for opening Google Docs, the larger display size gives you extra scope for placing multiple windows next to each other, for better productivity. Note that it's not a touchscreen, though.
Finally, the audio from the two top-firing speakers is decent, if not amazing; providing a solid audio experience for gaming, entertainment and video calls, even at maximum volume.
Acer Chromebook 516 GE review: Connectivity
The Chromebook 516 GE isn't quite as thin as some ultralight laptops, but that means there's room for a lot more ports. And so connectivity is another strong suit here.
On the left side, you'll find a USB-C port and a 2.5Gbps Ethernet port for a wired connection. There's also a 3.5mm audio jack for connecting a headset or speakers.
The inclusion of a 2.5G Ethernet port is particularly useful for cloud gaming, as a hardwired connection can make for a more stable gaming experience compared to the drop-outs you can get over less reliable Wi-Fi.
On the right side, the Acer offers a single USB 3.2 port, an HDMI port, a second USB-C port that supports 10Gbps transfer speeds, and a Kensington lock notch for physical security.
There's also support for external displays and TVs, thanks to that HDMI port and support to DisplayPort over USB-C, should you prefer to experience your games on an even larger screen.
Acer Chromebook 516 GE review: Performance
Featuring a 12th Gen Intel Core i5-1240P processor, Intel Iris Xe graphics, and 8GB of RAM, the Chromebook 516 GE was full of promise in terms of performance. And it turned out to be as good in practice as it was on paper.
Even browsing with multiple tabs, with a 4K YouTube video running in the background, the 516 GE didn't break a sweat. In fact, it was so responsive, it actually took me by surprise. I'd forgotten quite how fast a well-specced Chromebook can run, not weighed down by the bloat of an operating system like Windows or MacOS.
At the same time, you will be missing out on a lot of software that's not available for ChromeOS, from Microsoft Office to Photoshop to 3DS Max, so there's a compromise to be made there.
The main takeaway, though, is that if you're looking for a Chromebook, this is the fastest one I've ever used. And whether I was writing articles, editing videos, using Google Drive, consuming entertainment, or just browsing the web, I pretty much experienced zero lag throughout.
But what of gaming performance? Well, the Chromebook 516 GE is optimised for both Nvidia's GeForce Now cloud-based gaming service and Xbox Cloud Gaming, which means you can run full-blooded AAA titles on this device, at 1600p / 120fps on the former and 1600p / 60fps on the latter.
Having heard reports of issues with the Xbox service (which were more to do with Microsoft than the Chromebook end), I instead opted to try out Nvidia's GeForce Now. This currently costs $19.99 per month or $99.99 for six months, but you get a three-month trial with your purchase. That gives you access to over 1,400 games from Steam, EGS, EA Origin, Ubisoft Connect, and GOG.com.
I tried out Cyberpunk 2077 and Assassins Creed and they were both perfectly playable on the 516 GE, with smooth framerates and minimal lag or stuttering, even when I switched from wired Ethernet to my (admittedly decent) Wi-Fi connection.
With multiplayer games like Fortnite, and Apex Legends, I experienced bit of latency at times compared with other, more expensive gaming PCs. Super-competitive players will find that frustrating. But for a casual gamer who's mainly out to, you know, have fun, I don't think it's really an issue.
As for battery life, the generous 65Wh battery did a good job, keeping me going throughout a full day of work (around seven hours) on a single charge with 70 per cent screen brightness. As expected, this dropped down to between four and five hours when gaming, but that's still pretty decent going.
Acer Chromebook 516 GE review: Verdict
If you want a gaming laptop for less, then the Acer Chromebook 516 GE is a good option. By running AAA titles via Nvidia's GeForce Now, it can save you a lot of cash compared with a higher-specced machine (albeit moreso in the US than in the UK and Europe, where it seems a little overpriced by comparison).
We experienced a little latency on multi-player games, which might put off super-competitive players, but for casual gamers it does a great job. It's a decent laptop too, and its 16-inch display with a high refresh rate of 120Hz and a WQXGA resolution of 2560 x 1600 makes it great for watching TV and movies. Connectivity is especially strong, compared with the limited number of ports on many modern MacBooks and Windows laptops.
It's not perfect though: the keyboard backlight isn't very bright, and we'd have liked to see customisable keys. It's disappointing, too, that the screen isn't a touchscreen. And more generally, if you only want a laptop for basic tasks like checking social media and emails, surfing the web and making Zoom calls, then this gaming-focused Chromebook is probably overkill. But for gamers and anyone who consumes a lot of media on their laptop, it's a solid choice.
Good alternatives to the 516 GE include the Asus Chromebook Vibe CX55 Flip (opens in new tab) and the Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming Chromebook – both of which have 16-inch screens and also support the Xbox Cloud Gaming and Nvidia GeForce Now platforms.
The Asus offers the advantage of being a 2-in-1 laptop, offering up to 512GB storage, and featuring a smooth 144Hz refresh rate. On the downside, its screen is lower resolution (Full HD) and it has a slightly older 11th Gen Intel processor.
The Lenovo, meanwhile, comes with a 12th Gen Intel Core i3 or i5 CPU processor and a 71Whr battery offering up to 11 hours' battery life, but again the resolution is just Full HD.