With a market flooded with literally hundreds of different laptops, you'd think that manufacturers would make a strong effort to distinguish each device and make it stand out over its rivals. Weirdly, that never seems to happen, and the avalanche of confusingly titled, samey-looking laptops continues apace.
Yes, a few brands make an effort towards uniqueness, most notably Apple's sleek and stylish MacBook range and Microsoft's 2-in-1 hybrid Surface laptops. But otherwise, it's pretty difficult for the average consumer to tell laptops apart, or to know why they should pick one over the other.
Acer's new Chromebook Vero 514, however, does have a clear selling point: its environmental friendliness. The big news here is that it uses 30 per cent recycled plastic in the chassis and screen bezel, and 50 per cent in the keycaps and audio speakers. The packaging, too, is made from 90 per cent recycled paper, cardboard or other natural fibres, plus part of it can be reused as a laptop stand.
Acer is clearly proud of all this, proclaiming this Chromebook to be "For Planet Earth" across both the packaging and the device itself. And the eco theme has also informed the design, which looks purposely low-fi and cardboardy. But is this a case of style over substance? Or are the virtue-signalling qualities of the Vero 14 matched by top-level functionality performance?
Acer Chromebook Vero 514: price & availability
I reviewed the base model of the Acer Chromebook Vero 514 14-inch, which is fitted with an Intel Core i3-1235U, 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD storage. It's currently available in the UK at Curry's for £499 and in the US for $499 in BestBuy.
Acer Chromebook Vero 514 review: design
Most laptops these days try to at least imitate the sleek, metallic look of MacBooks, even if they are made of plastic. This device, however, takes a defiantly low-key approach, to create a chassis that looks like grey, ageing cardboard. Furthermore, it's dotted with random yellow and blue speckles, to the extent that I keep thinking I've spilled bits of my lunch on it.
Personally, I'm not a fan of this look; maybe it's because I'm responsible for the kit I review and have to pay if I break it; so every five minutes I'm having kittens that I've damaged it in some way! That said, online reviewers – both journalists and general consumers – seem to like this unique visual approach, and I'm impressed with Acer for trying something different, at least.
The functional aspects of the design, however, worked well for me. The backlit keyboard is comfortable and familiar-feeling, with large, spongy and responsive keys, a nice big and satisfying trackpad, and a dedicated button to bring up your Chrome apps menu above the Shift key.
I also like how Acer have (faintly) highlighted the 'e' and 'r' keys in yellow. This simple device does help you navigate the layout and avoid typos, as well as adding a bit of aesthetic quirkiness. The main negative, as with so many laptops these days, is the lack of a number pad.
Finally, I found the 1080p webcam did an excellent job of reproducing colours and coping in low-light conditions on my Zoom and Teams calls. Given how much online video communications we do these days, that's a big plus – reducing the need to invest in a separate external webcam.
Acer Chromebook Vero 514 review: screen & speakers
Want to watch TV and movies on your Chromebook? Then you're well served by this 14-inch, Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS LCD display.
It's not a touchscreen, and the refresh rate is a measly 30Hz, so this is very much not a gaming laptop: check out the Acer Chromebook 516 GE if that's your priority. Neither is it 4K, so if that's a deal-breaker for you, you'll prefer the Acer Swift Edge.
However, both of those alternatives cost a lot more, and for casual Netflix and YouTube viewing, the picture quality, colour reproduction and viewing angles offered by the Chromebook Vero 514 is perfectly decent.
What's a little more disappointing is the audio from the two downward-facing speakers. It's not terrible, exactly, but it is a little bit tinny. That won't matter if you use headphones, but otherwise you might need to buy external speakers, taking the shine off the otherwise affordable price.
Acer Chromebook Vero 514 review: performance & battery life
Chromebooks generally run fast, because they're free of the bloat that weighs down the Windows and Mac operating systems. On the downside, that means you can't run a lot of software, from Microsoft Office to Adobe Photoshop, but there are normally equivalents that can do a similar job, and the appeal of faster overall computing makes Chromebooks tempting to many people.
In this case, that appeal is very strong, because the Chromebook Vero 514's 12th Gen Intel chip makes everything run very fast indeed. I'm a serial tab-opener, and got to more than 15 at one stage (editor's note: you should see mine, it's way worse), one of which was running hi-res video, without any slowdown whatsover. Fan noise was pretty low throughout too.
Battery life is also impressive. I consistently got around eight to eight-and-a-half hours of general work and productivity from each charge. That use typically includes website surfing, word processing and watching YouTube videos. And when I ran the standard test of looping a Netflix video, I managed 13 hours 24 minutes, which is enough to last the longest of flights.
Acer Chromebook Vero 514 review: connectivity
Like a lot of modern laptops, the Acer Chromebook Vero 514 is disappointingly low on ports. On the left-hand side (see above), there's a USB 3.2 Type-C port, an HDMI port, and an audio jack. Meanwhile on the right side, there's a USB 3.2 Type-A port, another USB 3.2 Type-C port, and a Kensington lock.
And that's your lot; so if you want to connect a lot of devices to your Chromebook at once, or attach a monitor or two, you may need to invest in a USB-C hub. On the plus side, we like that you can choose to power your device from either the left- or right-hand USB-C slot.
Acer Chromebook Vero 514 review: verdict
The Acer Chromebook Vero 514 makes great claims for its eco-credentials, and the company should be applauded for innovating in this area. But we're not sure that using 30 per cent recycled plastic in your build is all that impressive in a world where MacBooks are made from 100 per cent recycled aluminium.
So the question remains: is this generally a good Chromebook to buy? If you want to watch movies in 4K, play AAA games via a streaming service or listen to music through speakers at audiophile quality, the answer is no. Otherwise, for most people looking for a straightforward Chromebook, the answer is likely yes.
You're getting a fast device with a decent screen that's more than capable of typical computing tasks, from surfing the web and checking emails to streaming HD content. It's got a quality webcam, making it perfect for anyone who does a lot of Zoom calls. And while the low-fi design might not be for everyone, it's certainly distinctive. All this, at a very reasonable price, means that this mid-range Chromebook offers excellent value.
If you can stretch to an extra £100/$100 or so, the Acer Chromebook Spin 713 offers the benefits of having a 360-degree hinge mechanism, as well as a 12th Gen Intel processor and a 2K (2265 x 1504) screen resolution, although some may dislike the 3:2 display aspect ratio.
For a 16:9 alternative at a similar price, consider the Asus Chromebook Flip C434, which again offers 360-degree flexibility and a fast Intel chip, although you will be dropping down to Full HD in terms of screen resolution.