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Hands-on with the Acer Chromebook 515: A toughened powerhouse
Acer is targeting tech enthusiasts and work from home types with the Chromebook 515, a fresh line of Chromebooks that offers plenty of power and workspace to get things done. Acer believes the Chromebook 515 is best matched with hybrid workers, techies, and even IT admins thanks to the highly configurable options and business-friendly features available to buyers.
This powerful machine offers more than just speedy performance and lots of ways to customize it. Find out what the device is like in our early Acer Chromebook 515 hands-on.
Lots to tweak
Acer says the Chromebook 515 will be available in a handful of base models, though it is still sorting out the details on exactly how many and what features will be on board each one. Here are the variables.
First and foremost, the screen. The 515 ships with a 15.6-inch FHD screen with 1,980 x 1,080 resolution. That makes for a 16:9 aspect ratio with wide viewing angles up to 170 degrees. The company calls this Acer ComfyView. It’s available in touch and non-touch versions.
Related: The best Chromebook deals
Due in part to the larger screen size, the 515 packs a full-sized keyboard complete with a 10-digit number pad. Acer saw fit to include an embedded fingerprint reader for biometric security. A backlight for the keyboard is universal to all models, which is appreciated. A large, Gorilla Glass-protected touchpad is also standard.
There are at least four processor variants from which to pick. At the top end of the range, you’ll find an 11th Gen Intel Core i7. This is followed by a more affordable Core i5 model and an even more affordable Core i3 model — all with either Intel Iris Xe or Intel UHD graphics. Serving as an entry-point is an Intel Pentium Gold processor variant. The LPDDR4X SDRAM memory can be configured up to 16GB and the PCIe NVMe SSD can be ranged up to 512GB. These options set the stage for a powerful machine. Acer didn’t spell out the minimum RAM and storage options.
Acer is taking the Chromebook 515’s potential as a work machine seriously when it comes to media. The device packs a shutter-protected user-facing camera and a dual-microphone array for video chats. Moreover, the included stereo speakers support DTS Audio and can be pushed to extreme volumes thanks to the Smart Amplifier.
See also: The best budget Chromebooks
Other standard features include Wi-Fi 6, a host of USB-A and USB-C ports, a headphone jack, a microSD card slot, and a full-sized HDMI port.
Does it measure up?
Acer lent us a pre-production, mid-range version of the Chromebook 515 so we could gather some first impressions.
It’s certainly a giant device. It’s not quite as big as the 17-inch Acer Chromebook 317 we looked at earlier this year, but it’s not far off. It measures 257.9 x 240.5 x 24.86mm and weighs in at a hefty 1.7kg (3.75lbs.) I’d call it noticeably bulkier and heavier than most 13- and 14-inch Chromebooks. The top lid is covered with aluminum, which contributes a bit to the weight, though the rest is a toughened plastic material. Speaking of tough, this puppy meets MIL-STD-810H, which means it can handle some rough treatment from time to time. The Acer Chromebook 515 left me with lots of confidence in the build quality and the strength of the chassis.
The screen is very good, but just sort of excellent. First, the side and top bezels are relatively thin though there’s a chunker of a chin below the display. The 16:9 aspect ratio is fine for this machine due to the screen’s size and yet some Chromebook makers (and buyers) are switching to 16:10 or 3:2 screens for more vertical workspace. The FHD resolution works. Websites and video content I sampled looked good.
What bugged me the most was the color profile, which is a bit warm. For example, the screen cannot accurately show pure whites. Instead, there’s a slight yellow cast to screens that should be bright white. This could be related to the pre-production nature of our unit. We sampled the non-touch version of the display, so we cannot comment on the screen’s responsiveness to touch input right now.
Acer did a fine job with the keyboard and trackpad. The deck is nice and firm, which means there’s no bounce when you’re typing with force. The keys are a good size and travel is just right. Those who deal with numbers will be happy to have the dedicated digit pad, though the keys are slightly smaller than the standard letter keys. I’m glad the arrow keys are full-sized.
The dedicated fingerprint reader is a great way to secure the Chromebook 515.
The trackpad is a good size, though some might long for something a bit bigger. Acer really dialed in a nice feel with the polished Gorilla Glass, which is incredibly smooth under the fingers. Last, the dedicated fingerprint reader, situated off to the right, is a great way to secure the Chromebook 515. I was able to train it easily and it worked consistently and quickly for unlocking the device. Acer says fingerprints are stored locally rather than in the cloud.
Port selection is quite good. On the left edge you’ll find USB-C and HDMI ports along with the combo 3.5mm jack. A full-size HDMI port is always something I appreciate. The right edge holds a second USB-C port as well as a USB-A port, Kensington lock, and microSD memory card slot. These provide enough flexibility for the peripherals you may need at work or at home.
Acer claims the stereo speakers can pump out 256% more volume than most standard laptops. I can’t attest to that, exactly, and yet I can say that it spanked the max volume of my 2014-era MacBook Pro. Seriously, the Chromebook 515 can dial up crazy levels of sound. It’s mostly balanced (for a laptop) though at the highest volume setting the sound did start to distort some.
As for performance, Acer lent us the Core i3 model with 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and Intel UHD graphics. We weren’t allowed to run any benchmarks due to it being a pre-production unit, but we can say that this model performed very well under normal usage for a Chromebook. I was sure to load up two dozen Chrome tabs, plays some games, and play back lots of media. The 515 met every challenge without slowing down or spinning up the fans. Our guess is the Core i5 and Core i7 models will do even better. Power users should have no problem configuring a system that meets their performance needs.
More reading: The best Acer Chromebook for your needs and budget
On to the battery. All models of the Chromebook 515 pack a 56Wh lithium-ion battery. Acer’s literature says the battery should provide about 12 hours of running time. In my time with the machine, I saw an average of 10.5 hours. Again, however, given the pre-production nature of our sample unit that number could change with a final build.
The last thing I’ll comment on is the wireless performance. The Chromebook 515 includes Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0. These aren’t the absolute latest specs but they’re good enough for a Chromebook in 20201. I got excellent Wi-Fi performance on my home mesh network. The device had no trouble connecting and downloading or streaming large files.
Acer Chromebook 515 price and availability
Acer hasn’t provided us with a complete breakdown of all the prices for the various configurations. Instead, we can tell you what just two versions of the machine will cost.
Acer says the one model will include the 15.6-inch display, Core i5-1135G7, 8GB RAM, 128GB storage, and Intel Iris Xe graphics for $799.99. Another version steps the processor down to the Core i3-1115G4 with 8GB RAM, 128GB of storage, and Intel UHD graphics for $649.99. With those price points in mind, it’s clear there’s plenty of room to dial in a version of the Chromebook 515 that suits your budget and performance needs.
The Acer Chromebook 515 will go on sale throughout the EMEA region starting in October. Acer hasn’t specified when the device might reach North America or the US.
Find out more on the Chromebook 515 and a raft of other newly announced Acer Chromebooks here.