Acer delivers a top performer with a solid build, more than earning its high price tag and setting a benchmark for design.
Unboxing Acer's latest business-class Chrome OS convertible laptop, the Acer Chromebook Spin 13, reveals an overall design that is just plain classy and gorgeous to look at. However, the most prolific of the platform's OEMs often places a focus on aesthetics with its devices and that's hardly a good way to measure any computer. Fortunately, the beauty here runs more than skin deep and the company also chose to justify the just-under-$900 price tag with similarly high-quality workhorse components and features. Nearly every aspect of the Chromebook Spin 13 is as perfect as can be expected, from its high-resolution display accompanied by a Wacom EMR stylus to its backlit keyboard and two dual-purpose USB Type-C ports. Those aspects that aren't perfect, meanwhile, aren't too hard to overlook with consideration for the device's intended uses. In short, this is a laptop that is well deserving of a closer look and consideration for those in the market for a higher-quality 2-in-1 Chromebook experience.
Acer’s new Chromebook Spin 13 is sold at $899.99 under the model designation CP713-1WN-55HT and features a 13.5-inch QHD+ IPS ten-point multitouch display set at a resolution of 2256 x 1504 and a ratio of 3:2. That panel has viewing angles of up to 170 degrees and is topped by a standard HD webcam with dual microphones and super high-dynamic-range imaging built in. Those are set into an all-aluminum frame measuring in at 12.19 x 9.68 x 0.67 inches with a weight of 3.5 lbs. Opposite the touchscreen, when in a more standard clamshell orientation, a backlit full-size keyboard is accompanied by a Gorilla Glass-coated touchpad. The edges hold two USB Type-C and one USB Type-A port for transfers, in addition to a 3.5mm combination audio jack, volume and power keys, and a micro SD card reader. Dual high-definition I2S audio supporting stereo speakers round out the external elements of this Chrome OS device and the whole package is backed by a One-year International Traveler’s Warranty.
Internally, the latest version of Chrome OS is driven by an eight-generation quad-core Intel Core i5-8250U processor joined with an integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620 chip for visuals. The former of those features 6MB of Smart Cache and a base clock of 1.6GHz. That will be boosted up to 3.4GHz when needed and is backed by 8GB of LPDDR3 SDRAM and 64GB of expandable eMMC solid-state storage. Connectivity is provided via an Intel-built chip that enables dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac coupled with Acer’s proprietary Nplify feature for 2 x 2 MIMO networking. Bluetooth 4.2 is included for localized wireless and accessories connections. A TPM chip is included to keep encryption keys and private data safe. Meanwhile, power is delivered to the Acer Chromebook Spin 13 via a 54Wh 4670mAh 3-cell Li-Ion battery that the company claims will let users get up to 10-hours of life between charges.
Aside from the model that we received for our review, Acer has a total of 4 other variants for business customers and one for a wider audience that was recently made available on Amazon. The chief difference between all of the configurations is in terms of RAM, storage, and processor, beginning with the entry model, designated "CP713-1WN-37G5," at $699.99. That ships with an 8th-Gen dual-core Intel Core i3-8130U clocked at 2.2GHz backed by 4GB RAM and 64GB storage. Moving up from there, we find model number "CP713-1WN-385L." All of the specs from that entry model are kept for this Chromebook with the exception of the RAM, boosted up to 8GB for $799.99. A further step up, just above our review unit and also the model currently available on Amazon, is the "CP713-1WN-53NF." That model features the same specs and the same price as our review unit but pushes the storage up by double to 128GB. Lastly, "CP713-1WN-59KY" represents the best of the bunch, boasting nearly identical specifications to our review unit while doubling both storage and RAM to 128GB and 16GB, respectively, for just $100 more - landing at a price of $999.99.
As mentioned above, Acer has opted to build its new Chromebook primarily out of aluminum. That’s not really too uncommon in modern devices in the category, even at the budget end of the spectrum. However, the OEM has taken the quality of its build and aesthetics to a completely different level compared to those and most other devices. For starters, the Chromebook Spin 13 is sold in a color Acer calls “Steel Gray” that closely resembles gun-metal gray under direct daylight-toned lights but which has an almost imperceivable red or purple shift in tone under different lighting. That’s accented by polishing around edges, whether that’s the outer edges of either the lid or keyboard base or the inner edges around the Gorilla Glass-coated multitouch mouse pad. The effect of that is that edges have a well-defined and silvery glint that matches nicely with the 360-degree hinges. By contrast, the backlit keyboard’s keys are a darker black color, falling in line with the thin bezels surrounding the display and the color of the device's garaged Wacom EMR-powered Acer active pen stylus.
Beyond just looking good, either through the use of those colors or material science, the casing also seems to be particularly good at repelling fingerprints and dust or particulates. On the design front, the only aesthetic problem we noted is a very slight lip at the front which appears when the tablet is folded into its tablet configuration. It's not a big lip by any means and shouldn't cause issues that might be caused if it were, but it is there and does take away from the overall premium feel. Conversely, there is a tiny protrusion along the top of the display itself that acts to the contrary. That essentially gives consumers something, albeit an almost unnoticeably small something, to grip when they go to open the device up. It's a minuscule detail but, by contrast to the experience of opening a laptop or Chromebook with completely smooth edges and nothing to grip, it makes a big difference in terms of comfort without taking away from the design.
The hardware itself is also well-made and includes plenty of ports, sensors, and other details that make using the Chromebook Spin 13 enjoyable, in addition to showcasing the apparent longevity of Acer’s latest creation. For example, the buttons all have a solid click to them when pressed and the key travel, while not advertised by the OEM, provides enough depth to feel substantial without becoming tiresome. The hinges that allow for operation in tablet, tent, stand, or laptop mode rotate smoothly without any sign of jitter or wiggle. Built-in sensors such as an accelerometer and gyroscope help to ensure that switching between those modes is seamless and easy, as well as acting as the basis for added functionality in some Android or Web Store applications. Similarly, the ports, which include a single USB 3.1 Type-C plug next to the buttons as well as another one of those, accompanied by a standard USB 3.0 Type-A port, MicroSD card reader, and 3.5mm input-output jack each fit very snugly in place. There’s no jostling to be felt, lending to the idea that these will probably last as long as can realistically be expected. The same can be said of the garaged EMR stylus, which is housed along the bottom edge of the keyboard housing and offers precision drawing or writing thanks to Chrome OS’s system-level stylus UI and support. The stylus itself is well-made and fits naturally in-hand.
One exception to the generally great build here is the fans, which are required by the CPU and sit at the back of the device under vents. Those are smoothly incorporated into the design but are also loud by comparison to most Chromebooks - which are typically fanless. The noise seems to be quieter than many of the Chromebook Spin 13’s peers in the Chrome OS category, with consideration for those that have fans, and it won’t come close to comparing to that experienced with a high-end gaming PC. However, it’s also most definitely there and won’t go unnoticed by most users. Thankfully, the dual high-definition High-Definition 12S stereo speakers can, during business presentations or chat sessions, easily drown that out completely. Unfortunately, these are definitely not speakers meant for music media consumption. Low tones in music get washed out almost entirely, especially when the device is in laptop mode on a table or desk. High tones override everything, in the meantime. That gets somewhat better when the speakers aren’t pointing directly at another surface, such as when placed in a tent or stand configuration. That’s not necessarily going to be a deal-breaker since the device is designed for business use but we did expect a slightly better experience from a nearly $900 laptop. Headphones via either Bluetooth or the 3.4mm jack solve the problem immediately. On the other hand, the integrated HD webcam performs more than adequately for video conferencing or similar actions.
As highlighted by the specs listed above, the display that was chosen by Acer is not the typical netbook-style screen. The company hasn’t listed an exact brightness metric but the Chromebook Spin 13 seems to perform well either indoors or out. When used inside, even under relatively bright lighting, the setting tied to that only needs to be at around half brightness to ensure that everything that's shown on-screen is clear and distinct. In fact, even when used outdoors under bright sunlight, turning the brightness all the way up is not required. As with nearly every other aspect of this device, responsiveness from the 10-point multitouch panel feels flawless while the 3:2 aspect ratio ensures that there’s more to see and actions completed in the web browser have a more fullscreen feel. Better still, the high resolution keeps any pixelation to a bare minimum - we actually didn’t notice any at all - and a 170-degree viewing angle means that anybody sitting in front of the display from nearly any angle has a good view. That’s going to be helpful for business meetings, video conferencing, and consuming media alike but users also have the option of buying a separate adapter to connect to secondary panels via the built-in USB Type-C ports if need be.
As with other Chrome OS devices, there’s not a lot of variation or inclusions that stand out with the Chromebook Spin 13. As of this writing, the device is running Chrome OS version 69.0.3497.120 but will be running Chrome 70 in short order. That means, of course, that Linux applications and Android applications are fully supported for those who need secondary software across a number of business and enterprise categories, with plenty of productivity software available to suit more general uses. Apps commonly found in GSuite, for example, are included from the very start, allowing users to create rich text documents, comprehensive spreadsheets with a wealth of options for graphs and charts, slideshows, send emails, and more. Further, more custom services can be accessed by business users via Google Cloud or similar services, including video conferencing, file sharing, VoIP and chats, or device management services if those are required.
Aside from the web apps included, full versions can be downloaded via Android, as well as apps specifically designed other industries. Those are backed up further by web extensions from the Chrome Web Store, cloud services, and printing services as long as a compatible printer is on-network or an appropriate app or web service can be found to augment the functionality. The firmware underpinning those is lightweight and very responsive thanks to some great optimization in the underlying code. Moreover, it’s arguably much more secure than other platforms. In effect, most tasks associated with the purpose this Chromebook was built for can readily be accomplished with the Chromebook Spin 13. This is a business-level convertible laptop through and through.
Battery Life & Performance
Performance and battery can be hard metrics to pin down and benchmarks don't tend to tell the whole story - or can be misleading by design - but serve as a good baseline for determining an average real-world performance in most cases. We did use slightly different benchmarks than usual here since this is a business-first machine and will be expected to perform certain tasks associated with that, in addition to our usual run of GeekBench 4 for battery testing. The primary tests focused on tasks such as rapidly formulating data into charts and graphs, image processing, and loading up datasets. The results of those with the Acer Chromebook Spin 13, showed exactly the kind of performance we’d expect from Intel’s Core i5-8250U CPU and its integrated UHD Graphics 620 chip. The Chromebook Spin 13 served up scores of 4276 and 10979 for single-core and multi-core processing, respectively. In terms of battery life, Geekbench showed just under 6 hours with the CPU maxed completely out for almost the entire test, screen dimming turned off, and brightness turned all the way up.
Moving past the benchmarks, we also put this to the test by using it in day-to-day work tasks, although it’s important to note that what those are changes from user to user and across industries and businesses. In this case, that includes opening dozens of Chrome browser tabs as well as word processing and the editing, uploading, downloading, and fixing of medium to very large images. For a more accurate, overall feel for the level of performance we also split some of that work among applications and web apps. Regardless of which was used or what task was being performed, the Chromebook Spin 13 proved to be a real workhorse. It handled everything we threw at it and didn’t show any signs of slowing down despite having more than a couple dozen websites open and image processing going on at the same time.
That didn’t change when adding multiple downloads or trying to load multiple websites at once. For the time being and at least for the foreseeable future, there really shouldn’t be any software that can be installed and run on Chrome OS that will impact performance. Moreover, no level of plausible multitasking seems likely to cause enough lag or other issues to cause problems, let alone crash Acer’s latest Chrome business laptop. For the sake of comparison, opening more than a dozen tabs on Samsung’s Chromebook Plus while opening a gallery containing more than 25MB of photos and minor edits has - in our experience - caused more than a few issues. On the battery front, we saw around 8.5 to 9 hours of battery life on average, which is below the claimed span of time but still better than expected. Moreover, the Chromebook Spin 13 lasted several days without any real drain at all when on standby mode and charges up completely in under an hour. So it shouldn’t die if users forget to turn it off between tasks as long as it goes into standby mode and won’t take long to charge up enough to finish off the day if that just isn’t enough.
Performance is phenomenal
The all-metal build focuses on fine details and quality
Keys are solid and clicky, without being loud
Bright responsive screen and Gorilla Glass touchpad
Garaged EMR stylus is included
Android Apps, Chrome Web Store apps, Linux apps available out of the box
Battery life is great and charging is fast
Two USB Type-C ports for charging and video out
170-degree display viewing angle
Fan noise is noticeable when working on more intensive tasks
Speakers don't reflect premium specs
Slight keyboard overhang in tablet mode
The easiest way to describe the Acer Chromebook Spin 13 would be to say that this is one device that feels as good to use as it looks. Between the external aspects - from its backlit keyboard to many useful ports and overall high-quality design - to its internal specifications, this is very nearly as close to perfect as a Chromebook could be. A couple of small caveats, such as the louder-than-usual fan and tinny speakers do hold that back. However, those aren’t uncommon in laptops, even when those laptops are above the $850 range and shouldn’t be dealbreakers except for those looking for a media machine. In fact, Acer's Chromebook Spin 13 is bound to be one of the best Chromebooks to hit the market in 2018 if not the best.
Should you buy the Acer Chromebook Spin 13?
With that said, whether or not it is worth the purchase is going to depend very much on the needs of the prospective customer. Most users in the consumer segment of the market will never come close to needing as much performance as the Acer Chromebook Spin 13 delivers. Chrome OS doesn't quite support full desktop gaming yet and nearly every capability a Chromebook can have will be better served by devices well below $650. On the other hand, nearly every aspect of this convertible laptop makes it easy to see why Acer is aiming for the business sector here. That's not to say that's the only market it's suitable for, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is certainly made to serve that market the best. If a high-end, top performance laptop falls within a consumer's needs and Chrome OS fits the bill then the Acer Chromebook Spin is going to be worth every bit of its $899.99 price tag.