The beauty of Chromebooks at school is that there are now a couple dozen models on the market to choose from, with a variety of screen sizes, processors and even a few with touch-screens for fingertip control. Acer’s Chromebook 13 CB-311 takes this variety a step farther with a 13-inch screen along with a new low-power processor that does better on battery life than performance.
At 0.7- by 12.8- by 8.9-inches, the all-white Acer Chromebook 13 is a lot of computer, compared to the latest 11.6-inch models. It weighs 3.2-pounds on its own and with its matching AC adapter, it travels at 3.7-pounds, roughly a pound heavier than the CB-311’s smaller cousins. Still, it easily fits into just about any backpack or school locker.
The system’s white case makes a statement – whether it wants to or not – compared to the black or gray Chromebooks that seem to be everywhere in schools. It looks great and I can imagine that kids will immediately see the CB-311’s surface as a sticker magnet. It also has more trouble hiding dirt and smudges than darker systems.
While it is well-designed and -made, the CB-13 lacks the reinforcements and ruggedized features that some of the latest 11.6-inch models have. Inside, the CB-311 uses a 2.1GHz Nvidia Tegra K1 processor. Based on ARM’s Cortex A15 hardware, it has four computing cores in addition to an innovative processing section dedicated to power-saving that helps it to get every last minute out of its battery.
Its 13.3-inch screen can show HD resolution, but can neither fold flat on a desk nor has a touch option as is the case with Acer’s and Dell’s 11.6-inch Chromebooks. Unlike many of its peers, the CB-311 comes with a high-power graphics engine that is descended from gaming computers. It has 192 computational cores.
At $300, it is a genuine bargain that is priced like many systems with smaller screens, such as Samsung’s Exynos-powered Chromebook 2. But, for those who need to cut back, there’s also a very economical $225 model that is identical, except that it has a more conventional wide-XGA screen.
In addition to 2GB of RAM, the system has 16GB of storage space, which should be plenty to get through a school year. If that’s not enough, you can add capacity with the SD card slot and the CB-311includes 100GB of online GoogleDrive storage space for two years. After that, it’s about $24 a year.
It has great connection potential with two USB 3.0 ports (one in the back and one on the side) as well as full-size HDMI and audio jacks. While the system has 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0, like most Chromebooks it does without a wired LAN connector. It worked fine with an off-the-shelf USB-to-Ethernet converter for those who like being tethered to the network.
The CB-311 has a large touchpad and a responsive keyboard with white lettering on 19.5-milimeter black keys. They’re comfortable to use, but aren’t backlit, which would have been an advantage during projector-based teaching. It also lacks Dell’s latest innovation, the student activity light that can signal the teacher that attention or help is required.
Above the display is a Web cam that can capture 1,280 by 800 resolution video streams and should do just fine for Web journals, video conferences and even snapshots of a lab. Unfortunately, the CB-311’s speakers point down onto the desk and can sound dull and muffled.
While this points to a powerful Chromebook for tackling the classroom’s toughest teaching tasks, there’s something missing: performance. While it does OK and handled all the apps I threw at it, the CB-311 lacks the speed and command that are available with Chromebooks like Dell’s Chromebook 11 and other non-Tegra-based Acer systems.
For instance, it took 10.2-seconds to start the CB-311 up, 3-seconds longer than Acer’s C720p model and scored 1,323 and 614.5 miliseconds on the Peacekeeper and SunSpider benchmarks. That translates into roughly half the performance potential of many other mainstream Chromebooks.
The payoff is that its 3,200 miliamp-hour battery pack was able to continuously play WiFi-based video for 9 hours and 10 minutes. That’s more than twice what many other Chromebooks can run for and more than an hour and a half longer than the newest Dell or Acer 11.6-inch Chromebooks.
That could mean that with the CB-311, you might no longer need to carry the AC adapter with you and always be on the look-out for AC outlets for a quickie charge. With luck, you might even be able to get away with charging the system every other night. That sounds like a good lesson plan to me.
+ HD screen
+ USB 3.0
+ 100GB of online storage
+ Nearly 10-hours of battery life
+ Quad-core processor
- Low performance potential