Acer announced a brand new Acer Chromebook Spin 311 (CP311-3H) today and the company was generous enough to send a preview unit to Android Headlines in advance. The gadget, for all intents and purposes, is positioned as a secondary or family device. Acer doesn't mean for it to replace anybody's high-end computer for heavier workloads. But, what I found in this preview, is that it can do just that.
Now, the device Acer announced is an octa-core MediaTek MT8183 processor-driven budget device. It paired that with 4GB of RAM, and 32GB storage — with up to a 64GB configuration. The company sent the higher-storage variant out for the hands-on preview. Acer packed that hardware into a lightweight convertible frame. That's smaller in terms of width and length than a piece of A4 paper. At its thickest, it's under three-quarters of an inch thin.
At 11.6-inches, the 1366 x 768 Multi‐touch display panel should have plenty of resolution and clarity too. And a 15-hour battery, according to Acer, should be more than enough to get most users through their day. So the Acer Chromebook Spin 311 is one device that definitely shouldn't be overlooked.
But let's take a deeper dive into the experience of using this device over that brief preview period.
Acer Chromebook Spin 311 is all about high-value comfort
The hardware here is definitely 'Acer'. Namely, it's lightweight and engineered to be as slim and sleek as possible. It manages to do that very well. The 11.41-inch by 8.11-inch frame weighs in at just over 2.2lbs. That makes this one of the smallest, lightest offerings on the market. And the edges slope upward on the keyboard side, making it feel even smaller than it actually is in-hand.
Acer surrounded the screen with oversized bezels, compared to what would be seen with more expensive hardware. But wasn't really an issue with the new Acer Chromebook Spin 311 during my preview test period. That leaves plenty of room to grip in tablet mode, just for starters. But the screen itself is also bright and vibrant. So I never really caught myself paying too much attention to the bezels during use.
For the most part, buyers will likely use this gadget like a laptop gadget, at any rate. And the extra bezel serves to also leave more room for a larger keyboard. That undoubtedly helped with the above-mentioned comfort during long typing sessions.
In fact, my preview of the Acer Chromebook Spin 311 quickly showed that it's among the most comfortable budget Chromebooks I've ever had the pleasure of typing on.
Now, the back edge doesn't lift as it does in some more expensive Chromebooks for better ergonomics. But the 1.6mm key travel and concaved keys went a long way toward making it a far more enjoyable experience. Or at least more enjoyable than some competitors.
The overall design, aside from being a 2-in-1 with blade-like swoops from the front to back, is also solid. Ports and buttons click in and through satisfactorily and the chamfered edges give the keyboard top a decidedly-less "budget" aesthetic.
The bright silver coloration helps with that premium appeal too. As does the solidity of the materials chosen — which appear to be plastic on closer examination but could as easily be lightweight aluminum. Regardless, this Chromebook is undoubtedly going to survive just fine. That's whether it's shoved into a backpack or laptop bag and carried around or left around the house for everybody to use.
This is, overall, a very nice looking laptop for the price and the build quality seems to match up with that.
The display and build cater especially to family and student use
Looking past the general aesthetics of this gadget and the build quality, Acer intends this Chromebook to be all about portability and family-friendly usability. Chrome OS, which we'll discuss momentarily, plays into that. But at the hardware level, so does the build.
During my preview of the Acer Chromebook Spin 311, I found that the device was easy to carry around. At the very least, it was easier to carry around than many heavier 11-inch-class Chromebooks I've tested. But, even a short preview period with the Acer Chromebook Spin 311, showed immediately how good the display is. At its size and resolution, images, video, and web content appear crisp and clear. It's also more than bright enough for outdoor use, if not under direct sunlight.
The hinges on this gadget fold in and out of place smoothly too, without too much force. So it's easy enough to switch between clamshell, tent, stand, and tablet modes. Acer built the hinge very well. Even in stand mode, I never felt like it was going to give out while playing touchscreen Android games.
The frame of this Chromebook didn't give too much under pressure either and flex was kept to a minimum. But Acer's choice of materials wasn't all that kept this device easy to grab-and-go with either. Or that make it well suited to portability and family use.
This Chromebook actually comes standard with an antimicrobial Corning Gorilla Glass display panel as well. So it should be comfortable for buyers to allow even younger family members to use the gadget. And it's going to do a bit better if it's taken out and about. Odors and other results of microbial clingers just aren't going to become apparent. Or at least not as apparent as they would on devices without the extra protection.
So users should feel more than comfortable using this Chromebook, indoors or out. Or for letting younger family members get some screen-time in.
How's the audio and output on the Chromebook Spin 311?
One area the Acer Chromebook Spin 311 did seem to fall short, however, was on audio. The speakers are clear and clearly represent the full spectrum of audio, insofar as I can tell. But they aren't very loud at all.
In fact, the speakers are only clearly audible at any distance when the speakers are facing upward. That's fixable via Bluetooth headphones over Bluetooth 4.2 or via the built-in 3.5mm audio jack. But it's a problem otherwise. That's also something Acer may or may not have addressed with the final production units.
The wide field‐of‐view webcam and built-in mic, on the other hand, perform as well as can be expected. Both components should make this Chromebook well-suited for video conferences or calls between friends and family.
Outputting the display was easy too. At least with my preview unit, that's thanks to a nifty USB-C adapter packed in with the box. That plugs directly into the USB-C port and outputs via either HDMI or DisplayPort cable. So it's entirely possible to take this on-the-go for a meeting presentation. Or to output to a television or other larger display with this gadget.
That's going to be a bonus for those who need something portable and family-friendly. Particularly where they also need a device that can be plugged up for media sharing to a larger screen such as at the office or for family time. Conversely, that will serve college students well too, in terms of both portability and adaptability.
Chrome OS brings welcome familiarity & functionality
Of course, there was nothing 'preview' about Chrome OS, even on a preview unit for the Acer Chromebook Spin 311. Google's operating system is built for two things. Speed and security. And this Chromebook showcases that in all of its glory, starting with start-ups and updates that take just a few seconds.
With the Acer Chromebook Spin 311, folding the hinge over automatically adapts the display and UI. Specifically, that's between standard Chrome OS and Tablet Mode. And that's an almost immediate transformation.
Both modes, because this is effectively a walled-garden, will be familiar to users of the operating system. All of the latest gestures, built-in features such as Assistant, Linux support, and Android Apps, are present and accounted for.
As always, Chrome OS also means users are gaining a secure OS that works for any number of use cases. As with all Chromebooks, security updates are automatic over the next several years. And users won't need to wait a long time for those updates to install.
Of course, because Acer opted for Chrome OS here, it coupled all of that with the operating system's other capabilities. For instance, smartphone-based smart unlocking, SMS messaging via Google's Messages app, and Google Assistant.
This Chromebook is more than ready to take advantage of all of that.
This Chromebook is great for everyday performance
The preview model sent to me by Acer was the better specced of two available Chromebook Spin 311 models. It featured a MediaTek-built processor, specifically the MediaTek processor M8183C CorePilot. That's an octa-core chip. It's comprised of ARM Cortex-A73 and ARM Cortex-A53 in a heterogeneous configuration. Acer backed that up with 4GB of dual-channel LPDDR4X system RAM and 64GB eMMC storage.
MediaTek's Mali-G72 MP3 drives things on the GPU side of the equation.
Breaking down what that meant in day-to-day use during my preview, this Chromebook never seemed to struggle with most tasks. Browsing the web with more than two-dozen tabs open wasn't an issue. And neither was playing Android games such as the latest Angry Birds. Image editing via the Photoshop Express Android app didn't present too much of a challenge. And neither did image editing with dozens of tabs open, including a web app for watermarking photos and compressing them.
Now, that isn't going to carry through for some of the more intensive games and apps available. In particular, this Chromebook isn't likely to be well-suited for playing a top Android shooter or for editing videos. It certainly isn't going to be the best option for coding apps. As a secondary device, it can feasibly accomplish at least some tasks associated with that easily enough. But it isn't quite powerful enough to process through intensive loads quickly.
That's something that will hold true for connectivity too. More tech-savvy users are moving on to Wi-Fi 6 and headsets utilizing Bluetooth 5.0 or newer. Those are not part of the build here. The Chromebook Spin 311 is utilizing Acer InviLink Nplify 802.11a/b/g/n/ac wireless LAN and Bluetooth 4.2.
Those options performed well enough for video and media streaming. Even Google Stadia powered through some PC-level games over the cloud without any issue. But Acer doesn't really intend this device to challenge the best of the best either, at least not on performance.
Instead, Acer aimed this gadget at families and students or as a secondary device to get things done on the go. Acer has positioned this device well to accomplish that goal.
The Acer Chromebook Spin 311 delivers best-in-class battery life
When Acer claims the Chromebook Spin 311 — models beginning with CP311-3H — gets great battery life, it really couldn't be more on-point. Now, onlinenews doesn't generally rely on benchmarks. Instead, we aim to gauge how a gadget holds up in day to day use. And, in this case, that means using the device mostly for work tasks.
So, for my preview hands-on time here, I predominantly used this gadget for work. For me, that meant keeping dozens of tabs open and being interacted with. And I simultaneously was working with various documents and file types. I kept screen brightness at or above 70-percent for better viewing of photos in editing too. Additionally, I spent a good portion of my time editing photos.
I also spent around 5-hours in video streaming or audio streaming via YouTube. That's setting aside an hour or two in games.
This was, for a Chromebook, around the middle-ground in terms of usage intensity. More than what the average user is going to do with their Chrome OS gadget on a daily basis. But the Acer Chromebook Spin 311 shines anyway. In fact, I saw just an hour short of the claimed 15-hours of battery life from this gadget. And charging wasn't bad at all either at just over 2-hours to refill to capacity.
That's just an initial impression of how this battery should perform on a day-to-day basis. But it should offer plenty of time for everybody in the family to do what they need to. Or, as a secondary device, offer way more battery life for more intensive work tasks than is needed. For students, this Chromebook is going to last through every class without needing to plug into an outlet.
The real-world use of this Chromebook shows that it could easily be the best available in terms of longevity on a single charge. And 15-hours of use should absolutely be within the realm of possibility. Especially if users are indoors and keeping screen brightness turned down. That's without having to sacrifice comfort on display brightness or functionality for most users.
So where does this Chromebook Spin 311 fall in terms of value?
On the value front, Acer worked hard to ensure the Chromebook Spin 311 is a device not to be underestimated. It's billing this device as one that will be best suited for shared use among family members. It will also do well used either by students or as a secondary device, the company says. And it easily checks all of the boxes on those fronts.
In fact, it's safe to say this could feasibly serve as a primary device for users well beyond that list. But it won't be the most powerful device around for those with applications or services that really need more oomph.
The audio problem experienced during my review was the only real point of contention, with those considerations in mind. As a media device, better speakers are all but a necessity. And that's one area this device really fell short.
On every other front, and for those who use Bluetooth or wired headphones — or an external display or speakers — the Acer Chromebook Spin 311 is a great device for the money, based on my short preview. The battery life with this Acer laptop is exceptional while the display is both bright and responsive. Switching between tent, tablet, stand, and laptop modes is an almost instantaneous process.
The keyboard, as noted above, is extremely comfortable compared to other gadgets in the price or size bracket too. And Acer built all of that into a device that weighs well-under 2.5lbs. That's setting aside its highly-portable frame or touchscreen protected by an antimicrobial display.
Now, it bears repeating that my hands-on time with this gadget was short-lived and this is not a full review. But, based on that preview period, the Acer Chromebook Spin 311 is easily going to be among the best devices around at its price. Especially for younger, first-time users or a family in need of a shared device.