Acer's Chromebook 514 (starts at $349; $499 as tested) is an upscale Chromebook with a 14-inch screen. Priced higher than a fan-fave and PCMag Editors' Choice winner from Acer, the Acer Chromebook 14, it brings to the table improved portability, a sleek aluminum design, and the option for touch-input tech. Once you add a backlit keyboard and long battery life to the mix, it becomes a tempting alternative to budget notebook PCs in its price range. Despite its Intel Pentium processor, this Acer feels snappy enough for most undemanding use thanks to Google's lean Chrome OS. Provided that the OS meets your functional needs, the Chromebook 514 provides a first-rate way to get things done without spending a ton. We're taking our Editors' Choice garland for consumer Chromebooks from the 14 and hanging it on the 514.
Metal All the Way
No ands, ifs, or plastics about it: The exterior of the Chromebook 514 is all aluminum...SEE ALSO: The Best Laptops for 2019 >
The lid and chassis are impressively rigid and strong. The anti-glare metal surfaces generally keep reflections down, though the silver color can become downright dazzling in direct sunlight. It's the only available color.
The 12.7-by-9.1-inch chassis is about as trim as a Chromebook (or a notebook PC, for that matter) sporting a 14-inch display can get. The display's minimal side bezels give it a modern, chic appearance, while the taller top bezel allows the Acer's 720p webcam to live up there. The cam's muddy picture quality isn't better or worse than I've seen from ones in similarly priced laptops, but that's hardly an excuse for device makers not to step up their selfie game. The front-facing camera on my several-years-old smartphone is much clearer.>
In addition to its slim dimensions, the Chromebook 514 is just 0.7 inch thick and 3.31 pounds. You can find lighter 14-inch-screened devices out there, but finding one around the price range of even this topped-out Chromebook 514 configuration is no small feat.
Top-Notch Input Devices
The Chromebook 514's keyboard is on the money for touch typing. The full-size keys have a light, springy feel and white backlighting. The keyboard layout should look familiar if you're coming from a PC, and it is pretty much in line with what I've seen on other Chromebooks...>
The layout is Chrome OS-prescribed and has no Windows key, of course, but the Search key (where the Caps Lock key resides on a Windows keyboard) almost works like Start, allowing you to find almost anything and launch shortcuts in conjunction with other keys. The tutorial that appears at first startup shows you what you need to know to get started in Google Chrome OS.
The buttonless touchpad, centered in the wrist rest, is made of Corning Gorilla Glass. Silky-smooth and sized for royalty, it's a pleasure to use. I wasn't sure if the slight play in its surface was intentional or not, but it has utility; if you tap to click, the pad moves slightly and gives you some audible feedback. Pressing the pad until it physically clicks makes a sound too loud for my preferences, though; I don't like advertising my clicks to everyone within earshot.
For silent input, my loaner Chromebook 514 has Acer's optional touch display. Besides the obvious fun factor, touch adds practicality in cramped places (an airline economy seat, for instance) where you don't have a lot of elbow space and it's easier to reach forward to tap. The Acer's anti-glare screen coating is somewhat unorthodox on a touch device, which usually sports a glossy surface, but it feels quite smooth and doesn't hamper usability in the slightest. I prefer anti-glare screens because they minimize reflections and do a better job of resisting finger smudges. The display hinge is sufficiently stiff to prevent excess wobble when you touch the display, although it has too much resistance to allow the lid to be opened without holding down the chassis.
Get a Good Look
The machine I have on hand has Acer's optional 1080p panel, with a 1,920-by-1,080-pixel native resolution. That resolution is an ideal match for a 14-inch-diagonal screen, offering better clarity and finer detail than the 720p (1,366-by-768-pixel) display that comes on some of the less-expensive Chromebook 514 configurations.>
The picture is bright and vibrant without being oversaturated, and it is further improved by the wide viewing angles from its in-plane switching (IPS) technology. This screen would pass muster on a considerably more expensive computer.
The Chromebook 514 covers the essentials of physical connectivity for a Chromebook...>
The left edge has a USB Type-C port for power and data, a USB Type-A 3.1 port, a microSD card slot, and an audio combo jack. Plan to use the latter (or the internal Bluetooth 4.2 wireless) for audio, else you'll be stuck with the dismal sound quality of the twin built-in speakers.
On the right edge, you have another USB Type-A 3.1 port, another USB Type-C port (this one supports DisplayPort over USB Type-C), and a Kensington-style cable-lockdown notch...>
No video-out adapters are included for the USB Type-C port over here, but even if one were, I'd still prefer a good old dedicated HDMI or DisplayPort video-out connector. Inside, the Chromebook 514 packs an 802.11ac wireless card and the mentioned Bluetooth connectivity. Both had good range in my testing.
Older, But Not Obsolete
The breakneck pace of consumer-laptop technology makes the Intel Pentium N4200 processor in the Chromebook 514 configuration I'm reviewing (CB514-1HT-P2D1) seem like a relic. This circa-2016 quad-core chip is the top choice in the Chromebook 514, while less-expensive configurations come with a slower (and equally old) quad-core Celeron N3450 or a dual-core Celeron N3350. Windows-based notebook PCs around the price of our review unit usually include newer, faster processors, like the Intel Core i3 U-series, although they must contend with running Windows. Chrome OS is comparatively lighter on resources, so your computer doesn't need to be as powerful to be as capable.>
I'd still have appreciated if Acer ponied up for a newer CPU, though, especially since this is a premium Chromebook. (In Acer's defense, Intel has been slow to release low-wattage budget processors for products like Chromebooks; it had produced just one new 6-watt chip, the Pentium 4425Y, since the end of 2017, as of this April 2019 writing.) Despite the older processor, the Chromebook 514 is responsive for web browsing and 1080p video streaming. Animation-heavy sites can take a couple of extra seconds to load. On the plus side, the low-power hardware means the Chromebook 514 runs completely silent, as it doesn't need a cooling fan. The chassis didn't warm up much during my usage.
On the other hand, the 8GB of memory (RAM) in my Chromebook 514 tester is a luxurious amount for a Chromebook. Lesser Chromebook 514 configurations have 4GB, which is still plenty for general usage. On a Windows PC, I find it hard to recommend less than 8GB of memory for any usage. Again, Chrome OS does more with less.
For local storage, my Chromebook 514 has a 64GB flash-storage drive, the roomiest drive you can get in this model. Windows PCs usually include several times as much at this price point, but this is a Chromebook: You're expected to store most of your stuff in the cloud. The drive is large enough to let you download some movies for offline viewing. You can expand the storage with the microSD card slot, for which you can buy up to 1TB cards.
Boot-Time, CrXPRT, and WebXPRT Tests
Let's do some performance tests, starting with the cold-boot time. I timed the 514 at an acceptable 12 seconds from power-button press to login screen. In fairness, Chromebooks aren't devices you cold-start that often. While in sleep mode, the Acer woke up before I fully opened its lid.
The Chromebook 514 predictably crushed the older Acer Chromebook 14, but its aging Pentium N4200 processor was no match for the Core i5-7Y57 chip in the double-the-price Google PixelBook, let alone the beefier (and newer) Core i3-8130U chip in the Dell Inspiron Chromebook 14 2-in-1 (7486). As I said before, though, the Chromebook 514 has plenty of pep for daily tasks in Google Chrome OS.
Video-Playback Battery Rundown Test
In our battery life test, where we play back a locally stored video at 50 percent screen brightness, the Chromebook 514 lasted 13 hours and 40 minutes...>
It's an excellent result for a Chromebook, especially considering the Chromebook 514 has a large 14-inch display. The same can be said about the older Acer Chromebook 14. For everyday, hitting-it-hard usage, the battery life might not be this good, as the video-playback test we run doesn't stress the processor all that much, but you shouldn't have a problem getting 10 or more hours with the Chromebook 514, provided you keep the screen brightness down.
It's Worth the Premium
The Acer Chromebook 514 delivers premium features at a reasonable price. Provided Google Chrome OS meets your needs, it's hard to say no to this one. The $499 commanded by our top-tier review configuration is midrange territory, at best, for Windows-based notebook PCs, where you'd be hard-pressed to find a thin-and-light aluminum chassis, all-day battery life, a full HD touch display, and a backlit keyboard as in our Chromebook 514. More budget-oriented Chromebooks tend to lack one or more of those conveniences, too.>
While the ho-hum Intel processor in the Chromebook 514 left us wishing for something newer, it was still plenty responsive. Consider that Google Chrome OS is less performance-hungry than Windows, so you don't need as much power to do equivalent tasks. Outside of that, this Acer could use better speakers, but that's hardly a deal-breaker in a Chromebook (or a Windows-based notebook, for that matter). Nearly everything else about the Chromebook 514 is a deal-maker, earning it our top honors for a reasonably priced premium Chromebook.> excellent > at
Bottom Line: Aluminum-clad and ready for all day off the plug, the Acer Chromebook 514 is a reasonably-priced standout on the premium Chromebook stage that's right-priced for students and budget buyers.