Chromebooks are incredibly popular computers, thanks to their low cost, excellent battery level and their efficient operating system. Today we’re looking at a model aimed at students, the Acer Chromebook 11 N7. It has a rugged design that meets military standards, twelve hours of battery life and an IPS touch screen. Let’s see whether it’s worth its $229 / £279 asking price!
Hardware & Specifications
The Chromebook 11 N7 has a mid-range spec sheet, with an entry-level processor backed with moderate amounts of RAM and flash storage. The 11.6-inch touchscreen lacks resolution at 768p, but its IPS technology allows for wide viewing angles and relatively accurate colours.
Wireless connectivity is good, with Wi-Fi ac and Bluetooth 4.2, while all of the basic wired ports are present and correct: HDMI, two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader and a 3.5mm jack for headphones. We always welcome more than two USB ports (one USB-C would have been great!) but otherwise every box is ticked here.
- 11.6-inch 1366 x 768 IPS touch screen
- Intel Celeron 1.6GHz N3060
- 4GB RAM, 32GB flash storage
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 4.2
- HDMI, 2x USB 3.0, SD card reader, 3.5mm headphones
- 720p webcam w/ 88-degree viewing angle
- 11.7 x 8.3 x 0.9 inches / 30 x 21 x 2.3 centimetres
- 1.35 kilograms / 3 pounds
This is one tough Chromebook. The N7 has a rugged exterior in a textured matte gray colour. This special chassis has a reinforced bumper that runs along the periphery of the device, allowing the N7 to meet military standards for durability — it can reportedly withstand drops of four feet (122 centimetres). The Chromebook feels extremely solid in the hand, with no give or flex of any kind while the lid is closed.
When opening the display for the first time, we were struck by the strong feel of the hinges as well. The display can fold a little beyond 180 degrees, allowing the laptop to lie open on a table (not that this is particularly useful, but it does help ameliorate accidental over-extension of the hinge).
The keyboard has good travel at 1.44 millimetres and is water resistant, with holes on the underside of the laptop allowing up to 330 millilitres of water to drip through safely. Even the keycaps have been reinforced to prevent accidental (or deliberate) removal.
We used the Acer Chromebook 11 N7 for a period of one week as our primary work machine. We typed up articles like this one (admittedly, sometimes with a mechanical keyboard attached), surfed the web, and even attempted some rudimentary image and video editing. Here’s how the N7 fared.
What we liked
In terms of design, there’s a whole lot to like about this laptop. The rugged facade really makes it easy to use without treating it with kid gloves, while the surprisingly good keyboard makes it easy to jam out a few essay’s worth of words in short space of time. Larger keyboards are a little more comfortable, but the adequate key travel and helpful shortcut keys make the most of the space available. The trackpad is basic, but didn’t cause any issues. All in all, this would be the perfect laptop to give to a student without worrying that it would turn into an expensive paperweight at a moment’s notice.
The laptop’s battery life also impressed. We got anywhere from eight to twelve hours of battery life, depending on how much we turned up the screen brightness and how much we hammered the processor. You should be able to get through a full school or work day with this laptop and still have a little left in the tank, which is wonderful. The only improvement would be to swap to USB-C charging — then you could share a charger with your phone and gain an extra port for a mouse, keyboard, gamepad, monitor, or USB drive too.
Speaking of ports, we didn’t really run out when we were using the N7. We could connect the laptop to an HDMI monitor, a USB mouse and keyboard, and still read photos off an SD card — something that isn’t possible on Apple’s entry-level MacBook.
What we didn’t like
The 1366 x 768 resolution is a little limiting; I think I would have preferred more screen real estate and sharper text rather than a touch screen. You can’t really have more than one windows on screen at once, which is annoying when you’re writing a paper while referring to an article, for example. However, once the Chromebook 11 N7 gets Android apps, I might be happy to have the touch-screen. Due to the relatively small span of the screen, images weren’t too grainy despite the low resolution. Viewing angles and colour accuracy were excellent, notwithstanding.
The biggest weakness of the laptop is the processor. While the RAM and storage are more than adequate, the dated Celeron chip simply doesn’t provide enough performance to browse through image or code-heavy sites (hello, The Verge) without noticeable slowdowns. Even Google Music running in the background can make a noticeable difference, which is a shame. Happily, you can still stream video from Twitch, YouTube or Netflix, albeit at 720p resolution.
So, how does the Acer Chromebook 11 N7 stack up? Actually, pretty darn well. A good keyboard, long battery life and a truly rugged design are perhaps the most important qualities in a student laptop, and the Chromebook 11 N7 nails each and every one of these. The few limitations — low resolution and a slow processor — mean that you’ll largely be working on one or two tabs at a time, but they’re understandable given the budget price point.
With a few key upgrades like USB-C charging and a slightly faster processor, this could be the ultimate student Chromebook in 2018. Regardless, the 2017 model still offers great value for money and gets our strong recommendation.