Chromebooks aren't just for play anymore. Acer's new pragmatically named Chromebook 14 for Work offers perks you won't see on other Chrome OS-powered laptops, including business-class durability, beefed-up security features and fancier hardware than you usually find on a Chromebook. Those features make the $750 laptop ($350 to start) an enticing travel companion for serious workers.
The Chromebook 14 for Work is a lot tougher than your average Chromebook. Instead of having a cheap plastic exterior, Acer's system is covered in durable Gorilla Glass, which not only looks slick but is also resistant to breaks and scratches.
Acer says the laptop is certified to withstand dings, vibration, dust, humidity and extreme temperatures, which is a big perk for anyone who wants to bring the machine on business trips. Those durability credentials are typical for business-class Windows laptops such as the Dell Latitude E5470, but they've never been offered on a Chromebook before.
The Chromebook 14 for Work's spill-resistant keyboard is also a first for Chromebooks. Acer says the system can withstand small spills (up to about 11 ounces), thanks to a drainage system that keeps moisture away from the notebook's circuitry.
The Chromebook 14 for Work is quite commuter-friendly, with a thin and light design that won't weigh you down too much. The system measures 13.03 x 8.94 x 0.88 inches and weighs 3.2 lbs., making it smaller and lighter than most of its closest rivals, including the Dell Latitude E5470 (13.2 x 9.1 x 0.9 inches, 3.88 lbs.) and the HP Chromebook 14 (13.54 x 9.45 x 0.7 inches, 3.48 lbs.).
You get a decent selection of ports on the Chromebook 14 for Work. The left edge includes a USB Type-C port that doubles as the charging port, as well as a USB 3.0 port, and an HDMI video-out port for connecting to monitors or projectors. The right edge adds a second USB 3.0 port, an SD card reader for expanding the system's internal storage, and a second USB 3.0 port.
Acer managed to make the Chromebook 14 smaller than its rivals by packing a 14-inch display into a frame that's about the size of the average 13-incher. That display happens to look pretty nice, too, with a sharp resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. The panel pumps out crisp text and sharp, colorful images, making it a pleasure to work on. Plus, its anti-glare coating helps ward off distracting reflections from overhead office lights.
You can also buy a cheaper version of the Chromebook 14 for Work with a lower-res, 1366 x 768-pixel panel, but I don't recommend it for most workers. Multitasking just isn't very comfortable on such a low-res display.
You get strong security features on the Chromebook 14 for Work, including Trusted Platform Module-based hardware encryption to ensure your work data stays private. And because the Chrome OS platform updates its TPM software in the background, IT departments can theoretically spend a lot less time micromanaging company machines.
The Chromebook 14 for Work provides a comfortable keyboard with well-spaced keys and a generous amount of key travel — about 1.55 millimeters, which is slightly above average. Deeper keys are good for extended typing sessions, providing a more comfortable, desktop-like feel. Its keys do feel a bit stiff, but overall, the Chromebook 14 for Work delivers a pretty good typing experience.
You also get backlighting on the keyboard, which comes in handy for low-light typing.
The Chromebook 14 for Work provides pretty good battery life compared to other thin and light 14-inchers. The system ran for 8 hours and 33 minutes on our battery test, which is about a half hour longer than the average laptop in its category. It also outlasted the Dell Latitude E5470 (7:16) and the HP Chromebook 14 (6:42).
Hardware and performance
The Chromebook 14 is the first Chromebook to run on Intel's 6th-generation Core i5 processor, along with 8GB of RAM, making it speedier than any Chrome OS-powered device I've tested and putting it on a par with competing Windows systems. You also get 32GB of internal storage space, though you probably won't even need that much; Chrome apps don't take up much space, and if you're working on a Chromebook, most of your data will be stored in the cloud.
When I put the system through its paces, the Chromebook 14 certainly felt speedy to me. Even during heavy multitasking, I switched back and forth between applications without experiencing a hint of lag. Unsurprisingly, the system racked up an impressive score of 27,987 on the Octane 2.0 performance test. To put that number into perspective, it's nearly four times higher than the average consumer-focused Chromebook.
Chromebook vs. PC
Because Chromebooks run on Google's lightweight Chrome OS operating system, they aren't generally thought of as work machines. That's mostly because they can't run software made for Windows or Macs and instead rely on web apps. That means the Chromebook 14 for Work isn't a great option if you depend on an incompatible piece of software to do your job. It is possible to run Windows software on the Chromebook 14 through virtualization apps such as VMware and Citrix, but that solution can feel a bit clunky.
Chrome OS definitely isn't as limiting as it sounds, thanks to the increasing prevalence of web apps. For example, Microsoft offers full-featured web versions of Microsoft's Word, Excel and PowerPoint programs. And later this year, the Chromebook 14 for Work will support the full lineup of Android apps, though it's not yet clear when exactly that functionality will be rolled out.
In practice, Chrome OS will look pretty familiar to PC users. After you boot up the machine, you're prompted to sign in to your Google account; then, you're taken to the desktop. The desktop itself looks like a pared-down version of Windows, complete with a taskbar and button in the bottom-left corner that lets you search your system or browse all of your apps.
And Chrome OS has some definite strengths. For instance, the Chromebook 14 for Work boots up in just a few seconds, making it much quicker to do so than a PC or MacBook. Even better, there's no real learning curve. Chrome OS has just a few advanced settings to tinker with, and all updates are installed seamlessly in the background while you're working, so you're never forced to endure a lengthy update process during a reboot.
Google for Work
One thing that distinguishes the Chromebook 14 for Work from consumer-focused Chromebooks is that it's configured to work with the Google for Work ecosystem right out of the box. That primarily means that it's easier for IT staff to configure, deploy and remotely manage the system.
Acer sells the Chromebook 14 for Work in a handful of hardware configurations. The baseline model is extremely affordable: For $349, you get an Intel Celeron processor with 4GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage and a 1366 x 768-pixel display. However, we don't recommend that model because its low-end hardware will make multitasking sluggish.
The midrange model is a much better sweet spot for most workers, providing a beefier Intel Core i3 processor and 32GB of storage for $500.
If you can afford it, the top-end model featured in this review offers a speedier Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a higher-res 1920 x 1080-pixel display that is much more comfortable to work on.
Acer's Chromebook 14 for Work is a no-fuss work companion with impressive hardware. The system offers solid battery life, and its thin, light and durable design makes it a good pick for commuters and frequent travelers. Unlike consumer-focused Chromebooks, this one offers business-class security and management tools that IT technicians will love.
On the other hand, Chromebooks usually have justified their limited software compatibility with low prices, and the $750 Chromebook 14 for Work isn't much cheaper than competing machines. Dell's $779 Latitude E5470, for example, offers similar hardware and full Windows 10, though it doesn't last as long on a charge.
But if your company is already invested in Google Apps, you might find the Chromebook 14 for Work to be a worthy pick, especially if you (or your employees) don't rely on legacy Windows software.