Acer's Chromebook R 13 is one of the most versatile Chromebooks on the market, and not solely because of its flexible 360-degree hinge. It's also one of the first Chromebooks that can run Android apps out of the box, greatly expanding the platform's app library. On top of that, it has a terrific keyboard, long battery life and a handsome silver design. It could be speedier, but for everyday work tasks the $399 Chromebook R 13 is a solid pick.
At a glance, you'd be forgiven for mistaking the Chromebook R 13 for a MacBook. The aluminum system sports a slick matte silver paint job that looks nice, particularly for a laptop at this price range. It feels pretty sturdy too, without any noticeable flex in the lid or keyboard deck.
It's relatively portable, weighing in at 3.2 lbs. and measuring 0.6 inches thick. That makes it a bit easier to slide into your work bag than the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook (3.2 lbs., 0.8 inches) or Dell's Chromebook 13 (3.23 lbs., 0.7 inches).
You get a good array of ports here. The left edge includes one USB Type-C port, one USB Type 3.0 port, a full-size HDMI port and a microSD card reader for expanding the system's 32GB of internal storage.
The right edge, meanwhile, just has the power button, a volume rocker, a headphone jack and a Kensington lock slot.
What separates the R 13 from most Chromebooks is its touch screen and bend-back hinge, which lets you use the system like either a laptop or a big tablet. Don't expect to carry this system around like an iPad – it's much too big for that. But tablet mode is still handy for using touch screen Android apps (more on that in a bit).
Workers will get just as much use out of the intermediate stand and tent modes, which let you prop up the system with the keyboard folded back halfway. That way you can access the touchscreen with the system standing up on your desk. The hinge feels sturdy; you won't have to worry about the display wobbling while using this laptop in its alternate modes.
The Chromebook's 13.3-inch, 1080p touch display looks nice and sharp, though it's not particularly vibrant. While watching the HD trailer for Ghost in the Shell, I could make out every tiny shard of glass as Scarlett Johansson busts through a window, but neon city lights during a chase sequence looked dull.
It's plenty bright, though. The Chromebook R 13's display tops out at 254 nits of brightness, which beats the laptop average of 244 nits. That makes the Acer easy to use outdoors or in direct sunlight.
If you're anything like me, you'll love typing on the Chromebook R 13. The system boasts a really comfy keyboard, with a generous 1.6 millimeters of key travel – more than the minimum we look for in a laptop keyboard. The keys feel nice and snappy, too, with good tactile feedback on each stroke.
One quirk of Chromebook keyboards is the fact that a Log Out button is in the spot where you'd expect to find the delete key. The Delete key functionality can still be accessed by pressing Alt+Spacebar, but the substitution can still take some getting used to.
Chromebooks haven't typically been considered work machines, and mostly for good reason. Like all Chromebooks, the R13 runs on Chrome OS, a lightweight operating system made by Google that has some big limitations. In particular, it can't run Windows or Mac software – at least not without cumbersome virtualization software. That means you'll have to rely on web apps accessed through the Chrome browser.
That's not as limiting as it sounds, though. There are tons of excellent web applications available, including full-featured online versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. You don't have to worry about losing your internet connection – many web apps, including Microsoft's Office apps, can be enabled to work offline.
Otherwise, Chrome OS is very straightforward and easy to use. The main screen looks a lot like a Windows desktop, with a horizontal task bar at the bottom of the screen where you can pin and launch apps. Individual windows can be minimized and resized, and you can even drag windows to the sides to auto-fit them to half the screen, for quick and simple multitasking.
One thing that businesses should keep in mind is the fact that Google promises to support OS updates for individual Chromebook models for only 5 years. It's something to consider if your company deploys laptops for longer than that.
In a few months, the R 13's app library will grow exponentially as the system gets support for Android apps (an official date hasn't yet been announced). When the feature is rolled out, you'll be able to run apps originally designed for Android smartphones and tablets on your laptop.
But wait – didn't I say earlier in this review that you can already run Android apps on the system? It is indeed possible, but only if you don't mind switching to the Beta channel inside the notebook's settings. Technically, that means switching to a pre-release version of the Chrome OS operating system, but don't feel intimidated if that sounds technical – it's as easy as clicking a button inside the Chromebook R 13's settings menu, then rebooting your laptop.
Once I made the switch, I opened the Play Store app and downloaded apps just like I would on my Android smartphone. For example, I downloaded Microsoft Word, and was given immediate access to all my documents as soon as I signed into my Office 365 account. The app is mostly indistinguishable from its desktop counterpart, though it lacks some of the more advanced options you'll find in the Windows or Mac versions.
Every Android app I tested ran smoothly on the Chromebook R 13. I logged into Microsoft OneNote and was able to start taking notes right away. Skype, Google Docs and Google Calendar ran just as smoothly. Though you need to switch to the Beta version of Chrome OS to access them, I didn't notice any glitches or hangups after doing so.
Keep in mind that not all Android apps are optimized to run on a horizontal laptop screen. While Microsoft Word had no trouble stretching horizontally to accommodate the dimensions of the R 13's display, Instagram stayed confined to a vertical slice of the screen. But since the R 13 is a convertible touchscreen laptop, it's easy to turn the notebook on its side and use those apps in portrait mode, like you would on any Android tablet.
Overall, I am really impressed by the integration of Android apps into the Chromebook ecosystem. The apps are easy to install and work seamlessly. I'm looking forward to seeing the feature officially rolled out to all new Chromebooks later this year.
Leave your charger at home – the Chromebook R 13 has the endurance to last through the end of the workday and beyond. The system ran for an impressive 11 hours on our battery test, which simulates continuous web browsing over Wi-Fi. That's significantly longer than such rivals as the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook (9:08) and Chromebook Flip C100P (9:19). And it blows the thin-and-light laptop average of 7:52 out of the water.
One advantage that Chromebooks have for workers is that they're inherently pretty secure. Since everything runs through Chrome (or the Play Store, in the case of installing Android apps), it's not easy to accidentally install a malicious piece of software. On top of that, updates are downloaded and installed automatically in the background, without interrupting your workflow. That way you can always be sure that your system has received the latest security patches, without having to endure long updates during a reboot.
There's also a lock slot on the system's right edge, which lets you physically chain the R 13 to your desk to deter thieves.
The Chromebook R 13 gets the job done, but it's no speed demon. Everything ran nice and smoothly with only a few tabs open in the Chrome browser, but I started to notice some minor lag while switching between two Chrome windows, with about a dozen tabs between them.
The bottom line is that the R 13 is more than speedy enough for basic productivity tasks such as browsing the web and managing your email inbox, but expect some stuttering during heavier multitasking sessions.
Even without the ability to run Android apps, Acer's Chromebook R 13 would be one of the nicer models available. Workers will appreciate its comfy keyboard and long battery life, not to mention its flexible 2-in-1 design.
But the fact that it's capable of running the entire Android app library is what puts this machine over the top for me – even if you currently have to switch the Beta update channel in the system's settings to install them. It opens the door to thousands of useful productivity apps, which addresses the main reason people tend to avoid Chromebooks: the lack of software. Even if you'd rather wait for the feature to be rolled out officially, the R 13 is slated to get full support for Android apps sooner than most competing systems.
Sure, it could be speedier, and its display could be more vibrant. But workers looking for an affordable secondary computer for basic productivity should give this one a look.