PC

Big screen on a budget

As a fan of Chromebooks - budget laptops that run Google's Chrome OS operating system - I have often bemoaned the fact that these computers are nearly impossible to find in local retail stores.

Word is that local Chromebook sales were so dismal when they were launched five years ago that retailers stopped selling them. Instead, Chromebooks are sold directly to businesses and schools that require them.

Hence, I was chuffed to bits to learn that Acer recently started offering its Chromebooks at its Singapore online store.

One of the available Chromebooks is a fairly recent model, the Spin 15. What is notable is its large 15-inch display. Most Chromebooks have 11-to 13-inch screens.

As its name suggests, the Spin 15 is a convertible. A flexible hinge rotates the screen 360 degrees, allowing you to flip its large touchscreen all the way to turn it into a giant tablet.

But it does not come with a stylus, unlike other convertible Chromebooks, so I doubt Acer intended the Spin 15 to be used as a tablet.

However, the other usual convertible modes - tent and stand - are very feasible, especially as newer Chromebooks like the Spin 15 comes with the Google Play Store.

Yes, you can download and run Android apps on the Spin 15. These apps mitigate the fact that Chrome OS web store offers mostly extensions and shortcuts to websites rather than full-fledged apps.

  • SPECS

  • PRICE: $638

    PROCESSOR: Intel Celeron N3350 (1.1GHz)

    GRAPHICS: Intel HD Graphics 500

    RAM: 8GB DDR4

    SCREEN SIZE: 15.6 inches, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels

    CONNECTIVITY: 2 x USB Type-C ports, 2 x USB 3.0, microSD card reader, headphone jack

    BATTERY: 54 watt-hour

  • RATING

  • FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 3/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE: 5/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

Android apps run in a secure environment, known as a sandbox, so the Chromebook's operating system is shielded from any misbehaving apps. A similar sandbox is used to run Linux apps, a new feature supported by the Spin 15.

In short, Chromebooks are more useful than before. They are not just glorified machines for Web browsing, though obviously they cannot run Windows desktop apps.

For basic computing tasks though, the Spin 15 is better than many Chromebooks, simply because it has more system memory (8GB of RAM). Only a handful of premium Chromebooks like the Google Pixelbook, have more than 8GB of RAM.

The extra memory is handy for running Android or Linux apps. It also lets you keep more browser tabs open without the Chromebook becoming sluggish.

Its processor, though, is a budget dual-core Intel Celeron chip found in quite a few Chromebooks - adequate but hardly exciting.

The Spin 15 has just 64GB of internal storage, with about 50GB of free space remaining after installing a few apps. A microSD card is recommended, especially if you want to download games or movies.

Design-wise, the metal-clad Spin 15 is relatively thin for a 15-inch model, but its size and weight (around 2.1kg) make it cumbersome. Coupled with the chunky bezels around its screen, it looks rather old-school.

I like its silver aluminium lid, which has a fabric-like finish. The build quality is also decent.

Its display is an in-plane switching (IPS) screen, so viewing angles are good. But it is also very reflective because of the glossy finish. The screen, too, could be brighter.

Despite its ample exterior, its keyboard is smaller than expected, about the size of the keyboard on a 13-inch notebook.

The space at both sides of the keyboard is taken up by dual upward-facing speakers. They are impressively loud, though their placement also means that they become slightly muffled when the Spin 15 is converted to stand mode, with the keyboard and speakers face-down on the desk.

The keyboard feels shallow and spongy, though it has a backlight, a useful feature often omitted on Chromebooks.

My fingers glide easily over its smooth and large touchpad, which is said to be covered by Corning Gorilla Glass. It feels premium, like the touchpads found on more expensive laptops. The lack of friction also makes it easy to execute multi-touch gestures like swiping up with three fingers to bring up all the open apps and windows.

Because it is a convertible, the power button and the volume rocker are located at the sides. The Spin 15 is charged via a USB Type-C port. This port - there are two - is also used for data and display output.

For a 15-inch laptop, its battery stamina is very good. It lasted slightly over six hours in the video-loop battery test.

• Verdict: The Spin 15 has some nice premium touches that I was not expecting, given its affordable price tag. This is a very good budget desktop replacement PC for those who do not require Windows apps.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2018, with the headline 'Big screen on a budget'. Print Edition | Subscribe