This is the best Chromebook of 2020 so far
Several Chromebooks came out this year vying to become the best “premium” Chromebook of 2020. Two big factors set Acer’s Chromebook Spin 713 apart from the rest.
The first is its 3:2 display. Samsung’s Galaxy Chromebook, Asus’ Chromebook Flip C436, and many of last year’s top contenders like the Pixelbook Go all used a 16:9 aspect ratio — a more square 3:2 screen is taller and gives you significantly more vertical space.
The second is the price. The Spin 713 starts at $629 (and has been on sale for $529 already). That’s fairly midrange as Chromebooks go, but it significantly undercuts some competitors from Samsung, Google, and Asus. By unveiling the Galaxy and the C436 at CES 2020, the companies essentially posed the question: can a Chromebook be worth $1,000?
The existence of the Spin 713 says that the answer to that question is no (for now). It’s not a perfect Chromebook, but it offers similar specs and performance benefits to those high-end competitors at a much lower cost. There’s no other way to say it: this is the best Chromebook I’ve used this year.
Almost every feature of the 713 is excellent. The keyboard is one of the best keyboards I’ve ever used on a Chromebook, with a smooth and comfortable texture, decent travel, backlighting, and a satisfying but quiet click. The port selection means you’re unlikely to need a dongle: there are two USB-C ports, a USB-A, a headphone jack, a microSD slot, and something you don’t see on thin Chromebooks every day: HDMI. The Gorilla Glass trackpad is quite smooth and has no issues with palm rejection (though it’s a slightly stiffer click than some of the best touchpads out there).
A few corners have been cut, but the fact that they’re even worth mentioning is a testament to how excellent this laptop is. For one, there’s no biometric login — fingerprint or facial — which is a feature that Samsung and Asus have both built into their devices. The downward-firing stereo speakers are also not great. The music was tinny and even at maximum volume was just barely loud enough to be heard from across my living room.
But the main drawback is the design — and again, by “drawback,” I really mean “aspect that’s not quite as exceptional as everything else.” The Spin’s chassis isn’t necessarily ugly, but I’d call it utilitarian. It’s on the bulky side at 3.02 pounds. (Holster the pitchforks — I know that’s not heavy in the grand scheme of laptops, but it’s noticeably heavier than the Galaxy and the Go.) There’s a shiny aluminum lid and a plastic keyboard deck, and it’s all a sort of drab gray color. And there’s a clunky bottom bezel with a large Acer logo that dates the screen a bit. Again, the 713 isn’t an eyesore, but it’s not what I’d call stylish: It just looks like something I might expect to see on a school laptop cart.
The upside of that is that this Chromebook is quite sturdy. I was afraid of putting the Galaxy down too hard on my desk while I was testing it, but I would be quite comfortable battering the Spin around in my backpack all day. There’s very little flex in the keyboard and screen. Acer says it’s able to survive drops of up to 48 inches and downward force of up to 132 pounds. I didn’t test those claims, but I’d believe it.
But the absolute highlight of this Chromebook, as I mentioned earlier, is the display. If you’ve been using a 16:9 display your whole life and you try a 3:2, you’ll probably never want to go back. You get noticeably more vertical screen space, and I could comfortably stack windows side by side without ever having to zoom out.
Aspect ratio aside, the 713’s touch display is gorgeous, delivering a sharp picture and vibrant, accurate colors. Side-by-side, it actually looked better than the MacBook Pro’s screen: I would say it’s not too far from the screen of the Galaxy Chromebook, which was one of the company’s primary justifications for its $1,000 price tag. The only thing to note is that the Spin’s screen is glossy, and I did experience some glare when using it in direct sunlight.
The Spin 713 carries Intel’s Project Athena label, which is meant to certify that the laptop’s performance and battery life are up to Intel’s standards. A host of higher-end 2020 Chromebooks, including the Galaxy and the C436, have earned this distinction but have still yielded disappointing battery life results. I’m relieved to say that the Spin 713 delivers comparable performance to those devices without that drawback. I got eight and a half hours with my usual load of around a dozen Chrome tabs and apps at 50 percent brightness. It also charges quickly, juicing from zero to 35 percent in 30 minutes.
The model I tested, which costs $629, has a Core i5-10210U processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. (You can configure it with an i3 or an i7, and can jump up to 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage as well.)
I didn’t encounter any performance issues with that system when I ran it through my daily load of office work, which included bouncing between 10–12 Chrome tabs and spreadsheets, Slack, Twitter, Spotify, streaming, and occasional photo editing. It’s a load that has given weaker systems (like Lenovo’s $279 Chromebook Duet) some trouble. Everything was smooth and stable, with nothing freezing or randomly quitting. The fans (this Chromebook contains fans, unlike the Galaxy and the Go) did an excellent job of cooling the chassis, and I never once heard them.
This configuration worked so well that I’m comfortable saying the i7 model is really best for developers and other power users who are coding or running desktop Linux applications. Everyone else can stick with the Core i5 model and save the cash.
The 713 supports all the latest Android apps, which are in varying stages of development for Chrome OS. Some are still just blown-up versions of their Android counterparts, which makes them hit-or-miss on a laptop screen. (Slack, for example, is somewhat glitchy and crashed a couple times, and you can’t highlight in the Google Docs app without physically holding down and dragging the cursor, as you would on a phone screen.) This isn’t the worst problem for an operating system to have — these apps have fine browser counterparts — but it does mean there’s something of a learning curve to figuring out where you’ll use what. Other apps, on the other hand, have adapted well to Chrome OS over the years; Spotify now has a nice laptop interface, for example.
Apps aside, Chrome OS as a whole ran smoothly and looked great on this system. There’s a nice tablet mode that uses Android-esque gesture controls as well.
If you’re deciding between the Spin 713 and the $1,000 Galaxy Chromebook or the $849 i5 model of the Pixelbook Go, I would say you need a pretty good reason not to choose the Spin.
Specifically, if you’re looking for a laptop for everyday multitasking, office work, and streaming, and you’re going to shell out an extra couple hundred for those devices, what you’re really paying for is design. That’s the primary department where both of those computers, despite other drawbacks, are top of their class (and one where the 713 is very much not). You’ll want the Galaxy if your top priority is a bold look that turns heads and the Pixelbook if you need a sleek and elegant vibe. If those aren’t your top priorities and you just want a good Chromebook, don’t bother with those and just get the Spin.
The more interesting comparison is to Asus’ Chromebook Flip C434, which offers less powerful specs (a Core M3 instead of an i5 and 64GB of storage rather than 128GB) for a slightly lower price ($599 for the model with 8GB of RAM). The C434 also has a 3.3-pound aluminum chassis and the same port selection minus the HDMI, but small bezels give it a more premium look.
To a certain extent, the best choice comes down to your preferences. But if you’re stuck between the two, I think the 713 is worth buying for the screen alone. The 3:2 panel is a game-changer, and the extra storage, standout keyboard, and HDMI port are icing on the cake. Personally, I would pay a bit more.
In short, some people thought 2020 might be the year of the premium Chromebook, the year companies proved that it was worth paying $1,000 for a nice Chrome OS device. The Spin 713 shows that, for the majority of us, it’s still not. 2020’s best Chromebook doesn’t look like a fancy, flashy, high-end machine — it looks like this.
Photography by Monica Chin / The Verge