Can Chromebooks shed their low-cost, plastic-cased, K-12 classroom stigma and make it in the corporate world? HP thinks so; the Chromebook x360 14 G1 we reviewed in May 2019 combines an aluminum lid and keyboard deck with a choice of Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7 power. Dell thinks so, too; its recently announced Latitude 5400 Chromebook Enterprise pairs the same CPU options with swift SSD-based rather than flash storage. And Acer thinks so; its all-aluminum Chromebook 714, tested here in a strapping configuration for a reasonable $649.99 (models start at $499.99), offers fancy features such as Google Assistant and a fingerprint reader, along with a perky Core i3 CPU and a 14-inch 1080p touch screen. In many ways, the 714 is the best argument yet for Chromebooks in business—but in one key aspect, battery life, it disqualifies itself from an easy Editors’ Choice.
A Bargain for the IT Department
The Chromebook 714 would seem to be a direct competitor for the new Dell (which PC Labs hasn’t tested yet), but the latter is much more expensive. A Core i3 Latitude 5400 configuration with the same 1080p touch display and 8GB of memory is $1,217, albeit with a 256GB solid-state drive to the Acer’s 64GB of eMMC flash.
Indeed, you can buy a Chromebook 714 for as little as $499.99, though that’s a non-touch model with a Pentium processor and only half the storage. Acer’s top-of-the-line Core i5 model is $799.99.
My test unit (model number CB714-1WT-32KD) is a gunmetal gray wedge with a dark Google Chrome logo and a silvery Acer logo on the lid. It measures 0.7 by 12.7 by 9.4 inches and weighs 3.5 pounds, making it minutely bigger than our consumer Chromebook Editors’ Choice, its Acer Chromebook 514 sibling (0.7 by 12.7 by 9.1 inches, 3.3 pounds). The screen opens a full 180 degrees and has stylishly thin side bezels.
Acer says that the Chromebook 714’s anodized aluminum chassis can survive four-foot drops and 132 pounds of downward force. It has met some of the same MIL-STD 810G durability standards as sturdy Windows laptops like Lenovo’s ThinkPads and HP’s EliteBooks. I noticed hardly any flex when I grasped the screen corners or mashed the keyboard.
On the left side, you’ll find USB 3.1 Type-C and Type-A ports and an audio jack. Another USB 3.1 Type-C port is on the right, along with a microSD card slot and a notch for a Kensington security lockdown cable.
You can plug the compact AC adapter or a DisplayPort adapter (not included) into either USB-C port—I’m left grumbling again that I wish Chromebooks came with HDMI ports—and take advantage of 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2 for wireless connections.
Talk and Touch
The Chromebook 714 is only the second Chrome OS device we’ve seen (after the Google Pixel Slate tablet) with a fingerprint reader. You’re prompted during initial setup to “Touch the power button with your finger,” as on the Pixel Slate, though the reader’s actually on the palm rest.
The feature lets you use your finger to approve purchases, sign into compatible apps, or unlock the Chromebook after you’ve locked it to step away from your desk. I was disappointed, however, to find it didn’t work to let me sign in after turning the laptop off and on again, as Windows Hello fingerprint readers do.
More fun to play with is Google Assistant, which (if you toggle a settings switch to keep it listening) responds to your spoken “Hey Google” or “OK Google.” It also recognizes commands such as “Remind me to call Karen at 2:30” or “Play Sheryl Crow” (if you’ve configured a streaming music service) or “What’s the weather forecast?” I’m not sure of its business value, but I was happy with its accurate voice recognition.
The 720p webcam captures decent shots, with adequate lighting even on overcast days and good detail. Full-screen Google Duo images looked a little softer, but they showed nice colors and not too much grain or noise. Google Play Music balked at playing my MP3 music files, but Chrome Audio Player and the bottom-mounted speakers easily filled a room. The sound was a smidge hollow, but overlapping tracks came through clearly, without much bass but also without buzzy or tinny overtones.
One thing I noted up front about the screen: The default Chrome OS 100 percent scaling on the IPS display isn’t actually 1,920-by-1,080-pixel resolution. It’s an Apple-style “looks like 1,536 by 864” setting. You can drag a slider for resolutions from 1,182 by 665 (giving you huge screen elements) to 2,194 by 1,234 (for tiny ones). It’s worth toying with this slider to get the onscreen objects to your eyes’ comfort level.
Apart from that detail, the panel is adequate but not outstanding. Its matte finish prevents the kind of glare common to touch screens. Offside viewing angles are wide, and color and contrast are pleasing. On the minus side, I found myself keeping the brightness cranked to the max and wishing I could turn it up another one or two notches instead of dialing it down one or two to save battery power. It’s not dark, but it keeps colors from popping and backgrounds from being crisply white.
The backlit keyboard follows the familiar Chromebook layout, with a search/menu key in place of Caps Lock and a top row of browser and system-command keys. You won’t mistake it for a mechanical desktop keyboard, or even a class-leading ThinkPad, but it has an adequately snappy, if plasticky, typing feel. (Perhaps the travel is a tad shallow, but the keys do deliver good feedback.) The large, buttonless Gorilla Glass touchpad (accented, like the fingerprint reader, by natty chrome trim) makes gliding, tapping, and clicking feel great.
Along with a one-year warranty, the Chromebook 714 carries Google Chrome Enterprise and Citrix Ready seals of approval. The latter certifies its compatibility with the Citrix Receiver, XenApp, and XenDesktop platforms for enterprise visualization. Also, like other Chromebooks, the Chromebook 714 comes with a year of Google One service with 100GB of cloud storage, which is a $19.99 value.
Testing the 714: Some Muscle, But Short on Stamina
The laptop breezed through my subjective usage tests, such as opening a dozen browser tabs, playing 1080p videos, and navigating the Google Play Store. Several Android apps and games ran smoothly, and moderate multitasking didn’t bog the system down.
For our objective benchmarks, I pitted the Acer Chromebook 714 against one clamshell—the Acer Chromebook 514, which has a quad-core, 1.1GHz Pentium N4200 processor—and three convertibles. The Dell Inspiron Chromebook 14 2-in-1 and 15.6-inch Lenovo Yoga Chromebook C630 have the same dual-core, 2.2GHz Core i3-8130U chip as my Acer Chromebook 714. The HP Chromebook x360 14 G1, meanwhile, boasts the strongest CPU in the group, a quad-core, 1.7GHz Core i5-8350U.
Productivity & Browser Tests
The 714 acquitted itself capably, pummeling the Pentium-powered model 514 and staying within shouting distance of the Core i5 HP.
Battery Rundown Test
In our battery life test, in which we loop a locally stored video at 50 percent screen brightness and 100 percent audio volume with Wi-Fi switched off, the Acer was far less impressive…
Frankly, it was uncompetitive, as you can see above, despite my running the test twice with the exact same PC Labs methodology used when reviewing the top two finishers. Its time may suffice for some plane trips, but it won’t get you through a workday in the way I expect a lightweight laptop to nowadays.
So Close, and Yet So Far
Frankly, I went into this review viewing the Chromebook 714 as a strong candidate for our business Chromebook Editors’ Choice—the incumbent, last year’s HP Chromebook x2 detachable, seems to have left the market, and the Acer model represents a step ahead in several ways. But I’ve rarely had to subtract a star from a product’s rating as I did due to the battery benchmark.
If unplugged life isn’t critical to you, you may want to consider the 714 anyway. It’s as close to a cutting-edge Chromebook as you can get. Even with an Achilles’ heel, it’s a strong runner.