The $1,000 (and up) Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Pixel laptop started the USB-C laptop revolution two years ago. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) followed with the MacBook and more recently the MacBook Pro. Most mid-to-high end Android smartphones already use USB-C.
The glorious end-game is getting closer: The day when the lions will lay down with the lambs, and all laptops will use the same chargers as (Android) smartphones. It will make all of our lives easier and less expensive. One cable to connect all devices.
In the recent months, we have been seeing USB-C migrating to the less pricey Chromebook laptops. Most recently, I have been reviewing two 13 inch Chromebooks that bracket the center of the market.
First, the Acer R 13. It's officially $399 but I have been seeing it at $364 on Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) recently: https://www.acer.com/ac/en/US/content/series/acerchromebookr13
Second, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13. It's officially $299 and up, but I have been seeing it at $190 on Amazon: http://shop.lenovo.com/us/en/laptops/thinkpad/13-series/chromebook/
So clearly, the "street price" difference between these two laptops is nearly 2x, even if the MSRP difference is not quite that large. What does almost double the price buy you with the Acer 13R?
There are really three main differences, all relating to the screen:
The screen has a resolution of 1080x1920, as opposed to the Lenovo's 768x1366.
The screen is a touchscreen. The Lenovo is not.
The screen bends all the way back/around, to yield a tablet. The Lenovo does not.
Are these incremental features -- some would call them advantages -- sufficient to make the Acer's $364 street price into a better deal than the Lenovo's $190? Keep in mind that the Lenovo can be optioned with a 1080x1920 screen, as well as with more powerful processing horsepower -- but then you will pay a lot more, on a percentage basis.
Let's start with what you get with the Lenovo for a modest $190 payment (plus sales tax, if applicable).
The best thing about the Lenovo 13 inch Chromebook ThinkPad is the basic body and keyboard experience. The body is supremely rigid and has that age-old ThinkPad quality feel that has made it into a laptop favorite for a quarter-century.
Mated with that legendary ThinkPad keyboard, the ThinkPad 13 makes for a piece of equipment that feels like it can withstand any abuse and last forever. It's rigid and pleasant all in one. The typing experience is second to none.
The screen? The good part is that it is not reflective, so it works very well with the sun or other light coming from behind you.
The bad part is the resolution, and the insufficient brightness. 768x1366 is okay for basic typing, but once you are used to the 1700x2560 of a Pixel laptop from years ago already, it feels low-rent. Oh well, you can't get everything in a $190 laptop that would compare with a $1,000 (and up) machine, even from a few years ago.
The CPU power of the Lenovo Chromebook ThinkPad 13 is sufficient for what is the likely work you will be doing on it -- namely typing and basic surfing, aka research. Especially given the low screen resolution, you are not encouraged to load up all that many tabs -- perhaps 15 or so at the most -- so you don't feel like you are approaching any gray zones or limits.
In short, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 is a supreme value in the Chromebook world today. It should be the baseline choice for almost everyone in the market, from student to worker bee.
Alright, having established that the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 is the outstanding baseline in the Chromebook market today, is the Acer R 13 worth the extra $174? The short answer is maybe.
It can be debated whether you need a touchscreen on a laptop or not. I don't think there is any downside in having one. It works as well as almost any laptop, on the Acer R 13.
With the touchscreen also comes the glossy screen. They tend to go together. You have to decide for yourself if you have a sufficient adversity against glossy screens.
Bending the laptop back and using it as a tablet? I don't use a laptop that way -- this one or any other. That said, there is value in the optionality. Maybe I will change my mind one day? It's not worth zero.
The higher screen resolution? Now that's an obvious value. Going from 768x1366 to 1080x1920 makes a solid difference. That's worth something.
What about the keyboard? Well, it can't get any better than the Lenovo ThinkPad, and the Acer R 13 isn't. However, it's still a decent keyboard. It's not bad. It shouldn't be the reason for not going with the Acer.
The overall body of the Acer R 13 doesn't feel as sturdy as the Lenovo. This goes for the body, as well as the hinges for the display. What I mean by that isn't that there is a problem with the Acer's hinges, as they are excellent. What I mean is that because the Acer 13R has a much heavier screen, it becomes "top-heavy" and just doesn't feel as stable overall as the Lenovo.
Again, that's really a psychological reflection of the top (screen/lid) heavy nature of the laptop, and not in any way a complaint about the Acer R 13's build quality. In that regard, both of these laptops are equally excellent.
Verdict: A draw between two perfect tens
These two laptops are truly the best Chromebooks to date, in their respective price brackets. For anywhere around $200, nothing beats the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook. It's a fantastic build quality with the best keyboard in the business. For a basic Chromebook, look no further.
The Acer R 13 gives you more, for only $174 or so more on top of the Lenovo's $190 street price. Any desire to have a touchscreen, a screen that bends back to form a tablet, and that higher screen resolution, means that the extra price is worth the difference.
You simply can't go wrong with either of these two laptops. They were the first really awesome Chromebooks in these price ranges with USB-C, and it helps that they are both superb in almost every other aspect as well. In terms of what was available at the end of 2016, I give both of these laptops a perfect 10.0 on a 10.0 scale.
What's coming around the corner: New competition!
The competitive landscape in Chromebook land does not stand still, and these two fabulous Acer and Lenovo laptops are now facing new and improved competition from companies such as Samsung and Asus. I will be reviewing those laptops hopefully very soon.
Disclosure: I am/we are long GOOGL.
Additional disclosure: At the time of submitting this article for publication, the author was long GOOGL. However, positions can change at any time.