Hey, remember Chromebooks? Those ultra-cheap laptops that run a stripped-down operating system built on Google’s Chrome web browser? You know, the one your kid had to use for Zoom school and all that “asynchronous learning” during the pandemic?
Well, Chromebooks are back, and they’re better than ever. This month, Google rolled out a big upgrade called Chromebook Plus, an umbrella category for a new class of devices from various manufacturers (including Google itself). The big sell is speed: New Chromebook Plus laptops promise double the performance over “top selling Chromebooks from July 2022 to Dec 2022,” thanks to faster processors, more memory, more storage, and even better video cameras—all while keeping starting prices at the $400 level.
My first encounter with a Chromebook Plus was this Acer 515 model, which is built around a 15.6-inch (nontouch) display. The 12th-generation 3.85-GHz Intel Core i3-1215U processor is indeed an impressive leap over Chromebooks from the previous generation, though the 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of flash storage on this entry-level configuration have been available on Chromebooks for years. Naturally, you can buy higher-end models with more of everything, though upgrading sort of defeats the purpose of buying a Chromebook. Connectivity options are par for the course, including two USB-C ports (with DisplayPort supported), one USB-A port, and an HDMI 1.4 output jack.
The boost in performance is palpable from the get-go. If you’ve ever used a budget Chromebook, you’ve probably groaned at how ploddingly slow it is on menial tasks. Even this minimal configuration is vastly faster than anything that’s come before—at least twice as fast as older (and more expensive) models I’ve tested and often three or four times faster. Battery life hasn’t suffered, with a solid 8.5 hours of full-screen video playback time.
Meanwhile, new apps borrowed from Google’s Pixel universe are included to give the device more oomph, including the Magic Eraser photo-editing feature, options for backup and sync to Google Drive, dynamic wallpapers, a snazzy video editor, and enhanced video camera controls.
All of that was going great until my second day of testing, when the Acer Chromebook Plus 515 up and died on me—completely. I closed the lid and plugged it in to charge. When I reopened the laptop later, nothing happened, and the system would no longer boot. Troubleshooting with Acer’s engineering team failed to revive the computer and the company had to send a replacement unit. So far, so good with the new one.