It has its flaws, but the speedy Acer Chromebook CB514-1W is a great buy
Pros Fast Pentium Gold processorDecent screenComfortable, lightweight designCons Loud but tinny audioSub-par battery life
For manufacturers, mid-range Chromebooks are always a balancing act. The low-resolution screens and weedy processors of the budget models won’t be acceptable at a £400 to £500 price point, but go too far with the screen or the specification and you start hitting premium Chromebook territory.
What makes the latest Acer Chromebook CB514-1W so interesting is that it gets you very close to the premium experience without sacrificing affordability. With one caveat we’ll get to later, it’s as good a Chromebook as you can expect to find for £400.
Acer Chromebook CB514-1W review: What you need to know
Acer has been dishing out variants of the mid-range Chromebook CB514-1W for a good few years now, and they’ve generally fallen into two types.
The cheaper models have suffered from slow, outdated Intel Celeron processors and poor, low-resolution screens.
The more expensive models have had better, Full HD 1080p displays but often had weak internals. The Chromebook CB514-1W makes neither mistake. It has a classy chassis, a decent 14in, 1080p screen and one of Intel’s newest 11th-generation Pentium Gold 7505 processors. What’s more, it comes with some features you might not expect, including support for Wi-Fi 6, two Thunderbolt 4 ports and a built-in fingerprint reader.
Acer Chromebook CB514-1W review: Price and competition
There’s some decent competition at this price point. The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i is £30 more expensive but comes with an Intel Core i3-1115G4 processor, a 13.3in screen and a 2-in-1 convertible design.
There’s a version of the HP Chromebook x360 for the same money but with a slower, older Pentium Silver N6000 CPU. The other clear rival is the 4GB version of the Acer Chromebook Spin 513, which uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 7c processor rather than an Intel chip. We’ll get to how the two compare later, but the CB514-1W on review is weaker in some respects while being slightly stronger in others.
Acer Chromebook CB514-1W review: Design
One thing the Chromebook CB514-1W has in common with the Spin 513 is that neither looks or feels like a sub-£500 device. Look closely, and you’ll notice the deck around the keyboard is a metallic plastic rather than the gunmetal alloy of the lid, but it feels robust and well fitted to the curved edges and shallow body.
The last-generation 514 actually had an aluminium keyboard deck but with some odd sharp edges and a clumsy join to the plastic base. The more plastic-heavy revision is arguably an improvement.
What you won’t get with the CB514-1W is any of the Spin 513’s flexible 2-in-1 convertible tricks. It’s a standard clamshell-design laptop and it doesn’t even have a touchscreen. However, Acer’s streamlined design and narrow bezels keep the size down to a 323 x 220mm desktop footprint and a 20mm maximum thickness, and it weighs a mere 1.4kg. Used either on the lap or on the desk, it’s a very comfortable and effective productivity machine, built to get things done.
The connectivity mirrors some of Acer’s higher-end Chromebooks and is surprisingly generous. On the left edge are two USB Type-C ports that support Thunderbolt 4, along with a 3.5mm audio jack and an HDMI output. On the right, there’s a USB-A 3.1 port and a microSD card slot.
The icing on the cake is the Wi-Fi 6 connectivity. This is still far from a given on mid-range and budget Chromebooks and it ensures you can get a good, fast connection anywhere around the home, provided you’ve upgraded your network with 802.11ax kit as well.
Acer Chromebook CB514-1W review: Keyboard and touchpad
I haven’t been consistently impressed by the quality of Acer Chromebook keyboards – there have been some horrifically mushy efforts through the years – but the CB514-1W’s keyboard is actually pretty good.
There isn’t a whole lot of travel, but the feel is firm with more tactile feedback than the keyboard on the Spin 513, with a slightly crisper action than the Acer Chromebook Spin 713. There’s no nasty flexing in the centre when you’re typing and no awful layout choices, either.
The trackpad is even better. It’s topped with Gorilla Glass, measures 105 x 65mm, and is hard to fault both for tracking pointer movements and for registering swipes and taps. It’s another area where the CB514-1W feels more expensive than it is.
Just below the bottom-right corner of the keyboard there’s also a fingerprint reader, which can be used to unlock the Chromebook when it’s gone to sleep. It’s easy to set up and works well in practice, although – for security reasons that baffle me – you can only unlock your Chromebook with it from standby. It won’t work when first turning on the CB514-1W from cold, or if you’ve manually signed out.
Acer Chromebook CB514-1W review: Display and sound
Here’s another pleasant surprise: the screen is surprisingly good. Previous 514 Chromebooks I’ve looked at have either had grainy, dull HD screens or slightly dim Full HD displays, but the screen on the CB514-1W is relatively sharp and bright.
I measured the max brightness at 274cd/m² and contrast at a reasonable 1,095:1 and, while those figures aren’t great by the standards of your average £699 or more laptop, they’re significantly better than most other sub-£500 Chromebooks. It’s a fine screen for casual Netflix or YouTube viewing, Google Stadia gaming or hard work.
Where it falls short is colour. For a start, it can only reproduce 61% of the sRGB gamut, so if you’re looking for rich and accurate colours, you’re not going to find them here. The average Delta E colour variance measure of 5.78 isn’t actually that bad, but anyone wanting to edit photographs or videos at a serious level will still need to go upmarket.
As for the speakers, they go surprisingly loud at peak volumes, but that’s where the good news ends. The output is boxy, harsh and a bit wearing on the ears at anything above the halfway mark.
Acer Chromebook CB514-1W review: Performance and battery life
We’ve seen a lot of Chromebooks with Intel Core i3 processors and a fair few with the old low-end Pentium N range, but not many with the more recent Pentium Gold or Silver CPUs.
Let’s hope the 514-1W is a sign of things to come, because it turns out to be a sweet option. Speeds are below the levels of the 11th Gen Intel Core i3 Chromebooks we’ve tested recently but a big improvement on Celeron and Pentium N devices, thanks to the two-core, four-thread setup and 3.5GHz max burst speed.
The CB514-1W scored 922 in the single-core Geekbench 5 64-bit benchmark and 2,071 in multicore, putting it behind the Core i3-based Spin 713 at 1,161 and 2,600 but way in front of the Pentium N-based Chromebook 514, which scored 342 and 1,237. In the more rigorous BaseMark and CRXprt benchmarks the difference was even more marked, with the 514-1W scoring 881 and 127 respectively, where the old model scored 267 and 48.
This difference is noticeable in general use. While the CB514-1W has only 4GB of RAM, it still feels slick and speedy, jumping from browser tab to browser tab and web-based app to web-based app without a hitch, and coping well when there are a dozen browser tabs open and competing for resources.
Unfortunately, there’s one downside to this faster spec and screen superiority, and that’s below-par battery life. We’re getting pretty nonchalant now about Chromebooks lasting 12 hours or more, so having a Chromebook that runs out of juice after just 7hrs 8mins of looping video playback comes as a shock.
It’s something I’d be willing to live with given the quality of the device elsewhere, but if you need a Chromebook with stamina, look elsewhere. In fact, the Acer Chromebook Spin 513 would be a good place to start: although it lags behind the 514-1W on everyday performance, its battery lasted over three-and-a-half hours longer in the same video test.
Acer Chromebook CB514-1W review: Verdict
Up to a point, the Chromebook CB514-1W rewrites the rules for mid-range Chromebooks. It’s cheap, it looks good, it has excellent connectivity and it’s more than fast enough for most purposes, while the screen is one of the best I’ve seen for under £500.
It’s only battery life that disappoints, so the decision over whether to buy one or not comes down to priorities. If you need a slimmer, lighter, more versatile Chromebook for use primarily on the move, the Acer Chromebook Spin 513 edges ahead, but if you’re looking for a balance of price, performance and great usability, the CB514-1W is the best mid-range Chromebook of the moment.