The $ 399.99 Acer Chromebook Spin 513 (currently available for $ 349) is one of the very first Chromebooks to hit the market with Snapdragon technology. Specifically, it’s powered by the Snapdragon 7c Compute SC7180, which is the type of chip you’d normally expect in a tablet or phone. By that name alone, some readers can probably predict exactly what this device will become: a lightweight, mediocre performer with excellent battery life.
That’s pretty much what it is, but you get some other nice bonuses too. The screen is much nicer than the one I’ve seen on other Chromebooks at this price. It’s portable at a weight of 2.65 pounds, the speakers and microphones are usable, and it has a really smooth Gorilla Glass touchpad.
If performance is your priority, there are Chromebooks with better processors you can get at this price. But if not, the Chromebook Spin 513 outperforms even more expensive competitors in a few other areas.
Check out the Chromebooks available for the price of $ 300- $ 400, and you’ll see tons of clunkers. For example, consider Lenovo’s $ 349 Flex 3 Chromebook, or the $ 309 Chromebook C340. They’re thicker than the Spin 513, with large bezels, and they both look like they were built in 2014.
But the Spin 513 looks and feels like it belongs in a higher price range. The Acer model is thinner than both devices at 0.61 inches and has a much more modern look. The lid is made of aluminum and the reflective Acer logo adds some flair. The edges on the sides and top are fairly small, but still offer enough space to hold as a tablet. It’s also quite portable at a weight of 2.65 pounds – easy to carry with one hand and slip into a backpack or briefcase.
Speaking of tablet mode, the hinge is sturdy and you need two hands to open the lid. I like this though, as there is almost no screen wobble either (and screen wobble is the worst).
The chassis has a number of other features that you don’t often see at this price. The keyboard is backlit, which is a huge surprise. It also offers a comfortable typing experience, with satisfying keys that are still quiet. I’m picky about touchpads, but this one is quite roomy, with a smooth Gorilla Glass surface – I’d prefer it over many of the touchpads I’ve used on thousands of dollar Windows laptops. And you get good, modern port selection, including two USB Type-C ports (supports USB 3.2 Gen 1, DisplayPort and DC-in), one USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A and a 3.5mm combo audio jack. There is a USB-C on both sides, which I am very happy with because of the ease of charging.
But the biggest highlight for me is the display. I generally expect bad panels at the $ 349 price point – the Flex 3 and C340 are both small (11.6 inches), low resolution (1366 x 768), and dim. But the Spin 513 has a really nice 1920 x 1080 screen, which has as good a resolution as you’ll ever see on a laptop at this price. It produces a sharp image, and it becomes bright enough for even outdoor use (if you are in the shade). If you’re looking for an affordable Netflix machine, the Spin is a great candidate, especially given its movie-friendly 16: 9 aspect ratio. Oh, and it even has support for the USI stylus.
My only disappointment was audio. The Spin comes with two stereo speakers and two microphones. The Chromebook provided decent volume – certainly enough to fill a room – but the percussion was tinny while listening to music, and you can forget about the bass altogether. I also occasionally heard a distortion at maximum volume.
Inside, the 7c processor comes with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage. Some models support LTE connectivity, although my test unit did not.
The 7c certainly works, but the experience was a bit slow. I’ve been using the Spider as my primary work driver for a week now and I was able to finish it most of the things I needed – Google Docs for work, emailing, tweeting, etc. But I got impatient at times. For example, resizing a window or sending it to full screen takes just a little longer than it does on $ 600 devices. There were instances where my Google Doc crashed and I had to wait a few seconds to get back to work.
Unlike ARM Windows machines, the Spin 513 has no restrictions on which Android apps you can download. But some of them were glitchy. For example, Slack was only usable in a small phone-sized window and completely froze when I tried to view it in full screen. Gmail also crashed occasionally when I tried to archive messages by swiping, and sometimes I had to repeat the action. I had neither problem using the same apps on the Intel-based Flex 3 last week.
And some things didn’t work at all. Zoom meetings in the Zoom app were not possible on this device – despite using the same internet connection that I always use, my audio lagged so far on calls that people couldn’t hear me. Editing a batch of photos in Google Photos was also a slow and stuttering experience that I wouldn’t recommend. It’s hard to know if these can be attributed to Snapdragon compatibility issues that will improve over time, or if they go beyond what the processor can do.
This doesn’t mean the Spin 513 is a bad laptop. But it does mean that I am not the target audience for this Chromebook and that my standard workload in the office is slightly above the ideal ceiling. You certainly wouldn’t want to use this if you’re doing anything more than what I was doing. That includes anything comprehensive with Linux, and anything that requires an external monitor.
In comparison, the Spin 513 largely competes with Mediatek and Intel Celeron machines. It is difficult to compare the Snapdragon 7c with these chipsets (in terms of power) because their architecture is completely different. The best I can say is that anecdotally I had a slightly faster experience on the Flex 3 with the Celeron N4020. Zoom calls were better possible on that machine (although they were still bad). That said, I don’t think the difference is noticeable enough to make the Flex 3 a better buy unless you’re really picky. Both devices are really only intended for basic tasks. Think more elementary school level as opposed to high school or college.
The downside to this low performance is that the Spin’s battery life is really excellent. It took me an average of 10 hours and 15 minutes to recharge. That was continuous use, with a more intensive workload than anyone should actually do on this Chromebook, and a screen brightness of 50 percent. If your brightness is going to be lower, you are doing easier things than I am, and you are taking some breaks (probably on all three points) then I imagine you could go for a few days without needing an outlet. The 45W charger is also quite small and doesn’t add much weight to your backpack.
The big question with a Chromebook costing $ 399.99 is whether the downsides are things you can live with. In this case, the big drawback (and the large area where the Spin 513 lags a bit behind the competition) is the processor and the limited RAM. It is important to understand what this system is not made to do.
But if you’re mainly looking for YouTube and light browsing, this Chromebook is definitely the best value I’ve seen for its price. When it comes to the keyboard, touchpad, and screen, as well as the sturdy construction, hinge, and modern port selection, it’s more on par with something like the $ 649 Pixelbook Go than other budget Chromebooks like the Flex 3 and the C340 .
The more interesting comparison is with Lenovo’s $ 279 Chromebook Duet, which also comes with 4 GB of RAM, as well as a MediaTek chip. If you’re open to the form factor of a tablet, that device will have a better battery life and the processor will fly. But it’s also a fairly small device (10.1 inches), so it won’t be a better buy if you’re looking for a full-size laptop.
The Chromebook Spin 513 isn’t for everyone. But it’s certainly the device it would be – a durable, portable machine for light workloads – and if you’re shopping in the $ 399 range it’s definitely worth a look.
Photography by Monica Chin / The Verge