Acer Chromebook Spin 513 Review: Ultra-portable, less performance
Acer created quite a splash in the Chromebook community when they announced Qualcomm chips were coming to their Spin lineup. It took quite a while for those chips to actually arrive, with a nearly 3 year wait between the announcement and the arrival of the Acer Chromebook Spin 513. The excitement over Qualcomm chips is mainly due to hopes for insane battery life and better integration for Android apps on Chrome OS. These both seem likely possible outcomes, as Qualcomm spends most of its time optimizing mobile chips and 5G/4G LTE modems for Android smartphones. Can the Spin 513 live up to the hype? That’s what I set out to find out in my week of testing this Qualcomm Chromebook.
Before we start, it’s worth mentioning this laptop has come down in price a bit since its initial release. There are several configurations available, but the most common model (tested here) retailed initially for over $430. The price is now down to $399 on Acer’s website and you can find it even cheaper with occasional sales at some other retailers bringing it down to $349. This is quite important as the value proposition is the most important aspect of this Chromebook.
Acer Chromebook Spin 513: Specifications
|Specification||Acer Chromebook Spin 513|
|Dimensions & Weight||
|RAM & Storage||
|Battery & Charging||
About this review: I received the Spin 513 model with 4GB RAM/64 GB eMMc storage from Acer for testing. Acer did not have any input in any part of this review.
Design and keyboard/touchpad
The first thing I noticed about the Spin 513 is the incredibly light and thin form factor. Acer lists the weight on their website as 2.84lbs, but I weighed it myself and found my model to be closer to 2.6 lbs. Obviously there’s a little bit of variance on each unit, but I can definitively say it’s lighter on average than what Acer claims on the specs page. Add that to the .61″ thickness and you have a device that feels more like a tablet than a laptop. Not that it’s a bad thing — there’s a big market out there for ultra-portable Chromebooks.
The Pure Silver color gives the laptop an appearance of metal all-around, but the bottom chassis itself is made of plastic. The plastic is color-matched fairly well with the aluminum lid.
Aside from the color, the plastic body does cheapen the overall feel in hand just a bit. I was disappointed to find the laptop doesn’t pass the one-handed open test. This is fairly expected with a device sporting a metal lid and plastic bottom. As a result, you do get an incredibly sturdy hinge that supports the display without any wobbling back and forth.
Moving on to the keyboard, the plastic body once again presents a few minor issues. If you’re someone that likes to bang on your keyboard pretty hard, the Spin 513 sinks in fairly deep with each keystroke. This is something that did bother me when typing at my fastest speeds for work. The plastic build has just a little too much give, especially in the middle of the keyboard. The huge bonus is the backlighting on the keyboard, almost unheard of for this price. Props to Acer for including some premium features at a great value.
Continuing with the list of premium features on a fairly affordable device, Acer has included a Gorilla glass-covered touchpad. The touchpad is incredibly fluid and has just the right amount of click and feedback for me. You can notice the flex of the plastic chassis when clicking as well, but for me it was less noticeable than the keyboard flex mentioned earlier.
This touchpad is also rather spacious for a portable Chromebook. My standard for a laptop touchpad is the MacBook Pro, and honestly this one isn’t too far off in terms of smoothness.
Finally, let’s discuss the available ports on the Spin 513. You get 2 USB-C ports, 1 USB-A port, and a microphone/headphone jack. It’s a bit disappointing to not find a microSD slot or HDMI port, but it’s important to keep in mind this Chromebook is still closer to the budget segment in terms of price.
Display, performance, and battery life
With a FHD display, the Spin 513 is somewhat an anomaly in this class of Chromebooks. Most devices you find below $400 have much lower resolution displays. Right away, that’s a win for the Spin 513. In addition, the display gets bright enough at around 300 nits of maximum brightness. That’s also beating nearly all of the best Chromebooks in its class.
The IPS panel also provides solid color accuracy and viewing angles. I was able to use this laptop outside pretty well, as long as I was not in direct sunlight. My unit did have a bit of a blue tint to the display, but of course these uniformity issues occur with any product that uses an LCD panel.
Touch accuracy is also good, with no issues using Android apps in tablet mode. Playing games and watching Netflix are enjoyable activities with the Spin 513’s 16:9 display. As is the case with many Chromebooks, the speakers are the real detractor for media consumption. You get stereo speakers, but they are bottom-firing which is never optimal. Maximum volume is still pretty quiet and there is virtually zero bass when listening to music. The audio is passable for the occasional podcast or streaming movies, but you should absolutely use headphones for music.
Performance on the Spin 513 is just okay. I was expecting much better performance from the first highly-anticipated Qualcomm Chromebook. For more demanding tasks, this Chromebook is quite a bit slower than models that feature low-end Intel processors. It’s generally fine for writing documents or browsing the web, but playing games is pretty disappointing, considering how well Qualcomm chips perform on Android phones. In fact, Android app support in general is not great (more on that in a moment).
I tried running some Linux apps on the Acer Spin 513 as well, which wasn’t the best experience. Running GIMP, Kdenlive and MATLAB, all of which I run on my Galaxy Chromebook 2 easily, was nearly impossible. In general, I wouldn’t recommend attempting any seriously demanding work or gaming on this machine. It’s relatively quiet while struggling to keep up, so that’s something that will impress some potential buyers.
The good news is the Spin 513 does deliver excellent battery life. I certainly didn’t get the 14 hours of use Acer claims on the spec sheet, but I did average a respectable 10.5-11 hours of actual on-screen time. During my testing I also put it through some pretty heavy workloads, so that could potentially stretch to 14 hours if you only do light browsing and use productivity apps. It’s pretty rare the number listed by an OEM is attainable in practice, but that’s at least conceivable with the Spin 513.
A special note on Android apps
When I received the Spin 513, I was most excited to test out the Android app performance on a Qualcomm Chromebook. Many enthusiasts, myself included, expected Qualcomm Chromebooks to bring about a new era of Android app usability for Chrome OS. Unfortunately, those hopes were largely unfounded when examining the Spin 513. Things might improve with future iterations, but the 7c chip is not what anyone expected when it comes to performance.
Most Android games of interest are almost unplayable on the Spin 513. Playing Asphalt 8 or 9 is impossible at the lowest settings. I was able to play PUBG, but even that game had occasional lag and hiccups during my session. Your best bet for gaming on this Chromebook is through Stadia. I didn’t have any issues playing Stadia, which runs your games in the cloud instead of on the Chromebook.
Hopefully Qualcomm and Acer will figure out some of these issues in future iterations, but for now performance leaves a lot to be desired. Qualcomm chips perform admirably on Android phones when it comes to gaming, so I truly believe this will get sorted out eventually.
As the sum of its parts, the Acer Spin 513 is an impressive deal for most Chromebook users. If you need a Chromebook for school or basic browsing and media consumption, this is a solid option to consider. The display is excellent for the price, you get a nice backlit keyboard, glass trackpad, and an ultra-portable design. Battery life is also excellent in practice, making this a great machine for school or for use while traveling. There’s no doubt that in terms of value, this is one of Acer’s best Chromebooks.
On the other hand, enthusiasts and power users should probably stay away from this laptop. Performance is bad enough that you’ll be disappointed if you need to perform demanding tasks with your Chromebook. There are devices at this price point with better performance, but they’re also missing some of the extras I mentioned earlier. If you can’t live with that tradeoff, you might need to spend a few extra bucks to get a more premium Chromebook like the Galaxy Chromebook 2.
If you want a 2-in-1 Chromebook, but not at a high price, the Spin 513 is a great option. You still get a bright and vivid HD display, along with excellent battery life. If you need to work on the go, the Spin 513 has optional 4G LTE capability. Performance isn't the best, but if you're not a power user this is a nice Chromebook.