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Acer has a 15-inch Chromebook, but it's unclear why you'd want one

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I initially wasn't going to bother writing a longer piece about Acer's new 15-inch Chromebook. I figured the last thing you wanted from me during the busiest week in tech news were hands-on photos of yet another laptop, especially when we already review so many same-y Chrome OS devices. Then it occurred to me: Although this is the first-ever 15-inch Chromebook, not to mention the largest, Acer never actually made a case for why it should exist, and it's a question that many of my peers at other tech publications don't seem to be asking. Does anyone need a notebook this big that basically just runs the Chrome browser? I belatedly spent some time with one to try and find out.

Gallery: Acer Chromebook 15 hands-on | 24 Photos

It might go without saying, but if you were to buy a 15-inch Chromebook, you'd do it for the screen real estate. Extra inches mean you can read that much more email on one screen. It makes an even nicer canvas for streaming Netflix. If you spend a lot of time working in Google Docs -- and many people do -- it could be nice to not be limited to a smaller 11- or even 13-inch screen. Same argument behind having an external display, really. So far, so good: I get it.

Though the base model will be offered with 1,366 x 768 resolution, I strongly suggest you find the extra cash to get one of the higher-end versions with a 1080p display. During my hands-on testing, I could tell immediately I was looking at the full HD model; everything like app icons and text was sharper than it would have been otherwise, though not to the point where it was ludicrously tiny. All told, Acer will actually have two 1,920 x 1,080 versions, one with a regular ol' TN screen and one with an IPS panel for wider viewing angles. Considering how many trade-offs you might be making in terms of weight and overall heft (more on that in a second), you may as well go with the IPS and make the most out of that screen as you can. If not, what's the point, really?

Speaking of the sort, this isn't a heavy machine, all things considered; there are clunkier 15-inch laptops out there. Still, at 4.85 pounds, it's impossible to ignore how much bigger and heavier it is compared to a smaller-screened Chromebook. If you were willing to put up with that weight, you could also get a Windows laptop that runs desktop programs, in addition to just the Chrome browser. All that said, the build quality is solid for a $250 machine, and the design is pleasing, if a little basic. The all-plastic laptop comes in both white and black, with a textured lid that both looks nice and probably does a good job of masking fingerprints. I'm not privy to Acer's future plans, but they'd be smart to consider using a similar design on their low-end Windows laptops too.

As you take a tour of the machine, one of the first things you'll notice are the two big speaker grilles, which sit on either side of the keyboard, kind of like a 2007-era MacBook Pro. I think, in general, it's reasonable to expect more robust sound on a larger machine, but particularly when the speakers start eating into the keyboard space, they'd better be worth it, ya know? And eat into the keyboard deck they do. Despite the fact that this 15-inch Chromebook has a wider footprint than any of its competitors, it still suffers from some shrunken buttons, especially around the arrow keys. If I'm going to carry a larger machine, I expect the keys to be the cushiest, the most spacious, the most pleasant to type on. That doesn't appear to be the case here, but I'm of course willing to revisit that in a full review.

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The last unknown seems to be performance: I'm worried it won't be enough for some people. And I'm talking from experience here. I remember years ago, when netbooks were a thing, and companies started introducing slightly larger models -- ones that had 11- or 12-inch screens, as opposed to the usual 10.1. What ended up happening was, people saw these bigger machines, and expected bigger performance. While poky performance may have been acceptable on a 10-inch system, it was hard to believe a larger system, something closer in size to a "real" laptop, could be quite that slow.

I'm concerned the same is true of 15-inch Chromebooks. The model Acer is showing off today has Intel's Broadwell-series processors, with your choice of Celeron or Core i3. I've yet to benchmark a Broadwell CPU, but so far, Celerons in Chromebooks have been... okay. Good enough for basic use, but not what I'd call powerful. Interestingly, Core i3 hasn't fared much better, at least not on Chrome OS machines. What's more the battery life might take a hit too. Speaking of which, Acer is rating this for up to eight hours of runtime -- about what you can expect on Acer's own 11-inch C720 Chromebook. If you thought you might get longer battery life in exchange for a heftier machine, you're going to be disappointed.

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All of this is to say: I think Acer has created some big expectations here. When you agree to buy a heavier machine, you expect stronger performance, better audio, a bigger battery and the comfiest of keyboards. After spending some time with the Chromebook 15 in person, I'm not sure these are promises Acer can keep.

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