With a great screen, good design and speedy specs, this is one of the best Chromebooks, full stop – and even better for game streaming
- High-end spec suits all applications
- Impressive high-resolution screen
- Strong gaming experience with Xbox Game Streaming and GeForce Now
- Enough performance to run Android games and older games with Steam
- Game streaming will depend on your bandwidth at home
- Limited game support through GeForce Now
- Expensive by Chromebook standards
Few platform holders would be so contrary as to launch a new wave of devices for game streaming within weeks of cancelling their own game streaming service but, then, Google has never been too bothered about how other companies behave. And, on the plus side, this strange behaviour has left us with a trio of promising Chromebooks from Asus, Acer and Lenovo, designed to give you all you need for a great gaming experience but without the weight or price tag of your average gaming laptop.
All three have launched in the US but Acer will be the first out of the game this side of the Atlantic with the Acer Chromebook 516GE. The gaming appeal comes in its big 120Hz QHD screen, powerful speakers, RGB keyboard and Wi-Fi 6E connectivity, but this is still a device more aimed at streaming games from remote services than running them locally, with GeForce Now and Xbox Game Streaming filling the hole left by the demise of Google Stadia.
Acer Chromebook 516GE review: What you need to know
To be honest, it doesn’t matter whether you’re into gaming or not. The screen and specifications alone make this one of the most exciting Chromebooks to emerge this year. The highlight is the 16.1in, 2,560 x 1,600 IPS screen, which supports 120Hz refresh rates and promises 100% sRGB coverage.
Inside, you also get a 12th-generation Core i5 or i7 P-series CPU (a Core i5-1240P in our test sample) along with up to 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. That’s the kind of configuration that’s only been available on high-end enterprise Chromebooks up until now but, here, you get for just £799.
While you can now install Steam locally and run some games, the CPU’s integrated GPU means that you won’t get the kind of performance you’d expect from even an entry-level Windows gaming laptop. However, Xbox Games Pass Ultimate subscribers can stream Xbox games through a Chrome Web app, while Google throws in a three-month subscription to the top tier of GeForce Now, with an RTX 3080 setup, 1440p resolutions and up to 120fps frame rates, provided your Internet connection can take the heat.
Be aware that once the subscription runs out, this setup’s going to cost you £18 a month or £90 for six months in advance. The more affordable Priority service takes that down to £9 and £45 with 1080p 60fps on a lower-end RTX GPU, or you can settle for the basic rig for absolutely nothing, if you can put up with queues for access and one hour session lengths.
NB: Following delays, the Acer Chromebook 516GE will now not be available from the beginning of 2023
Acer Chromebook 516GE review: Price and competition
As mentioned, Asus and Lenovo are both launching gaming Chromebooks: the Asus Chromebook Vibe CX55 Flip and the Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming Chromebook. The Asus has a lower spec with an 11th gen Core i5-1135G7 and a 15.6in 1080p screen, while the Lenovo is a closer match for the Acer with the same screen size, refresh rate and resolution and a choice of Core i5-1235U and Core i3-1215U processors. In the US, the IdeaPad Gaming Chromebook is the cheapest of the bunch but we’ve yet to see what pricing will be like over here.
Beyond the new gaming Chromebooks there are some other great options but nothing with the same size and quality of screen. Premium Chromebooks like the new Acer Spin 714 (£799) are also now arriving with 12th-gen processors but there you’re limited to a 14in, 1080p display. It’s the same deal with the Asus CX9 (£1,299), although this has an 11th-gen Core i7 and the 17in Chromebooks have lower Pentium and Celeron-based specifications. If you want a fast CPU and a 16in screen, these new gaming models have the niche all to themselves.
Acer Chromebook 516GE review: Design
The Chromebook 516E has nowhere near the heft of your average gaming laptop, but it’s still noticeably chunkier than most of Acer’s regular Chromebooks. The usual wedge-shaped profile is present – with the lid closed, it’s 22mm thick at the rear – although the 357 x 249mm desktop footprint is smaller than that of some 15.6in laptops. It has the kind of aluminium alloy shell we’ve come to expect from mid-range Acer Chromebooks and it feels well-built and reasonably robust with no nasty sharp edges or obvious seams and not too much flex in the lid.
As with some of Acer’s larger Chromebooks, the keyboard sits dead centre with speaker grills on either side, while there are sizeable vents in the base and just underneath the screen. As for connectivity, that’s great by Chromebook standards, with 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet, a 3.5mm audio jack and a 10Gbit/sec USB 3.2 gen 2 port on the left-hand side, plus a USB 3.2 gen 1, another USB 3.2 gen 2 and an HDMI 2.1 port on the right.
That’s impressive enough to be getting on with but inside we also get Bluetooth 5.2 and Wi-Fi 6E. Again, these are specifications you rarely see on consumer-grade Chromebooks.
Acer Chromebook 516GE review: Keyboard and touchpad
The Chromebook 516GE doesn’t have a mechanical keyboard but it does have a rather nice, tactile chiclet effort with a subtle click and RGB backlighting, not to mention extra edging around the WASD keys.
Gamer or not, it’s one of Acer’s better efforts, with a crisp action and a sensible layout that doesn’t try to cram the keys in or cut the Shift, Ctrl and Return keys down to miniscule proportions. By default, the backlight is set to mimic the colour of your desktop wallpaper but you can set a colour or choose a rainbow effect if you prefer.
The trackpad doesn’t have any specific gaming features but it’s big, smooth and responsive to swipes, taps and gestures, which is really all you can ask for. Most gamers are going to plug in a controller or gaming mouse, anyway. In fact, my now obsolete Stadia controller works a treat, albeit only via a USB connection.
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Acer Chromebook 516GE review: Display and sound
Even if you never played a single game on it, this would be one of the best screens around on a mid-range Chromebook. Thanks to the size and resolution, it’s pin sharp. I measured peak brightness at 406cd/m2 and, while the black level isn’t exactly deep or pure black, you still get a decent contrast ratio of 1,075:1.
In my testing, I measured sRGB coverage at 97.8% and DCI P3 coverage of 72.5%; not incredible results but excellent by the standards of the Chrome OS competition. Colour accuracy is even better, with an average Delta E of just 1.29.
It’s also a better screen in use than the numbers suggest. Streaming 4K video looks fantastic, with vivid colours and plenty of detail, while games also work well both at 1440p and at 1,920 x 1,080 or 1,980 x 1,200.
The sound doesn’t quite measure up, with a little too much congestion in the mid-range and too little body elsewhere but it’s fine for gaming, video streaming or music at low volumes, and the wide stereo spread makes for some convincing effects in films and games.
Acer Chromebook 516GE review: Performance and battery life
With its Intel Core i5-1240P CPU and 16GB of RAM, the 516GE is comfortably the fastest Chromebook we’ve ever tested. Its Geekbench 5 multi-threaded score is nearly three times that of the nearest contender, the 2021 Acer Chromebook 713 (£599), while its scores in the WebXprt 3 and CrXprt 2 benchmarks, which simulate real-world performance in Web applications, are significantly higher.
Where the Chromebook 713 scored 253 in WebXprt 3 and 146 in CrXprt 2, the 516GE recorded scores of 299 and 172. We don’t have scores for the Chromebook 713 in the newer WebXprt 4 test but it’s safe to say that it will be far ahead of any other Chrome OS device we’ve tested here as well.
More importantly, in everyday use it feels invincible, never struggling under the weight of a dozen Chrome tabs, even with some running Web-based apps like Photopea or streaming video. Switching between tabs or apps is incredibly snappy, and there’s almost no friction in the experience. Chrome OS always involves adjusting your workflows and your mindset but it’s a pleasure to use on a system as quick and responsive as this.
As for gaming, the scores in GFXBench are impressive with decent frame rates at both 1080p and the screen’s native resolution, and even in the more demanding Car Chase and Aztec tests. I installed the beta version of Steam and, while game support is currently limited, older titles like Dishonored ran perfectly smoothly at 1440p with all detail levels maxed out.
But this is really a laptop designed for game streaming rather than native rendering, and here it shines. GeForce Now gives you the best experience. I tried the Premier tier, and while my internet connection resulted in some choppy gameplay at 1440p, the visuals in games like Metro Exodus, Destiny II, Control and Sniper Elite 4 look fantastic, with superb definition and high quality settings enabled, not to mention ray-tracing effects. At 1080p, the action was perfectly smooth, although that’s more a reflection of my connectivity than the capabilities of the device itself.
I didn’t expect so much from Xbox Game Streaming but while you don’t quite get the same resolution, you still get a great experience with what appears to be a 60fps frame rate and little sign of blur or pixelation. Within a few minutes of playing Doom Eternal or Forza Horizon 5, I forgot I was streaming and just became absorbed in the gameplay bar just the odd and very short-lived moment of barely noticeable input lag. Stadia was a slightly tighter experience running at a higher resolution but the Microsoft alternative really isn’t bad at all.
One other thing I like: once you run a game on any service, you can find it again from the main Chrome OS search box. Just select it from the results as they appear and it streams straight away from there. Integration doesn’t get much better than that.
Of course, your mileage is going to vary. Only those with deep pockets and ultrafast Internet connections will be getting the full 1440p, 120fps flavour of GeForce Now, and even the 1080p experience won’t be available everywhere. It’s also worth mentioning that actual game support on GeForce Now is still far from comprehensive, with a lot of publishers and major franchises still unavailable.
With the high-resolution screen and beefy specification, I expected battery life to be a problem, but the Chromebook 516GE managed nearly nine and a half hours of HD video playback at our standard 170cd/m2 before giving up the ghost. Gaming at nearer full brightness will put the battery under a lot more strain but you could definitely get an average day’s work done without needing a recharge.
Acer Chromebook 516GE review: Verdict
The Acer Chromebook 516 GE isn’t going to be everyone’s dream games machine. In fact, if you’re a serious PC gamer, you’d still be better off with a budget gaming laptop, where performance and game support is going to be more predictable.
However, the 516GE has two things going for it. First, it’s a great companion laptop if your main gaming device is an Xbox Console or a desktop games PC; you can stream through GeForce Now or Xbox Game Streaming, or even from your own system using Steam Link. You’ll also have access to plenty of games right off the bat, as I can’t imagine anyone buying a subscription to either service without an existing Xbox console or PC, or having some existing PC games to run.
Second, it’s just a great Chromebook and, arguably, one of the best for use around the home. You might want thinner or lighter for travel or working on the move but you won’t get a better screen or specification for this money anywhere else. Sure, it’s expensive by Chromebook standards, but it is worth every penny.