Earlier this week, Google and hardware partners ASUS, Acer, and Lenovo announced a somewhat surprising initiative to build Chromebooks expressly for cloud gaming. While many Chromebooks are a mess of the classic 13-inch laptop, the first round of these devices have large, high-resolution screens with fast refresh rates, anti-glare keyboards, powerful processors, and a few software tweaks to work better with cloud gaming. Services like GeForce NOW.
All of these laptops are set for release at the end of October, but I got a chance to check out Acer’s Chromebook 516 GE, which is pre-production. Last week, I played some games with it and went through my daily work. I need to test the final version before I can give a proper review, but whether you play games on the Chromebook 516 GE or not.
Acer offers a few configurations of this laptop, but the one I tried was available for pre-order at Best Buy. It has a 12th-generation Intel Core i5-1240P processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and a 16-inch, 2,560×1,600 display with a 120Hz refresh rate. The 516 GE is larger and heavier than many Chromebooks, but 3.75 pounds is very reasonable for a 16-inch laptop.
As an all-around machine, there’s a lot to like about the 516 GE, assuming you’re fine with a non-portable computer. The screen is simply great to work with—at an effective default resolution of 1,600 x 1,000, there’s plenty of vertical space, and I’m easily able to have large windows (like Google Docs and Slack) side by side without feeling cramped. The brightness level of 350 nits won’t blow you away, but it felt like plenty to me, and colors are nicely saturated without being overpowering. And while the 120Hz refresh rate doesn’t change the basic experience of using a Chromebook, things like scrolling through YouTube or adjusting windows feel smooth and fluid.
The keyboard and trackpad are also good. The keyboard is large and spacious, and the keys have a lot of travel. Equal to a long writing session or playing games. And the computer’s large deck means the trackpad is one of the largest I’ve used on a Chromebook; It is smooth and responsive. The keyboard has RGB LED backlighting on its gaming heritage and a design around the WASD keys, but that’s about the only advancements that make this computer feel like a “gaming laptop.”
The real question for this laptop is whether it offers a better cloud gaming experience than other options (including other Chromebooks). I’m not ready to pass judgment on that yet, but both NVIDIA’s GeForce Now and Xbox Cloud Gaming worked here without issue. I plugged in my Xbox controller and got down to business. On GeForce Now, which I connected to my Steam account, I spent my time playing. Portal And Shadow of the Tomb RaiderWhile I tried as favorites Forza Horizon 5 And Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge Through my Game Pass subscription.
There is no doubt that this display elevates the experience, both simply in terms of size and quality. I haven’t tested games at 120Hz yet, but everything I did was fine – assuming my connection stayed strong. The 516 GE has a WiFi 6E chip in it, but I don’t have a 6E router yet so that doesn’t help. And even when I’m in the same room as my router with a strong signal, the quality of your game streams varies dramatically. Overall, GeForce Now feels more reliable than Xbox Cloud Gaming. When playing Xbox games, the image appeared very frequently in a noticeable and game-disrupting fashion. With GeForce Now, on the other hand, I experienced the occasional burst of dropped frames, but the images started tearing and distorting like they did on Xbox Cloud Gaming.
Neither was as good as playing a locally installed game, and the overall experience isn’t all that different from what I’ve experienced running cloud games on my MacBook Pro or other laptops. Acer can make a good laptop, but there’s only so much you can do about iffy streaming quality. And my internet connection isn’t exactly slow – I dropped to about 170Mbps in my speed test when I finished playing.
At $650, Acer’s Chromebook 516 GE looks like a solid value — the combination of powerful hardware, a great screen and keyboard, and solid build quality make it a compelling device. Chromebooks with i5 processors usually cost at least as much, if not more, and the 516 GE has its fair share of features that make it unique. Google’s drive to convince people that Chromebooks are worth playing is another story, but at least Acer’s latest will be available once it’s available.