The Acer Chromebook Tab 10 is the first Chrome OS tablet to ship without a keyboard. It has a 9.7 inch, 2048 x 1536 pixel touchscreen display, a pen that tucks away into a slot in the side of the tablet when you’re not using it, and a version of Google’s Chrome operating system that’s been optimized for touch input.
A few years ago the idea of a Chrome OS tablet would have seemed odd. The selling point of Chrome OS was that it was built around the desktop version of Google’s Chrome web browser. For years Google insisted that Chrome OS was for laptops and desktops and Android was for mobile devices.
But then Google started bringing support for the Google Play Store and Android apps to Chrome OS. We started to see convertible Chromebooks with 360-degree hinges that let you fold the keyboard back and hold the computers in notebook mode. And this year HP started shipping the first Chrome OS tablet with a detachable keyboard, giving you the option of leaving the keyboard behind when you don’t need it.
Acer is the first company to ship a Chrome OS tablet without any keyboard at all. Sure, you can pair the tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard or plug in a wired one. But this is a tablet-first device.
The Acer Chromebook Tab 10 is also aimed squarely at the education market. Acer sells it to schools for $329 and has no plans to make it widely available to normal retailers like Amazon or Best Buy, although you can buy it from Promevo or CDW. So when Acer agreed to loan me a Chromebook Tab 10 to review, I promised to consider it first and foremost as a device designed for use by students in a classroom setting (or maybe for homework).
At the same time, this tablet presents a glimpse of things to come, and so I’ll also spend some time considering how it could be used for work and play in other settings… not because Acer has given any indication that this particular tablet will be sold through business or consumer channels anytime soon, but because I’m pretty sure we’ll start to see other Chrome OS tablets soon that are designed for the consumer market.
In some ways I expect Chrome OS tablets to be the new Android tablets. While the user experience isn’t perfect yet, most apps that you could run on a Samsung Galaxy Tab will also run on a tablet like the one featured in this review. And unlike Android tablets, which typically get 2-3 years of software updates at best (and none at all at worst), Chrome OS devices get a guaranteed 5 years of feature and security updates delivered directly from Google.
But Chrome OS tablets aren’t just positioned to compete with Android devices. They’re also poised to become more competitive with Apple’s iPads and Windows tablets like the Microsoft Surface Go and Surface pro, thanks to upcoming support for Linux applications. In fact, if you switch from the stable channel of Chrome OS to the dev channel, you can already install some desktop Linux applications on the Acer Chromebook Tab 10, and I’ll touch on that experience a bit in this review as well (spoiler alert: the unstable channel is less stable… but Linux apps do make the tablet more useful).
- 9.7 inch, 2048 x 1536 pixel IPS display
- OP1 hexa-core processor (2 x ARM Cortex-A72 + 4 ARM Cortex-A53 CPU cores)
- 4GB LPDDR3 dual-channel memory
- 32GB eMMC storage
- microSD card reader
- 802.11ac WiFi
- Bluetooth 4.1
- 5MP rear + 2MP front camera
- 34.02 Whr battery
- USB 3.1 Type-C port (for charging and data)
- Headset jack
- Wacom EMR pen
- 9.4″ x 6.8″ x 0.4″
- 1.2 pounds
The Acer Chromebook Tab 10 is designed for use in K-12 classroom settings, and while it doesn’t have a super-rugged design, it does have a ridged blue plastic back cover that makes the tablet easy to grip and which does a pretty good job of resisting fingerprints.
From the front, the tablet looks… more or less like any other tablet released in the past decade. It’s a rectangle with black borders on each side of the screen, and reasonably thick borders, at that. The Acer logo is on the bottom of the tablet (when held in portrait mode), and a front-facing camera at the top.
On the left side of the tablet you’ll find power and volume buttons as well as a microSD card slot. Further down the tablet you’ll find an opening where you can store the stylus when it’s not in use.
The tablet comes with an Acer digital pen that uses Wacom EMR technology. It supports pressure-sensitive input for writing or drawing and doesn’t require a battery, so you never have to charge the pen.
The stylus measures about 3.9 inches long and it’s only about a quarter inch in diameter, making it a bit smaller than a typical pen or pencil. That could make it a little less comfortable to hold for an extended period, but I found it pretty comfortable to use for jotting brief notes or drawing basic pictures (which is about all I’m capable of drawing).
On the bottom of the tablet, there’s a USB Type-C port. There’s a headphone jack on the top of the tablet, and there are speakers on the top and bottom (which become the left and right speakers in landscape mode).
The demo unit Acer sent me also has the serial number, FCC ID, and other information pasted in stickers on the right side of the tablet.
The tablet comes with a USB-C power adapter, but it’s a two-piece charger that looks more like a typical notebook power brick than a compact smartphone charger.
Using a Chrome OS tablet
Google’s Chrome OS was originally designed for notebook and desktop computers, and like Windows it features a taskbar and a desktop. Tap the circle button in the taskbar and you get a full-screen list of installed applications, similar to the Android app drawer. Or tap the status notifications on the right side of the taskbar and you get a quick settings menu that lets you adjust volume and brightness, toggle wireless features, or perform other actions. Any available notifications will also show up when you tap this area.
What makes the Acer Chromebook Tab 10 a little different from other Chromebooks is that browser windows, Android apps, and Linux apps all run in full-screen mode by default. You can’t simply tap an icon to resize them and reposition them on the screen the way you would in a desktop operating system.
You can use a split-screen mode to view multiple apps or windows at once. Just tap the task switcher icon on the far right side of the taskbar to bring up an Alt+Tab style view with thumbnail versions of all your currently running programs, and then drag one of those programs to the left or right side of the screen (or top or bottom if you’re using the tablet in portrait mode).
This will make the app take up half the screen, and you’ll the other currently running apps in the rest of the display. Tap one and it will fill the other half of the screen.
Note that not all applications support split screen view, particularly if you’re using Linux apps, some of which are not optimized to run in small windows.
If you drag the middle line separating the left app from the right app, you can also sometimes increase the size of one window and shrink the other so that one app takes up 75 percent of the screen and the other gets just 25 percent, for example. But I’ve found this to be a bit hit or miss, and more often than not dragging the center bar just causes the window I’m trying to make larger to fill the screen entirely.
If you want to view two Chrome browser windows side-by-side, you can do that too. It’s not quite as easy as on a laptop, where you can drag a browser tab off the window to create a new window. But long-press the Chrome icon and tap the “new window” option to open a second Chrome window. You can then switch back and forth between the two windows or view them side-by side in split-screen mode.
For the most part, the full-screen-by-default view seems like a reasonable solution for a tablet with a 9.7 inch touchscreen display and no keyboard. But since the tablet can be used with a USB or Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, it’d be nice if there was at least an option to switch to a freeform window mode that would allow you to tile your windows or arrange them any way you want.
Another thing that makes this Chrome OS tablet a little unusual is that it ships with a digital pen. It’s not the first Chrome OS device to have one, but it is the first that I’ve tested extensively.
As soon as you remove the pen from the side of the tablet, a window pops up on the screen showing stylus tools. You can tap any of the options to:
- Capture a screenshot of the full screen.
- Capture a region of the screen by drawing a box over it.
- Create a note (the out of the box default is for this to open Google Keep, but you can set other note-taking apps as the default).
- Use a magnifying glass function that zooms in on the area covered by the pen tip.
- Use a “laser pointer” option that basically lets you wave a red dot with a small tail anywhere on the screen.
You can also bring up this menu manually at any time by tapping the pen icon in the taskbar (unless you hide it, which you can do using an option in the Chrome OS settings app).
The Pen can also be used to do anything you could do with a fingertip: you can tap, press-and-hold, or swipe with the pen. But thanks to the finer tip and support for pressure-sensitive input, you can also use it to take hand-written notes or draw pictures.
There’s also support for using the pen instead of a virtual keyboard for entering text, but I found it to be relatively slow and inefficient because letters and words you write aren’t automatically translated to text. Instead, you’ll have to write a word in the text input box, look at the auto-suggest options above that box, and choose the one that best matches. If you’re writing common words, odds are that you’ll find them. If you’re writing proper names, you may have to try a few times before you find the option you’re looking for (like “liliputing”).
Speaking of the on-screen keyboard one of the biggest differences between a Chrome OS tablet and an Android one is that the keyboard on the Chromebook Tab 10 covers the taskbar, while the keyboard on my Google Pixel 2 smartphone leaves the home, back, and recent buttons easily accessible.
That means if you want to switch applications, open the settings, or view notifications you’ll have to manually minimize the keyboard by hitting the keyboard down-arrow button first. Hopefully this is just a growing pain that will be resolved in future versions of Chrome OS for tablets.
Speaking of the virtual keyboard, it’s pretty much the same as Google’s Android keyboard. And the tablet also supports Android-style text selection for cutting, copying, and pasting: long-press text on the screen and you’ll see little blue sliders that you can drag to the beginning or end of the text you want to select.
Multitasking can get a little messy if you’re running more than a few apps at the same time, as the taskbar will start to fill up with icons until there’s no room, and then you’ll need to tap an overflow button to see them.
There are a couple of ways to close any app that’s currently running on the Chromebook Tab 10. You can swipe down from the top of the screen to bring up a toolbar that shows an X button and a minimize button. Tapping X will close the app. You can also long-press on the icon for the app you want to close in the taskbar, and choose the close-app option when it appears. Or you can open the task switcher by hitting the button on the far right side of the toolbar and then tapping the X icon next to the app you want to close.
As for the types of apps you can run, the Chromebook Tab 10 can handle pretty much anything that runs in a web browser, including extensions, themes, apps, and games available from the Chrome Web Store. Thanks to the Google Play Store, you also have access to just about any Android app you’d care to run. I obviously haven’t tested all of them, but I haven’t found an Android app that didn’t run well on the Chromebook Tab 10.
So you can use the device for web browsing, document editing, gaming, media playback, and more. Acer says you should be able to get about 8-12 hours of battery life from the tablet, and that seems about right to me, when using it for a combination of reading, writing, and streaming videos from YouTube, Plex and Netflix.
Your results may vary if you decide to connect a keyboard, open a bunch of apps and browser tabs, install some Linux applications, and use it for more serious work. But thanks to the everything-runs-in-full-screen-by-default version of Chrome OS, this wouldn’t be my first choice for use as a multitasking machine.
There’s nothing stopping you from enabling developer mode and using Crouton if you wanted a more traditional desktop-style user interface though. But as one of the first Chrome OS devices I’ve tested with support for running Linux apps without using Crouton, I wanted to try the semi-native Linux experience instead.
A few notes on running Linux apps on the Chromebook Tab 10
dev channel notes
Linux app support for Chromebooks is still a work in progress, but it’s something you can try out on a few dozen Chromebooks by switching to the developer channel. Unfortunately the developer channel version of Chrome OS is a little buggy on the Chromebook Tab 10: when I’m using the tablet in landscape orientation, it has a nasty habit of thinking I’m touching a different part of the screen than I actually am. So when I try to open a Gmail message, for example, the wrong message will open.
I was also unable to plug in a USB mouse in landscape mode. Doing so made the screen rotate to portrait orientation… which would have been fine if the USB port wasn’t on the bottom of the tablet, which meant there was no easy way I could use plug my mouse into the USB port and then position in the stand of my Logitech K480 Bluetooth keyboard so that the screen was facing the right way up. So after switching to the developer channel, I was able to use the tablet with a keyboard, but not with a mouse.
The good news is that Chrome 69 developer channel has an updated notification/quick settings menu that’s more finger-friendly thanks to large icons, a high-contrast design, and an expandable view that lets you view icons only, or icons + descriptions + volume and brightness toggles, date, and time. Something that also comes in handy for reviewers (or anyone that wants to share screenshots), is that your email address isn’t displayed the way it is in early versions of Chrome OS.
Once you’ve switched to the developer channel, you can enable Linux support by opening the Settings app, scrolling down until you see Linux (beta), and choosing the option to turn it on. Follow the instructions and in a few moments you should have a terminal app installed.
Once that’s done, you can open the terminal and use the sudo apt-install command to load Linux applications such as GIMP, LibreOffice, AbiWord, or SuperTux (which I wouldn’t recommend… while I was able to install it, gameplay was super slow).
Firefox wouldn’t install for me, but in the interest of installing a different web browser on a Chromebook, I did install Links (a text-based browser) and Chromium (the open source version of Chrome).
Linux isn’t quite running as a first-class citizen. Instead, Chrome OS loads a Linux virtual machine which means that any Linux apps you install are running in a sandboxed environment. This probably helps with security, but it does add some complications. Any files you save or access with a Linux app will show up in a Linux Files section in the Chrome OS Files application, which means that if you download a picture in Chrome and want to crop or edit it in GIMP, you’ll need to copy it from the Downloads folder to the Linux Files folder first, then edit it, save it, and copy it back before you can re-upload it.
It takes a little more work to find and install apps, and for now you need to be comfortable with a command line to use Linux on a Chromebook.
But once an app is installed, it should show up in the Chrome OS launcher, alongside Android and Chrome apps. It would be nice if Google would provide a way to sort installed apps by name, date, or category, for now the quickest way to find an app if you have a whole installed is by typing its name into the search box. Otherwise you can just scroll through the list until you find what you’re looking for, although the most recently used apps should be shown at the top.
While installing Linux apps isn’t quite as user friendly as installing Chrome or Android apps, it does provide a way to load software that wouldn’t otherwise be available for a Chromebook, potentially making these computers a little more versatile.
This feature is most likely aimed at developers, not casual users or students. But it’s a nice option to have for power users… and it could get simpler over time.
You can read more about my experiences testing Linux apps in a separate article I wrote on the topic:
And if you would prefer a full-fledged Linux desktop environment, you can switch to developer mode and use the Crouton utility to install Ubuntu or another GNU/Linux distro in a chroot environment.
This makes it possible to get a full Linux desktop environment (I tried Xfce), but there are some challenges involved in running this sort of software on a tablet-only device, since the usual methods for doing a lot of things require keyboard input. I also ran into some screen resolution and orientation issues. If Chrome OS tablets catch on, maybe developers or hackers will find ways to resolve those issues… but for now the out-of-the-box experience is imperfect (but still pretty cool).
While I was curious to see how the Chromebook Tab 10 handles bleeding edge features like Linux app support, the truth is that this device is aimed at the education market, where I suspect teachers and IT administrators are going to be sticking with stable channel software for the foreseeable future.
Part of the appeal of Chromebooks for educators is their ease of use. And a big part is their ease of management: Google has a suite of tools for educators that include features for sending assignments or quizzes to a student’s chromebook, using Google Docs for collaborating, or for managing a fleet of computers.
It’s also kind of nice that a user can sign in with their username on any Chromebook and access their accounts and settings, which comes in handy in environments where you may not be using the same machine today as you did yesterday. And if anything goes wrong with a Chromebook, it’s easy to reset it to its factory default condition in a matter of minutes, allowing you to login and pick up right where you left off (you may lose any locally stored files… but if you use cloud services like Google Docs, most of your data will be backed up online).
Chromebooks with keyboards can certainly be useful in a classroom, but the Chromebook Tab 10 comes with a pen instead of a keyboard. So it’s designed for drawing pictures or creating handwritten notes, not for typing.
Google’s AutoDraw web app is fun to play with: draw a picture and Google will try to figure out what it’s a picture of, presenting you with clip art drawings that you can use to replace the image you drew.
QuickDraw uses similar image recognition, asking you to draw an object like a bus, submarine, flower, or house in 20 seconds or less to see if you can make something recgonizable.
And I was impressed at how the MyScript Calculator Android app enabled me to hand-write equations, which were quickly recognized and calculated by the tablet. It was especially impressive given my lousy handwriting.
Is this the right education tool for every classroom? I’m not in a great position to say. But thanks to decent performance, pen input, and a relatively compact design, it could be a decent alternative to Chromebooks with keyboard for some situations. And if you really need a keyboard, Belkin offers one designed specifically for Chrome OS tablets like this one.
The Chromebook Tab 10 never felt particularly sluggish when using it for single-tasking. But when I plugged in a keyboard and mouse, opened half a dozen browser tabs or more, and tried to start using the tablet for my daily blogging work, it did start to feel a bit on the slow side.
That’s not surprising for a tablet with an OP1 processor, which is basically a Google-specific branding of the Rockchip RK3399 hexa-core processor with two ARM Cortex-A72 CPU cores and four ARM Cortex-A53 cores. It’s a low-cost, low-power chip that offers acceptable performance for mobile devices, but it’s not nearly as fast as the Apple processors that power iPads or the Intel chips that power Surface Pro tablets.
The good news is that if you use this tablet as intended, you probably won’t notice that it doesn’t score all that well on synthetic benchmarks. But if you plan to push it to its limits, you might find that it reaches them a bit sooner than you’d like.
It scored a 13.3 in BrowserBench’s Speedometer 2 test, and 9,605 in Google Octane 2.0. My Google Pixel 2 smartphone, by comparison, scored 29.1 and 11,857 , respectively.
Update: the reason I’m not dwelling on benchmark results is that I don’t think they’re always indicateive of real world performance on devices like this… But some folks seemed skeptical of the low Speedometer score. So I powerwash the tablet and switched back to Chrome OS 67 stable and ran it again… And got 14.9.
The score was higher (24) when I rebooted and logged in as a guest. So it’s possible I’ve got an extension or other apps that may be slowing things down. But that would likely also be the case for many users.
While I’m not an expert on pen usage, I was able to confirm that there’s support of pressure sensitivity. Some apps will recognize lighter strokes and draw lighter lines, for example.
It’s worth noting that this pen is smaller and thinner than a typical pen or pencil, which could make it uncomfortable to hold for an extended period, but the upside is that it’s small enough to fit into a slot in the tablet for easy storage.
The Chromebook Tab 10 also seems to have some palm rejection, allowing you to place your hand on the tablet while writing without causing unexpected lines at the bottom of the screen. But it can be a it hit or miss, depending on the app, and sometimes it works just fine while you’re writing, but if you pause for a moment, you’ll start to notice ink marks show up near your palm unless you lift your hand from the surface of the tablet.
The tablet’s IPS display looks pretty good from any angle, and I wasn’t particularly bothered by the size of the bezels, but then again, this is the laptop I use every day, so I don’t have any problem tuning out bezels. You can adjust the display settings to make items look larger or smaller. The default is set to the equivalent of a 1024 x 768 pixel display, but if you have really good eyesight you can go as high as 2048 x 1536 pixels, which makes everything look really tiny, or go lower than the 768p default to make everything look really big.
There’s also a Night Light option that can reduce the amount of blue light coming from the screen.
Photography was clearly not a high priority for Acer. While the tablet has front and rear cameras, three’s no LED flash, no autofocus, and low-light capture is really, really bad.
The tablet’s speakers are decent, but you’ll have to crank them up almost all the way to get decent sound. At their loudest, you won’t get a lot of bass response, but audio doesn’t sound distorted at all, which is nice.
On the bright side, not only does the tablet get around 10 hours of battery life, but it has excellent standby time. At one point I unplugged it and left the Chromebook Tab 10 turned off for 2-3 days and the battery level had only dipped from 100 percent to about 93 percent.
Thoughts on the future of Chrome OS tablets
Chrome OS has come a long way in recent years. What was once a glorified web browser is now not only capable of running native apps… it’s kind of like three operating systems smushed together. You get a desktop-class web browser, support for Android apps, and support for Linux apps.
At the same time, you continue to get some of the long-running benefits of Chrome OS including automatic security and feature updates, apps that run in a sandboxed environment for enhanced security, and a relatively simple user experience (for folks that don’t dive into the Linux and command line options, anyway). Setting up the tablet is also as quick and easy as logging in with your Google account, and it’s easy for IT administrators to manage a large group of Chrome OS devices.
That all makes Chrome OS a more compelling alternative to Windows or macOS than it’s ever been… if the thing that’s been holding you back from Chrome OS has been the lack of support for native apps, then that excuse is quickly disappearing.
But things get a little complicated when you start to think about Chrome OS as a tablet operating system. Up until now the closest thing we’ve seen to true Chrome OS tablets have been convertibles with built-in keyboards like the Asus Chromebook Flip, Samsung Chromebook Pro, and Google Pixelbook. Thanks to the built-in keyboards, these devices were laptops as much as they were tablets. The Acer Chromebook Tab 10 is designed to be used without a keyboard.
Among other things, that means it has a version of Chrome OS with larger browser tabs and buttons to make the operating system easier to navigate with your fingertips. And it means apps always run in full-screen or split-screen mode. You don’t get resizable windows the way you do on other Chrome OS devices. But you do get an Android-style on-screen keyboard and Android-style text-selection, and other tools.
That makes the Chromebook Tab 10 feel more like an iPad or Android tablet than a typical Chromebook (or Mac or Windows machine).
I used a Bluetooth keyboard to write much of this review on the tablet… and it certainly made typing a lot easier (and faster). But the operating system feels a little crippled when you use a keyboard and mouse… because it feels like you’re using a tablet UI in a laptop form factor. It would be nice if Google had a Microsoft Continuum-like feature that allowed you to switch between tablet and laptop user interfaces.
When you use the Chromebook Tab 10 as a tablet though, the user interface makes perfect sense… most of the time. The on-screen keyboard has a habit of covering the taskbar, which means you have to dismiss the keyboard in order to hit the back button, task switcher, or other icons. But it’s easy to launch or switch apps, surf the web, write notes, draw pictures, or generally use the tablet. Right now the experience of using Chrome OS on a tablet isn’t bad. As Google continues to refine the user experience, it’s likely to get better and better.
Chrome OS still isn’t for everyone: Windows, Mac, or Linux power users are likely to find that there are still some apps and features that aren’t available. But Google continues adding features to the operating system that make it a viable alternative for many users. Tablet support is just one of the latest examples… even if it’s still a work in progress.
Normally this is where I’d talk about whether this is a tablet you should buy. But if you’re not an educator, Acer isn’t really trying to get you to buy this tablet.
So instead, let’s talk about two things: is this a good device for the intended market, and if this is what future Chrome OS tablets are going to look like, is that a good thing?
I’m going to give strong maybe-to-yes answers to both questions.
Despite shipping without a keyboard (or maybe because of that), the Chromebook Tab 10 combines some of the best features of a Chromebook and an Android tablet in an interesting new form factor. Pen input doesn’t quite make up for the absence of the keyboard for touch-typists, but for little hands that may be learning to use pen and paper, the Chromebook Tab 10 could be a useful digital tool for writing, art, and math lessons, among other things.
As for whether Chrome OS is ready for pen-and-finger slates, it’s almost there. The fact that the keyboard covers the taskbar and parts of the Linux terminal window when its in use is problematic, but hopefully it’s something Google can fix in the not-too-distant future, and until then all you need to do to work around the problem is minimize the keyboard manually.
It’d be nice if there was support for true handwritten pen input in text fields. Right now the only way to write a URL or add text to a Google Doc using a pen is to jot a note, choose the autocorrect option, and then write the next word. Dedicated note-taking apps with native pen support work better. But until you can do everything with a pen, stylus input will feel more like an add-on than a native feature.
At 1.2 pounds, the Acer Chromebook Tab 10 is lighter and easier to hold than most Chromebooks. And the fact that it runs Android apps and also has a desktop-class Chrome browser complete with support for extensions means it do things that a normal Android tablet cannot (and that’s even before you start installing Linux apps).
So the Chromebook Tab 10 gives me hope for the future of Chrome OS tablets, even if the software experience right now feels a little messy at times.
For consumers, the HP Chromebook x2 may be a better option for now. It comes with a detachable keyboard, sells through retail channels, has a faster Intel Core M3-7Y30 processor, and an extra USB-C port. But HP’s tablet is also bigger, lacks a slot for storing its pen when it’s not in use, and with a list price of $599, it costs almost twice as much as the Acer tablet.
In the coming months and years I expect to see the Chrome OS tablet space flesh out with more entry-level, mid-range, and premium options. For now, the Acer Chromebook Tab 10 is a relatively affordable option that offers decent performance, and an early look at the future of tablets running Google software. While I don’t expect Android tablets to disappear overnight, it’s interesting to note that Google hasn’t released a Nexus or Pixel tablet with Android since 2015.
As for this tablet, it’s priced competitively with the entry-level Apple iPad (which sells for $299 and up to education customers), but has the advantage of running a full desktop web browser in addition to mobile apps. And it comes with a digital pen and supports Google’s Education suite of apps and services.
The Chromebook Tab 10 is also significantly cheaper than Microsoft’s new Surface Go tablet, which has a starting price of $399… but that goes up to $499 when you add a Surface Pen.
And that makes Acer’s first Chrome OS tablet without a keyboard at least worth considering for the education space… and a possible glimpse of the future of Google’s tablet ambitions. I just wish it had a better name (Chromebook sort of implies notebook… which implies keyboard).