Acer's new laptops, hybrids set tone for Windows 10-Chromebook battle

Acer announces $US199 Chromebook 15 and slightly more expensive Windows-based Aspire hybrids and laptops

Acer Chromebook CB3-531 15-inch

Acer Chromebook CB3-531 15-inch

A heavyweight battle between Windows 10 laptops and Chromebooks is expected to break out later this year, and Acer will play on both sides with low-priced laptops and laptop tablet hybrids it announced on Thursday.

The most interesting product announced was the new Chromebook 15 CB3-531 laptop, which has a 15.6-inch screen and will ship in July with prices starting at a measly $US199. Chromebook prices have dropped in recent months, with little-known companies Haier and HiSense announcing $US149 Chromebooks with 11.6-inch screens earlier this month.

On the Windows side, Acer announced new Aspire laptops and hybrids, which have low, Chromebook-like prices. The laptops are shipping later this year, and will likely come with Windows 8.1, which can be upgraded for free to Windows 10 for at least for one year. Microsoft has said it will launch Windows 10 this summer.

The Windows laptops include two Aspire Switch 10 hybrids, which have 10.1-inch detachable screens that can also function as tablets. The laptops will provide up to 12 hours of battery life.

The entry-level Switch 10 SW3-013 starts at $US279. The Switch 10 SW5-015, which ships in August, has some premium features, such as a Corning Gorilla Glass 3 cover and a full high-definition display. The Switch models have Intel processors and come with up to 64GB of storage.

The new Aspire R11 hybrid has slightly larger 11.6-inch screen, but much like Lenovo's Yoga, has a screen hardwired to the keyboard. The laptop turns into a tablet when the screen is rotated. It will ship in July with prices starting at $US249. Other laptops announced include the Aspire V15, which will ship in August starting at $US599, and the entry-level Aspire ES, which will start at $US229.

The products were announced at a press event held in downtown New York City.

Acer has been trying to cut its reliance on PCs by expanding into wearables, smartphones and tablets. But those plans are now on hold with the popularity of its Chromebooks and the upcoming release of Windows 10. Acer became the world's second largest PC maker in 2009 with help from netbooks, but its laptop shipments have tumbled with the emergence of tablets. Chromebooks have helped reverse some of Acer's PC shipment declines.

Chromebooks are growing in popularity as an alternative to Windows laptops among people who do most of their computing on the Internet. Chromebooks don't feature a full set of local applications like on Windows laptops, and usually need an Internet connection to access rich Web applications. But Google is making more applications available to run offline.

The Chromebook industry doubled last year, and Acer's PC business tripled, said Jason Chen, CEO of Acer, at the press event.

The low price of Chromebooks have also made it attractive to buyers. Microsoft has been trying to catch up by providing incentives for PC makers to cut the prices of Windows PCs and tablets. One result of Microsoft's efforts is Hewlett-Packard's Stream 7 tablet with Windows 8.1, which sells for only $US99.99.

At $US199, don't expect the Acer's new Chromebook 15 CB3-531 to be a speed demon, but it should be good enough to meet basic computing needs. In fact, the price matches that of Acer's smaller-screen Chromebook 13, which has an ARM processor and is being sold starting at $US199 on Amazon.

The low price of the Chromebook 15 shouldn't come as a surprise as some of the cheapest Windows laptops also have 15.6-inch screens. Most Chromebooks have 11.6-inch and 13.3-inch screens, but some users may prefer the larger screen.

The Chromebook will provide 11.5 hours of battery life. It has an Intel Celeron processor, 16GB of storage, Wi-Fi, SD card slot, and USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports. It is the second model in Acer's growing line of Chromebook 15 laptops. The other model starts at $249 model with 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage and an Intel Celeron processor.

Acer also announced new Android tablets. The Iconia Tab 10 includes a Gorilla Glass 4 screen, while the Iconia One 8 is designed for entry-level use and gaming.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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