Acer Chromebook R11: a Google Play Experience

Acer Chromebook R11: a Google Play Experience

Jan 31, 2017

Chrome is my preferred browser, and had been for quite some time. As one who cut his teeth exploring the interwebs via Netscape Navigator, I enjoy the success of the little guy. Chrome isn’t the little guy anymore, and its adoption is part of the reason that Chromebooks are decent options today.

And yes, Chromebooks aren’t exactly new. I remember the minor cottage industry that formed around tracking services during Google’s CR-48 giveaway way back when. Since then, the platform has matured, and is even seeing significant deployments in education and enterprise.

So, having been in and out of Chromebooks, we were somewhat intrigued when it came to taking a formal look at the latest iteration of Acer’s R11 Chromebook. This isn’t just any Chromebook, see; we are talking about a Chrome OS device with serious tablet sensibilities.

Specs-wise, it is decent hardware: 11.6″ screen with 1366 x 768 IPS touch-enabled display, a quad-core 1.65GHz processor. it also packs 4GB RAm and has 32 GB of onboard storage. It’s white frame fits in a full HDMI port, two (2) USB ports, an audio port, an SD card slot and a webcam.

The biggest asset for folks looking for raw productivity is its recent access to the Play Store. With the vaunted app environment, users have access to a slew of applications that otherwise might need workarounds to get to on Chrome OS… apps like Microsoft Word and Skype, plus all the games one can shake a stick at.

The hinge assembly is built in such away that it can be “opened” all the way till the screen is resting flush against the back of the keyboard, making it quite akin to a tablet. This hybrid design allows the device to be used in a few more ways than, say a regular netbook can.

Now that touchscreen becomes even more valuable, no?

Battery life is impressive. I was able to squeeze out 6 hours of browsing writing on it.

Chromebooks have elbowed their way onto the scene and mostly established a collective reputation of slimmed down reusability. The R11 embodies that, and the increased software ecosystem that Google Play brings is just another feather in the cap.

It isn’t all roses.

Since I started using the R11, one big name, Microsoft, all but killed Chromebook compatibility with the MS Word apps on Google Play (word is they’ll be back at some point for Chrome OS devices 10 inches and smaller). Beyond that, not every app feels natural, though most I tried worked fine; I was able to play several games via touchscreen or game pad.

For device accessory hogs like me, the landscape can be sparse depending on the device chosen. Folks used to servicing/upgrading their own equipment might not be able to do the same on specific Chromebook models. Of course, if one isn’t vested in the cloud (or, at least willing to try to), then Chrome OS might not be a viable option

Thankfully, there are quite a few budding enthusiast communities, like on Reddit, so help shouldn’t be too far away.

Frankly, this evaluation periods has turned into a difficult one; we don’t always fall in love with the products we review. This one though, because of its portability, battery life and fast startup, as morphed into my main work machine.

New, Affordable Acer Chromebook 15 Model Launches

New, Affordable Acer Chromebook 15 Model Launches

Oct 17, 2016

Acer has some of the best Chromebooks around, and its latest news should definitely be of interest: it has refreshed its Chromebook 15 line.

Better yet, the new model can be procured from leading retailers — including Walmart, today — starting at $199.

Just in time for the holiday season.

Impressive, when one considers the 15.6 inch screen (with 1366 x 768 resolution), advertised 12-hour battery life and promised Google Play support. It packs an Intel Celeron N3060 processor, built-in 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, SD card support… and 100 GB of Google Drive storage bundled in.

Amongst other features.

Acer America’s Mobility AVP Chris Chiang is enthusiastic about the device’s affordability. “The new Acer Chromebook 15 is going to be a big hit with holiday shoppers this year – it combines the most sought-after features – a large display and incredibly long battery life – at a price that makes it a desirable and affordable gift,” he says. “The Acer Chromebook 15 was a game-changer when it debuted in 2015 – and now we’re able to provide the winning combination of large display, long battery life and affordable price to even more customers.”

We’ve been playing with one of Acer’s 11-inch Chromebooks, and have been kept interested thus far.

As noted above, the CB3-532-C47C can be purchased at Walmart now.

The Hills Are Greener: The Dream of the Catch-All Device Deferred

The Hills Are Greener: The Dream of the Catch-All Device Deferred

Mar 18, 2013

There’s all this talk that the web and HTML5 are the future, that theoretically everything could someday just take place in the browser, which could theoretically make anything with decent hardware and a capable browser a catch-all machine. Well, the state of web apps is terrible, and no one seems to have figured out how to combine the convenience of mobile with the productive power of the desktop.

Oh, not all of the web apps are terrible: Google’s Drive-based ones are generally really good, and were especially handy back in college when it came time to print out files; no need to fiddle around with thumb drives when I could just print out my file from Google’s servers. Simple as that.

However, there lies the problem: Google has the resources to develop web apps that work across a litany of browsers. For smaller developers, it’s a bigger problem. Consider how many browsers there are, with the many operating systems that are out there. Now try to make something that works in all of them, all coded in languages that seemingly aren’t able to get the kind of efficiency that native apps are able to get. Oh, and try to use a web app on mobile, it’s usually a mess. Seriously, there’s even occasionally frustratingly big differences between the way that Android and iOS work with websites and they both are based on WebKit tchnology!

A web app’s main advantage is convenience, the ability to be everywhere; a native app’s main advantage is that it actually works, and it can do the job much better than a web app can.

Google is trying to push web apps with their Chrome OS devices like Chromebooks, which come not only in bargain-basement versions but as premium products. They’re great for browsing and using the web, as I discovered when I bought one. But as I also discovered, while they can do 90% of what I need, and for casual use will fit the bill, the little things that they can’t do – or at least can’t do well – will drive a person to madness.

Case in point, I bought a Surface Pro to fill in those gaps. It browses Chrome just as well (though it needs good high-DPI support) and can do everything else I need. It’s just that Windows 8 is a very awkward OS, a collision course of the desktop and a tablet interface, never quite agreeing on what exactly it really is.

The suggestion that perhaps Android and Chrome are on a collision course as operating systems seems like it’s perhaps a bit of too-wild speculation despite the head of Chrome now heading up Android efforts. After all, Android can theoretically do anything Chrome OS can, especially as Chrome OS is nothing more than a shell for Chrome – even the more traditional experiences for file handling and whatnot are still just webpage views, as exposed when they crash. Android could definitely come to the laptop, but I doubt it will replace Chrome OS any time soon, lest Google not help perpetuate the spread of web apps with it.

And even then, mobile operating systems lack some of the functionality that PCs have, thanks in part to different processor architectures and just the “little brother” nature of mobile devices: they’ve always been meant to do less and so apps have been set up for just that. They’re usually less-featured, and so using Android as a PC, while easier than an iOS device thanks to its file handling, is more possible. But it’s still difficult.

The ultimate point is that the catch-all device does not quite exist yet. The web is not yet there to handle everything. Desktop operating systems don’t do mobile efficiently yet. Mobile operating systems still lack much of the full functionality that desktops have. It seems to be the ultimate goal: Windows 8 is something of a franken-OS right now with the disparate Modern UI and desktop views co-mingling, but it’s trying to make one OS for tablets and for traditional computers. Ubuntu is trying to make an adaptable OS for all four screens: phone, tablet, desktop, and TV. Apple seems content to let OS X and iOS be different products, but little iOS elements are coming to OS X.

That catch-all device is still far away, it seems.

The Hills Are Greener: Why the Apple Store is Such an Advantage for Apple

The Hills Are Greener: Why the Apple Store is Such an Advantage for Apple

Jan 16, 2012

The biggest benefit of the cohesive Apple experience can be seen at Apple Stores. They can be annoying to just window shop in – everything seems overpriced, there’s usually way too many people in there, and the salespeople seem really pushy. But for those actually going in to shop and buy something, the experience is actually really nice. I was buying a Mac mini recently – I’m a writer, podcast editor, and owner of multiple iOS devices, it’s a wonder I haven’t bought one before now – and the experience was absolutely pleasant. The employee helped me out, answered all the questions I had, showed me how to use the nifty-but-pricey Magic Trackpad (which was worth it), and convinced me that I should find it precise enough, otherwise I could just return it. He then processed my order right then and there with the Apple Store iPhones with credit card readers, and I left, Mac mini and Magic Trackpad in tow, feeling very satisfied with the whole experience.

However, the ability for Android to have similar stores just does not really exist. This is due in large part because of the fact that many different variations of Android hardware exist, and they are so tied down to different carriers, that creating a legion of Android “Geniuses” would be practically impossible, as opposed to the Apple product line that only refreshes every few months.

Google could launch their own Nexus stores, and maybe sell Chromebooks along with them, but would people want to actually go into these stores? Apple does have that kind of positive emotion attached to it with people that Google doesn’t really have, though Google is trying with their new ad campaigns. And could they be done in a way that doesn’t just mimic Apple Stores, like what Microsoft has done with Windows Stores? I was at a shopping center in Seattle, and there was an Apple Store to my right, and a Windows Store to my left. The only thing that was different about their exteriors was literally the Windows logo.

These might just be one of those advantages that Apple is crafting for themselves – the ability to sell products consisting solely of their own brand, because people want them just that much. Unless Google can find a way to craft their own identity with Android, this may just lead them to always be considered secondary to iOS and Apple, because of that centralization.

Image Credit: Neil Bird