Monday, 20 July 2015

The Acer 13" Chromebook (Nvidia Tegra K1)

A little over four months ago I bought one of these slim devices when my main workhorse laptop showed signs of nearing retirement. A little Chromebook seemed just the ticket for streaming videos, checking web mail, browsing, researching, downloading and uploading and editing documents online. Of course it's not a full laptop, but as a backup device it did just fit the bill and I have since found it's really all I need when travelling or on the go.

I had not read any of the quite positive reviews like this one and didn't need to. The advertised 13 hours battery life, if true, were enough to convince me, together with the fact that the device was down to £189,- and was the only one with a reasonable keyboard that did not flex immediately from simply typing on it like the other ones from HP and Asus on show at PCWorld did.

Fn keys are missing from the Acer Chromebook's keyboard
Five months on and I have to say this is one of the best purchases ever made. It's got some shortcomings like the missing Fn keys but it quickly became apparent that the battery lasted even longer, for up to 14.5 hours, and even still has hours left when left on stand-by for a week or longer. Despite heavy use almost every day, it hasn't shown any signs of deterioration or loosing capacity. This is one device you can genuinely take out to the coffee shop or the pub, work and watch the football online all day long and still go back home and have some juice left. No need to shut down and loose your open pages.  So yes, the slated battery life isn't an advertising gimmick based on overly optimistic, unrealistic scenarios and the quad-core Tegra K1 chip fully lives up to expectations, but it's not a full laptop replacement.

Full-screen video playback is alright too. The machine boots up in around two seconds and sports a 32GB SSD, 2x USB 3.0 connectors, HDMI, a card reader slot and a socket for head phones. The matte screen is clear and bright. All in all no complaints, quite the opposite. With hardware like this the Chromebook is definitely a winner here. You also get 100 GB Google Drive space for a year advertised, which in my case for what ever reason actually turned out to be 1 TB, far more than I'll ever need. The idea is probably to get customers to fill up this space and in a year's time start paying up but until then it's a free ride.

1 TB instead of 100 Gig and super long battery life that isn't  a joke
The one thing that really annoyed me was that no terminal is available to get system information, running processes, free space etc. on the command line. Bit of a change to my habits.  If Chrome OS is not your thing, although fast and power efficient, there are several other options out there. Bodhi Linux offers an iso aimed at the Chromebook, although as they rightly point out that will permanently delete Chrome OS and any local user data. To be able to install any other OS one has to enable developer mode.
However, with other options you may be able to keep your Chrome OS and run both. It is possible to install Ubuntu in a chroot via a tool called Crouton and this allows you much more freedom in the choice of desktop environment as well as you'll add it after the basic install. Several good tutorials exist, some with videos if that's what you prefer, but I am fond of this one. As there is quite a choice of distributions for the arm architecture now I'm sure the above two are not the only ones that will work, but for sure they will be the easier ones to install. Let me know how you get on.

Chrome logo by Google Inc. ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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