Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Haier Chromebook 11E Review


I was able to get my hands on an early review unit of the new Haier Chromebook 11E.  It is another Chromebook to use the new Rockchip series processor and is designed specifically for education.  How well does this new Chromebook hold up to other educational options currently available?


Specs:

-  Rockchip 3288-C 1.8GHz Quad-Core processor
-  An 11.6" anti-glare TN panel with a 1366x768 resolution
-  2GB of RAM
-  16GB SSD
-  2x USB 2.0, 1x HDMI, 1x SD slot
-  VGA webcam with integrated microphone
-  Dual-channel integrated audio
-  Wireless 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0
-  Height: .89" x Width: 11.5" x Depth: 8.2" and weighs 2.76lbs
-  Battery rated for 10 hours of use


Overall Build Quality:

The Haier Chromebook 11E is a rugged educational version of the Haier Chromebook 11.  It is not rugged to MIL-STD, but the Haier 11E does borrow a number of features seen on the Intel reference design models such as the CTL N6 and Lenovo N21. The entire Chromebook is encased in a white matte plastic.  Unfortunately, I believe this plastic choice will get dirty or stained fairly quickly in the hands of students. I am not sure why some OEM's think matte white plastic is a good idea for Chromebooks that are specifically designed for educational use.



On the lid of the Haier 11E is a faux strap design that I believe is meant to give it more of a briefcase style look when holding it from the retractable handle.  Some people may like it, but I found it to be unnecessary and sort of cheapens the overall look of the device.



The Haier 11E has a reinforced frame that should handle a drop similar to Chromebooks that use the Intel reference design, which is around 2.3 feet.  This frame gives a very solid feel to the Haier 11E.  It also has a spill-resistant keyboard and trackpad.  The hinges only go back 135 degrees, which could still allow for damage to occur to them if the lid is pushed too far back.  There are also dual speakers on the bottom of Haier 11E that are acceptable for student use, but do not sound as good as some recent Chromebooks I have reviewed due to their positioning on the bottom of the device.


Processor/Speed:

The Haier 11E uses the new Rockchip 3288-C processor.  It is an ARM based processor that is designed specifically for Chrome devices.  The Haier 11E with 2GB of RAM scored a 6999 when I ran the Octane benchmark on it.  In my usage of the Haier 11E, it worked just as well as other Chromebooks using the Rockchip processor and is pretty much on par with Chromebooks that are using Intel's Bay Trail processors.  Even with only 2GB of RAM, I was able to do a number of tasks without an issue and was able to have 6-7 tabs running before I started to notice any slowdown.  Having more RAM would help with that, but I do not believe the Haier 11E will have a model with 4GB of RAM available.  The Rockchip processor also allows for a longer battery life and fanless design, which is great in a school setting.


Screen:

The screen is an 11.6" anti-glare TN panel with a 1366x768 resolution that you find in most Chromebooks in this price range.  The quality is acceptable for student use, but they do not have great viewing angles.  In an education setting, it is nice to have these screens in student devices though as they are usually cheaper to replace if broken.


Keyboard/Trackpad:


The keyboard and trackpad on the Haier 11E are spill resistant.  Using the keyboard felt good and I had no issues using it.  The keyboard keys are recessed in some, but students could still wedge something under a key to pop one off if they tried.  The trackpad is a nice size and moving your finger across it was smooth.  However, I did find the trackpad to be somewhat stiff when trying to press down on it for various types of clicks. 


Retractable Handle

The Haier 11E has a retractable handle on it.  As with the CTL N6 and Lenovo N21, this is a really nice feature when students are taking the device out of a charging cart and taking it back to their desk.




Removable External Battery:

The Haier 11E does have a removable external battery that is released by a latch located above it.  I think this is a nice feature to possibly have in a consumer Chromebook, but I do not think it is necessary in an educational one.  
A removable external battery sounds nice at first, but it is something else for a student to possibly break.  Especially if the device goes home with them.  If a student breaks any of the clips on either side of the battery, especially the top ones, it will likely not stay in the Chromebook.  The picture below shows the bottom clips.  You can also see where the top 3 clips of the battery would go into the Haier 11E.



I would still prefer an internal battery that is replaceable as we have seen in a number of other Chromebooks at the moment.  


Power Adapter:

The power adapter for the Haier 11E is similar to the one we saw on the CTL J2.  This helps save some space if it is in a carry case, but could possibly cause some problems when trying to plug them into a charging cart.  In that situation, you will likely need some small extension cables such as these.  Similar to a number of Chromebook models, it also uses a thinner connector that could bend or break easier under student use.



Battery Life:

The Haier 11E is said to provide up to 10 hours of battery life.  In my Nyan Cat test to gauge the battery under a heavier use situation, I found the Haier 11E to get 9 hours and 33 minutes on a full charge with the screen at a 75% brightness.  I think you should get around the claimed battery life with standard classroom use and the screen being dimmed. 
  

Conclusion:

For Haier's first entry into the educational Chromebook market, it is not a terrible device for the price point.  However, I do not think it is a game changing device that schools need to wait for if you have summer Chromebook purchases you need to do, etc.  For the price it will be available at, you can get the CTL J2 at around the same cost, or the Lenovo N21 for a little more.  I feel both of those devices are also built a little better in certain areas than the Haier 11E.  If you are not a fan of those Chromebook models though, the Haier 11E could still be a decent device for classroom sets that stay at school for the price.

However, I would not look to purchase the Haier 11E for a 1:1 setting where students take it home for a few reasons.  It has many of the rugged features of the Lenovo N21, but I fear you will likely see a number of issues with the battery clips being broken off in that setting.  I speak from experience with a netbook model we purchased for our first year of 1:1 (Chromebooks were not an affordable solution at that time yet) that has a similar battery design to it.  

It is too early to know for sure, but my other concern with using the Haier 11E in a 1:1 that goes home with students is how difficult it may be to initially find third-party replacement parts for it.  Especially when Haier is a new player to the Chromebook market.  You will likely have some negligent damages in classroom sets, but not nearly to the level seen with devices that go home with students.  Being able to quickly get affordable replacement parts for 1:1 devices in that setting is critical for schools.

The Haier Chromebook 11E should be available sometime in August.  As of right now, I am told the price will be around $169 plus the cost of your management license.