Friday, May 29, 2015

CTL J2 Chromebook for Education Review

 I was able to get my hands on the new CTL J2 Chromebook for Education.  It is another Chromebook to use the new Rockchip series processor.  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 Micro SD slot
-  VGA webcam with integrated microphone
-  Dual-channel integrated audio
-  Wireless 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0
-  Height: .76" x Width: 11.42" x Depth: 8" and weighs 2.46lbs
-  Battery rated for 9 hours of use


Overall Build Quality:

When you first look at the CTL J2 Chromebook for Education, it looks like a mirror image of the Hisense Chromebook that is exclusive to Walmart.  Even the power adapter is identical.  However, from reading various reviews on the Hisense Chromebook, the CTL J2 does seem to be different in some areas of build quality.




The lid and bottom of the CTL J2 are encased in a black plastic that has a slight weave texture to it.  This design does give a nice look to the Chromebook.  The bezel around the screen and casing around the keyboard is a flat matte black plastic with a very fine texture to it.  The casing around the trackpad is an actual brushed metal that gives the J2 a nice feel when you rest your palms on it to type.



The CTL J2 is not as rugged as a number of newer Chromebooks available, but it does have a reinforced frame that can handle a drop from about 70cm (2.3 feet).  This is the same drop range seen on the CTL N6 and Lenovo N21 Chromebooks.  This frame also gives a very solid feel to the CTL J2.  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 the CTL J2 that are not as good as some recent Chromebooks I have reviewed, but are acceptable for student use.  


Processor/Speed:

The CTL J2 uses the new Rockchip 3288-C processor.  It is an ARM based processor that is designed specifically for Chrome devices.  The CTL J2 with 2GB of RAM scored a 7115 when I ran the Octane benchmark on it.  In my usage of the CTL J2, it worked just as well as it did on the Asus C201 and is pretty much on par with Chromebooks that use a Bay Trail processor.  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.  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 CTL J2 are not spill resistant like on some other recent Chromebooks.  However, using the keyboard and trackpad on the CTL J2 felt good and I had no issues using them.  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 was smooth to the touch when moving your finger across it. 

Power Adapter:

The power adapter for the CTL J2 has the outlet plug built into the brick.  This helps save some space if it is in a carry case, but can 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.  CTL also offers extenders to help with this.  Similar to a number of Chromebook models, it also uses a thinner connector that could bend or break easier under student use.



Battery Life:

CTL claims that the J2 can provide up to 9 hours of battery life.  In my Nyan Cat test to gauge the battery under a heavier use situation, I found the CTL J2 to get 8 hours and 13 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.  It is not as good of a battery life as I saw on the Asus C201, but it is on par with a number of current Chromebooks.
  

Conclusion:

For the price point, I am really impressed with the CTL J2 Chromebook for Education.  I would like it to have a better power adapter, but that is really the only complaint I have with it right now.  Over the last few weeks, I have found it to be my daily driver for when I want to take a Chromebook to a meeting, etc.  For a 1:1 where students take devices home, you may still want to consider a more rugged device such as the CTL N6, Lenovo N21 or the new Dell Chromebook if your budget allows for it.  In any other situations, the CTL J2 could definitely be a Chromebook to consider for classroom use.

The CTL J2 Chromebook for Education starts at $179.  You can also bundle it with the Chrome Device Management license for $199.  Discounted pricing is available on bulk purchases.










Google News Roundup for Friday, May 29, 2015

Here is the Google News Roundup for Friday, May 29, 2015:

Google Cast has received new APIs for second-screen functionality, autoplay, queuing, more
- 9to5Google

Google I/O and what's next for work
- Official Google for Work Blog

Hands-on with Google ATAP’s Project Jacquard (Video)
-9to5Google

Project Vault is a super secure, isolated computing environment from Google
- 9to5Google

Qualcomm announces Project Tango smartphone platform powered by Snapdragon 810 processor
- 9to5Google

This is Android M’s “highly experimental” multi-window mode for tablets
- Ars Technica

Through the Google lens: Search trends May 22-28
- Official Google Blog

With Android Pay, Google gets mobile payments right
- Engadget



Thursday, May 28, 2015

Google News Roundup for Thursday, May 28, 2015

Here is the Google News Roundup for Thursday, May 28, 2015:

A new way for the whole family to play
- Official Android Blog

Android M allows Android TV developers to create channels of continuous content
- 9to5Google

Android M is here: app permissions, doze mode, USB-C
- Android Community

Android TV Remote Control app gains tablet support, UI improvements
- Android Central

Announcing Expeditions: taking students places a school bus can’t go
- Google for Education Blog

App Permissions are getting a massive overhaul in Android M
- Android Central

Chromecast Gets Autoplay, Queuing, Second Screen And Multiplayer Game Powers
- TechCrunch

Dodocase announces two new $25 Google Cardboard VR viewers
- 9to5Google

Expanding the Inbox by Gmail early adopter program for work
- Google Apps update alerts

Full offline Google Maps access coming later this year
- Android Central

Google Debuts New AdMob Tools For Ad Targeting, Native Ads, Scaling Apps And More
- TechCrunch

Google Maps to add offline search/navigation, Places API for iOS now available to all
- 9to5Google

Google's 3D-scanning Project Tango developer tablet is now available without an invite for $512
- Android Central

Google's 'Jump' platform creates immersive 3D content for VR experiences
- Android Central

Pay your way with Android
- Official Android Blog

Picture this: A fresh approach to Photos
- Official Google Blog

You say you want a mobile revolution...
- Official Android Blog


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Acer Chromebook 13 Review

I was able to receive a review unit of the Acer Chromebook 13 (CB5-311-T9Y2) to try out.  This is a Chromebook that was released back in September, but I have received a number of requests on my thoughts of it due to a recent price drop for education.  Is the Acer Chromebook 13 a good choice with the number of newer Chromebooks available?


Specs:

There are different configurations for the Acer Chromebook 13, but my review unit (CB5-311-T9Y2) has the following:

-  NVIDIA Tegra K1 CD570M-A1 Quad-core 2.10 GHz
-  A 13.3" anti-glare TN Panel with a 1366x768 resolution
-  4GB of RAM
-  16GB SSD
-  1x HDMI, 2x USB 3.0, SD card reader
-  Web Camera with Integrated Microphone
-  Dual-channel High-Definition integrated audio
-  Wireless 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0
-  Height: .71" x Width: 12.9" x Depth: 9" and weighs 3.3lbs
-  4-cell Battery (3220 mAh) for 13 hours of use


Overall Build Quality:

The Acer Chromebook 13 has a much sleeker design to it then we have seen on some of their other Chromebook models.  I like how light and thin it is for a Chromebook of this size.  It is mostly encased in a smooth matte plastic with the bezel and bottom casing of the Chromebook being a slightly textured white plastic.  This plastic choice looks nice initially, but it does gets dirty very easily.  In the hands of students, it will not take long for this to happen if they are not wiped off regularly.



There are dual speakers on the bottom of the Acer Chromebook 13 that are decent for the price point.  The hinges only go back 135 degrees, which could still allow damage to occur to them if the lid is pushed too far back.


Processor/Speed:

The Acer Chromebook 13 is one of the few Chromebooks to use NVIDIA's Tegra K1 processor.  When I ran the Octane benchmark, the Acer Chromebook 13 with 4GB of RAM scored a 7722.  I found the Tegra K1 processor to work well in the Chromebook and you should not have any issues with students using it in the classroom.  The Tegra K1 also allows for a better battery life, which we will talk about later in the review.  Like other ARM processors, it also allows for a fanless design.   


Screen:

The screen in the configuration I am reviewing is a 13.3" matte TN panel with a 1366x768 resolution.  Unfortunately, the TN panel at this screen size seems to have a more noticeable washed out look to it then what I have seen in the smaller 11.6" Chromebooks.  Personally, I also prefer a higher resolution screen in Chromebooks that are of this size as text can sometimes have a fuzzy look to it with the lower resolution.  This screen could be acceptable for student use, but you may want to consider a configuration with a better resolution for staff.  Replacement screens for the review unit I am using seem to be around $75 from third party vendors.


Keyboard/Trackpad:



Though I prefer the keyboard and trackpad on the Toshiba Chromebook 2, the Acer Chromebook 13 was still good to use when compared to other Chromebook models of this screen size.  The trackpad was smooth and I had no issues using the keyboard.



Like the Acer C740, the keyboard keys do seem slightly higher up then some of the previous Chromebooks I have reviewed.  My concern is that students may be able to peel the keys off easier or accidentally snag them on something.


Power Adapter:

The power adapter for the Acer Chromebook 13 is your typical brick design. It still uses a thinner connector that could possibly bend or break easier under student use.



Battery Life:

Acer claims that you should get 13 hours out of the Acer Chromebook 13.  In my Nyan Cat test to gauge the battery under a heavier use situation, I found it to get 9 hours and 42 minutes on a full charge with the screen at a 75% brightness.  That is actually really good for a Chromebook with this screen size. From this test, and my own usage experience, I think you should get around 10.5 to 11 hours with standard classroom use and the screen being dimmed.


Conclusion:

So is the Acer Chromebook 13 worth considering at this point for schools?  For the new price point, it is not a bad option if you want a 13.3" Chromebook and can tolerate the matte white plastic design in the hands of students.  Especially if you want a Chromebook of this screen size with the longest battery life possible for them.  Otherwise, you may want to check out the Toshiba Chromebook 2, which is around a similar price point with a few better design choices.

The Acer Chromebook 13 is available in various configurations.  The configuration I reviewed is available now for $259.99.  Discounted pricing is available on bulk purchases.










Google News Roundup for Thursday, May 21, 2015

Here is the Google News Roundup for Thursday, May 21, 2015:

Android M could bring native support for fingerprint scanning hardware
- Phandroid

Brillo is Google's lightweight OS for the Internet of Things, may debut at Google I/O
- Android Central

Chromebook Sales Predicted To Grow 27% This Year, To 7.3M Units
- TechCrunch

Google apologizes for offensive Maps mishap
- Android Central

Google brings 60fps live streaming and HTML5 playback to YouTube
- Android Central

Google Hangouts Chrome app updated w/ redesigned interface, OS X support
- 9to5Google

Google has made it easier to buy products in YouTube video ads
- 9to5Google

Google to update Maps with better traffic alerts for upcoming Memorial Day
- Android Central

Latest Android Wear update breaks unofficial watch faces, adds media browsing from other apps
- 9to5Google

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Asus C201 Chromebook Review



I am excited to be able to get my hands on the new Asus C201 Chromebook.  It is one of the first batch of Chromebooks to use the new Rockchip series processor.  How well does this new processor hold up to the current line of other Chromebooks and is it a good fit for schools?



Specs:

-  Rockchip 3288-C 1.8GHz Quad-Core processor
-  An 11.6" glossy TN panel with a 1366x768 resolution
-  2GB or 4GB of RAM
-  16GB SSD
-  2x USB 2.0, 1x Micro HDMI, 1x MicroSD slot
-  VGA webcam with integrated microphone
-  Dual-channel integrated audio
-  Wireless 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.1
-  Height: .70" x Width: 11.30" x Depth: 7.64" and weighs 2lbs
-  Battery rated for 13 hours of use


Overall Build Quality:

The Asus C201 is not a rugged device as some recently released Chromebooks, but that is expected given the $169 price point.  It has a design that is similar to the Asus C200, except it is thinner and lighter.  The lid and bottom of the Asus C201 are encased in a smooth navy blue matte plastic that gives a really good look to the Chromebook.  It does allow for some fingerprints, but it is not as noticeable as some other Chromebooks.  The bezel around the screen is a flat matte black plastic with a very fine texture to it.  The casing around the keyboard and trackpad is a lighter gray plastic that seemed to not collect any fingerprints when I was touching it.




There are dual speakers on the bottom of the Asus C201 that are decent and very loud for the price point.  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.


Processor/Speed:

The Asus C201 use the new Rockchip 3288-C processor.  It is an ARM based processor that is designed specifically for Chrome devices.  The Asus C201 with 2GB of RAM scored a 6909 when I ran the Octane benchmark on it.  In my usage of the Asus C201, I will say the processor worked better then I initially expected and is pretty much on par with Chromebooks that use a Bay Trail processor.  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.  Like Bay Trail processors,  the Rockchip is not the fastest, but it still works well in a Chromebook for what students usually use one for in the classroom.  The Rockchip processor also allows for an amazing battery life and fanless design, which is great in a school setting.


Screen:

The screen is a 11.6" glossy TN panel with a 1366x768 resolution instead of a matte one seen in most Chromebooks in this price range.  The quality is acceptable for student use, but they do not have great viewing angles.  The glossy screen is nicer to look at, but easily allows for a glare or reflection on the screen.  I would still prefer a matte screen for school use.


Keyboard/Trackpad:

The keyboard and the trackpad on the Asus C200 was one of my more favorite ones to use on Chromebooks in the $200-$300 price range.  The trackpad is still as nice on the C201.  It is very smooth and responsive to use.  





Unfortunately, the keyboard was a different experience.  I was not using the keyboard for long before the S key became a little "clicky" and not as responsive as it should be.  For this particular situation, it could simply be the bad luck of a manufacturing defect on the unit I received.  The bigger issue I had with it is that the casing and keyboard slightly bends with a key press.  This occurred on the entire keyboard, but was more noticeable on the left side of it.  I did a quick video from my cellphone to show you.




In addition, when I was streaming music with the audio at 50% or higher, I could actually feel a slight vibration along the keys when typing.  I believe these things are more of a design issue with the C201 and not a manufacturer defect.  I understand some corners may need cut on a $169 device, but it is disappointing that this seemed to happen in the keyboard area.  Especially when it's predecessor had a much better experience.


Power Adapter:

I really like the power adapter for the Asus C201. It is designed more like a charger for tablets or phones, which makes it very easy to fit in the front pocket of a carry case.  The connector that plugs into the Chromebook is similar to a Micro USB connection, but with more of a rectangle design.  I think this design choice makes it a little more durable then the typical thin connectors we see on a number of other Chromebooks.




Battery Life:

Asus claims that the C201 can provide up to 13 hours of battery life.  In my Nyan Cat test to gauge the battery under a heavier use situation, I found the Asus C201 to get an amazing 12 hours and 26 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:

I really wanted to like the C201.  Asus did a number of things right with the C201 that I wish we would see in more Chromebooks such as the smaller power adapter, better battery life, and some of the overall design choices.  It may not bother some people, but unfortunately I feel the way the casing and keyboard bends when typing is the Achilles' heel that negates all the other great things about the C201.  When it comes to schools, if you are really needing a Chromebook around this price range, then the CTL J2 Chromebook may be a better option to consider.  That model arrived on my doorstep today and I will have a review on it soon.

When it comes to the Rockchip processor though, I am pleasantly surprised with it's performance on a Chromebook and the affordability it allows.  It also allows for some interesting form factors that we will soon be seeing with the Chromebook Flip and Chromebit devices.     

The Asus C201 Chromebook starts at $169 for the 2GB model and $199 for the 4GB model.










Google News Roundup for Thursday, May 14, 2015

Here is the Google News Roundup for Thursday, May 14, 2015:


Chromecast adds even more big network names with HGTV, FOX and Pluto TV

- Android Central
Gmail app improved once again, IMAP support now more reliable
- Android Community

Google Chrome team says there are ‘no plans’ to bring extensions to mobile
- 9to5Google

Google extends Chrome malware crackdown to Windows dev channel, OS X
- Ars Technica

Google Play Music's new web interface goes Material with fresh Android-like design
- Android Central


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Acer C740 Chromebook Review



I was able to receive a review unit of the Acer C740 Chromebook (4GB model) that I have been trying out. This is another one of the new Chromebooks that I think schools will be looking at for possible purchases this summer.  The Acer C720 was a huge success in schools.  How does it's refreshed model stand up to the competition?


Specs:

-  Intel 3205U Celeron processor (Broadwell)
-  An 11.6" anti-glare TN Panel with a 1366x768 resolution
-  2GB or 4GB of RAM
-  16GB SSD
-  1x HDMI, 1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0, SD card reader
-  720p HD Camera with Integrated Microphone
-  Dual-channel High-Definition integrated audio
-  Wireless 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0
-  Height: .8" x Width: 11.3" x Depth: 8" and weighs 2.87lbs
-  3-cell Battery (3920 mAh) for 9 hours of use


Overall Build Quality:

The Acer C740 is nearly a mirror image of the Acer C720.  With both models next to each other, you would probably not notice that they were different models unless you knew what to look for.  



Where the Acer C720 has a polished gray look on the lid, the Acer C740 has more of a brushed metal look using the same color.  That brushed look does allow the Acer C740 to have a slightly more professional look to it.  Unlike the Acer C720, the C740 does have some rugged features to it.  However, they are not to the MIL-STD (U.S. Military Standard) of the new Dell Chromebook 11.   The Acer C740 has reinforced corners that can withstand a 35cm (13in) drop.  It has an increased cover thickness that is to withstand 60kg (132lbs) of force.  It also has additional rib panels and longer hinge brackets.  The plastic casing could still possibly become chipped or cracked in the event of a drop.



There are dual speakers on the bottom of the Acer C740 that are decent for the price point.  The audio actually sounded as if it came out of the keyboard.  The hinges only go back 135 degrees, which could still allow damage to occur to them if the lid is pushed too far back.  The keyboard and trackpad are also not spill resistant.


Lid Durability:

Acer claims that the reinforced lid can withstand 60kg (132lbs) of force.  The key to this claim is force.  With permission from where I received the review unit from, I decided to try dropping a few objects on it from a distance of approximately 3ft to see how it would hold up.  These tests were in no way scientifically calculated, but were done to help get an idea of how much of a beating this reinforced lid could possibly take in the hands of students. 

I first decided to drop around a 4.5lb textbook on the Acer C740 and there was no damage to the lid or screen. 



Then I tried approximately a 6lb weight...



The lid is still in pretty good shape...



However, the screen is a different story.



I think the reinforced lid could be helpful in situations where a student puts the device in a backpack with some other items since there is not much acceleration to factor for the force (unless they launch the backpack).  It could also be helpful in situations where students are inappropriately lifting the Chromebook up by the lid as it can withstand more force then the Acer C720 was able to.  When it comes to other impact situations you may see, especially in a 1:1 where devices go home with students, you will still likely have broken screens.  


Processor/Speed:

The Acer C740 is one the the first Chromebooks to use the Intel 3205U Celeron processor.  It is part of the Broadwell line of Intel processors and is faster then the Bay Trail processor seen in a number of current generation Chromebooks.  When I ran the Octane benchmark, the Acer C740 Chromebook with 4GB of RAM scored a 14136.  The only downfall of using this processor is that it does not use a fanless design like a Bay Trail or any Chrome devices with ARM processors.

The processor is indeed faster, but it is still a Celeron.  I found various things to only load seconds faster.  On boot, the Acer C740 booted in about 4 seconds compared to 7 seconds on the Lenovo N21.  I found logging into the Acer C740 was about 4 seconds faster then the Lenovo N21.  When opening various web sites, I found the Acer C740 to load them about 3-4 seconds faster then the Lenovo N21.

Is the faster speed necessary for student use though?  Unless you plan to have students be more of a "power user" (keep a lot of tabs open at once or want to dual-boot a build of Linux), I am hard pressed to say it is.  


Screen:

The screen is a typical 11.6" matte 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.  With the Acer C720 for example, you could usually find replacement screens for $40-50 on Amazon.


Keyboard/Trackpad:

The Acer C740 does not have a water resistant keyboard or trackpad to help against spills.   Typing on the keyboard felt good and I had no issues using it.  When using the trackpad, it was the smoothest to use when compared to the new Dell Chromebook 11 or Lenovo N21.  However, I am disappointed in the size of it compared to those models.



The keyboard keys also seem slightly higher up then some of the previous Chromebooks I have reviewed.  My concern is that students may be able to peel the keys off easier or accidentally snag them on something.



Power Adapter:

The power adapter for the Acer C740 is your typical brick design. The Acer C740 still uses a thinner connector that could possibly bend or break easier under student use.




Battery Life:

The Acer C740 has a 3-cell Battery (3920 mAh) that is supposed to give it 9 hours of use.  In my Nyan Cat test to gauge the battery under a heavier use situation, I found the Acer C740 to get 7 hours and 52 minutes on a full charge with the screen at a 75% brightness.  That was an hour less then the new Dell Chromebook 11. From this test, and my own usage experience, I think you should get around 8.25 hours with standard classroom use and the screen being dimmed.


Conclusion:

So is the Acer C740 Chromebook a better choice for schools?  Unless you absolutely feel you need the faster processor, or very dedicated to Acer products, I have a hard time recommending this model.  Compared to the Acer C720, it is definitely an improvement.  I just do not think it was enough of an improvement when you look at the unique and/or rugged features that were added to the new Dell Chromebook 11 and Lenovo N21 at their price points.  One of the reasons that the Acer C720 was so popular in schools was due to it being the best value for what you got at the time.  In this new round of Chromebooks, that value is not as noticeable unless you really need the faster processor.   

The Acer C740 Chromebook starts at $259.99 for the 2GB model and $279.99 for the 4GB model.  Discounted pricing is available on bulk purchases.