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.  











Google News Roundup for Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Here is the Google News Roundup for Wednesday, June 24, 2015:

A look ahead: CS-First, 20 percent projects, Google Expeditions and beyond
- Google for Education Blog

Chromebox, now bringing face-to-face meetings to bigger spaces
- Official Google for Work Blog

Google asks artists to create designs for self-driving cars in new ‘Paint the Town’ campaign
- 9to5Google

Google changes heart on splash screens, adding them to its own apps
- 9to5Google

Google Play Music update brings a much improved method for adding music to your Android Wear device
- Phandroid

Google Will Build Its Next Data Center On The Grounds Of An Old Coal Power Plant In Alabama
- TechCrunch


Not OK, Google: Chromium voice extension pulled after spying concerns
- Ars Technica

Vertical Street View of the world’s most iconic rock wall: Yosemite’s El Capitan
- Official Google Blog


Friday, June 12, 2015

Acer C910 Chromebook Review


I was able to receive a review unit of the Acer C910 Chromebook (C910-C453 model) that I have been trying out for awhile now. This is one of the first 15.6" Chromebooks designed for education.


Specs:

There are different configurations for the Acer C910, but my review unit (C910-C453) has the following:

-  Intel 3205U Celeron processor (Broadwell)
-  An 15.6" anti-glare TN Panel with a 1366x768 resolution
-  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: 0.97" x Width: 15.08" x Depth: 9.65" and weighs 4.8lbs
-  4-cell Battery (3720 mAh) for 10 hours of use


Overall Build Quality:

The Acer C910 has a diamond style texture on the outer casing of the device.  It gives a nice look to the Chromebook, but I noticed it to still show some smears and could possibly collect dirt within the texture.  The plastic casing around the keyboard area of the Acer C910 is more of a smooth black plastic.  I noticed on the review unit I received before using it that the smooth finish seemed to wear down where your palms would rest on the device.  I also noticed this on the trackpad and some of the keys on the keyboard.



Since the C910 is the education model of Acer's 15.6" line of Chromebooks, it does have some rugged features to it.  Those rugged features are the same ones seen on the Acer C740 and are not to the MIL-STD.  Like the Acer C740, it 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 left and right side of the keyboard 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.  The keyboard and trackpad are also not spill resistant.

The other thing to point out about the build of the Acer C910 is that it is noticeably heavier and bulkier then other Chromebooks.  Some of that is expected though due to the 15.6" screen size.  The Acer C910 is heavy, but it is still similar in weight to Windows laptops of this size. 


Processor/Speed:

The Acer C910 is another one the the first Chromebooks to use the Intel 3205U Celeron processor.  This is the same processor found in the Acer C740.  It is part of the Broadwell line of Intel processors and is faster then the Bay Trail and Rockchip processors seen in a number of current generation Chromebooks.  When I ran the Octane benchmark, the Acer C910 Chromebook with 4GB of RAM scored a 14131.  You will have no problems with this processor in the classroom.  The only downfall to it is that it does not use a fanless design like a Bay Trail or any Chrome devices with ARM processors.


Screen:

The screen in the configuration I am reviewing is a 15.6" matte TN panel with a 1366x768 resolution.  Personally, I prefer a higher resolution screen in Chromebooks that have screen sizes of 13" or more as text can sometimes have a fuzzy look to it with the lower resolution.  This screen could be acceptable for student use, but I would still recommend going with the model with a higher resolution (1920x1080) if possible.  The 1366x768 resolution is not as forgiving when compared to other Chromebook screen sizes that use this resolution.


Keyboard/Trackpad:

The Acer C910 does not have a water resistant keyboard or trackpad to help against spills like some of the other rugged Chromebook devices.  Typing on the keyboard felt good and I had no issues using it.  When using the trackpad, it was spacious, smooth and responded well.




Power Adapter:

The power adapter for the Acer CC910 is your typical brick design. It uses a thinner connector that could possibly bend or break easier under student use.




Battery Life:

The Acer C910 has a 4-cell Battery (3720 mAh) that is supposed to give 10 hours of use.  In my Nyan Cat test to gauge the battery under a heavier use situation, I found the Acer C910 to get 9 hours and 33 minutes on a full charge with the screen at a 75% brightness.  From this test, and my own usage experience, I think you should get around the claimed battery life with standard classroom use and the screen being dimmed.


Conclusion:

So is the Acer C910 Chromebook a good choice for schools?  If you need a Chromebook with a screen bigger then 13.3" to 14", then the Acer C910 is really the only option available right now for education.  It is not a bad device, but I think a number of people may not like the heavy and bulky size of it for just an additional 1.6" to 2.3" of screen space.  The pricing of the Acer C910 configurations also places it in a situation where a Chromebox could be more cost effective if you just want bigger screens for students to view and it does not need to be mobile.  If you are interested in the Acer C910, I would recommend considering the C910-C37P model for the higher resolution if your budgets allow for it.

The Acer C910 is available in various configurations.  The configuration I reviewed is available for $299.99.  Discounted pricing is available on bulk purchases.










Google News Roundup for Friday, June 12, 2015

Here is the Google News Roundup for Friday, June 12, 2015:

A YouTube built for gamers
- Official Google Blog

Android One is struggling, but Google won’t give up on it
- Phandroid

BlackBerry might use Android OS on new devices
- Android Community

Google Play ‘Free App of the Week’ showing up in Family section
- 9to5Google

Hangouts 4.0 on Android Wear still in the works
- Android Community

Through the Google lens: Search trends June 6-11
- Official Google Blog

Virgin America adopting Android for new seat-back entertainment system (Video)
- 9to5Google