Information and blogs from SeJo IT

Experiences with Acer Spin 13 Chromebook

Sat 01 June 2019

Disclaimer: I don't work for Google, Apple nor Acer, and I never had any positive experience with Acer after my first Aspire and have avoided Acer for the last 15 years

I've acquired an Acer Chromebook Spin 13 a while ago. The main task of this device was to code in python and golang. I purchased it after a lot of research and some testing. I tested the HP chromebook 13, the Pixelbook but wasn't that satisfied. Even worse here in Belgium you can't purchase any Dell, HP, Lenovo device with a US INTL keyboard anymore. When trying to purchase I got the firm message "We do not sell that keyboard in Europe anymore".

Now about my experiences...

Setup

  • I've linked the chromebook to my Google business account and for this development everything resides in google suite. This was partly the reason why I purchased a chromebook, this device should be 100% compatible was my thought.
  • I have enabled Linux (Beta) on it
  • I switched to ChromeOS Beta to be able to backup my Linux environment
  • 8G memory
  • 8th Gen Intel core i5 processor
  • US Intl keyboard

Hardware

The bad

Keyboard

The keyboard takes getting used to, it has enough travel though and the Chiclets style reminds me of the Apple external keyboard but the buttons push back a bit more. The sound of the keys is softer than on Apple Keyboards. You cannot modify the strength of the keyboard backlight and that is annoying but not a huge issue. Other small annoyances:

  • There are no function keys as far as I can find out.
  • No delete key
  • No fn key thus certain key combinations I got used to won't work.

Overall the keyboard is better than the Apple ones, but due to the small tactile differences it is getting used to it, and you have to press a bit harder, I feel this a lot in my hands when typing a lot (like this post).

Case

Almost perfect but 1 thing. The real bottom of it is not aluminium but plastic, while it still feels sturdy, future will tell whether it breaks down faster that the remainder of the shell.

Wacom Pen

The device includes a Wacom pen (embedded in a special slot in the right bottom corner), but when going to tablet mode and trying to draw, it continuously notices my hand as well. And that is seriously annoying. Maybe there is a setting I haven't found yet, but still this makes the drawing on the device almost useless. I still prefer my reMarkable to do that.

Sound

While the sound is good, it's awfully silent and has a metallic sound to it. But I've come to expect that from laptops and mostly connect to external speakers for good sound quality.

The good

Keyboard

I HAZ DVORAK... Enough said :)

Trackpad

Brilliant Trackpad, no comments about it, once I've set the scroll type to Australian it just works. Even though it is pretty wide, I don't have palm issues with it nor wrong clicks. I do have to get used to the right clicking, but not a huge problem. It's a bit smaller than the Apple trackpad, but I actually prefer the smaller size.

Overall huge success and through all my testing on non-Apple systems this is probably the only trackpad I've used that I like (even prefer it over the Apple one at this point).

Case

The case feels really good, it's aluminum all over (except the bottom part --> see the bad). It does add some weight to the device, but as I wasn't looking for a tablet, I was willing to handle the weight. The monitor hinges seem and feel robust, I don't feel like I'm handling a paper device. This is really a sturdy feel!

Screen

I'm in love with this screen, right now I'm running resolution 3608x2406 according to xrandr, but the settings state Tiny: Looks like 2256x1504 (Native). It's the biggest resolution that I can have, but it's perfect for me. Some of you might chuckle "he and his small letters" but I do appreciate a small font and a lot of screen room. Which I'm getting with this device. The screen has a pretty good touchscreen (with fingers :) ignore the pen for a bit). It's accurate in selecting and feels the finger without an issue. No multitouch support though. But given that I don't use that much I'm not counting this as a bad thing.

Using the device

I use the device mostly for development in golang and in python. As stated in the setup I've enabled the Linux environment and tweaked it to my needs, which was much easier than expected.

## Linux The Linux environment provided is Debian, initially it was Debian 9.7 but after an update and dist-upgrade I was at Debian 9.9. There are ways to run other containers but that is for a different post. You can install pretty much any application that you want, currently I have following setup:

  • postgresql-server
  • pycharm professional
  • Visual studio Code: not used heavily as once you debug the cpu usage spikes even after terminating the debug session.

All the apps get an icon in the launcher (you might want to change the svg icon to a png to have it visible but it works), and you can pin the apps to the dock. The minute you launch a Linux app, the Linux VM starts and setups up the environment. The first app you run takes a few seconds to start, once the env is up, all goes smoothly.

I didn't like the initial terminal provided, so I installed rxvt-unicode and my own font (Source Code Pro Awesome patched). This works brilliantly and I'm tying this post in my terminal.

Android apps

The integration with Android apps is pretty good, although has some kinks. The biggest annoyance I have with it is that sometimes the cursor isn't shown in the app. To fix this, alt-Tab twice and you are good. I'm using the following apps:

  • Telegram: works as expected good and similar to an android phone
  • Crunchyroll: works as expected
  • Netflix: works as expected
  • Amazon Prime Video: Does not work, crashes on start
  • Lastpass Password Manager: Works smoothly
  • Deezer: stops music without reason, to investigate further

Chrome OS

While it did take me a bit to get used to, it's a pretty nifty and sturdy OS. I really dig the upgrade system, it's probably the best out there. Basically it has 2 OS partitions 1 active, one ignored. Once an upgrade is available it will install in in the unused partition and when you reboot that partition becomes your active one. So upgrading isn't waiting hours, it happens in the background, the reboot is all it takes (and the device reboots in 5-8 seconds here).

The thing I miss the most is the multiple desktops and the tiling window manager, but to be honest I haven't investigated this deeply. There might be solutions for it.

Due to the processor and memory this actually feels like a normal desktop, there isn't anything I cannot do with this device (at least anything I tried works). I'm not encumbered by lagging or memory issues. As example right now I have below apps running and everything is smooth as a peach:

  • Linux environment (URXVT)
  • Deezer (Rammstein baby)
  • Chrome (45 tabs!!!)
  • Play Store
  • MightyText
  • Telegram

The integration with Google Business is working like a charm, if I make changes in the admin within a few seconds I see the change in my local Settings. The linking to my Android device work as well without a problem and I can unlock the device with my phone.

Basically I am really happy with this device and ecosystem, after using this for a bit less than month I'm convinced I probably will never need a normal laptop again for 99% of my work.

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