Acer R13 Chromebook

I bought an Acer R13 as I wanted to try out a computer running Chromebook and I thought it would be a good lightweight alternative to lugging my work PC around the house. I like it but I don’t love it. It cost $330 at Wal Mart.

The laptop is 13″ and has a flip design, which means you can rotate the display until it’s flat against the back of the keyboard and use it like a tablet. I don’t like tablets or touch screens, so I don’t know why I thought this would be a good feature. In any event the flip works, for what that’s worth.

The screen is better than my laptop screen. It’s an IPS (which means you don’t have to tilt it to get a good view) and has resolution up to 1900×1080 although it defaults to a lower resolution so text isn’t too small to see. You adjust the resolution in settings. Photos look good, screen brightness is fine although not amazing, videos look OK.

The CPU is an ARM processor (aka smartphone processor) called MediaTek MT8173C. Since it’s an ARM the battery life is better than an Intel processor. It supposedly gets up to 12 hours. I’ve used it for 8+ hours before recharging. The battery definitely lasts a long time.

Storage is 64gb of SSD and ram is 4GB, so it has enough space to load a variety of apps from the Play store.

Chromebook won’t run all Android apps, but most of my smartphone apps run well on it. The OS pretends that certain websites are apps and there are clickable icons for mail, maps, etc. that open tabs on the Chrome interface. The Android app icons open the app, not a website.

I connected it to my 27″ monitor and it ran OK on dual screen mode. Not as fast as my 3-year old work laptop.

Pros:

Lightweight (about 3lbs), decent screen, ample ports (micro sd, usb-c charger, usb3, hdmi), long battery life, decent speed, log-in via smartphone, bluetooth and wifi connections work fine, can use it to text message, can run some (maybe most) Android apps, if you don’t load problematic apps it should be more secure than a Windows PC.

Cons:

Trackpad works but it’s flaky (sometimes a tap doesn’t register. there are no mouse buttons, if you are going to click the trackpad it requires some effort), can’t run the full version of Office (there is a mobile version that’s free, but it is missing features and I can’t use it for work), speakers are fine for voice audio but terrible for music.

I would rate the device as “usable”. If I listen to music or videos via my earphones it sounds fine. The screen looks nicer than my work laptop and it’s smaller and light enough to tote anywhere in the house. The long battery life means I don’t have to plug it in to use it for hours.

It’s just a little underwhelming.


Update:

I recently learned that Google will stop releasing feature and security updates to Chromebooks after a certain number of years. It was originally 4 to 5 years, but I think it recently extended to 6 years.

This is truly hard to believe. My Chromebook was manufactured this year. But since it was originally released in September 2016 it will stop receiving updates in September 2021, two years from now.

Acer still has this laptop for sale on its website, with no warning about the two year cut off. In fact, they don’t post the release date on the website. I found the cut off date on a Google database of future “end of life” dates.

It’s possible that this Chromebook will not actually cut off in 2 years. I won’t know until it happens. Also, simply being cut off from new updates won’t make the Chromebook inoperative.

But if there are security concerns my Chromebook will be vulnerable. If new website technologies are implemented my Chromebook won’t be able to use them.

This seems bizarre. The manufacture date on my Chromebook is 3/23/19 only 2.5 years prior to its end of life.

If I had known that I would not have bought it. This information was not present on any retailer’s ads for Chromebooks. I just stumbled on it while browsing the web. Buyer beware I guess. We’ll see what happens in 2 years.


Update 2:

After much media criticism Google relented and extended the drop dead date on the Acer R13 to June 2024, almost three years longer than the original end of life date. I am glad to hear this, but still wonder why the original date was three years earlier if the Chromebook was capable of functioning for an additional three years.

By the way, after using the Chromebook for 4 months I am officially sorry I bought it. The nicer screen, lighter weight and longer battery life of this device do not make up for how awkward it is to use for anything other than web browsing and email.

It’s not so cheap that you can forgive how unpleasant Chromebook is to use if you have to share files or write a document. If you don’t have an android phone you can’t use the message app at all. It just feels that the longer I use it the longer the list of “don’t bother doing that with this device” gets.

I can see why schools buy these and think they are probably good choices for students who only use web apps. Beyond that, my three year old Core i5 Windows 10 laptop with an ssd and 8gb of ram is faster and more functional. I don’t know what a three year old laptop costs but it has to be way cheaper than a new Chromebook.

 

Apple Photo Wall Calendars

My last reason to open up the old Macbook Pro was an annual photo calendar I made for my mom-in-law. We’ve been making calendars for her for more than a decade, and the Apple calendars were beautiful, reasonably priced and easy to make.

This year, in the midst of record profitability, Apple decided not to make the calendars any more. I am not sure whether calendars made money or lost money for Apple, but really did it make any difference? It had to be a tiny fraction of their overall business, but it was a nice feature of the Mac software.

They stopped making them in September 2018, and I will miss it. I’m trying a calendar from VistaPrint instead. I’ll update this post when I get it. (see below)

Apple still makes great products, and they are the leader in customer service, security, privacy and do a lot of good to make life easier for their users. But lately they are getting a reputation for squeezing every dime out of their customers.

I recognize any company’s need to cancel products that lose money, or are a distraction. It’s the only way to stay financially healthy. But it makes no sense to me that the calendar option in their Photos app made any difference to Apple. It had to be outsourced, they weren’t printing them internally. They should have kept it.

Update:

Got the VistaPrint calendar. Fantastic. In some ways better than Apple. The calendar portion is not as nice, but the pictures look better. VistaPrint had an option to upgrade to higher quality glossy paper and it makes a huge difference.

The process of making the calendar was just as easy as Apple’s. There are a variety of formats, from a single picture to multiple pictures for each month. If there were multiple pictures in a month VistaPrint puts a border around them, Apple printed them right next to each other. I like Apple’s way better, but it’s a personal preference.

The calendar automatically has popular holidays printed on it, and you can add custom holidays/birthdays/etc. very easily. The VistaPrint calendar is bigger than the old Apple version. Apple’s was 10.5×13. VistaPrint’s is 11.5×14.5. It came quickly – I ordered it on 12/14/18 and it arrived 12/20/18. It was well protected by double packaging.

VistaPrint always offers additional items whenever an order is placed, which I usually ignore. But this time I agreed to add a $5 mousepad to match the calendar’s cover page. The mousepad quality was so-so, not very vivid. I’m sure my mom-in-law will enjoy it anyway.

 

 

Lenovo Ideapad 330 15ARR laptop

My wife bought a Lenovo Ideapad 330 15ARR laptop. The computer will get light duty: mostly browsing the web, playing some web games and occasional word processing.

It has an AMD Ryzen3 2200U processor, which performs like an Intel Core i3 8130U. The Ryzen3 uses more power than the i3, which means this PC probably has less battery life than the same PC with an i3, but the Ryzen3 costs less.

It also has 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive. Screen resolution is 1366×768. The monitor quality is what you’d expect in a budget laptop. It’s fine, but it would be blown away by a Mac’s screen.

Cost-wise, Best Buy had it for $310 after a $180 sale discount.

Lenovo makes very attractive laptops. This one is thin and sleek. The housing is plastic, but it doesn’t look or feel cheap. The touchpad works fine, and the keyboard is deliberately reminiscent of a Mac: the keys are flat and pushed back toward the screen. They appear to work fine.

Performance is slow, due to the hard drive. Hard drives are ancient tech. Using one with a modern PC is like buying a Corvette and hooking a boat anchor to the rear bumper. More expensive computers use SSD drives instead, which are fast enough to keep up with the speed of the CPU and RAM.

Lately I’ve been buying laptops with hard drives, and then replacing the drive with an SSD, which is more cost effective than buying a laptop with the SSD already installed. But PC makers make it hard to replace basic components, like the drive or RAM. Dell’s need the keyboard removed before you can remove the back cover – not something the average consumer will want to do.

On a Lenovo 330, you need to unscrew 13 screws from the back, and pry off the back cover using a plastic pry tool, or a credit card or guitar pick. Anything thin and plastic will do. It’s a pain in the butt, and sliding the plastic pry tool between the back cover and the housing scrapes some of the paint off. It’s not noticeable unless you look for it, but I wish it still looked pristine when I was done.

Once you get the back cover off, the hard drive is exposed. You need to unscrew three screws to disconnect the drive caddy from the motherboard. Then simply replace the hard drive with an SSD and reverse the entire process, making sure the back cover is fully snapped back on after you re-screw the cover to the housing.

The speed difference between a hard drive and SSD is dramatic. The computer is easily 5x faster, maybe more. Why anyone would sell a hobbled computer, I don’t know. But Lenovo clearly hobbled 330 15ARR by selling it with a hard drive.

Best Buy sells a similar computer with a built-in SSD: the Lenovo Ideapad 330S 15ARR, which has a Ryzen5 CPU (slightly faster) and 128GB SSD, for $450 (after an $80 sale discount). But it’s not worth the extra $140 vs. the version we bought. The faster CPU isn’t significantly noticeable, and a 128GB SSD costs only $30 retail. A 250GB SSD is only $50.

Seems crazy to spend $140, when you can do the upgrade yourself with a $10 external drive enclosure, $50 SSD, a screwdriver and an old credit card.

If you are going to upgrade to an SSD you probably know the following already, but just in case:

  1. You need to clone the hard drive to the SSD before you install the SSD in your laptop.
  2. SSD makers typically offer free software to do that. Samsung does – it’s called Data Migration Software. It’s very easy to use – just download it, connect your SSD to a USB port on your laptop via an external drive enclosure, and open the Data Migration Software. The rest is self explanatory.

Windows October 2018 Update 1809

The update has been suspended following reports of permanently deleted user documents and pictures, and Edge browser issues, following installation of Update 1809.

Good job once again Microsoft.

Given how many issues there have been with Microsoft software over the 30+ years I’ve been using it, it’s a wonder that the issues are always in the same direction. They always “cause” problems. You would think that once in awhile their software would do something unexpectedly beneficial, just by random chance. For example, why haven’t any of their updates randomly sent cash to their users, or paid their credit card bills? Why do these “bugs” always screw customers and users, but never them?

I’m not suggesting that the bugs are deliberate, but it seems suspicious. As if bug testing starts and ends at protecting Microsoft, and to hell with their customers.

Google Wifi internet drop-outs

Out of the blue I had started to have drop-out issues on my home Google Wifi router. There have been a number of Windows updates lately, but I am not sure if that was the cause.

I couldn’t figure out the reason, but I fixed it by doing the following.

  1. Assign a static IP address to the computer (do both of these two steps)
    • In the Google Wifi app – Network & General>Advanced Networking>DHCP IP reservations>add a client and choose a static IP.
    • In Windows 10 – Settings>Network>Wifi>Manage Known Networks>choose your wifi network>Properties>Edit>IPv4>choose Manual instead of Automatic>fill in the blanks. You’ll need the static IP address that you chose in the Google Wifi app and the Google Wifi DNS (which you can also get from the app), and you will also need a bit number corresponding to the subnet mask. For subnet 255.255.255.0 I think the number is 24.
  2. Alternatively you can turn on the Guest LAN in Google Wifi, set a password, and log on to that instead of you main wifi LAN.

I’ve done both of the above for various drop out issues with Google Wifi. I like their mesh router system very much, we have good coverage in our house. But they need to work on segregating of devices, so that different devices don’t interfere with each other (assuming that’s what the drop-out problem is).

Windows Update 1803

Further to my post here, wherein I couldn’t update to version 1803 because of a system partition size issue, I finally got around to doing a full reinstall of Windows. The full reinstall worked.

  1. I downloaded Windows Media Creation Tool 1803 to a USB drive.
  2. I backed up all my data.
  3. I booted from the USB drive. There are two options: 1) just install the update and leave files and folders alone or 2) wipe all my data and install Windows from scratch.
  4. Option 1 didn’t work for the same partition size issue, so I chose option 2.
  5. I had to delete all the data in my EFI system partition and delete a Recovery Partition before the installation would start. There is a tool that does it for you in the Windows install setup utility.
  6. It went surprisingly fast. Less than an hour.
  7. The update doesn’t update everything. Once the installation is done, I went to Windows Update and looked for additional updates. Also went to Device Manager and ran Driver Update for the major components, like wifi and graphics.
  8. I still have to reload my software.

Now I have version 1803 of Windows 10. The disk management utility built in Windows says that I have a 100MB EFI partition, with 452MB of unallocated space. So if this issue occurs again I should be able to expand the partition (or “extend the volume” in Microsoft parlance).

So far everything works, no bugs.

 

Windows Update 1803 update problem

Update

I may have dodged a bullet here, being unable to update. There’s a lot of reported bugs with 1803. I’ll pass on it for now.


This post is for anyone having the same problem as me. It’s not a solution, merely an explanation.

I am not able to update Windows any longer. I have the latest version of Windows 10, which they call Creator’s Update. There is a pending update 1803 which won’t install. I get the following error:

Capture

I hate Microsoft. Really.

Note the reason it won’t install. “We couldn’t update the system reserved partition.” I am going to guess that 99% of Windows users won’t know what the hell that means. I know what a partition is, and I still didn’t know what that means.

If you open the Disk Management utility in Windows you can see all your partitions. THERE IS NO PARTITION CALLED SYSTEM RESERVED PARTITION. Furthermore, the utility shows that all partitions are 100% free, in other words there is plenty of space in all of them.

I used a free partition utility from the web and found that Windows is wrong and they are NOT 100% free. But the only partition that is nearly full is a 100MB partition called EFI System Partition. In all likelihood, update 1803 is trying to put something in this partition and there isn’t enough room. I need to expand it, although Microsoft doesn’t say by how much.

I can’t easily increase the size of the partition, because I have no unallocated space in the partition. At this moment I don’t know the best way to fix this. I am not even sure if wiping the drive and reinstalling Windows from scratch will fix it.

But I got a chuckle at the line at the bottom of the Windows error message above – “Learn more about great Windows PCs”. Ha! That’s great Microsoft. Create a problem, don’t fix it or tell me how to fix it. Instead try to sell me another piece of crap Windows computer. Thanks so much.