Acer Chromebook 14 Review: Close to Perfection

When I first started writing about Chromebooks two years ago, any new hardware release was noteworthy, but today that’s no longer the case. There are dozens of Chromebooks now available, running the spectrum from $149 budget ARM-based machines to high-end showpieces like the Google Pixel that cost $999 and up. There’s much less excitement about a new Chromebook release as a general rule, so OEMs need something new and different if they want to create buzz in the consumer market.

Last year, Asus and Dell were successful at this. Both released Chromebooks featuring high quality industrial design and IPS displays: the C100P “Flip” and Chromebook 13, respectively. The Flip featured a hybrid design with an IPS touchscreen display and aluminum body at a very competitive price, while the Dell features high-grade materials like a magnesium alloy case, an etched glass trackpad, a 1080p IPS display, and a backlit keyboard.

Both of these Chromebooks carried substantial excitement to their release into the market, and they’re both excellent and successful products. That said, neither is what I would consider an ideal consumer Chromebook. The Flip is powered by a budget ARM processor, the Rockchip 3288, and while it has decent performance, it isn’t even as fast as older budget Chromebooks like the Acer C720; furthermore, at only 10″ it has a cramped keyboard that isn’t ideal for long-term use. Alternatively, the Dell 13 is a fantastic traditional Chromebook that gives consumers basically everything they want from a performance and build quality perspective, that comes at a cost: $399 and up. That price point is going to be above and beyond what many consumers want to pay for a Chromebook, which many people still consider a secondary or back-up laptop.

The default “best” Chromebook at the $300 price point right now is, in my opinion, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 2015 edition. That Chromebook has a gorgeous 1080p IPS display paired with excellent performance from a 5th generation Intel processor, 4 GB of RAM, a backlit keyboard, and powerful speakers. Unfortunately, it also has mediocre battery life, and is a plastic device that suffers from build quality and longevity concerns. Other options at this price point from HP, Lenovo, Acer, and others present a mix of disappointments: larger units that offer less portability, ARM or Intel Bay Trail processors, TN display panels, budget build materials, or some combination of these.

It is this softness at the $300 price point that makes the Acer Chromebook 14 such an exciting product, as it checks off a critical list of five items that have never been seen in a $300 Chromebook before.

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Asus Vivobook E200HA Review – Finally, Budget Windows 10 Done Right!

The Asus Vivobook E200HA is a new budget-friendly Windows laptop, replacing the the aging X205TA in the Asus lineup. That device was one of the better sub-$200 Windows 8 laptops when it came out, and featured Windows 8.1, an Intel Atom 3735F processor, 32 GB of eMMC storage, 2 GB RAM, 2 USB 2.0 ports, and a 1366×768 display.

The new Vivobook E200HA ships with Windows 10 installed, and features an upgraded processor: the new Cherry Trail generation x5-Z8300. This is the same processor from the Intel Compute Stick 2016, and is in the same chip generation – but a slower version – as the processor in the Microsoft Surface 3.

Taking the best parts of the X205TA and upgrading the OS, keyboard, trackpad, and graphics processing capability, the new Vivobook E200HA is a compelling budget device from Asus.

Read on for more details about this devices strengths and weaknesses.

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Retro Review: Asus Transformer Book T100 2014

Tech reviews are all about the latest devices and new releases, but how do these devices hold up over time? How are consumers supposed to determine which devices are worthy of consideration for purchase as a refurbished or used unit?

These are the questions I attempt to answer in my Retro Review series, featuring commonly available laptops and tablets that are worth considering for purchase a year or more after their release date.

Today’s Retro Review: The Asus Transformer Book T100-TAM (2014)

What is it?

The Asus Transformer Book line launched in late 2013, featuring a 2-in-1 hybrid design, and attempted to offer the convenience of a tablet with the functionality of a laptop running Windows 8.1. It featured an Intel Atom processor, a 1366×768 IPS touchscreen display, and an all-plastic body design. An updated version has been released annually since that time, as the initial one was a commercial success for Asus.

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Review: Acer Chromebook R11 including Crouton

The Acer R11 Chromebook is a product with something of an identity crisis. It doesn’t have premium build quality, like the Asus C100P Chromebook Flip. It also isn’t packing impressive performance and hardware at the expense of its build quality, like the Toshiba Chromebook 2 2015.

Made up mostly of white plastic, with a thick, flat design, and packing Intel’s new, but relatively low-end N3150 Celeron processor, the Acer R11 isn’t going to win any awards for design or performance.

I’m really selling you on this Chromebook so far, I know.

While it is true that the Acer R11 is not be the fastest or best-looking Chromebook, there’s also no other Chromebook on the market with the R11’s combination of characteristics. With its 360 degree display featuring an IPS touchscreen, 32 GB of local storage standard, and a quad-core Intel Bramwell processor, the R11 gets many things right despite a first impression that is mediocre at best.

In fact, after using it for a few weeks as my primary laptop, I think this is one of the best Chromebooks available for a wide percentage of the consumer market… or, it will be, once the price drops a bit.

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Budget Windows 10 Laptop Battle: HP Stream 11 vs Acer Cloudbook 11 vs Lenovo 100S

Last year, Windows 8 laptops dropped below the $200 price point for the first time, as part of Microsoft’s push back against Google’s Chromebooks. Two models in particular – the HP Stream 11 and Asus X205TA – made a strong case for the viability of cheaper Windows laptops. I did a comparison between these models and the Acer C720 Chromebook, here.

With the release of Windows 10 this year, there are new Windows 10 laptops available below $200 that have replaced those older models, which are now mostly off the market. These feature different hardware in addition to Microsoft’s updated – and much better, frankly – Windows 10 operating system.

In this article I’ll summarize my reviews of the following laptops:

For each device, I’ll explain its pros and cons, and then give some thoughts as to who should consider each device, and why. At the bottom of this post you can also find my video reviews for these laptops.

Note that as of this writing, all three of these laptops include one year of MS Office 365 and 1 TB of OneDrive storage.

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Lenovo IdeaPad 100S – Full Review including Minecraft Performance

2014’s crop of sub-$200 Windows 8.1 laptops all had their weaknesses, but in general they all offered a high enough combination of performance and solid construction to feel like a great value. Unfortunately, 2015’s Windows 10 laptops have thus far not been as good of a bargain for consumers.

The IdeaPad 100S is Lenovo’s new budget Windows 10 laptop, with an MSRP of $199, which includes one year of Office 365 and 1 TB of OneDrive storage. Is this late 2015 laptop the low-end Windows 10 device that finally recaptures some positive momentum for the budget Windows product line?

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The Best Chromebooks You Can Buy: Fall & Holiday 2015

Chromebooks have come into their own during 2015, growing in popularity and seeing incredible diversification. Where 2014 saw a Chrome OS lineup that featured mostly similar budget devices with low-resolution screens, in 2015 the Chromebook line-up varies from $149 ARM-powered budget devices, to $899 and up Intel Broadwell-powered touchscreen workhorses.

This guide is designed to help you navigate this lineup and find the Chromebook that is right for you, or whoever it is that you may be shopping for. Similar to the Spring/Summer version, I’ve listed the Chromebooks in ascending order by screen size, and then at the end summarize the best Chromebook for a variety of specific categories.

As information, “Crouton” is mentioned multiple times in this article, and is a reference to a set of scripts you can download which allows your Chromebook to simultaneously run Chrome OS and Ubuntu Linux. This allows you to run programs on your Chromebook which you otherwise could not, such as Minecraft, Steam, and more. For more info, see here for background on using Linux on your Chromebook, and here for an install guide.

At the bottom of the article, you’ll find links to reviews of almost all of the Chromebooks referenced here, as well.

11.6″ Chromebooks

Best Budget Choice – Asus C201

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The Asus C201 is still, in my opinion, the best budget Chromebook you can buy. It has an MSRP of $169.99 but has been on sale from multiple retailers for $159.99 or less, and is currently $154.99 on Amazon.com; there is also a 4 GB version that has an MSRP of $189.99.

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The HP Stream 11 2015 Edition – Full Review including MS Office, Minecraft and Hearthstone

Last year’s HP Stream 11 was one of the more successful budget Windows 8.1 laptops of the year. It featured a unique design, with decent performance paired with a great keyboard, and a year subscription to MS Office 365.

There was certainly some room for improvement, however, as it also had a mediocre screen and fairly unresponsive trackpad, and somewhat cramped local storage.

With HP’s 2015 refresh of the Stream 11 now available, is this budget laptop still worth your money?

As with Acer’s Cloudbook, the answer is… it depends.

In this review, I’ll explain why, and also compare some of the Stream’s pros and cons as compared to the Cloudbook 11.

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Acer Aspire One Cloudbook 14 Review – MS Office, Steam, Minecraft, and Hearthstone

The Acer Cloudbook 11 is, in its way, fairly representative of budget Windows laptops as a category.

It asks potential buyers to make a number of compromises in performance and design, the two most difficult of which are a fairly slow web browsing experience and a smaller-than-normal size keyboard. It also has a low-resolution webcam, only 2 GB of RAM, and for some reason it isn’t able to run traditional Java-based Minecraft.

Balancing out these drawbacks are some really nice features, including high-speed 802.11ac wi-fi, a full year of MS Office 365, a surprisingly good trackpad, 8-hour battery life, and a decent screen.

With the release of the larger Acer Cloudbook 14, I want to revisit this budget Windows laptop and see if the bigger size addresses any of these concerns. I won’t be going into full detail on all aspects of the device here, as it is by and large the same as the Cloudbook 11 that I reviewed here. However, I will go through the changes and differences that, in my opinion, make the Cloudbook 14 much easier to recommend.

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Toshiba Chromebook 2 2015 Edition – Full Review

The Toshiba Chromebook 2 was released in late September 2014, and immediately received positive reviews that centered on its defining attribute: a bright, beautiful, glossy 1080p IPS display with fantastic viewing angles. With an MSRP of $329.99, Toshiba offered a quality of display that was previously unheard of at that price point. It also packed in surprisingly good Skullcandy speakers. Combined with 4 GB of RAM, and the quick boot speeds of an SSD, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 became very popular in the consumer Chromebook market.

Despite some very positive attributes, there were some significant trade-offs with this Chromebook. While it packed 4 GB of RAM and an SSD, it was powered by a low-end Intel N2840 Celeron processor that gave it mediocre performance. There were also some complaints of build quality related to the display, which anecdotally seems to have had an unusually high failure rate; when compared to some other devices in the same price class, it was also clear that it had budget build quality in terms of the screen hinge, trackpad, and keyboard, which were not as well-constructed as similar devices produced by Asus and Acer.

But still, that display, that beautiful display……

For 2015, Toshiba has upgraded its Chromebook line with more powerful Intel Broadwell-generation processors, along with some other new features not typically found in the budget consumer laptop class, like a backlit keyboard.

Has Toshiba found the recipe for the ultimate affordable Chromebook?

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